I’ve been a member of Oyster – the streaming-style* ebook service that bills itself as the ‘Netflix for books’ – since late September. After five months of regular usage, I think I am ready to share my thoughts.
First, the numbers. Oyster costs $9.95/mo for unlimited reading. I’ve spent $39.80 total (the first month was free). I’ve read 19 books on Oyster during that time. So that breaks down to about $2.10 per book read. Not bad.
Is Oyster worth $9.95/mo? The answer to that question depends partly on how much you read. But the reasons I like it aren’t really reflected in the dollars and cents.
Here are five reasons I love Oyster:
- It’s beautiful – The visual layout is wonderful, and it makes you want to explore, find books, and read.
- I’m reading more – There are currently 61 books in my to-be read list on Oyster, and I always have them with me, either on my iPhone or iPad. The last 10 books I’ve opened are automatically saved on my devices, so it is easy to read a couple pages while waiting in a long line or sitting in the (parked) car waiting to pick up my daughter. Oyster also puts out themed recommended reading lists like this one.
- My daughter is reading more – She’s eight years old, and Oyster has a wonderful selection of books that interest her. They recently added Disney Books to the catalog, and she is tearing through a lot of those.
- They seem to pay authors and publishers fairly – We’ve all heard the horror stories of how poorly music streaming services like Spotify compensate musicians. Oyster reportedly pays Smashwords authors 60% of the retail price when a member reads at least 10% of a book. Considering Amazon’s royalty is a maximum of 70%, 60% for a 10% read through seems very fair indeed.
- I’m reading different things – I was interested in BLACKBIRDS by Chuck Wendig when it was released, but not quite interested enough to drop $8 on it. Oyster gives me a no-risk way to try it. (BLACKBIRDS is a gloriously fun book, by the way, and well worth $8.) My to-read list includes a diverse array of authors including Flanery O’Connor, Edward W. Robertson, Christopher Moore, John Irving, Kelly Braffet and Warren Ellis. I would have checked out some of these authors without Oyster, but many I wouldn’t have. The Best American series is also waiting on my to-read list, and I’ve been diving in and out of those with peckish glee. There’s no due date and no rush to get to them. They will be waiting on my list when I am ready.
Much like the early days of Netflix Instant, the best way to approach Oyster is to use a ‘browse and see what interests you’ approach. While they do have a great selection, if you go in looking for a specific book, you might be disappointed. That said, their catalog has grown tremendously in the last five months.
One final note on Oyster.
The book-loving Internet community is a weird place. On the surface, we say we want more people to read. But when it comes to discussing how people read, the Internet can be a bit judge-y.
You buy books on Amazon? Why aren’t you supporting your library?
You read books from your library? Why aren’t you supporting your local indie bookstore?
Oyster does a lot of Facebook ads. In the comments below the ad, you will always find some variation on this:
I already have this service, and it’s free. It’s called my local library!
Always with the exclamation point so we know it’s a sick burn.
Look, I love my library. My family and I stop by every weekend. My library card has been under the self-checkout scanner so many times that I’m surprised it doesn’t automatically log me in when it sees me coming. And I have used Overdrive, the ebook platform used by most libraries. It’s perfectly fine. But from a convenience, beauty, and ease of use perspective, Oyster blows Overdrive away. To me, that is worth $9.95/mo.
If you prefer Overdrive, fine, go with God, you beautiful snowflake. Let’s enjoy books in our own ways. But don’t get weird with me about how I prefer to read them.
So, are streaming-style services like Oyster the future of ebooks?
I think they might be. Kind of.
For people who read less than 15-20 books a year, it probably doesn’t make much sense to subscribe to a monthly service. But for more prolific readers, I think this just might be the future.
*Oyster does temporarily download ePub files, so calling it a streaming service isn’t technically accurate. However, I find it’s the best way to help people understand how the service is used, so I went with ‘streaming-style service’ in this article. I hope that doesn’t ruffle too many nerdy feathers.Back to top