Review: Oyster – the Netflix of books

Recently I reached out to a young company called Oyster, about demoing their new service. Their website boldly claims “Read unlimited books. Just $9.95 a month”, so being a reader, I was naturally excited about the prospects of not having to pay $10 a month to read a couple of books.

Unfortunately Oyster faces the same flaw that every content-driven startup faces. They can’t afford the rights to the best books. Still, this flaw is not fatal, and redeeming qualities I’ll describe below make Oyster an excellent service for many avid readers.
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The app itself (available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod) is excellent. Social integration provides features similar to goodreads, allowing readers to see what their friends are reading. The design is beautiful (though the search feature needs some work), and the reading area is excellent as well. Notably, instead of having to swipe to the side to move pages, Oyster requires just an up or down swipe, which I find far less intrusive while reading .  The reading area is highly customizable, with 5 “themes” – color palates, each clearly optimized for readability. There’s even a related book feature, allowing you to easily find your next book.

Where things go wrong is in the selection. Oyster has all the classics (A.K.A every book old enough that they don’t have to pay for it), like Shakespeare, Dickens, and Twain. They’ve also got plenty of good moderns reads , like Starbucks founder Howard Schultz’s latest book, an entire collection of Kurt Vonnegut (definitely worth reading), and a book by Donald Trump (for a bit of humor).

Many modern favorites are missing though: Walter Isaacson’s famous semi-autobiographical book on Steve Jobs, any books by novelist Nelson Demille (my favorite thriller writer),  The Great Gatsby, and Bill O’Reilly’s plethora of books (I’ve always wanted to read “Killing Lincoln), to name a few.
Also missing were authors like John Grisham, Stephen King, and JK Rowling. Unlimited books, as long as they’re books you’ve never heard of.

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Conclusion: Why you should try Oyster

I know I’ve been bashing Oyster’s selection for quite a few paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it. Here’s why you should try it.

Oyster has a lot of great books, and as long as you’re not looking for a specific title, you’ll never find yourself without something good to read. The fact is that despite missing a few of my favorites, Oyster has a lot of Good books available, and if you read more than one book a month, it will pay for itself.

Get your free one-month trial of Oyster here.

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Michael Sitver

Michael Sitver is a technology insider who has been blogging about technology since 2011. Along the way, he's interviewed founders of innovative startups, and executives from fortune 500 companies, and he's tried dozens or hundreds of gadgets. Michael has also contributed to works featured in Newsday, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the associated press. Michael also occasionally consults, and writes for Seeking Alpha and Yahoo News.

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