So it seems right to add the coda — Oyster is going out of business.
One of the challenges that Oyster faced faced was having to constantly placate publishers concerns. The vast majority of them are very apprehensive about going the same route music or movies went.
In a recent interview with the Bookseller, Arnaud Nourry, the CEO of Hachette said“We now have an ecosystem that works. This is why I have resisted the subscription system, which is a flawed idea even though it proliferates in the music business. Offering subscriptions at a monthly fee that is lower than the price of one book is absurd. For the consumer, it makes no sense. People who read two or three books a month represent an infinitesimal minority.”
Penguin Random House’s CEO Tom Weldon echoed Arnaud’s sentiments at the Futurebook conference a little awhile ago in the UK. “We have two problems with subscription. We are not convinced it is what readers want. ‘Eat everything you can’ isn’t a reader’s mindset. In music or film you might want 10,000 songs or films, but I don’t think you want 10,000 books.”
The closure of Oyster comes two months after Entitle, another e-book subscription service, closed. With Entitle and now Oyster gone there is one remaining standalone e-book service, Scribd, as well Amazon’s Amazon Unlimited service.
What could have done Oyster in? Oh, I don’t know, perhaps another company with a subscription e-book service and significantly more resources and consumers. Like, say, Amazon? It was pretty clear back when Amazon debuted “Kindle Unlimited” in July 2014 that the service could spell trouble for Oyster. The price was comparable ($9.99 a month) as was the collection of titles (600,000 on Kindle Unlimited as compared to about 500,000 at the time on Oyster). Not to mention that Amazon Prime customers already had complimentary access to one book a month from the company’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (selection that summer: more than 500,000). In theory, Oyster’s online e-book store was partly created to strengthen its bid against Amazon, but even here the startup was fighting a losing battle, with many titles priced significantly higher there than on Jeff Bezos’ platform.
Where Oyster failed to take Amazon on, however, it’s conceivable that Google plus a solid portion of Oyster’s staff could succeed. The Oyster team has the experience, while Google has the user base and largely bottomless pockets. By itself, Oyster wasn’t able to bring “every book in the world” into its system. But with Google, who knows? The Google Books project, a sort of complement to the Google Play Store, is already well on its way to becoming a digital Alexandria. Reincarnated under the auspices of that effort, Van Lancker’s dream may happen yet.