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Oyster Books: Worth the Price of Admission?

Oyster is a new IOS app being hailed as the Netflix for books. It involves paying a monthly subscription fee of $9.95 per month to gain unlimited access to over 100,000 eBook titles.  The service is only available on an Apple iPhone or iPad.  An Android app may be released in the future, but no release date has been announced.

The service launched on September 5, 2013 to a start-up company based in New York. Currently there are 8 employees, none of which are librarians.

This new service has over 100,000 books from a small handful of publishers, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Workman and Smashwords. They are adding new titles frequently.

I’ve been a subscriber of the service since the middle of September and I think it’s a great application for book lovers.  The service isn’t for everyone and I don’t think it will replace the library, ever.

Oyster has a huge selection of books, but most of the books I looked up weren’t available.  There’s no Dan Brown,  or Stephen King, but surprising I found the Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook and Michael Gorman’s Broken Pieces.

To get started you register an account and select 5 books to start with. Then you can browse or search by keyword, title or author and start adding books to your profile. You can add an unlimited amount of titles. You can read as many books as you want, there is no limit.  You are only required to be connected to the Internet to browse or search titles, or to download a title the first time.  The application will save the last 10 books you have opened to be viewed without being connected to Wi-Fi or a data plan.

The search engine is very lacking, or limited. You can’t filter results or limit to just title or author. It’s basically just a keyword search.  Browse categories are numerous and include Biography, Business, Fiction & Literature, History, Mystery & Thriller, Politics & Social Science, Religion & Spirituality, Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Self-Improvement, Sports, Technology & Science, Young Adult, and more.

Oyster is a social network application. You can follow other registered Oyster users and see what books they are reading.  You can opt to read a book privately, which will prevent other Oyster users from seeing what title you are reading.

The reading experience is similar to other eBook applications, with a few differences. You cannot search within the book, you cannot highlight text, but you can copy text and paste into another application such as Notes or email. You can tap on a word for a definition. A cool feature is that the application determines how long it takes for you to read one page and estimates how much time is left in the chapter you are reading. This is handy if you read late at night and want to know if you can make it to the end of the chapter before falling asleep. For a customized experience, there are 5 different color schemes and you can change the size of the font and the brightness of the screen.

I think this is a great app for people who consume lots of eBooks each month and also for people who like to reference non-fiction books or just read sections of books, such as 1,000 Places to See before You Die.  However, in order for the latter to be more effective, Oyster needs to add the ability to search within the book.

Is Oyster worth the price for admission? If you consider that a single eBook cost between $7-$13 and borrowing one from the public library could result in a long wait list and only 10-14 days of access, yes I think $9.95 a month is worth it.

Currently, Oyster is offering a free month for all new subscribers.




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