I’m soliciting opinions here on a newer website called Shelfari. Has anyone used it? They emailed (and many others I assume) about their website ages ago. It’s a social networking/cataloging site where one can go and create a virtual bookshelf. They’re sort of like Library Thing, but seem more about sharing with other people. In theory that’s great. My concern with the site is that when you click on a book that is on someone’s shelf, a little blue flag pops up with selections like opinions, details,etc. At the very bottom, however, is a little green flag that says Buy From Amazon. I’m not going to go on a diatribe here about Amazon, but I’m discouraged by all these sites that heavily promote Amazon as opposed to independents. And today I learned that Amazon has invested $1 million in Shelfari. I’m not trying to knock what all these sites are trying to do, but they’re obviously in it to make money and Amazon is who you try to impress to get some of that money. I suppose what I am trying to say is that although a great idea, I’m not sure I’m comfortable getting involved in a place that’s basically taking away business from my livelihood and I want to know, am I missing anything? Has anyone had a great experience with any of these sites?

6 thoughts on “Shelfari

  1. Imani

    I found it vastly inferior to LibraryThing. I can’t upload my own covers nor my own editions; so if it doesn’t show up in Amazon that’s it. (This is my major problem with it.) It’s tagging feature isn’t nearly as easy to use as LT. I don’t like the inclusion of Amazon reviews on the book page or Amazon ratings. (Why on earth should I care about such things?) Frankly the whole process of searching and adding a book is more troublesome than LT.

    From what I can tell they’re working on improving at some of these things, but with a database limited to Amazon pickings it will remain sub-par. The only major good point is that you can add as many books as you like for free.

    I don’t know if you know this but Library Thing works pretty well with independents. A few stores in various towns have sent the owner a thingamabob that allows you to see if a certain book is available at the store, as well as its price. It’s an opt-in feature for users. You could look into it for your own store, if you care to.


  2. Josh

    I wanted to write you a quick response regarding our independence.

    Shelfari remains an independent company and is fully committed to enabling e-commerce from all sources. Our relationship with Amazon as an Associate is independent of their investment in us. We currently link to Amazon because they have the most robust platform to allow us to start making money of links. Over time we will add more book sellers.

    Most of web that you use every day needed capital to be successful and create a world class product. Shelfari (and our competitors) are not exempt from this reality. Our Amazon presented an interesting opportunity for us as a strategic investor — they have such a large presence in on-line books that we had to take the opportunity seriously.

    Happy Reading,



  3. Aaron Weber

    Amazon has a great database and a great API– why WOULDN’T you want to include the ratings and reviews? I don’t object to Amazon– they’re a legit business, and while they may be a competitor to the indie shops I know and love, I don’t think they’re bad for literature, and I don’t think they’re necessarily evil in some way.

    However, I think that it’s a mistake for a product-related website (including mine, to focus only on products available on Amazon: One, Amazon may be huge but their offerings are not infinite. Two, if your software can only interface with one external system, that’s a sign you’ve done something wrong in your architecture. Three, if you are dependent on Amazon, they can destroy you with a change in their API or affiliate policy, or by implementing your features inside their own site and taking all your business for themselves.

    Finally: if you’ve taken investment from Amazon, you’ve really lost all claims of independence. Amazon now owns part of Shelfari. Not all of it, but they have bought some of it, they probably ahve a rep on the board, and influence its policy and direction. They may not control it entirely, but it’s not exactly independent anymore. (That’s not a BAD thing— just a thing that happens when you get invested in.)


  4. Imani

    “Amazon has a great database and a great API– why WOULDN’T you want to include the ratings and reviews?”

    I don’t know what an API is but I do agree that Amazon is a great resource and should be included in any kind of book database site. As for the reviews and ratings though, if I *wanted* the ones from Amazon I’d go to Amazon. If I’m on Shelfari, Library Thing or similar sites then I’d prefer to see reviews/commentary from the site users. It builds a sense of community and makes it feel less like an extension of a behemoth. And there isn’t an issue of possibly missing out on a great deal of insightful commentary.


  5. Brandon

    I have zero interest in creating an online bookshelf, so Shelfari didn’t appeal to me. Like Imani said, it’s an inferior version of LibraryThing. There are only cover pictures of certain editions of books (I searched for “Foucault’s Pendulum” and the only image that came up was for this year’s reissue). I have a LibraryThing account, but I can’t even remember the last time I signed into it, or if I even listed any books from my shelves.

    However, with sites like this, I’m always tempted to playa version of “stump the librarian” by searching for obscure titles, just to see how literate the pickings are.


  6. Brent

    1 comment and 1 question. First I must say before seeing your site, I knew nothing about Shelfari. To Josh’s point, to be a business you need capital. Where you decide to get that capital is up to you. Our website, is being launched this week as an online Literary Community offering Book Clubs and Book Review Blogs to members. The site is free to members and has been developed without outside capital. This is not to say that we won’t try to make money off of advertising to sustain the site, but we chose to maintain full control of the site for many reasons.

    Now, we also use Amazon, as our on-line mechanism for purchasing books. We do this because of their selection and their ease of connectivity. We do this strictly out of convenience to our members. Commissions we receive from amazon are then used to support social missions and charities our company believes in and not to fund the site’s existence.

    Now to my question. We chose Amazon because of the ease of connecting into them, allowing a member to purchase a book, cd, dvd, whatever, and the ease of a simple payment process. There isn’t a town I travel to that I don’t find some cool independent book store that makes me want to lounge and browse for hours. The problem is how do you give your members an easy way to purchase books and support the inde book store in the process when many of them don’t have a means to process volume over the net (powells excluded)? Is there a way to support the independent book store and still be able to generate the support we want to provide to these charities?

    I would be very interested in thoughts on this.


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