Why Oyster's Ebook Store Weakens Ebook Subscription Models
Although some have hailed Oyster's decision to launch an ebook store allowing users to purchase titles à-la-carte, there is reason to meet this decision with some skepticism. Previously a subscription-only service, similar to Bookmate and Scribd, Oyster has launched its new ebook store in conjunction with new deal announcements with Penguin Random House and Hachette, publishers that have famously resisted making their titles made available through subscription services. With this latest move, Oyster has effectively blinked first -- bowing to the pressures of major publishers -- arguably weakening the position of ebook subscription services.
Oyster's hybrid model will offer readers more choice and they posit that unless readers are given the opportunity of reading the widest possible selection of books that they will turn elsewhere. However, in these early days of subscription services for ebooks, Oyster's move smacks of compromise and of reaction to the overly rigid terms set by certain publishers rather than the specific needs of readers. If anything, this threatens to undermine the subscription model just as it is getting going. Rather than highlighting that subscription readers behave differently and the incremental revenues that publishers can receive, Oyster chooses to not only confuse the offering from a readers point of view but sends the message to publishers that a subscription service is effectively just a retailer and can be treated as such.
I firmly believe in the pure subscription model and there are many reasons why publishers should embrace ebook subscription services. Overall, the behavior of ebook subscription customers shows us that compared to Kindle and ereader customers, these readers are not only more mobile but that they tend to be younger and more casual readers, a use case and demographic that publishers in many markets struggle to reach. Subscription enables such reading behavior in tune with the mobile lifestyle. The huge successes experienced by services such as Netflix have clearly shown that for content, subscription services are a significant way forward and should be approached as an additional and alternate sales channel. A channel that opens up and shifts the publisher-reader relationship from a one-way transactional model to an active and continuous one, with all the rich data and improved experience that goes along with it.
In order to foster online communities of book lovers and further enrich the reading experience through innovation in product and business model, one shouldn't build a service to conform to entrenched business paradigms and expectations, which is exactly what seems to have happened in the case of Oyster's recent move. The benefits of perceived increase in choice to the customer seem to be greatly outweighed by the long-term, strategic, and commercial compromises made.