Startup Showcase: Ownshelf
For Rick Marazzani, the idea for Ownshelf—a service that allows users to share ebooks across devices and among friends—originated at home. After taking his household completely digital—"no more DVDs, no more CD players, no more books, except for the baby who had board books but likes playing on the iPad"—Marazzani grew frustrated trying to share titles across the various e-readers and tablets his family members possessed.
"I wanted a way to replace the old-fashioned bookshelf," says Marazzani, who comes to the book world via the video game industry. "I wanted something to let you show off what you're reading, see it and interact with it. To grab a book from any device and not have to go through the hassle of DRM."
The result is Ownshelf, a platform-slash-social network to which users can upload any DRM-free EPUB file and then share across their own devices as well as with friends. Which means that right now, Ownshelf is a repository of works from publishers who, as Marazzani puts it, "understand that DRM limitations are not user and customer friendly."
For now, Ownshelf is in beta: Titles purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks or any other walled garden can't be uploaded and accessed through the platform, though Marazzani and Co. are trying to devise a solution to that sticky wicket.
On the horizon for the web-based Ownshelf, which users sign into via Facebook accounts, are native apps for iOS and Android, a cloud-reading platform (at present, Ownshelf is essentially a file locker), alternative sign-in options and more sophisticated sorting and filtering. "Say you have Fifty Shades of Grey and you're embarrassed that your friends will see it," says Marazzani. "Maybe you can hide certain books from them."
What separates Ownshelf from other file-sharing technologies like SugarSync, DropBox and good old-fashioned ftp is the social discoverability aspect. "The goal of Ownshelf is to have your real friends recommend books to you," says Marazzani. "There are lots of ways to get books from strangers, but we want you using your real name and your real friends. When you're deciding what to read next, having your friends there is important."
Marazzani envisions Ownshelf, in addition to being a great way to discover books, as a great way to have one's own books discovered. His target author is one he calls the "professional working author, one who realizes that the business is to write the book and to get people to pay them for reading the book. They embrace new technology and ideas like giving away new chapters, or giving away the first book in a series. … I'm also looking for authors who have a huge back catalog where maybe an older title is selling 12 copies a year. There's no long tail for that book, so let's give it away for free and increase the tail of your current books."