Oyster, An All-Access App For Books

Oyster's iPhone app gives members access to 100,000 titles from hundreds of publishers for $9.95 a month.

Discovering Book Recommendations Through Friends

An activity feed built into the app shows you what the people you follow on Oyster are reading, rating, and saving for later.

Personal Profiles Keep Track Of What You're Reading

Each Oyster user creates a mini personal profile page that keeps track of the books you're reading. Oyster automatically makes the last 10 books you opened available for offline reading.

Themes Lend Different Feels To The Reading Experience

Oyster offers several themes that change the look and feel of the app, each named for different New York landmarks, like the Standard and Nomad hotels and Herald Square, pictured here.

Browse Related Books For Your Next Read

Each book in Oyster includes a brief synopsis from the publisher and, where applicable, a list of accolades, such as placement on the New York Times' bestsellers list. Each title also comes with a list of related books.

With Oyster, Keep 100,000 Books In Your Pocket For $10 A Month

Oyster is trying to bring the magic of books to your smartphone through an iPhone app that connects readers to 100,000 titles for a flat, monthly fee.

Whether for movies, music, or magazines, the all-access model has proven it's here to stay. Now, what Spotify has done for music and Netflix has done for movies, a startup called Oyster is trying to do for that most analog of relics: the book.

The basic premise of Oyster's invite-only iPhone app, which launches today, is simple: For a flat fee of $9.95 a month, members will gain access to Oyster's catalog of more than 100,000 (and growing) books, which at launch includes titles from hundreds of publishers, including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the large e-books distributor Smashwords.

Oyster makes two promises to book lovers on the go: great simplicity and great discovery. Upon opening the app, a user can immediately start scrolling through a wide selection of titles sorted by genre, like "Critically-Acclaimed Fiction" and "Rebels And Groundbreakers"; by searching through curated sets created by freelance editors around themes, such as "Around The World" and "The End Of Summer"; or simply by browsing what's most popular on Oyster. An activity feed shows users what their friends on Oyster are reading, rating, and saving for later. Users can also share their Oyster activity to outside social channels, like Facebook and Instagram.

"Book recommendations are still very powerful, because you're asking someone to make that time investment and they usually reflect something about you," says Oyster's creative director and cofounder Willem Van Lancker.

Once users find a book they like, they can tap on it and start reading right away. Oyster will immediately make the last 10 books the user opened available offline, so users can pull out their phone and start reading even when they don't have an Internet connection, for instance, on the subway.

Oyster offers several themes that change the look and feel of the app, each named for different New York landmarks, such as the Standard and Nomad hotels, pictured here.

It might seem more intuitive for a book app to launch on tablets before smartphones, but Van Lancker and his cofounders Eric Stromberg and Andrew Brown decided to focus on building their app for the phone first because they wanted to offer the reading experience wherever a mobile device can go.

"It's the device that's really at the center of peoples lives," Van Lancker says of smartphones. "It's perfect for those in-between moments in your commute or at a café, places where the iPad or other large tablets just aren't suited for."

And that portability, combined with Oyster's one-tap reading philosophy, means you can easily find yourself deep in the unlikeliest of reads. Over the summer, Stromberg pulled out Oyster during a long bus ride and found Lois Lowry's The Giver, a book he loves but hasn't read since he was young.

"It's a book I perhaps otherwise wouldn't have gone out and said, 'Hey, I'm going to read The Giver because I enjoyed it when I was in middle school,'" he says. "And now I'm going to go read parts 2, 3, and 4."

[Images courtesy of Oyster]

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5 Comments

  • Lauren

    I have the app already and I open it on my iphone now more often than I open any other app, Facebook included. It's so easy to start reading any book I come across - literally all you have to do is tap the play button on the book's cover and you're reading. I would not call myself much of a reader (I average maybe 4 books a year) but in the past handful of weeks I've had Oyster I've already read 3 books on my commutes! Fantastic app that let's me read anything and everything affordably!

  • etereo

    When will Audible convert to a model like this? Or when will another startup competitor get the hint? Netflix and Spotify work because the "all you can eat" model works for media that can be consumed en masse, non spoken books do not lend themselves to parallel consumption/binge as easily.

  • Edcandersontn

    Amazon has a program where prime members can borrow books to their Kindles. The program is only for some books and you must own a kindle. Authors whose books are part of this program receive commissions when the books are borrowed. I believe that this program has a wider choice of books however.