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.