Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Oyster: what novel reading has finally come to

As I'm prone to do a few times a month, I started skimming The Writers' Cafe forum. And what did I happen to stumble upon?

Oyster, an e-books distribution system that many have compared to Netflix, that's what!

Now if you don't know what Netflix is, then I suppose this blogpost won't have much to offer to you. (Actually, if you don't know what Netflix is, I'm more than astounded that you are even reading this blog!)
But if you haven't rented (or even watched) a DVD in the last 12 months but have been streaming movies to your HDTV, etc. then read on!

Oh, but wanting to learn more about Oyster implies that you actually read something ... read books, for the most part ... since that is what Oyster is all about.

Basically, if you own an IPhone, you can easily download the Oyster app, agree to Oyster's terms of usage, give the company your credit card info, and SHAZAM! you'll be able to browse over 100K books much like you browse over 100K movies via Netflix (hence the strong comparison).

For a measily $9.95/month, Oyster users can access and read as many ebooks they want ... as long as the ebooks they want are available in the Oyster system.

Sounds amazing, doesn't it?

Here's a bit of the official Oyster announcement in September:

"We created Oyster to evolve the way people read and to create more of the special moments that only books can offer. From anywhere a mobile device can go—a bustling subway car, a quiet coffee shop, or lost at sea with a Bengal tiger—our mission is to build the best reading experience, one that is both communal and personal, anytime, anywhere."

Mark Coker, the brains behind Smashwords' global ebooks distribution system, communicated in September as well his plans for collaborating with the Oyster folks:

"Smashwords authors don’t need to do anything to enjoy Oyster distribution other than ensure their books are Premium Catalog-approved."

Recently, like about a week ago, Oyster decided to offer an app to IPad owners:

"Oyster launched to much fanfare in September as an app for the iPhone but almost immediately many began asking when an iPad version of the app would launch, since many users prefer using their tablets for reading e-books. It didn't take long for Oyster to move to Apple's tablet."

Since I don't own either an IPhone or an IPad, signing up with Oyster ain't gonna happen. But from an indie-author's perspective, who happens to have an ebook available via Smashwords, I have to say that I'm a bit leery about Oyster's business model.

And what about the fine folks who frequent The Writers Cafe? Let's take a look at what they have to say:

"If I can get my books in front of more people, make money doing it, and at no additional cost...well, I'm all for it."

"It sounds cool to me, but I didn't see any info on how much you would make per 'borrow'."

"Oyster? Really? What a dumb name.  Roll Eyes Opting out until we get more information."

"You mean I no longer have to sell my first born to cover my reading addiction?  I can read as many books as I want?  And it's not just western romances like my local library seems to stock to the exclusion of all else?  Where do I sign up?"

"Oyster isn't doing the automatic opt-in. Smashwords does that with ALL new channels and everyone who is on Smashwords should know that. The problem is we're often opted in before we're notified and there isn't a SINGLE SUBJECT email - rather it is frequently buried in with the regular newsletter and I don't want to scroll past the monthly Amazon bashing and non-scientific surveys in the newsletter to get to something that's actually relevant to my business."

"Apparently they buy at full price the book that is being rented if the reader reads more than 10% (ie more than a standard sample size), so I don't think we'll be losing any money on this as authors. As a reader, I don't know. I'd have to see what books and authors were available and if the selection was good enough and in my tastes enough to be worth it."

"Money issues aside.  I will not be joining Oyster because of the way they are treating authors.   It should be you have the option to opt in not contact us if you want out."

"It seems to me that they have no obligation to pay the copyright holder anything, under the First Sale Doctrine. It would be exactly the same as Netflix. Although they may make deals with distributors to get large quantities of product, Netflix could just as easily buy the DVDs and rent them out to their heart's content. That's what Blockbuster and all the independent stores did for years."

"I honestly don't see how this could possibly be a bad thing. It sounds like it's pretty much an online library. I'm thinking the payment for 'borrows' will work similar to how it does in Select."

"Keep in mind, services like this one make their money off non-readers, not heavy readers. $10 a month is a lot to me, but to many in America its nothing. They spend more that in a day at Starbucks. So it becomes a nuisance charge. Not enough to make them drop even if they do not use it all that much because "next month they will find time to read" Its just like the big gym chain that charges $10 a month for membership and sits mostly empty most of the time... small reoccurring charges for a large volume of people who will likely not use the service much at all."

"But yeah, it is kind of fishy why everyone is so secretive about things and they aren't going to send out an email until days upon the release of this new program. This doesn't give authors enough time to decide if this is something that will work for them. I'm also curious to know what Mark has to say about this..."

"I'm not sure.  I'm wary about it to be honest.  I tend to see subscription services as being about making money for the service at the expense of content providers, though I confess I'm under researched in this area.  I'm actually rather surprised to see that big publishers are taking part!  Given that they seem to hate giving libraries access to ebooks, I'm amazed that they've agreed to a subscription service! I'll wait to hear the royalties and a bit more about how it works.  If I'm still unsure, I'll opt out until I hear from others how it's going."

"So, three groups that can't seem to get it right, get together with people who used to work for a group that used to get it right, but these days not so much, to do something with other peoples work to make a profit for themselves? And they aren't going to give the providers of that content the information they need to make an informed, thoughtful decision about whether or not to REMAIN opted in until the last second? I suggest everyone opt out immediately, and force Smashwords to disclose the details. I wouldn't touch this with a ten kilometer pole."

"I wonder how it works? Strange that SW is keeping the royalty piece a secret, makes me think perhaps subscribers won't be as thrilled as they say and that Oyster requested they keep it quiet until after the launch to avoid any negative publicity. Yes, feeling a bit cynical maybe. That said, this could be interesting if you can pick and choose which books you'd like to include, such as the first in a series so you'd get the same benefit many qet with giving it away free."

"Hmmmm let's see 100,000 books on who knows what for $119 a year. For that I would go with amazon prime and save $40. I can find plenty of books in my preferred genres for much less than $10 a month. Ok so truth be told my TBR is as tall as a couple of authors."

" if Amazon let me read as many books as I wanted in one month, I would stick with prime too (or even a more reasonable number than one) and pay more for it too.  But for right now, at the rate I go through books it's an expensive pastime, even with prime and a library card.  This seems awesome for me anyway. But yeah, if amazon takes notice, I'd definitely stick with prime.  Especially because this Oyster program seems apple product only at the moment with no plans for other platforms at the moment."

"Yet another thing the publishers should have thought of and done themselves years ago."

"I am intrigued and would be more than happy to participate should the terms prove acceptable, and I would be grateful to Smashwords for the opportunity. That said, it is WRONG to automatically opt authors into a distribution network, especially without giving them any details first. I'm not okay with that."

"Time to bust out those back-of-the-envelope calculations...
Each customer is worth $119.4 per year. Year one they have 1 million customer and make $119, 400, 000. They take 30% of this as profit ($35, 820,000) and leave $83,580,000. They spend $5 million on servers, customer service etc and have $78, 580, 000 left over. Each customer reads (a read is counted as merely opening a file) 500 times per year. This is 500,000,000 reads. Divide the $78 million royalty pool and you end up with $0.15716 per read. I'm guessing the actual setup will be that a 'read' is only counted once a reader gets through 1/4 of the book or some such. I'd expect also the royalty pool to not be as high as listed here and eventually the per-read amount to drop down to what Spotify/Pandora apparently pay (fractions of a penny). As a reader, I'm interested. I don't want to own most of my eBooks. I read them once and move on to the next thing. As a writer I can see that a subscription service like this could dramatically reduce my income. Instead of making ~$2 per sale I could be down at a few cents per customer. There would have to be a radical increase in reads to make up for the loss in income. If they go with a 'read' being merely an 'open' then we're going to see a lot of linkbait type stuff happening. If they go with it being 1/4 or so then we'll probably see a bestseller list emerge with a sharp spike and not much width down below. I'm very interested to see what the terms are. Also, I would like to know how this affects the TOS at places like Amazon. At $0.05 per read it could be argued I'm selling my work for five cents and Amazon has the right to price-match that."

"According to MY TOS, Amazon can only price match based on the sale of my book. Oyster does not sell books. It sells a subscription service. They can no more 'price match' a subscription than they can price match a library loaning my ebook for free. What Oyster actually pays me has no bearing on the issue, because my royalty from them is not the basis for price matching."

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