I Really Like Oyster (But)

screen-shot-2013-09-05-at-8-35-53-am[1]So a new Netflix for ebooks launched last week. Oyster promises access to a 100,000 title catalog for only $10 which includes titles from some major publishers.Oyster delivers on that promise. I finally got around to trying it today, and I love it.In the course of one afternoon I found several months (at least) worth of reading material, and I was perilously close to committing to subscribe for the indefinite future. But I won't. In spite of all its greatness Oyster still has a single huge shortcoming:There's no Android app, nor any firm plans to release one.

There's also no iPad app, though the iPhone app will run (poorly) on my iPad. The iPad app is scheduled to be released "this Fall", but since I don't own an iPhone I really have no way to use Oyster.

But a lot of people own an iPhone, so rather than simply write off Oyster abruptly I will take a deeper look at the service. When you look at this kind of service, you need to evaluate it on 3 criteria:

  1. Selection
  2. Cost
  3. Platform Support

When Juli Monroe wrote up her review of Oyster yesterday she put cost first, but I am largely skipping it because the cost of Oyster is not a major stumbling block.


The selection of reading material is great. I mostly read SF, and I found months and months worth of reading material. I spent about an hour this afternoon adding content to my account, and I quickly put together a reading list of more ebooks than I could read in several months. And I wasn't even done trolling the SF section, so even assuming I got bored with everything half way through I would still have plenty left to read.

Sure, about 5% to 10% of the selection was public domain titles, but I still managed to put together a long reading list. I found the $10 a month to be well worth it, given the selection.

Of course, just because I put together a reading list today doesn't mean I will still have the entire list tomorrow. This is a Netflix for ebooks, and that means there's a good chance it will suffer the classic Netflix Problem at some point when one publisher or another decided to pull a title.

Disappearing content might not be an issue today but 6 months from now, who knows? This is what eventually led me to cancel my Netflix account, and it's not impossible that Oyster mught have similar problems.

Platform Support

I would be paying the $10, if only the Oyster website and app were better designed. Oyster is only available on the iPhone, which is a serious problem given that I am wedded to Android. While I was able to test the iPhone app on my iPad, I don't really like reading on my iPad. I want to read on Android.

But it's not just that the reading app isn't available on Android or in your web browser (I don't see why not). There's a second issue with Oyster which turns me off, and that is the fact I cannot manage my reading list via the Oyster website. It can only be done via the iPhone app. I think it would be better all around if we could manage our reading lists on the website. Being able to read on the Oyster website would also be a plus, though I won't be greedy.

I also don't like the design of the iPhone app. The interface for searching its catalog is not well designed and not obvious. Sure, I was able to guess how to navigate, but at first I sat there baffled before touching different elements at random to see what would happen.

That is a symptom of a bad design, and while the flaws are subtle they are going to be a subconscious nuisance to users.

And then there is the limited support for reading features. Oyster chose to develop a custom reading app (unlike their competitor Entitle, who licensed apps from Bluefire).  It's a very basic app. It's so limited that you can't even change the page turn gesture. Your choices are either an upswipe (that's weird given that I have never seen another reading app using a similar gesture) or tapping the lower corners.

The Oyster app is limited to 5 color themes and changing the font size. There's no bookmarks, dictionary, annotation ability, or sharing options, and that is going to further limit the usefulness of this service.

Then again, there's no Android app so this doesn't really matter to me.


About Nate Hoffelder (11227 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

18 Comments on I Really Like Oyster (But)

  1. I’m disappointed that there isn’t an Android app either.How is the mystery selection? I own an iPhone but I can’t see myself reading on the thing. I used to do that though but not anymore. I’m in a wait and see mode. No rush to try Oyster right now. Will see what others say about it six months from now.

  2. When I complained on Twitter about the lack of Android support, the @oyster account assured me that one was in the works. Go figure.

  3. Oyster sounds brilliant. However, I doubt whether I’ll even try it. I don’t mind reading on my iPhone for a few minutes while waiting for a meeting or something, but I couldn’t read on it for hours.

    I read on my iPad, and Kindle if I have to — I’m a fast reader, so I like a big screen.

    Re only browsing and choosing books on the iPhone. That sounds like an exercise in misery. I hate browsing anything on a dinky little screen.

  4. I know Apple is the great evil Overlord of the technology market, but really… Are we Android-users really that insignificant?
    Android app, Oyster? Pretty please?

  5. I hadn’t considered managing my account on the website. I actually prefer managing on my device, so it isn’t an issue for me, but I can see where it would annoy others.

    @Keishon, I found the mystery/thriller selection to be pretty good. Not quite as good as sci-fi, but enough to keep you reading for months.

    Based on the discussion I’ve been seeing in my own post, I think the “vanishing content” problem is likely. I can see some of the big publishers signing on to allow some back list titles for a limited time, to get people to try new authors and then buy more recent works. Similar to what they are doing now with limited-run free or sale price promotions. So, opt-in some works for a few months, gather some new readers and then pull the titles, hoping people will then go buy the books.

    There are some very unhappy Smashwords authors out there who have been automatically opted-in without knowing details. I see backlash coming.

    Oh, and I’m “Juli” without an “e.”

  6. If they let people who’d read a book download a DRM-free copy afterward (possibly at the discretion of the publisher) I’d be in favor of it. Doesn’t mean I think they’d succeed or that I’d subscribe myself, but I wouldn’t have any objection to putting my stuff on Oyster & watching to see what happens. More on that here: http://davidhaywoodyoung.com/2013/09/12/of-oyster-drm-and-libraries/

  7. Lack of Android app is a deal killer for me as well. They obviously are not ready for prime time but are trying to generate at least a little cash flow and some buzz. The concept is appealing but execution is everything.

  8. I love oyster and read books on my kindle – works perfectly.

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