October 28, 2013

Review: Oyster, the "Netflix for Books"

After hearing a lot about Oyster (often referred to as the "Netflix for books") and reading mostly positive reviews, I decided I wanted to check it out myself.  Oyster is available on Apple devices running iOS7, and I downloaded both the iPad and iPhone version to test them out. It is no longer invite-only, so anyone can sign up for an account and a free 1-month trial. After the trial ends, it costs $9.95 a month to continue with the service.

I've been using the app for about a week now, but I'm already really liking it. I've finished one book and started a couple more. I thought I'd share my first impressions and opinions here. Let me know what you think if you decide to sign up for the free trial! 

Pros

Book discovery is easy. On the app's home page you'll find spotlight titles, popular titles, and recently added titles along with other curated lists. Once you start reading books, you'll also see personalized recommendations and books similar to ones you've already read. You can search for specific authors or titles, too. It looks like there is also the possibility to add friends and see what they are reading or marking as favorites. I haven't explored that feature since no one I know personally is using Oyster yet. 
Browsing YA titles
Choose from over 100,000 titles.  The selection is better than I originally expected. Right away, I found dozens of titles that I was interested in reading and added them to my Reading List for future reference. It appears to be mostly backlist titles. I noticed a lot of former bestsellers and award winners--books that have been on my TBR list for a long time. I found some books on Oyster that aren't currently available for download through my local library's OverDrive service, too. 

Read an unlimited amount of books. This is a definite plus for heavy readers like me! You can devour as many books as you want. And if you don't like a book you can just close it an instantly start another one. I tend to read 15-20 books a month on average, so $9.95 is a huge bargain. 

Start reading instantly. Books download quickly to your device--no waiting!

Sync reading across devices. This is a plus for us Apple addicts who want the ability to switch back and forth between the iPad and the iPhone. 

Read offline. Your 10 most recently opened books are downloaded and stored on the device for offline reading. This is helpful for me since my iPad Mini uses wifi-only, and I like to have access to some things offline in case I am stuck somewhere without internet (oh, the horror!).
Recently read books
The reading experience is pleasant. You can choose from 5 different themes to customize your font and background color. My personal favorite is "Crosby" because I like sepia-toned backgrounds.  You have the option of adjusting your font size and screen brightness as well. 

Instead of swiping sideways, you swipe up to turn the page. This took some getting used to since other reading apps make you swipe sideways, but it actually feels more comfortable to swipe up with my thumb while holding the device with one hand. (Another option is to tap the sides of the page to go forward or backward.)

While reading, you can view how much reading progress you've made (by percentage), how many pages you have left in the chapter, and how much reading time is left in the chapter. 
Reading with the "Crosby" theme
Cons
U.S. only. If you're not in the U.S., you don't have access to Oyster yet.

No Android app. I'm not sure if an Android app is in the works, but for now Oyster is only available for Apple devices running iOS7. 

Only 1 of the "Big 5" publishers has made their books available (Harper Collins). I assume they are trying to make deals with other major publishers for the future, though. 

No frontlist titles or current bestsellers. This isn't a dealbreaker for me since I read a lot of backlist titles, but if you're someone who wants to read books when they are released, this is something to keep in mind.

Costs about $1 more per month than Scribd. Scribd offers a similar eBook subscription service for $8.99 a month. They also offer a free trial

No highlighting. This is something I do frequently when reading in my Kindle app, so I wish there was the option to highlight while reading in Oyster. (Edited to add: As of 1/14 the app has been updated to include highlighting and note-taking options!)

Reading with a backlit screen can cause eye strain. But as I mentioned before, you can change your background color or adjust the level of brightness if needed.


Conclusion
In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons and the Oyster app is worth the $9.95 subscription price, especially for someone who reads as much as I do. It is easy to use and provides instant access to eBooks along with a pleasant reading experience. The eBooks available on Oyster are different enough from my local library's eBook selection for me to justify paying for access to them. 

I definitely suggest giving the free trial a shot!

I would like to know more about how authors and publishers are compensated for making their eBooks available to Oyster. If anyone finds this information, please share. 

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