Oyster Enters Growing Arena of Digital Book Rental Services
Posted on September 14, 2013
Books in the digital world are getting a new venue and way of access. There’s been much buzz about Oyster, which is being touted as the “Netflix” of books. Currently taking requests for initial invitations, it is only being offered to iPhone users. However, the potential seems big as Oyster cashes in on the mobility of digital books as it differs from other e-book subscription services.
The subscription model has proven to work well for film and television with services like Netflix and Hulu growing. According to Digital Book World, Oyster’s subscription model has over 100,000 titles available from publishers like HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that can be accessed for just $9.95 per month on up to six devices. The fact that it’s for cell phone access emphasizes Oyster’s idea of portability of an e-book. Using Apple’s customers as those who adapt new apps and technology readily may also give them tech credibility.
In direct competition with Amazon, Smashwords has a feature for its self-published authors to be a part of Oyster’s lending library, which gives a huge opening for them to gain readership. From the author side of the service, it sounds like a huge benefit when they write in their announcement, “Unlike KDP Select, Oyster does not require exclusivity. It’s open to all Smashwords authors. A single Oyster user could conceivably read multiple books by the same Smashwords author in a single month, and the author will be paid for each book. Smashwords authors will earn their royalty whenever an Oyster subscriber reads more than a sample of their book.” However, Smashwords hasn’t revealed what specifically those royalties will be to their self-published authors yet.
For readers, Smashwords references Amazon’s program for Prime members with their Lending Library. While Amazon Prime members get more than just book borrowing abilities with the $79 per year fee, members can only “borrow” one book at a time without a due date. The downside is that you can only do this once a month. The upside is the vast library Amazon offers, including the Harry Potter series and other bestsellers as well as member ability to “lend” a book once to another Kindle reader. However, the self-published authors featured there are only ones who opt into Amazon’s KDP Select program that requires exclusivity, whereas Smashwords acts as a hub for multiple platforms.
Similar to Oyster, eReatah also announced its subscription book model that offers different tiers. According to the website, they offer “[p]lans for 2, 3 or 4 books per month starting at only $16.99.” The difference is that once the book is downloaded, it stays with the reader. So instead of a sense of lending, it is a membership with varying numbers of books available for download per month depending on what subscription level you choose. eReatah requires an app, but unlike Oyster, that app is available on multiple platforms, including Amazon’s Kindle Fire. There’s no evidence to suggest that they are including any self-published titles in their 80,000 library.
For a more organized comparison, The Digital Reader broke down the three services, which you can read here.
For readers, subscription services may open more venues to find books to make reading anywhere easier. All of these services collect data based on your choices and ratings and offer suggestions. They all purport a sense of community and belonging on their own sites, but will that equate to a larger number of readers in general? As one who reads and revisits books frequently, I’m not sure a subscription model would work for me. However, for those who read the occasional book, perhaps a subscription model might save them money in the long run.
Tech companies like Oyster and eReatah prove that digital books are not declining in use nor going anywhere. It is another move towards a different use of the book and different reader experience, and it will be interesting to see how the traditional publishing world reacts to these new opportunities.
- Comparing eBook Subscription Services Oyster, eReatah and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library: Content, Price, and Availability (the-digital-reader.com)
- Smashwords Signs Distribution Agreement with Oyster (smashwords.com)
- Netflix for books? Oyster launches with over 100,000 in-print titles (digitaltrends.com)