For book lovers, one of the great things about the explosion of the e-book market is the ability to put hundreds of tomes on a single device and read them whenever possible. An e-book addiction can get quite expensive, though: spending $10 on a book every few days adds up quickly.
That’s where Oyster comes in. The service is designed to be the Netflix of e-books: subscribers can choose any title from the company’s library of books, download it to their iPhone or iPad, and read it on the go. Users get a 30-day free trial of the service when they first sign up, and Oyster costs $9.99 a month for unlimited reading after that.
Like other e-book reading platforms, including Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks, a user’s progress will sync across devices, so it’s possible to put down a novel on an iPad at home, and and pick up where you left off on your phone when riding the bus.
Reading in Oyster is a reasonably pleasant experience. Text layout in the few books I flipped through seemed to work nicely, and the app has a small but varied selection of very readable fonts that users can choose from.
The one quibble I have with the reading experience is that swiping horizontally doesn’t turn the page. I’ve spent years doing the same thing with all my other books, and it’s frustrating to find that gesture unavailable. The change didn’t ruin the experience for me, though: I quickly got used to tapping on either side of the screen or swiping vertically to flip through a book.
Browsing to choose a book also works well. Users can flip through Oyster’s collections online and save interesting texts in a reading list to pick up on one of their devices later, though I prefer just browsing straight through Oyster’s mobile app. The company has a wide variety of curated collections on a number of different themes, in genres ranging from life advice to hard science fiction.
Anyone hoping to find all the books they could ever want on Oyster will be disappointed. The company’s library of more than 500,000 titles includes a number of popular books, not everything under the sun. But that’s par for the course for any Internet subscription service: Netflix didn’t start streaming “12 Years a Slave” right after it left theaters, and many popular music subscription services don’t offer popular albums until a few weeks or months after they were available for purchase.
People who want blockbuster new books the day they’re released will need to purchase them from a more traditional vendor. At the same time, Oyster’s catalog is continuing to grow at a decent clip. The company recently signed an agreement with Simon & Schuster to bring books from Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway and others to its platform.
On a more technical level, the iPad and iPhone apps are somewhat prone to crashing at inopportune times, but I never lost my progress in a book when that took place. People who prefer to keep their reading habits private might also want to avoid subscribing. Much like Netflix, Oyster collects data about users’ reading habits, and can share the aggregated data with publishers.
For now, the apps are iOS only, but an Android version is coming soon.
Still, voracious readers will find a lot to like in Oyster. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s a great way to give a book a try without the added responsibility of a full purchase.
Oyster is available as a free download from the iOS App Store.
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