Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg On Leading The Ebook Subscription Space
Today Oyster, the ebook subscription service that launched last year with 100,000 titles, announced that it has topped the 500,000-title mark. "This is the culmination of a lot of content acquisition that we've been doing over the last six months," says co-founder and CEO Eric Stromberg. Among those acquisitions are John Wiley & Son's For Dummies series, McSweeney's Time Out Guides, and Chronicle's Grumpy Cat and Boo. All three publishers are new to Oyster.
Another major contributor to Oyster's rapid growth is HarperCollins, the first and only of the Big Five publishers to sign on with the subscription service. The publisher expanded its partnership with Oyster, adding over 10,000 new titles.
With their expanded library, Oyster has taken the lead among ebook subscription services. Its major competitors Scribd and Entitle offer 300,000 titles and 125,000 titles respectively.
Stromberg attributes this rapid growth to publishers' desire to put more of their books in front of readers. "Oyster is very focused on discovery," says Stromberg, "A lot of our readers find the books through browsing and personalization of search, and that is really exciting for publishers." Stromberg emphasized that much of Oyster's time and energy has going into crafting the site's personal recommendation technology so that the right titles are being offered to the right readers.
In a recent interview with Book Business, Chantal Restivo-Alessi, commented that making much of HarperCollin's backlist available has significantly improved discoverability. "It offers additional opportunities to provide visibility to the content and therefore transform that visibility into sales," said Restivo-Alessi.
Stromberg also thinks that Oyster can attract a different kind of reader for publishers, one that is younger and more mobile-savvy. "This is a younger audience that loves to read on their phone, read on their tablet, and maybe uses different types of subscription services for other forms of media." Many of these readers, Stromberg intimated, may not engage with a publisher's book unless it is on Oyster.
Still, there are several publishers who question the subscription model. Caroline Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, said at Digital Book World 2014 that she had not signed on with Oyster due to "unresolved questions about how to avoid devaluing books and cannibalizing sales". To those in doubt like Reidy, Stromberg says it's a matter of education. As Oyster continues to build out the subscription market, it hopes to show publishers that the demand and sales are there, and that ultimately subscription is the future of reading.
However, Stromberg is mum on the specific details about the revenue publishers can expect from signing up with Oyster. In lieu of this, Stromberg offers an example of one partner's success, a publisher that recently released part of its catalog on Oyster. The publisher saw that within the first few months 90% of its titles had been read with a fairly even distribution. "It wasn't just the top ten titles being read," said Stromberg, "And they since have added even more books on Oyster."
Oyster plans to announce a few other big changes in the coming months, not least of which is its long-awaited Android app. As of now, Oyster is only available on the iPad and iPhone. The subscription service also plans to add greater social and personalized options to the app so that users can easily share what they're reading on various social networks.