BitLit has data you thought you'd lost — on its 'shelfies'

Image: BitLit
Image: BitLit

“They really are the Big Five. They’re not just saying that. They really are.”

Peter Hudson cracks up as he says this. He’s the co-founder with Marius Muja of the still-young Vancouver-based start-up BitLit. As we report today at The Bookseller, the company has just announced a major new partnership with Elsevier for some 5,000 science and technology books. As in all of the 200 or so publisher-partnerships BitLit has established so far, the consumer creates proof that he or she owns the print edition of a book by writing his or her name on the copyright page and sending a shot of that to Vancouver. Once verified, BitLit then can provide an ebook copy of the book — free in some cases, at a discount in others, it’s the publisher’s choice.

In many cases, Elsevier being the latest, publishers are choosing to make their ebooks available from BitLit DRM-free, too. “Not even watermarking,” as Hudson notes about Elsevier. But if the publisher requests it, BitLit will also supply any grade or type of DRM to that publisher’s ebooks.

Peter Hudson
Peter Hudson

What he’s telling me in this conversation is a good bit more revelatory to publishers than the fact that the Big Five “really are the Big Five.” But the point is demonstrated when he and his team analyze the spines of bookshelves — from tens of thousands of “shelfies.” Nothing to do with shellfish, a “shelfie” is a “selfie” for your books. You get out your smartphone and snap a shot of 25 book spines or so as they exist on your bookshelf. Then you send it to BitLit.

Remember, tens of thousands of those images of 25 books or so at a snap. Guess what that is: data.

Think about this from the consumer angle, and it sounds like a great way to find out whether BitLit has a deal with a publisher of any of your shelfie’s books. Vancouver gets back to you with an analysis of your shelf, nice to have — if you’re lucky, something on it might be on offer as a discounted ebook from a partner-publisher.

But think about this from the publisher’s viewpoint, and it dawns on you that Hudson and company are able to peer into homes this way and tell just what books are out there. It’s good news for Hudson because he can then contact publishers he’d like to have partner with BitLit and tell them that he’s spotting multiple copies of one of their books, and maybe there’s a market among those shelfie-snapping readers for discounted ebook copies of those print books.

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By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

The Bookseller: BitLit has data you thought you’d lost — on its ‘shelfies’

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