This week, the New York–based startup Oyster launched what some are calling "the Netflix of books" — an iPhone app that gives readers unlimited access to 100,000 book titles for $9.95 a month.
Oyster is the latest entry in a growing trend toward subscription-based services like Netflix and Spotify, in which users pay a low monthly fee for unlimited access to a large library of media. The music and film industries for years have been freaking out that the format will disrupt their business models and do a number on their bottom lines.
Oyster's service resembles Netflix and Spotify in a few key ways. Like Netflix, readers can search by genre or title. The app will also make recommendations based on topics in the news or what's playing in movie theaters. And like Spotify, there's a social feature that lets readers follow friends to see what they're reading and vice versa, while a privacy tool allows them to keep guilty pleasures private.
Oyster is planning to release an iPad version later this month. In the meantime, the app is designed to let readers swipe pages with their phone at a vertical angle, making the experience phone-friendly.
Readers should be excited, says Rip Empson at Tech Crunch: It's the app's thought-out details, "along with the promise of more targeted and personalized recommendations (especially of the social variety) as its network expands and a library that offers an impressive selection for a new platform, that makes Oyster an awesome option for avid readers."
But if the app proves successful, Oyster could quickly find itself with formidable competition from the likes of Apple and Amazon, says Forbes. And though 100,000 titles may be a lot for a startup, its small compared to the giants: Apple's iBookstore is home to 1.8 million titles, while Amazon offers more than 2 million in e-book form.
Such a slim selection could be a bummer for customers. "Oyster has licensed e-books from only one of the major publishers: HarperCollins," notes Greg Sandoval at The Verge. And though management is planning to grow the library as they go, new users should "expect some big holes in the catalog."
"Oyster may succeed, but it'll probably have to grow its catalog quickly if it wants to draw customers away from Amazon and Apple," says Salvador Rodriguez at The Los Angeles Times.