Shelf Unbound on the iStore News Stand

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POSTED: March 19, 2012

Format: bi-monthly digital magazine

Since: September 2010

Category: independent publishing

Publisher: Shelf Media Group

0.79€ per issue

This weekend I spent some time exploring the news stand on the iStore. I wasn’t looking for anything particular, but merely trying to assess the range of material available. The iStore is definitely working in one sense: there are a lot of regional or local publications available from Honolulu, the city magazine which I remember from 2003, to Sue, the free Helsinki listings and clubbing paper.

I started looking for magazines I missed or dimly remembered: Whole Earth Review, for example, and Mother Jones. I didn’t find either of them but somehow during this search process I did stumble upon Shelf Unbound, and since issues only cost 79c I downloaded two, and started reading. I am very glad I did.

Challenged to describe Shelf Unbound in one sentence you might say that it is an Utne Reader for independent presses. It provides a series of short features, interviews, excerpts, reviews and poems, all gathered from, or related to, work published independently. Its definition of independence is refreshingly broad since it includes university presses at one end and people self-publishing on Hulu at another.

I downloaded a third issue, and by the end of the evening I was very happy to have made this serendipitous discovery. The writing is crisp, the interviews are informative and the poetry and excerpts are genuinely informative. Even better: almost everything in each of the three issues interested me, and a high percentage of it interested me a lot.

Shelf was founded by Margaret Brown who ” jumped into the digital publishing world after a 25-year career as an editor at leading national magazines”. She says that

I had the idea of launching a magazine to help promote the fantastic array of books coming out of small presses and from self-published authors, and am thrilled that as we move into our second year we are distributed to more than 100,000 readers in the United States as well as 17 other countries. I believe the digital revolution is creating unprecedented opportunities for readers and writers from around the world to connect. It’s a thrilling time to be involved in this industry.

This is definitely something I would have failed to find ten or twelve years ago because hardly any small publications make their way unaided to Finland. Even relatively mainstream material like Marvel Comics arrives irregularly and in small numbers.

An annual subscription to Shelf Unbound costs 4.99€ for six issues. What else could I do: I decided to subscribe as soon as the next issue comes out.


On their website Shelf have published a list of their favourite ebooks of 2011. I confess that I have read none of them yet, but I shall read at least some before the year is out.