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New York-based startup Oyster aims to be the Netflix for eBooks

Sea­soned ecom­merce ana­lysts may have their doubts about the via­bil­i­ty of a sub­scrip­tion all-you-can-read e‑book ser­vice, but New York-based start­up Oys­ter thinks oth­er­wise, hav­ing recent­ly launched an iPhone app offer­ing unlim­it­ed access to 100,000+ book titles. The $9.95 month­ly sub­scrip­tion offers titles from a diverse range of gen­res, from famous clas­sics to inter­na­tion­al best­sellers and biogra­phies to sci-fi.

Will it fly?

But that hard-nosed ecom­merce ana­lyst might still need some con­vinc­ing: can the mod­el that worked for Spo­ti­fy (music) and Net­flix (movies) trans­fer to e‑books?  $3 mil­lion in fund­ing for an app that only saw the light of day last sum­mer sug­gests that investors think it can.

A sin­gle tap of the app will let users access the book of their choice and they can browse the offer­ings by title or genre. Not only that, Oys­ter offers read­ers rec­om­men­da­tions based on top­i­cal news issues or trend­ing new movies. And for those who like steamy bodice rip­pers, there’s a pri­va­cy fea­ture that pre­vents friends from know­ing what you’ve been por­ing through.

Co-founders Andrew Brown, Eric Stromberg and Willem Van Lanker have spent the last year busi­ly mak­ing arrange­ments with pub­lish­ers. And in case our imag­i­nary ecom­merce ana­lyst is still dubi­ous, all three have impres­sive com­mer­cial cre­den­tials to their names:  Brown was a prod­uct man­ag­er at Google’s ad agency, Dou­bleClick, Van Lanker was a Google Maps design­er and Brown has years of expe­ri­ence work­ing for ecom­merce firm Hunch.

Pit­falls and possibilities

But some poten­tial pit­falls lie ahead. If an all-you-can-eat sub­scrip­tion e‑book ser­vice catch­es on, Oys­ter could find itself squeezed into extinc­tion if giants like Apple and Ama­zon decide to pounce on the mod­el. Even in the event of such a sce­nario, though, there are sur­vival strate­gies – like offer­ing a spe­cial­ized ser­vice or mor­ph­ing into a spe­cial­ist lit­er­ary social net­work. But don’t for­get that Net­flix was expect­ed to croak in the event of Block­buster adopt­ing its mod­el; in fact, by the time the lat­ter made a move, Net­flix had already built up a strong and loy­al sub­scriber base who weren’t about to jump ship.

And pub­lish­ers and authors might find it agree­able if Oys­ter can show that an army of sub­scribers brings more cash into their cof­fers than read­ers buy­ing the occa­sion­al £25 book.

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