November 26, 2014

Test Driving Oyster, a “Netflix for Ebooks”

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 Is Oyster set to become the “Netflix for ebooks”? It has the makings, even if it’s not quite there yet. Subscribers pay $9.95 a month for an unlimited access subscription to ebooks in Oyster’s catalog. Right now, the catalog of available titles is small—some 100,000 titles. If that grows, Oyster will prove to be an extremely viable method for accessing ebooks.

One appeal of Oyster is that titles are available on demand, meaning that any title is always accessible. There aren’t hold lists or problematic download procedures. All it takes to start reading is to find a title of interest and press “play.” There’s no limit to the number of titles subscribers can read simultaneously or during a set time period.

Simplicity is at the heart of Oyster. Readers browse titles by swiping across the screen. Books are searchable by author, title, keyword, or browsable by genre. When you’re looking at information about a book, a screen that lists related titles is available if you want it. At the moment, this feature isn’t as accurate as one might wish—often the similarity between titles is weak. I expect that as the catalog of titles grows—and Oyster gets an idea of the connections readers are making between books—this will improve.

Oyster’s social features allow subscribers to follow on Oyster people you already connect with via Twitter, Facebook, or email. You can see what they’re currently reading, have read, and what’s on their “titles of interest” list. It’s possible to keep information about your own reading private if you don’t want others to see it.

Currently, access to Oyster is by invite only. Sign up for an invite, and within a few days, you should be able to set up your account with a credit card.

Some library staff may be concerned about the impact that subscription services like Oyster will have on library ebook lending. Turn that around: Oyster provides an opportunity for continued strategizing about the role of the library in the community. Step up your dialogue about how library staff can best support patrons—beyond providing access to physical and digital content.

These screencasts provide an overview of the Oyster app and how it works. Topics covered:

  • Getting started reading an ebook with Oyster
  • Using the social features
  • Searching Oyster titles and related books features
  • What can librarians learn from Oyster?

Oyster, the “Netflix for ebooks” | Part 1 from School Library Journal on Vimeo.

Oyster, the “Netflix for ebooks” | Part 2 from School Library Journal on Vimeo.

Oyster, the “Netflix for ebooks” | Part 3 from School Library Journal on Vimeo.

Oyster, the “Netflix for ebooks” | Part 4 from School Library Journal on Vimeo.

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Linda W. Braun About Linda W. Braun

Linda W. Braun (lbraun@leonline.com) is the Youth Services Manager at Seattle Public Library, an educational technology consultant, a past president of YALSA, and adjunct faculty at Simmons College Graduate School of Library & Information Science.

Comments

  1. Great overview, Linda! Since there is no download, I’m guessing you have to be connected to wireless or 3/4G while you are reading, which could be an issue for some people. I also didn’t see the ability to search by genre (mystery, romance, etc.) which could be one of the navigational improvements you hinted at Oyster needing. That seems to be a pretty big issue for users since so many rapid genre readers don’t want to have to deal with holds on new copies of books or a quick turnaround time at their local library and this service could potentially fit that bill.

    Lots to think about – thanks!!!

  2. Linda W. Braun says:

    Courtney, really good questions. There is a genre search and I failed to go over that specifically. When a user taps on the magnifying glass under the search is a list of genres. The list includes the traditional categories – biography, fiction & literature, mystery & thriller, etc. Then under each category are sub-categories. For example the fiction & literature category includes sub-categories of dystopian and young adult titles.

    Also, the Oyster FAQ says this about connectivity and access:
    “No data connection is needed to access titles you are already reading, including the previous 10 books you have opened…Connectivity is required to access a book for the first time.”

    Hope that helps.

  3. Is Oyster set to become the “Netflix for ebooks”? It has the makings, even if it’s not quite there yet. Subscribers pay $9.95 a month for an unlimited access subscription to ebooks in Oyster’s catalog. Right now, the catalog of available titles is small—some 100,000 titles. If that grows, Oyster will prove to be an extremely viable method for accessing ebooks.

  4. Julie Williams says:

    I don’t know much about Oyster, but I know World Public Library has millions of books and is like $8 a year. They have a pretty awesome discovery tools menu set up too.

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