Ready or not, here comes Netflix for e-books. Oyster is the new kid on the content delivery block, offering access to more than 100,000 e-books for a monthly subscription price of $9.95. Smashwords has already jumped on the shellfish’s optimistic bandwagon (don’t worry, Mark, I’m not going to trash you this time!) and ladled up a hefty contribution of titles for inclusion in the catalogue.
For readers, this basically sounds super awesome. Ten bucks a month for an all-you-can eat buffet of books, both self-published and traditionally distributed. From classic titles to popular newcomers, a Hamilton will satisfy even the most voracious reader’s appetite. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, there’s no limit on the number of books you can read per month. You can use the very pretty app on your iPhone or iPad, and it looks like it could be a pretty serious challenger for other content delivery systems like Amazon and Apple.
For authors, the perks are a little more complex. Smashwords sent out an explanatory email to its authors last week, and in general, it doesn’t sound like a bad deal. “As a Smashwords author or publisher, you’ll earn 60% of you book’s retail list price whenever an Oyster subscriber reads more than 10% of your book, starting from the beginning of the book forward,” founder Mark Coker wrote. “A single Oyster user could conceivably read multiple books by the same Smashwords author in a single month, and the author will be paid for each book.”
The books can’t be read outside of the Oyster app, and if a reader ends her subscription, she won’t be able to access the content any longer, which all seems ship shape and Bristol fashion. “This is fair and reasonable,” Coker said, and I certainly agree. Smashwords has automatically enrolled all of its Premium Distribution titles, so there’s nothing else authors need to do.
There doesn’t seem to be much wrong with the terms, except one thing. When someone downloads The Last Death through KDP, I get paid whether they read it or not (and lots of people who buy e-books don’t end up reading them). In my experience, readers are even less likely to crack open a book when they download it for free, so the Oyster subscriber’s perception that everything is already paid for isn’t likely to help me as an author.
There’s nothing wrong with viewing Oyster as an additional marketing outlet, although even Coker admits that their customer base is small and will likely take a long time to grow. Oyster does not require exclusive publishing rights, so you’re free to list your book on other services, and if the idea succeeds, getting in on the ground floor isn’t such a bad thing.
I don’t have strong feelings about it either way. It seems like a great thing for readers and a decent thing for authors. If I had an extra ten bucks a month…well, I’d probably get Netflix, actually. But if I had ten bucks after that, this would certainly be on the list.