Oyster, the Netflix of e-books, is shutting down

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

E-Book Subscription Service Oyster To Shut Down.

The world of ebook subscription services lost one of its earliest proponents late Monday evening, when Oyster—the so-called “Netflix of ebooks,” which also recently opened an online book store—announced it was shutting down “over the next few months.” The surprise announcement comes less than two years since Oyster’s debut in September 2013. Oyster, a subscription e-books service, launched two years ago “with a simple idea to build a better way to read on mobile.” When invitations to the platform first rolled out, they offered access to “more than 100,000 titles” for $9.95 a month. Its CEO and founders announced their plans to close Oyster in a blog post this afternoon, writing that the service would be sunset over the next several months. With Oyster gone, that leaves Scribd ($9 per month) and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited ($10 per month) as the two major “all you can eat” subscription options for insatiable readers. The New York City-based startup premiered a subscription service in 2013 that let members read an unlimited number of digital books from its collection for $9.95 monthly.

They give no reason for why Oyster is closing, saying only that their vision for ebooks will be “best seized by taking on new opportunities.” Google appears to be part of the impetus, too. Right before it announced that the subscription service would shut down, the company said, “As we continue on, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of ebooks and mobile reading.” Oyster itself is shutting down, but it appears a good chunk of its team will “continue on” with Google, according to anonymous sources who spoke with Re/code. Reader page views were soaring. “What we’re doing, Willem Van Lancker, Oyster’s co-founder and chief product officer said audaciously, “is bringing every book in the world into that system.” Alas, no longer. However, after raising more than $17 million in funding, the startup abruptly announced that it would shutter its service and take on “new opportunities to fully realize our vision for ebooks.” For at least some of the team, these new opportunities will be at Google GOOG -1.51% .

Though it isn’t buying Oyster outright, Google will apparently be paying Oyster’s investors for the right to hire some of its staff — it is, Recode says, fair to call this an acquihire. In late June, Scribd CEO Trip Adler said on the company’s website that Scribd “was facing some growing pains” and that some romance titles would no longer be available as part of its $8.99-a-month service. Thankfully, though, Re/code has more info, reporting that several members of Oyster’s team—including its three co-founders—have gone over to Google and will join its e-book store, Google Play Books. Though Oyster launched with a challenging business model in an industry with a sole dominant player, its app managed to set itself apart from Kindle with several features.

Why pay $15 for the Kindle edition of Sue Grafton’s X or Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel Make Me, for example, when you can get the hardcover editions on Amazon for a few dollars more? Even though I already owned a large Kindle library, I quickly became an Oyster fan because I liked its user interface a lot more (especially after it introduced Lumin, which adjusts screen color based on the time of day) and appreciated its curated book lists, essays, and large selection (I also enjoyed having an alternative to Amazon because of my aversion to their workplace ethics). The price was comparable ($9.99 a month) as was the collection of titles (600,000 on Kindle Unlimited as compared to about 500,000 at the time on Oyster). Unfortunately, even a great user experience and team that is obviously made up of bonafide bibliophiles is not enough to guarantee success in the online book industry.

Not to mention that Amazon Prime customers already had complimentary access to one book a month from the company’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (selection that summer: more than 500,000). Hopefully Oyster’s team will continue to do interesting things for fans of mobile reading (and give me a way to export the 17 book lists I just finished organizing on its app). In theory, Oyster’s online e-book store was partly created to strengthen its bid against Amazon, but even here the startup was fighting a losing battle, with many titles priced significantly higher there than on Jeff Bezos’ platform.

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