The Best E-Book Service: Oyster Vs. Scribd Vs. Kindle Store Vs. iBooks

8 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Giant book publishers back Oyster, an online competitor to Amazon and Apple.

NEW YORK: Subscription e-book service Oyster announced today it has signed all five major publishers for its new US online bookstore, a move which could ramp up competition against Amazon.Oyster, which has carved out its own subscription niche in the e-book market since it launched with 100,000 books in 2013, today offers subscribers a library of more than one million books, including the Harry Potter series.New York-based Oyster, launched in 2013, had previously only offered a $9.95 a month all-you-can-read subscription package that allowed consumers to choose from more than a million titles. Oyster, which has been described as the “Netflix for e-books” with its unlimited monthly subscription plan, said the agreements will mean “virtually any book” from the major publishers will be available for instant purchase.

While Amazon also offers books from these publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster—it got into a nasty battle with them over pricing. For the new e-bookstore, Oyster struck deals with the country’s five largest publishers and others, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. and the Perseus Books Group. Since its launch in 2013, Oyster has founded its brand — and earned the auspicious nickname “Netflix of books” — on a monthly payment model not unlike an all-you-can-eat buffet. Amazon last year was involved in a lengthy dispute with Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group over e-book terms before the two companies reached agreement in November.

Oyster will announce on Wednesday that it is launching an e-book store, which will for the first time give its readers the option to purchase digital books— and its effort is backed by the world’s biggest publishers, which are eager to have some competitive leverage over Amazon. Oyster is not abandoning its $10-per-month subscription service, through which Android, iOS, and Kindle Fire users can rent as many books as they like. The fight between Amazon and Hachette was especially toxic, with Amazon preventing customers from pre-ordering upcoming books from the publisher and threatening to stop stocking its titles. HarperCollins Publishers, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp, is negotiating a renewal of its contract with Amazon. “Publishers have plenty of reasons to participate,” said Amy Rhodes, a partner in publishing consultants Market Partners International Inc. “What this also suggests is that the subscription model has limitations in terms of appeal, so why not add a bookstore?

Oyster founder Eric Stromberg called the move “a natural progression of the businesses.” The release certainly broadens Oyster’s offering — that’s good. However, co-founder and CEO Eric Stromberg suggested that the store will allow Oyster to offer a truly comprehensive selection of books to its readers.

My guess is that this is an easy add-on for Oyster.” Still, it is unlikely Oyster’s nascent service alone will significantly tilt the balance of power in e-publishing. Oyster recently persuaded Macmillan to allow 1,000 of its backlist books into Oyster’s subscription library, making it the third of the Big Five publishers to offer titles through the e-book service. Still, it faces competition from Amazon — which also offers a similar subscription service — and from other digital book providers including Apple, Google and Barnes & Noble.

As more people have begun to read their e-books on tablets and phones — not just dedicated e-readers — they are less tied to specific platforms to buy those digital books, Stromberg tells the Journal. With the launch, however, Oyster will join a small but intimidating list of companies that operate full-fledged e-book stores, including Apple, Amazon, Google and Kobo.

These are just three of the 10 offbeat startups we’ve deep-dived into; just three of the 800-odd startups added every year; and just three of the over 3,000 startups that are trying to make it big in India. Of those, only Amazon offers the Netflix-style subscription option in addition to a traditional store — an option that industry watchers say Amazon likely introduced in reaction to services like Oyster and Scribd. The 10 that we’ve picked are novel, but being different or a first mover is no guarantee of being the best mover — or moving at all a few years later. Like streaming music’s chilling effect on studios, publishers have been very wary of subscription services, says The New York Times, because they could devalue books in consumers’ minds. Eric Stromberg, Oyster’s CEO, said in an interview that many consumers who once read digital books on dedicated e-readers are now using apps on their tablets or phones to access content.

Eric Stromberg, Oyster’s CEO and cofounder, comes across as unfazed by the prospect of fighting against multi-billion dollar corporations with a head-start of five years or more. “A lot of other experiences are maybe more web-optimized experiences, or ported from other forms of media: finding a book, or buying a song, or buying a TV show all look the same,” Stromberg says. “We specifically built for books.” Oyster is beautifully designed to work on desktop, iPhone, iPad and Android. Van Lancker noted that Oyster has been highlighting books through its own editorial efforts, most notably through its magazine The Oyster Review and now it can discuss a much broader range books. (See for example its new list of the 100 best books of the decade so far.) Stromberg added that as more publishers move towards agency pricing (where the publisher, rather than the retailer, sets the price), it’s harder for someone like Amazon to beat everyone by cutting prices: “We expect there to be a lot more price parity in the marketplace, so it will be harder to compete just based on price.”

Murmurs have surfaced — broken first by Business Insider — that HarperCollins isn’t happy with its contract negotiations with Amazon over e-book prices. And Hachette, of course, spent much of last year embroiled in a high-profile dispute with the e-tail giant over its contract. “Through great innovation and prodigious amounts of risk and hard work, Amazon holds a 64 percent market share of Macmillan’s e-book business,” Sargent wrote to Macmillan authors. “As publishers, authors, illustrators, and agents, we need broader channels to reach our readers.” Oyster, then, appears to be nosing open the door into e-book retail left ajar by these continued frictions, and it’s doing so with an unusual pricing model, according to Wired. “The model works like this: Oyster pays publishers a sum of money each time ‘a fair portion’ of a book is read on its subscription service. Swift is now offering her music through Tidal, a higher-end streaming service owned by musician Jay Z and which claims to offer better artist compensation.

However you interpret the move, it’s clear that Oyster carefully considered how it would on-board existing subscribers to this mixed subscription-store model. Amazon has clashed with several of the major book publishers in recent years, including a months-long and very public dispute in negotiating book sale terms with Hachette. “Those who agreed to Scribd and Oyster partly did so as an Amazon antidote,” Shatzkin says. “They liked the idea that there would be a challenge to Amazon.”

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