Eyeing Amazon, Oyster Launches Ebookstore with All Big Five Publishers

Oyster subscription ebooks Big Five Amazon retailStarting today, the ebook subscription service Oyster is no longer just that. Eighteen months after launching publicly, the company unveils an ebookstore offering a la carte titles from all of the Big Five publishers, encompassing all front- and back-list ebooks, including preorders, available everywhere else.

Because the new store’s wares are available even to non-subscribers, Oyster moves into direct competition with other leading ebook retailers, not least of all Amazon.

Oyster’s subscription-based catalog—which users can access for $9.95 a month and is now dubbed “Oyster Unlimited”—currently stands at “several hundred thousand” titles past the 1 million mark, according to Co-founder and CPO Willem Van Lancker, all of which are now also available for individual sale. In addition, there’s “around an extra hundred thousand” in the ebookstore that can’t be read by subscribers.

Many of those belong to two of Oyster’s newest partners, Hachette and Penguin Random House, which both say they have no plans to participate in the subscription model.

Oyster saw the return of a version of agency ebook pricing, beginning with Simon & Schuster signing a new contract with Amazon in October 2014, as “a really exciting opportunity for us,” CEO and Co-founder Eric Stromberg explained in an interview; Hachette and Macmillan had both agreed to similar terms by the end of the year.

“As large publishers move toward an agency model,” Stromberg said, “in general in the marketplace it’s harder to compete just on discounting or on undercutting price.”

Oyster_storeWhile Stromberg says “not everything is on an agency model” in Oyster’s new ebookstore but that titles are competitively priced, it’s clear Oyster is betting the success of its new retail venture is on additional factors, like user experience.

And that begins with current users, many of whom Oyster has found are still buying ebooks elsewhere. That makes perfect sense to Stromberg, who points out that having a Netflix account doesn’t mean you won’t buy a movie from iTunes every now and then. The new ebookstore gives customers “the opportunity to do all their reading on Oyster,” and growing the retail program among that user base is “really what we’re focused on” in the near-term, Stromberg says.

The longer-term game-plan, though, is to give Amazon a more serious run for its money in the ebook market.

Even publishers that remain leery of the subscription model share an interest in building “broader channels to reach our readers,” as Macmillan CEO John Sargent put it when he announced the publisher’s entrance into the subscription market last December.

If, in some publishers’ views, that risks putting readers in closer proximity to subscription ebooks, so be it.

Oyster’s “ideal scenario,” Stromberg says, is for new a la carte ebook buyers who weren’t ready to sign up for subscription service to be won over by the platform’s discovery and e-reading experience. Oyster added more editorial and social discovery features last November in what Van Lancker described as an effort to build a “comprehensive e-reading environment” that’s designed with mobile users in mind.

That added value, plus Oyster’s existing user base, seems to have provided enough foundation for all Big Five publishers to throw their hats in the ring for the new ebookstore. Despite the return of agency pricing terms within the industry, there are signs publishers remain frustrated with Amazon and more eager to test alternatives than they may have once been. HarperCollins is said to be resisting the new contract terms Amazon has so far laid on the table.

In the meantime, Oyster is focused on building a brand that Van Lancker says becomes “synonymous with books” for readers. (So don’t expect the company to add audiobooks, as subscription competitor Scribd did late last year.) Oyster plans to expand into its first international market later this year, having brought on board a CFO last month.

As to whether international users will have access to the subscription program as well as the ebookstore, Stromberg says Oyster will “take it case by case” but adds that “it’s a detriment to your brand and product if it doesn’t serve your readers’ needs” in every market.

“We definitely have growth on our minds right now in terms of staff, revenue and the product,” Stromberg says. As long as it offers them another potential way around Amazon, publishers appear ready to take that as good news for them, too.

[Press Release]

Oyster Launches Ebook Store, Every Top Publisher Signs On

Signs deals with Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster to offer the best all-in-one experience for ebooks

NEW YORK, April 8, 2015–Oyster, the leading subscription service for books, today announced that it is introducing an ebook store on its platform. The launch—the most significant entrance into the retail book market of the past five years—includes all the five largest book publishers in the US: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster, and many more.

The new store allows readers, including non-subscribers, to purchase and read virtually any book from these publishers on Oyster, including all new releases and pre-orders.

“The growth of Oyster to date demonstrates the huge demand in the market for a product with design and user experience at its core, offering a totally new way to discover and read books,” said Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg. “We know that readers want to see all of their options and access every book—subscription and retail—in one place. With this launch, we’re pairing the best in subscription with the best in ebook retail to deliver a comprehensive offering for readers.”

Since launching the first ebook subscription service in September 2013, Oyster has built a large and growing user base reading over 100 million pages each month, up from 8 million in December 2013. The company has also developed collaborative relationships with publishers and engaged with authors to shape a strong future for books together.

“Since the launch of its subscription service in September 2013, Oyster has shown itself to be an innovative player in the ebook market,” said HarperCollins Chief Digital Officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi. “HarperCollins looks forward to growing its relationship with Oyster as it expands the choices it offers consumers.”

In addition to purchasing ebooks from Oyster’s new store, readers can also subscribe to Oyster’s subscription service to access over 1 million titles for just $9.95 a month. Recent additions to the service include titles from Macmillan and the full Harry Potter series. Oyster will continue to expand the selection of books available in subscription as the company grows.

The launch of Oyster’s ebook store underscores the company’s focus on creating a beautiful and seamless product experience for discovering and reading books. Through a thoughtful and well-designed product for both retail and subscription, Oyster is delivering on its mission to connect readers with books they’ll love.

About Oyster

Oyster is simply the best way to read books. Readers can buy ebooks in the store and subscribe to Oyster Unlimited for access to over 1 million titles.

With a beautiful all-in-one experience for discovering and reading books, Oyster connects readers to books they’ll love and lets them read on the devices that already go everywhere with them. Readers get suggestions based on what they like and editorial recommendations from Oyster’s critically-acclaimed books magazine, The Oyster Review.

Launched in 2013, Oyster is headquartered in New York City and is backed by Founders Fund and Highland Capital Partners. To join and learn more, visit oysterbooks.com or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/oyster.

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