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.
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]