Today’s Special: Oyster

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about ebooks, but today I was made aware of a new ebook app/service called Oyster.  It was launched at the beginning of this month and is getting billed as the “Netflix of ebooks,” providing unlimited ebook streaming for $9.95/mo.  My immediate thought was, “Hey!  How come publishers let these guys get all the content they want but fight libraries tooth and nail over ebook licensing and borrowing rights?”  This is not a question to which I was able to find an answer yet, but they must have reached some kind of understanding via the monthly subscription rates. GigaOM.com’s Laura Hazard Owen asked a similar question of the Oyster CEO, who offered this vague response:

“Oyster wouldn’t get into details with me about how it’s compensating publishers and authors, and wouldn’t state whether newer, more well-known titles are getting better royalties than older ones. CEO Eric Stromberg told me, ‘We’ve had the benefit of other seeing other types of access models like this, seeing where they have done things the right way and where they tripped up, and structured our model in a way that is beneficial to content owners.’”

 In the meantime, here are the basics I have gleaned from articles on Forbes, The New Yorker blog, Wired, Business Insider, School Library Journal (courtesy of The Digital Shift), GigaOM.com, Mashable.com, and Oyster’s own site.

Oyster App

1)  The app is beautiful.

Asthetically pleasing and customizable (in terms of typography, font size and screen brightness), this app is lovely, clean, easy to navigate, and not bogged down by unnecessary frills.  Take a look at the app tour over at BusinessInsider.com. 

2)  What does it offer?

Oyster offers over 100,000 in-copyright titles from a variety of publishers, though brand new book releases are not available.  Publishers working with Oyster include HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Melville House, Workman, and Smashwords, among others and it has been reported that Oyster is in discussion with others in the “Big 5” of publishing.  Laura Hazard Owen’s app review on GigaOM.com gives reassurance that the content is solid, if somewhat limited at this point, and not overrun by self-published works. 

Books are searchable and genre groupings make titles easy to browse.  Social media features are available that allow users to share what they read or follow other members.  Owen also points out the social aspects of the app don’t overwhelm its functionality and are easily ignored if users don’t care to utilise this feature.

Up to 10 titles can be downloaded at a time so that books may be read offline, which is a big plus in my (figurative) book.

3) How can I get it?

Currently, this app is for iPhones and iPod Touch only, though an iPad edition is slated for release this fall.  As with Pinterest and the early days of gmail, Oyster membership is by invitation only (click here to request an invitation).

I’ll be curious to see if the current model of Oyster is sustainable.  The successes of Netflix and Spotify don’t leave me wondering if Oyster will catch on; people love endless streaming.  I do wonder if the endless streaming for only $10 will stick. Netflix’s original membership plan had to be changed, and it’s possible this will too once the demand for it increases.  It’s popularity will also be somewhat limited until it is available on a larger number of platforms (not just iPhone & iPad).  As with all the streaming services, there are pros and cons: greater visibility and accessibility of content can be great, but the artists/creators don’t always receive fair compensation.  As long authors and publishers are receiving their due, I have no problem something like Oyster.   If anyone wants to share their experience with this app, I’d love to know you think!

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