Oyster “Acqui-hired”

What is the future of the subscription model for ebooks?

September 22, 2015

Screenshot from Oysterbooks.com.

I last wrote about Oyster, the “Netflix for ebooks,” in January 2014. On September 21, Oyster announced that it is shutting down. Most of its very savvy engineers are moving over to Google, where they will no doubt work on the Google Books store. Apparently Google did not buy them outright, but it is paying some amount of money to hire the team, hence the portmanteau “acqui-hired.”

What can we glean from this shift?

First, despite an appealing design and many feature-for-feature advantages over the Amazon experience, Oyster by itself couldn’t topple the e-tailer giant’s lead.

Second, it ain’t over. Google is still in the business of selling ebooks, and Google is a credible contender in the marketplace.

Third, it’s hard to assess the future of the subscription model. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited seems to have its boosters, but, generally, authors aren’t among them. Libraries, of course, are subscriptions, too. And although our annual costs are lower than most for-profit models, we can’t match the instant gratification of a sale. Meanwhile, Scribd (with about a million titles and a per-month charge of $8.99) seems to be hanging in there, although it too is facing some challenges (see this piece about its catalog reduction of popular romance titles).

The game goes on.

Updated to correct date of Oyster announcement to September 21, 2015.