Oyster Launches Digital Library App with over 100,000 Books

Renting your media has become one of the newest business models for the entertainment industry.  Oyster is now added to the list of media-rental companies.  They recently launched their iPhone application that gives users over 100,000 books to read at the touch of a finger for $9.95 a month.  The app is only available for the iPhone and an iPad version will be released later in the fall.

The app was created by William Van Lancker, Eric Stromberg and Andrew Brown.  Van Lancker describes the essence of the application in an interview with Wired:

“You don’t have to decide, ‘do I want to spend $12.99 on this single book?’  Rather, you can just tap and get into it.  We want to eliminate the barriers to get you into content because we know that the most enjoyable experience some is going to have with Oyster is finding a book that they fall in love with”.

Van Lancker was a former UX designer for Google Maps and Andrew Brown worked as an engineer at Google.

The library is made up of international bestsellers and celbrated classics, along with cult sci-fi reads and seminal biographies.  Oyster says they’re just beginning to build the library, and they plan to expand rapidly by adding new books every week.  The application gives users unlimited access and allows them to jump from any book with a single tap.  The goal is to have users spend less time thinking about what they want to read, and more time just reading.

Sharing with your Friends makes Discovery Easy

The app also has a feature titled “People-powered Book Discovery”, which allows you to keep up with what all your friends are reading and return the favor by recommending back “good reads”.  It also allows you to build your own library and share it with everyone else.  Oyster says that this will be one of the central themes that helps the app grow.

The three founders agree that one of the most tedious issues for users of media applications is discovery.  Stromberg said “we think about it in three ways – social, algorithmic and curated.  All will be an important part of finding the book that is right for you”.  The design of giving you trustworthy sources (your friends) for recommendations will help foster the grueling process of finding something outside of your “comfort zone”.

Other media sharing apps have done similar things.  Spotify allows users to build their own library, playlists, and recommend songs to other friends.  It also displays a ticker on the sidebar showing what your friends are currently listening to.  Only the friends you follow will be displayed in the ticker.  From my experience, most of the new music I discover is a direct result of seeing what my friends (who I have strategically decided to follow) are listening to.

Store Books Offline, Take them Anywhere you Go

Oyster is also designed to let users build an endless library of favorites and ques.  You’re allowed to add as many books to your reading list as you’d like.  There’s no cap, so users don’t have to rush to finish the books they’ve started.  The first 10 books downloaded will automatically be loaded into the offline reading list, so users can access them in places they don’t have service (like the underground tunnel of the Chicago Red Line).

Oyster was designed and developed for mobile.  The editorial sets and personalized recommendations are tuned to allow you to quickly browse through readings and share with ease.  The app currently has five custom themes that will change the “skins” of the app to give the user different visual options.  It also was designed to allow users to change the brightness and font size with a simple slide of the finger.  Oyster says that the more user friendly, the less time spent trying to figure out stuff and the more time spent reading.

“We created Oyster to evolve the way people read and to create more of the special moments that only books can offer.  From anywhere a mobile device can go – a bustling subway car, a quiet coffee shop, or lost at sea with a Bengal tiger – our mission is to build the best reading experience, one that is both communal and persona, anytime, anywhere”. – Oyster Team

A Newer, More Innovative Version of the “E-Book”

The creators’ goal of the app is to create an “e-reader” that is unique in itself.  Some of the design features have purposefully strayed away from well known  e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle.  Little details have been incorporated:  replacing the page-turn animation with standard, sticky pagination that allow readers to go with the natural flow of text while reading vertically and readability is enhanced by using the five Instagram-esque themes.

 “I think e-books have stagnated a bit.  I think we’re still very much looking at the 1.0 of what a digital book can be.  The different ways you can design and typset a book are nearly unlimited, but a print book is always just that, ink on paper.  With the digital screen, we are able to tweak everything from the light-height and typeface to background texture and text-size” – William Van Lancker

So far, Oyster has signed with these publishers:  HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Workman, Algonquin, Melville House, Rodale, Open Road, RosettaBOoks, F+W Media and Smashwords.

Some say that it will be hard for Oyster to gain a large amount of publishers, since it will be hard for the publishers to pay the authors when their books are viewed in a digital format.  It’s true, the success of the company will teeter on their ability to supply readers with content that’s in-demand.  This means creating as many deals as possible with the largest publishers out there.  If they can do that, the app will soar.

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