Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

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.

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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

Oyster Themes

Click for larger image

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”.

Oyster 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.

I'm interested in a subscription based ebook club.

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My sweet spot for pricing is ...

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What kind of content would you need for a subscription based service? (You can choose more than one)

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kaetrin
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 05:51:24

    I’m not sure I’m terribly interested in a subscription model where I don’t own the book. Which is probably silly because the vast majority of the books I read I will only ever read once. At the same time, I don’t want the books chosen for me. I’m not sure I’m the target audience for a subscription model.

  2. Miss Bates
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 06:20:33

    As it stands, this sounds too limiting. I would not be the customer for this. I still like to read in paper! Question #3 did not allow me to choose more than one option :(

  3. Teresa
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 07:00:42

    My library has a pretty great romance (and other) ebook selection. I don’t mind the occasional wait for a book to save $9.95 a month.

  4. mari
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 07:11:19

    I would definitly be interested in this model for romance books. Any word on Android developing an app like this?

  5. Anna M
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 07:42:06

    I think that a pricing model more like the original netflix would be great, for those of us who don’t get through that many books a month.

    I don’t buy any books in e form that are public domain. I have been more than happy to get those for free from Project Gutenberg.

    Shame about not having an android version. And I like a skeumorphic design and actual page numbers.

  6. CG
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 07:49:50

    I would totally be interested in a subscription service if they actually offered a wide variety of content for romance readers. Sounds like Oyster misses the mark.

    Question 3 is only allowing for choosing one option.

  7. SAO
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 07:52:06

    I voted for $5, because that’s my price point for a flawed service, but I would probably pay $10 for a really good subscription service that gave me access to pretty much what I’d get in a good library. I’d accept reading new books 6 months after they come out.

    $9.95 seems high for what you say they’re offering. I buy about 9 book club books a year, for an average of $9, leaving me with a total of $81. With a decent selection of leisure reading (ie Romance) and being assured that I could find my book club books, I’d sign up for $120/year, but that’s steep for not being assured that I can get what I want.

  8. Keishon
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 08:11:34

    Well, I’m a genre reader so books from mystery and romance would have to be plentiful for $9.95 a month and with every backlist title available along with a few front list titles.

  9. Tina M.
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 08:47:08

    I’m currently a member of Booksfree and have enjoyed their service for a few years now, but the only small complaint is the amount I have to wait for the books transfer through the mail. This Oyster announcement had me excited because it’s book rental for ebooks and I could quickly get books for less than I am currently spending. The biggest problem is that they chose to only go iOS and ignore users of other platforms. Unfortunately, I will not subscribe to what seems to be a convenient service.

  10. JenM
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 08:48:05

    I don’t know if I would be interested in a subscription service or not – in theory, yes, but the ones I’ve seen so far haven’t excited me, so I guess I’m still waiting for the perfect one. Anyway, my TBR mountain is so huge that the last thing I need is more books to choose from. Also, for this app, the fact that it doesn’t do landscape is a deal breaker for me. I frequently read with the iDevice propped up on a table so that I don’t have to hold it for long periods at a time and that only works in landscape, not portrait.

  11. Milly
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 09:15:52

    Not interested. I’m in a major city centre with access to an amazing library system so I’ve become a huge fan of using Overdrive to access their e-books. I can see how this may work if you don’t have access to a good library system to be able to read books at a low cost but for those of us in major city centres I can’t see this being cost effective.

  12. Ros
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 09:32:11

    My understanding is that Smashwords authors are going to be asked to opt in to this, so I’d guess that availability of those titles will be added as and when that happens. I haven’t heard anything from them yet.

  13. Becca
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 09:55:13

    As I understand it, Smashwords titles are due to go live on Oyster in October.

  14. Laura Florand
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 09:55:15

    @Ros: Yes to what Ros said. Except I understand the opt-in is automatic, if you are in their premium distribution, so you have to actively choose to opt out (and be aware this is necessary). However, not only have they not rolled it out yet, but they have not revealed anything about terms to authors yet, so it’s a wait and see. That’s my understanding of it, but of course anyone can feel free to correct me if I’ve got something wrong.

  15. Sunita
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 10:06:44

    I’d pay $9.99/month just to get access to all the Open Road titles. If you buy 12-15 of their books a year, you’ve paid for the Oyster subscription. I happily use my public library, but new release ebooks always have a waiting list, so half the time I don’t even look.

    I don’t have an iPhone but I signed up for an invite and assuming I can use an iPod Touch I’ll get my old one out of storage and give it a try.

    On subscriptions more generally, I agree that the Netflix model is one I’d pay for in ebooks, if they offer similar access for a similar price. I already feel as if I don’t really own my ebooks, so that’s not much of a hurdle for me.

    ETA: The lack of landscape rotation might eventually be a deal-breaker for me, but I assume that will come in a subsequent update.

  16. Loosheesh
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 10:10:57

    I spend more than $9.95 a month on ebooks so I’d actually be interested in this if it had beefier content (certainly more romance and mystery/suspense etc titles). And highlighting capabilities (which are very important to me) on the app seem sucky. These are moot points, however, because there seems to be no iPad version (subject to correction here) and I don’t own an iPhone.

  17. Mims
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 10:27:05

    I have no interest in a subscription service for books; it doesn’t really make sense for me. If I don’t want to purchase a book I can get it from the public library. If I don’t want to wait in the queue for the book, it probably means that I really like the author/book/series and want to own (lease)/buy it.

    I also don’t like having to have yet another app to read a book. I bought an e-text book for school and didn’t realize that I had to install an app on my Kindle to read it. The customer service was terrible and now I have an app that only reads one book (I won’t be buying any more of their e-text books). Not being able to highlight and take notes would be a minus for me as well. I hate checking out e-books from the library where there isn’t an option to check out the Kindle version because you have to be online if you want to look up the definition of a word and I don’t want to waste my battery, plus it’s extra steps where on the Kindle I would only have to highlight it. Amazon’s ease of use with the Kindle has spoiled me for all other apps.

  18. Babs
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 10:35:18

    Perhaps when writer’s stop writing books everyone will realize that this was a bad idea. More will lead to less. Hopefully when they have no more books to spread out on their book buffet’ table the readers will demand quality back on the shelves and not this happy go lucky ‘anybody who can type may put out a book’ crap. Because face it, who is going to stick around and write a good story putting time effort and money into something they’ll get pennies back from? People who won’t put time, effort and money into what they produce. That’s who.

  19. Ethical Reader
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 11:09:54

    @Babs: I hear you. I am an author with Crimson Romance and am already involved in one subscription scheme. And last year, for my efforts, I received a whopping 42 cents per month for being in the service (all you can read for 13/mo – 60/yr or thereabouts).

    I was and am a reader. I consume far more books than I could ever write. But now that I’m on the other end of the publishing game, I can’t leave the knowledge that authors may get paid very little in a scheme like this at the door when these discussions arise. I can only hope that if indie authors participate via Smashwords or whatever that there is greater compensation for authors.

    As a reader, I’m not sure I’d sign up for a service like this. Other than Harlequin, I haven’t read the majority of any one line, and now with greater selection, I don’t even read many of those anymore. What I think subscription services don’t seem to understand is that with libraries or Amazon, readers have access to almost anything to suit their tastes. Every service I’ve seen so far is limited by genre, or publisher, or by author participation, and can be exhausted. I used to be a Netflix subscriber, until I’d seen almost all of what I’d wanted. When I realized DVDs were sitting around my house and no longer was I eagerly awaiting the little red envelope in my mailbox, I stopped the subscription . . . and I don’t miss it. Between DVDs friends own, the library, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, etc., I can see what I want without a monthly fee.

    Now that I think about it, Amazon would be in the best position to offer this kind of service.

  20. hapax
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 12:47:01

    I don’t get how ” you don’t own the books but you get access to as many books as you can read at one time ” works. I download a book and can only read it — scrolling top to bottom — once, and then it goes away? Can I re-read it without re-downloading? Can I skip around (I’m an inveterate read-the-end-firster) without losing it? Can I download several books and skip between them, depending on my mood? Can I (theoretically) download the entire collection in one month, then cancel my subscription?

    Not that I’m likely to do any of these things. I can always find more to read than I have time for already!

  21. Eric Stromberg
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 12:49:59

    Hi Jane,

    Eric Stromberg from Oyster here. Thanks so much for the thoughtful and detailed review of our service and for checking it out! We are a young company and are working hard to keep improving the service over time. A big part of that is improving the content library, including Romance!

    As you note, we are adding new titles every week (we even added some great new titles this morning!), and have a bunch of new ones scheduled for this week as well. You should start seeing the Smashwords titles making their way onto Oyster in the next few weeks.

    One important note is that when you filter by genre the few hundred books you see are not all of our titles, they are a curated list of titles picked by our editors and our algorithm. We have thousands of other romance titles that are available via search.

    We appreciate the support and hope you’ll continue to enjoy Oyster and check in as we improve the service over time! And if you have any other questions, you can always reach our team at [email protected].

    Co-Founder & CEO

  22. HJ
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 16:01:04

    @Eric Stromberg:

    How do authors get compensated for their work Eric? I mean is it pennies on the dollar?

  23. Maree Anderson
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 17:21:25

    @Laura Florand:

    Yep, that’s what I’ve heard, too, Laura. The blog alert I received from Smashwords on Friday said they’ll being shipping books to Oyster in 3 weeks. We’ll get an email alert 72 hours before shipping and we need to opt out if we have books in premium catalog or they’ll automatically be shipped. According to Mark: “It’s an author friendly deal” so I’m playing the waiting game :)

  24. Anthea Lawson/Sharp
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 20:48:18

    @Eric Stromberg:

    So, when you search “Romance” it only shows some of the titles in that genre? The ‘curated’ ones? That makes no sense to me.

  25. Mark Nardy
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 22:03:51

    @Anthea After trying it just now I think he was talking about Browsing the “Romance” section only showing some of the titles… If you search it definitely shows a lot more.

    For what its worth, as a reader I think Oyster Books is really amazing. Thier app is more beautiful than any other I’ve seen yet and the book selection is impressive.

    Curious to see the publisher payment model too. But if HarperCollins is on board with big books it must be pretty good.

    – Mark

  26. Natasha R
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 08:47:45

    If something like this came up a year ago I would have jumped at the chance of a $10 subscription based ebook club. Now, this is not appealing. My local library carries an amazing collection of romance ebooks (Toronto Public Library). We have awesome librarians! Not only the romance collection. But other categories are also well stocked.

  27. Angie
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 14:28:38

    So wait, if you… I don’t even know, click on a “Romance” button or something, you only see some fraction of the romance books, but if you put “romance” into a search window, you get all of them? That sounds like an interface design problem to me, because a lot of users are going to assume that if you click on a “Romance” button — or do whatever obvious thing Jane did to look at the Romance section — they’re going to see all the romance books. If the obvious choice only gives you a curated selection, that needs to be made very clear in the interface. It might be as simple as re-labelling a button or something, but whatever it is, it sounds to me like it needs to be done.

    And I feel like I’m missing something here — when the hell did “Paranormal Lust” become an official genre label? :/ That sounds like a term some hater would use, saying it with a nasty sneer. When did vendors and such start using it? And is there anyone on the planet who’d say in conversation, “Oh, yeah, I’m a huge paranormal lust fan!” Have I been buried in edits for too long…? :(


  28. Cindy
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 14:42:20

    @Eric Stromberg I’ve requested an invite but from what I’m understanding here, this is only for iPhone, iPad readers? Nothing for Windows? That will leave me out.

  29. Jane
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 14:53:06

    @Cindy: Yes, this is only for iPhone and iTouch readers with an iPad app to come. No stated plans for Android or desktop.

    As for the search, I did search by author name and title but did not search for subject. When I search romance, this is what I see which is really less than ideal. I’m not sure how a reader self curates or how she finds “paranormal romance” when different categories are being used unfamiliar to the romance crowd.

  30. Rachel
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 10:16:55

    Theoretically, I’d be interested in something like this, if they had a wide variety of books (although I’m an avid romance reader, I also read a ton in other genres). But only if I could use it through my Kobo – not only am I not an “i” person, I’m not interested in reading on my phone screen. But I like the idea! Personally I get most of my ebooks through my library, which has a huge collection through Overdrive, but I can see this being very useful for people who don’t have a large public library system near them.

    (ps. the last question on your poll only allows one answer, though I can see that’s not what you intended.)

  31. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity has weather whiplash
    Sep 14, 2013 @ 19:20:38

    […] Dear Author about Oyster ebook subscription. […]

  32. Dree
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 19:15:27

    Those sections you scroll through are barely the tip of the oyster iceberg! There is very little there. I can’t even find a selection of cookbooks in the guide. But using the search feature reveals there are TONS of cookbooks! Craft Books! (And good crochet books, not 30-year-old out-of-date junk!). I have searched by keyword (vegan, for a friend not for me LOL), hiking; by publisher; by author. There is just sooooo much in there.

    But their categories are definitely off. I found one of my favorite books of all time (Susan Vreeland’s The Girl in Hyacinth Blue) under romance. It is not a romance–the main character is a painting! I am so glad I took a spin through romance, because I read romances about as often as I read finance books–which would be never!

    Do a search!

  33. JenniferF
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 21:58:01

    @Ethical Reader:

    Ethical – do you have any idea how many “reads” you earned $.42 for? What was the price of your book. For example, did you earn $.42 for one “read” of a book normally priced at 99 cents? Or was that for 50 “reads” of a book priced at $4.99? I, too, want to know how authors are going to make any money off of this.

    I’m a Netflix user and I’ve noticed that content started strong and has tanked in the last few months. I can only assume it’s because the content creators didn’t earn enough money.

  34. Owen Jones
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 23:56:05


    I am an author on Smashwords.
    I just came from there and Oyster is definitely on their ‘to do list.
    All authors are signed up to it automatically, but can opt out.
    It looks as if no titles (catalogue) have been shipped to Oyster yet.

    Owen Jones

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