Oyster launched in the second half of 2013, and its was quickly hailed as the “Netflix for eBooks.”
Thanks to a clean interface and pleasant reading experience, it served as a pleasant way to read through books as quickly as you could for roughly $10 a month.
But now, only two years later, the service is already shutting down. So what is an avid reader to do?
Closing the Book
Osyter announced the news in a blog post on September 21st. It didn’t detail why things are coming to an end, only saying that existing users will get an email in the coming weeks.
On the same day, Recode reported that a portion of the Oyster group had joined the Google Play Books team. Google isn’t saying that it bought the company, but it did pay a reported $17 million for the ability to hire some of its staff.
This has led to speculation that Google plans to launch a subscription reading service of its own and that existing Oyster users may have their accounts absorbed into that new product.
What Might We Expect from Google?
Google’s interest in books began with its effort to digitize all of the world’s literature. When the project started in 2004, it went by the name of Google Print, but it’s much more widely remembered now as Google Books. The company started with public domain books and works that either had lenient licenses or expired copyrights.
It wasn’t until 2010 that we saw the emergence of the Google eBookstore and Google eBooks. Google partnered with thousands of publishers to offer millions of titles. In 2012, the service became Google Play Books as the company looked to supply the media for its growing number of smartphones, tablets, and Chromebooks.
Today, Play Books lets users purchase books or upload their own DRM-free collection to read on their devices.
To get an idea of how a future reading subscription service could potentially work, look to Play Music. That product went from initially letting users buy and upload their own music to streaming anything they wanted through an All Access subscription. Now it’s known as Google Play Music Unlimited. It’s not too hard to imagine a similarly named Google Play Books Unlimited roll out someday.
Then again, nothing could happen. Last year, I watched with sadness as Readmill, a great way to store and read eBooks in a way that placed the emphasis entirely on the text, shut down as well. The company was bought by Dropbox. A similar product has not emerged. Some clouds just fade away.
What Are Your Options Now?
For now, your Oyster account will continue to function as normal. You can even still download the Android app and create a new account if you wish. The 30-day free trial may let you get a decent amount of use before the company announces its plans going forward.
Anyone who would rather abandon ship can request a refund at email@example.com.
Oyster may have been an early and attention-grabbing player in the subscription reading space, but it’s not the only option out there. Scribd launched its own streaming service in the same year, and it has the added perk of being available around the globe.
Last year Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited, a similar all-you-can-read buffet intended for users of its Kindle devices or apps. It comes with the added perk of an Audible membership, which lets you stream thousands of audiobooks and switch seamlessly between reading and listening. Though initially a US exclusive, the service has since launched in a number of other countries.
For more on these two options, you can read our comparison from last summer. Unfortunately, your options for an eBook subscription service are becoming pretty sparse; Entitle, which set itself apart by letting you keep the books you downloaded after your subscription ended, has now shut down as well.
But don’t forget that a growing number of libraries these days are more than happy to let you check out books digitally using OverDrive. You will have to compete with others to get your hands on popular books, but it’s still a way to make sure you always have something to read without having to build up your own collection.
Turning the Page
It’s sad to see a fan favorite shut down after such a short time, but that doesn’t mean the future isn’t bright for reading subscription services. Google went after Oyster employees precisely because of the service’s promise.
Other options have popped up since because enough people figure that the idea of streaming books like movies, TV shows, and music is bound (pardon the pun) to catch on.
What did you think of Oyster? How about reading subscription services in general? Do you expect Google to offer us something good? Share your thoughts below!
Image Credits:The old manuscript by seahorsetwo via Shutterstock