Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Is Oyster a New World in Reading eBooks?

Many of us subscribe to the likes of Netflix or Lovefilm, which for a monthly fee allows us access to as many films or TV shows as we could possibly ever want to watch.  The only realistic limitations with both of those services is that neither has a complete range of films and TV shows, although there is considerable overlap between them, the efficiency of the post for those using the Lovefilm postal service and the amount of time available to us to sit in front of the TV.

A new company in the US is bringing this approach to eBooks.  Oyster is currently offering subscribers unlimited access to over 100,000 eBooks for a monthly fee of $9.99.  The amount of books that are available is about to swell dramatically thanks to a deal Oyster has forged with Smashwords, where all the books in the premium catalogue are being made available as well unless authors elect to opt out.

The scheme appears to be US only at the moment - partly an assumption from looking at their website - and as far as I can tell is directed at Apple devices only.  It would be reasonable to assume they are working on an Android version of their software to leverage the full potential of what is the largest eBook market in the world.  If and when they will expand internationally is difficult to second guess - there's a minefield of legal issues around copyright and while setting up international stores is easier than ever, it's still a big step.

Will it work?  Well if you are spending more than $10 a month on eBooks, every month, and if Oyster is stocking the books you like to read then it is certainly worth considering, unless you have to buy an iPad to make it work.  The first 'if' probably is one most can answer readily, the second will need a look at the books on offer.  The inclusion of the Smashwords' catalogue will swell the range considerably, I just hope Oyster have considered the impact of the erotica genre in that list.  They probably don't want to be put in the same position as WH Smith when a national newspaper revealed recently that there was some serious erotica in their eBookstore that they hadn't realised.  Hopefully they either have decided to include all books, regardless of genre, or they are going to filter books, just like Apple do - the latter is more time consuming and therefore costly, but is safer.

It's the author remuneration model that makes me wonder if they'll survive, though.  Oddly not because it's bad but because it seems so generous.  And I'll put a hand up here and state that I'm making an assumption that the Smashwords deal is the same that other book distributors have hammered out - possibly Mark Coker is a better negotiator than the big publishers!

You see, if you are a Smashwords' distributed author and an Oyster customer reads 10% or more of your book from the beginning then Oyster will pay 60% of the book's list price.  OK, a lot of Smashwords books are priced competitively - currently I'm offering my comedic novels for $0.99 and my Sci-Fi thrillers for $1.99 each - but a good reader with time on his or her hands will mean that Oyster could be paying more in royalties than they are pulling in in revenue.

Of course the standard model is that most of us don't watch twenty films a month and probably most don't read ten books a month either.  We might download a lot of books onto our Kindles and iPad but then leave them sitting there waiting for that opportunity to curl up and read them.  That's how Amazon and Apple have done so well with their bookstores because they have sold a lot of books that haven't been opened, let alone read.  I know, because my Kindle account has a lot of books I'm waiting to get around to and I doubt I'm unique in that sense.

For authors, if the Oyster model works, it's another great opportunity to put your books in front of people to be read and perhaps make a little money.  For readers, it's worth looking at your spending patterns on iTunes for books.  If you are spending more than $10 every month on average, regardless of whether you actually read them all, then the Oyster catalogue should be worth a look.  The Apple catalogue is bulked out with Smashwords' distributed books so you may find that the books you enjoy are from indie authors like myself, and that the model will work for yourself.

Ultimately do your homework.  The world may be your Oyster, but only if you choose it to be.


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