Shelfari and LibraryThing: Awkward Bookends To AbeBooks-Amazon Deal

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Earlier today we reported that Amazon had acquired AbeBooks, an online retailer of rare and used books from independent publishers.

AbeBooks held a major (although not majority) stake in a site called LibraryThing, where the literati can list their favorite books and discuss them. Coincidentally, Amazon has put a reported $1 million into Shelfari, one of LibraryThing’s direct competitors (which also include GoodReads, BookJetty and many others). So it might not be surprising to see Amazon try to join the forces of these two modestly sized startups.

But if the history between LibraryThing and Shelfari is any indication, we’re more likely to see Amazon either place its bets on one and divest its shares in the other, or simply maintain a minority investment in both.

Tim Spalding, the founder of LibraryThing, has publicly denounced Shelfari for using dirty marketing tactics such as astroturfing blogs and spamming inboxes. And he hasn’t minced words or backed down from his charge that Shelfari is a “bad actor”, having repeated Gawker’s description of Shelfari as “basically social networking rapists” and criticized Shelfari’s attempts to fix its invitation system.

While Shelfari has publicly addressed the charges of astroturfing (calling it the “unintended work of an unexperienced but well-meaning intern”) and spamming (the unintended result of “explosive growth” and a poorly designed user interface), it hasn’t used its own corporate blog to lash back at LibraryThing. And since most of this drama occurred nearly a year ago, it’s possible that any bad blood as been surmounted. But factor in the fact that these two startups are based on opposite ends of the country (Shelfari in Seattle, Washington and LibraryThing in Portland, Maine), and it appears unlikely that Amazon’s acquisition of AbeBooks will result in any consolidation of the book-centric social networking space.

In any case, Spalding has publicly asserted that LibraryThing will continue to operate as an independent entity, sending only anonymized user data back to AbeBooks. When reached for comment, he did say that he was open to selling the same type of data to Amazon, but he insisted that he would never sell “core user data” to Amazon and that he really doubts anyone “will propose marriage” between his company and Shelfari.

Josh Hug, co-founder and CEO of Shelfari’s parent company Tastemakers, said he had no specific comments about the AbeBooks-Amazon deal, but he did say that “Amazon has been a very supportive investor and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them.”

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