Oyster, the highly anticipated, venture-backed ebook subscription platform for iPhones launched today. The app is available for iPhone devices and will soon be available on other platforms, including the iPad this fall and, later, Android.
The company is launching with 100,000 ebook titles available from publishers such as HarperCollins, Workman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and self-publishing distributor Smashwords. The service will cost $9.95 a month to read an unlimited number of books on up to six devices. The number of titles offered through Oyster will be “increasing over time,” CEO Eric Stromberg told Digital Book World.
The product has been a year in the making, following a $3 million funding announcement last October. Since then, the company has worked quickly to create an attractive iPhone app and cobble together deals to fill the app with content.
The company declined to share its business model, however — just how authors, publishers and other stakeholders are compensated for making their titles available. The company leadership only told Digital Book World that the model was a “win-win-win,” for rights-holders, readers and the company and its investors.
“It was a very hard problem that involved understandnig the needs of authors, publishers and consumers,” said Stromberg, citing that he believes Oyster has it solved due to months of strategizing and in-house know-how from employees like Matt Shatz, who had been a vice president of digital at Random House.
Like any new app, Oyster will be challenged to find users. The company plans on relying primarily on public relations for now, including a series of reporter visits prior to launch that have resulted in a flurry of articles around the app’s release. The company doesn’t currently have any plans to work with Apple on additional app store exposure and currently users who want to buy the service have to request an invitation to do so.
Earlier this week, eReatah, another subscription ebook platform, launched, though it seems to function more like a book-of-the-month club with discounts. It has several tiers of service, starting at about $17 a month for two books. Unlike Oyster, where books are downloaded into the app and then can be read offline through the app with a subscription, eReatah users “own” the ebooks outright once they download them and can access them through the app even if they are no longer subscribers. (As with Kindle ebooks and most others, “own” means license.)
Oyster and eReatah are not the first two companies to offer such services, although in the U.S., they are the first outside of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library to offer it across a wide variety of titles. Safari Books Online offers a selection of ebooks for a professional, technical audience and Bookboard offers kids ebooks, to name two. And, in Spain, 24symbols has created a general-interest ebook subscription service.
One enticing proposition for publishers around this new distribution model is the possibility of exposing readers to new authors and new books they may not discover anywhere else. Oyster, for instance, will use a combination of editorial, social and algorithmic recommendations to suggest new titles to readers. Users will see book recommendations through editorial lists, Facebook and Twitter integrations and suggested reading based on reading they’ve already done. For now, publishers will not be offered opportunities to pay for extra exposure for their titles.