The comparison is inevitable, so let's just get it out of the way: Oyster, the new iPhone app, wants to do for books what Netflix did for movies and Spotify did for music.
Very simply, you pay $9.99 a month, for which not-inconsiderable sum, you get to download books from publishers like HarperCollins, Melville House, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Workman. Forbes says an iPad app is coming soon.
The subscription is not cheap, but the app is very attractive. And while it already has 100,000 titles, not every publisher has yet signed on. Continually adding titles will surely figure into Oyster's sustained success.
Nevertheless, Oyster unquestionably represents a new way to read books. Designed by a trio of techies who have worked at the likes of Google, the Oyster app received an enthusiastic early review from Wired, which called it "gorgeous":
The app does make finding books easy....The home screen functions like a digital bookstore browsing table, highlighting the bold covers of editor-curated titles and enticing readers with accolades and reviews...Reading a book on Oyster is a distinctly digital experience, and yet, it doesn’t feel soulless or straining in the way reading on a screen often can be.
Mashable, meanwhile, notes that the smartphone-first strategy may have been a clever move on Oyster's part:
Oyster made the interesting choice to concentrate on the smartphone reading experience first, rather than tablets, where one might assume most people do their long reading. The reasoning, according to the founders, is simple: many more people carry around smartphones than tablets
Oyster's social sharing capacities are also garnering some early praise. GigaOm, in yet another highly laudatory review, says that "the social features don’t overwhelm the app, and you can ignore them if you want to."
However, over at Library Journal, the blogger known as Annoyed Librarian has a dissenting opinion:
I have my doubts as to whether it will succeed. The doubts aren’t related to the app. The whole experience might be wonderful. It’s just that nobody in publishing seems to like the Netflix/Spotify model, because the authors wouldn’t make enough from it.
The app is currently only available by invitation, in the way of all cool things digital.