Oyster, the Subscription Ebook App
I paid $9.95 to post this because I had to pay for a one month subscription plan. I love the price. I think $9.95 is a great monthly subscription rate. The look and feel of the Oyster App is lovely. The real problem is content. (You can sign up for your invite here).
We started talking about subscriptions here at Dear Author in 2009. The audience was pretty mixed about whether this was something they would be interested in.
Oyster represents the right model. It’s low priced at $9.95 per month. It has a mix of different publishers. You don’t own the books but you get access to as many books as you can read at one time. Sourcebooks Cascablanca has a subscription service which offers you a selection of books at a reduced price. Essentially, you purchase one book per month at a price of $1.67. In the end, it’s not really a subscription service but a prepayment of a book per month.
Harlequin also offers a subscription service where you can sign up to receive a different line each month. I used to be a Harlequin Presents subscriber but found myself reading less and less as self published books increased in numerosity. I cancelled my subscription to HP about a year ago. From Harlequin, you received 8 books a month for $25.00. That was a deal when I was reading most of the line but with self published books at 99 t0 $2.99, I wasn’t getting the deal I once was.
So Oyster’s $9.95 for all you can read seems to hit the sweet spot in pricing and amount for me.
Look and Feel
The Oyster App is based on the new idea of digital design that eschews skeuomorphic. Skeuomorphic was popularized by the iThings. The iBookstore shelf had a “wooden” look to it to mimic a real life bookshelf. The Calendar App was based off a large desktop calendar. I guess the idea was to help non technical people feel at home when they were using the digital devices. In the iBooks app, the digital pages curl as if you were turning a paper page.
In the OS 7, to be released in a week or so, Apple is getting rid of all the skeuomorphic design. Oyster is like that. Instead of paging, the words scroll from top to bottom. The original ebook apps like Gowerpoint’s ubook had scrolling which made for great hands free work out reading. When you tap, the content scrolls up by one page.
Oyster also has some lovely preset themes. I liked Nomad with its pinpoint dot background and its san serif font. But Oyster has a definite idea of how you should interact with the App. There is limited customization. For instance, I can’t choose a sans serif font with a night background. The night background only has a serif font.
There is no note taking ability in the Oyster App nor can you highlight or bookmark your text. You can, however, copy whatever text is on your screen. One the side is a tiny colored bar that shows your percent progress in the book but it doesn’t allow you to advance forward by dragging the colored area downward. The only way to advance is using the table of contents.
There is also only one way to view the Oyster content and that is in Portrait mode only. There is no landscape mode. Items that you rate four or five stars go into a favorites shelf. There is some kind of social scheme built in but it feels incomplete. There was no way to share snippets or excerpts except for via email or copying and pasting into a facebook status update.
Finally, the most important part of any subscription service is the content. I know most people will sign up for Oyster to get the lit fiction content like Life of Pi or Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, but we aren’t lit fic readers here, are we?
I moved right to the romance section. There our choices are limited. The publishers who are participating appear to be HarperCollins; OpenRoad Media; and Crimson Romance (from F&W). And of the the participating publishers, only select titles are included. Rachel Gibson has only two titles available: Sex, Lies and Online Dating and Not Another Bad Date. There are three titles from Julia Quinn: Splendid, A Night Like This and An Offer From a Gentleman.
The entirety of the OpenRoad catalog seems available. Pat Gaffney’s titles include: The Saving Graces, Fortune’s Lady, Another Eden, Lily, Crooked Hearts, Sweet Everlasting, and Outlaw in Paradise which essentially matches the backlist that OpenRoad publishes. This was true for other Open Road authors I checked like Nan Ryan and Barbara Hambly.
But new content appears to missing as does any depth to the catalog. I’m not sure who is categorizing the books at Oyster but right under “Historical Romance” is “Paranormal Lust”.
I read in Laura Hazard Owens’ piece on Oyster that Smashwords content was available and for $9.95 if I could have access to the entire Smashwords catalog, that might have been worth it to me. Authors like Courtney Milan and Kit Rocha publish on Smashwords as do many other successful self published authors. Yet, I was not able to find even one author from Smashwords using the search feature. That was a bust.
There were a little over a hundred titles that I counted in the Oyster Romance section but some were public domain and others, like Mary Shelley’s Mathilda, don’t really belong. Oyster says it is adding new content every day. If they could tap into the self published market, this would be worth it for me but I don’t think they are going that route. But I also don’t see them adding front list content but I could be wrong about that.
If the content from Oyster is merely a curated bunch of backlist titles, I don’t see this as worth $9.95 to me. Oyster is still in beta and they are handing out invites slowly.
As always, I want to hear what you think. I’m curious at what price point you’d sign on to a service and what kind of content you’d require.