After lining up investors and publishers over the last ten months, book subscription site Oyster has launched in an invite-only capacity for the public. Similar to the format of the Netflix and Spotify business model, Oyster allows subscribers to read as many books as they want for a monthly subscription price of $9.95. Featuring publishing partners such as HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oyster has more than 100,000 digital books that are under copyright and would otherwise cost consumers money to purchase the books at retailers like Amazon.
At the moment, Oyster is also negotiating with the other top book publishers in order to expand the content library available for users. Some of the most popular titles currently available on Oyster include Lord of the Rings, Shutter Island, The Hobbit, Water for Elephants, Life of Pi, Fast Food Nation, The Carrie Diaries, The Giver and the C.S. Lewis series of Narnia titles.
One caveat to the service is that it’s only available for the iPhone at the moment. While the company plans to launch an iPad application during Fall 2013, Oyster representatives haven’t indicated if Web or Android support is on the way.
Developed by a former designer at Google and Apple, the Oyster iPhone application is quite stunning and fairly easy on the eyes. Oyster has included five different themes that can be applied when reading a book as well as adjustments for text size and brightness level of the screen. Oyster subscribers can use the application to find new titles to read in the book discovery tool as well as search for specific books by title, author or keyword. If you are familiar with the Netflix design when browsing movies, you will be right at home in Oyster when scrolling through book covers.
After setting up an Oyster profile, a subscriber can also set up a reading list. This allows the user to find of all their marked books in one place as well as keep track of the books that have been read over the lifetime of the account. In addition, users can follow other Oyster users and check out what books their friends are reading as well as look at personal ratings of specific books. It’s basically a secondary way to discover new books, very similar to checking out Amazon reviews prior to purchasing a title.
Again similar to Netflix, Oyster has put books into specific collections in order to recommend related books. If you were reading The Hobbit for instance, the recommended related books include other Tolkien books as well as nonfiction inspired by the Lord of the Rings series. Opposite from Netflix, Oyster doesn’t require a persistent Internet connection. Simply download the book first and you can access it offline when sitting on an airplane or in another area that lacks Web access.
If Oyster is successful at recruiting more publishers and expanding to new platforms, it could provide some serious competition to other services. While Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, available to Amazon Prime users, is certainly a competitor with a larger content library, Amazon’s model only allows users to check out one single book per month as opposed to Oyster’s all-you-can-read model. The public library is also an option for users that don’t want to pay for digital books, however there are often significant waiting times for popular titles and limits on the number of books that can be checked out at any given time.