49th Shelf - Canada's Online Resource Center for Books

Since its launch in 2012, 49th Shelf has become the leading resource center for Canadian booksellers, librarians, teachers and avid readers. With its growing online community, its partnership with Amazon.ca, and new titles added to the database every day, the website shows few signs of slowing down.

49th Shelf is the leading online source for information about Canadian-authored books. The website currently lists more than 70,000 titles, representing the largest database of Canadian book titles ever assembled. Since its launch in 2012, 49th Shelf has also become the leading resource center for Canadian booksellers, librarians, teachers and avid readers. With its growing online community, its partnership with Amazon.ca, and new titles added to the database every day, the website shows few signs of slowing down.


Building The 49th Shelf

In 2010 Kiley Turner and Craig Riggs of Turner-Riggs Workspace, a publishing consulting firm based in Ottawa, Canada, were contracted to head a lofty project. The Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) commissioned them to construct a website that would become the go-to database for all Canadian authored books. The Canadian book market is dominated by imported titles, especially those from the US and UK, and it is challenging for Canadian consumers to identify Canadian-authored books within that large field of imports. Large retail accounts, such as Amazon and Indigo, hold the lion’s share of the domestic book market, and do not generally differentiate or showcase local or domestic titles. The 49th Shelf’s mission is to raise the visibility of Canadian-authored books and to make it easier for Canadian readers to find them.

It was difficult to estimate the number of book titles that might be added to the database. Initial estimates were 80,000. Gathering and inputting all that data seemed a daunting task. By working with the BiblioShare team at BookNet Canada, Turner-Riggs Workspace was able to initially identify 16,000 Canadian book titles from BiblioShare's large book database.Turner-Riggs was then ready to move forward with the project.

Turner-Riggs sought an outside development consultant team to build the website that could categorize a massive amount of data in an efficient way. With a very tight deadline, the search for the perfect development team was on. Craig Riggs contacted Doug Plant, a partner and developer at Mugo Web, an experienced web consulting and development firm based in Vancouver, Canada, and the stage was set for project planning.


(We had) No real challenges with eZ Publish, it created a great solution for the project. Really set to leverage the API that is intuitive to the administrator making it easy to use large sets of data from dozens to hundreds of publishers.

Doug Plant - Lead Developer at Mugo Web

The Search for the Perfect CMS

After reviewing their options and the specific criteria needed for the website, eZ Publish met 49th Shelf’s requirement seamlessly. “eZ Publish was functional right out of the box,” said Craig Riggs. “Using another CMS such as Drupal would have taken much longer to build the modules. eZ Publish fast-tracked the product to market much sooner. It proved to be the needed time-saving solution for such a short deadline. Another factor that persuaded Craig was eZ Publish’s integration with search platform Apache Solr and the ability to draw from the ONIX database. Using eZ Publish and ONIX together allowed 49th Shelf to use rich metadata for each book. Doug Plant considered this combination of features as a win-win for the website and its users. “Since so much data could be included in each title, it encouraged publishers to supply information adding cover photos, book summaries, and other important title information to the database.” eZ Publish also enabled content to be retrieved quickly since all the data was automated and driven by ONIX, creating a fully featured product that eZ Publish runs. “It was very easy to add content with eZ Publish and improve upon the data. In this case you could leverage huge amount of data from publisher groups,” Doug added.


Managing 70,000 Titles and Several Million Content Objects? Not a Problem.

From a production and development standpoint 49th Shelf took considerable planning. There were no standards for contributors and no other site with which they could compare it to. Disk space for the website would also be an issue. 70,000 titles and several million content objects such as reviews, covers and other metadata would need to be held on the website. Despite these challenges, the Mugo Web development team had few issues using eZ Publish. “(We had) no real challenges with eZ Publish. It created a great solution for the project. Really set to leverage the API that is intuitive to the administrator making it easy to use large sets of data from dozens to hundreds of publishers,” Doug Plant said.

Since its launch in February 2012, 49th Shelf has been a great success. It is the authority website for Canadian books with more than 300,000 visitors and 800,000 page views over the course of two years. The 49th Shelf community is growing quickly with over 3,500 registered users heavily engaged in the website writing reviews, creating book lists and browsing the site's content. The site also brings in 15,000 unique visitors a month. The reviews of the website by the community have been very positive among avid readers, book clubs, teachers, book stores and librarians, further solidifying 49th Shelf as the online platform for Canadian books.


Expanding The Shelf

Building on the success of its first two years of operation, 49th Shelf is now in the midst of several significant expansions that will result in new features and new content for users. Chief among these are a major expansion of services and content for librarians and educators, interface improvements, an expanded editorial calendar, and an affiliated site – BookstoScreen.com – showcasing Canadian books for adaptation to film, television, mobile, or web.

The site began generating revenue in its first year of operations with a stable base of advertising revenue, a lead sponsorship from Amazon.ca, and, most recently, with licensing arrangements to sell on some of the original technology (particularly with respect to importing and handling ONIX data) that was custom-built for the project and integrated with eZ Publish.

We accomplished what we set out to do, with a wide range of authors and compiled a large collection of titles which set a great foundation.

Craig Riggs - ACP Project Manager

A Success Story

49th Shelf’s success surpassed all original expectations. Craig Riggs summarized, “We accomplished what we set out to do, with a wide range of authors and compiled a large collection of titles which set a great foundation.” Doug Plant added his praises. “I like the idea that [49th Shelf] is a product. eZ Publish is a great solution for book stores, retailers and publishers.”

Twitter 49th Shelf Review