Oyster launched a new version of its e-book platform today that puts it in even closer competition with Amazon. The New York-based startup introduced its own e-book store to augment its existing Netflix-esque e-book subscription service.
Starting today, anybody can purchase e-books for reading through Oyster’s web interface and mobile apps. It’s a shift in strategy for the company, which up until now only offered books on a subscription basis. The move expands the catalog of books available on Oyster’s apps to include texts from all of the “Big Five” publishers: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.
In addition to the store, Oyster continues to offer its $9.99 per month subscription plan that gives users access to more than 1 million titles from publishers including three of the Big Five – HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster.
Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg told GeekWire in an interview that the change is designed to make it easier for people to do all of their e-book reading with Oyster, rather than use its service for a subscription and then turn to another provider like Amazon for new releases. He went on to say that his company will differentiate itself from the remainder of the e-book market by offering a better-designed experience.
“When you look at the offline world, there’s a difference between a book warehouse and a bookstore,” Stromberg said. “And both of them have books in them, and often times they have the same titles. As a customer, if you walk around each of them, you can quickly tell the difference in terms of where you want to spend your time and where you want to find your books. At Oyster, what we really want to do is build that bookstore experience specifically for mobile devices and tablet devices.”
Oyster faces an uphill battle. Amazon remains the top dog in the e-book space, and Apple’s attempts to unseat it with iBooks have been the subject of a pair of antitrust lawsuits. Last year, Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, its own $9.99 per month subscription service that lets its users read books that are part of a smaller subset of its catalog.
Still, Stromberg is optimistic, saying that he expects Oyster’s dedicated audience to help propel the company, along with a couple of shifts in the e-book market.
“I’d say the first (shift) is that in the past six months, three of the big five publishers have moved to an agency model for pricing their books, and we expect others to follow as well,” Stromberg said. “What that means is that the publisher actually sets the price, as opposed to the retailer, under an agency pricing model. And so we expect there to be a lot more pricing parity in the marketplace among retailers.”
Pricing parity would help tamp down on Amazon’s notoriously deep discounting. What’s more, Stromberg said that multi-purpose devices like smartphones and tablets are gaining popularity over dedicated e-readers like the Kindle, which means that software-based e-book marketplaces without hardware support have a better shot at succeeding.