Reading Without Limits: A Review Of eBook Subscription App Oyster
Imagine you’re at a nice restaurant for dinner. The cheapest entrée on the menu is $40, and you’re hungry. There’s lots of exotic and foreign choices on the menu, but you’ve never had any of them, and you’re wary of busting your wad on something you won’t enjoy. Your friend recommends you something, but you aren’t too sure you share the same tastes – you’ve taken his advice to your detriment in the past. If you’re lucky, you make a bold choice, of say, sweetbread and you like it. Just as likely, you either end up with something weird and frankly disgusting, or something good but a little too familiar, like a rib-eye steak.
Now think about how you’d feel facing the same choice… except it’s a buffet. You’re free to take as much or as little as you want of every dish in the house. Instead of endlessly sweating the choice, about which dish will really give you the most pleasure, you sample freely and promiscuously. You even try dishes you thought you’d never like, just because there’s no harm except a moment of discomfort. You’ve never had oysters, and they sound vaguely gross, but you’re down to get a complimentary bite of one. You’re getting more creative and open-minded about what you’ll eat. All else equal, you vastly prefer the buffet to the conventional set-up of choosing one entrée.
Now, I like to read, but I’m as cheap as my name would suggest. There are lots of books I’d like to read, but the ‘barrier to entry’ of $5 or $10 has me wondering every time whether the book in question is really worth it, and more importantly, if I’ll ever finish it. You might even spend more time reading reviews of books than you actually do the books. Plus, there are so many books in the public domain that you wonder if you should even bother ever buying a book when you have all those free classics you haven’t read yet. On the other hand, public libraries have hours that are perfect for the homeless bums and the unemployed, and no one else, plus you always end up paying late fees, so I rarely use them.
Oyster is a subscription service for eBooks – the ‘Netflix of books.’ Oyster lets you read as many books as you like, at the cost of $10 a month, and the first month is free. And that setup of unfettered access makes a world of difference. It’s like the difference between PornHub and that early 2000′s internet porn where you never got more than a thirty second clip. Or you used Kazaa, with its pornographically transmitted viruses that threatened to nuke your computer. Good luck explaining that one to your parents. After what seems like just a minute or two with Oyster, you’ve got fifty
tabs open books on your reading list, and you’re still browsing for more.
Without the obstacle of paying every time you want to read something, users will spend more time reading real books instead of dithering over whether to spend money on a book or say, a movie or a night out. As a subscription service, you’ll know exactly what you’ll spend for the year on books, except for books you may purchase outside the service.
The App Interface
The app is well designed, sporting a dark, turquoise-tinged look. Throughout the menus there are scrolling series of book covers. When you click on a cover, you get to the ‘landing page’ for that book, with a synopsis and the publish date, as well as a list of related books. Users can rate books with between one and five stars.
As in the screenshot above, there will be a horizontal scrolling series of titles under different headings, eg ‘Recommended for You’ or ‘Rebels & GroundBreakers,’ different genres and assortments of books that you can scroll through by swiping right or left, or you can scroll down to see more such assortments.
There are several options for fonts and their sizing, as well as the background ‘paper’ color – the dark background with light text is helpful for reading at night, to drain less power and ease your transition to sleep. There are five font sizes, and five different font and paper background pairings to choose from. Users can leave notes and highlight text, but not search within the books. When an author references another part of the book, eg Chapter 5, the text will be hyperlinked so users can go to that section immediately, as well as return easily with a little link in the bottom left corner. Oyster even has a minimalistic browser for when you click on links within books to outside material.
Privacy and Anonymity
Bad news if anyone else is using your Oyster account, though. The app prominently displays the books you’re currently reading, so unless you want everyone to know you’re a devotee of Debbie Does Daddy, you’ll have to avoid those sorts of books or keep your iOS device locked down—the app is for the iPhone and iPad only currently. Also, the app lacks a hide function – books you’ve already added to your reading list keep appearing in the app’s displays. If there’s a book you know you never want to read, there’s no way to ‘block’ it from appearing in those book discovery queues. Plus, you can’t block off whole genres of work that you’d never care for. That’s like logging onto XHamster and being blitzed with gay porn as well straight porn. That would ensure a quick death for any porn site aspiring to appeal to the 96% of men who aren’t homosexual.
Oyster offers a nascent social network where you can subscribe to the accounts of friends and others, to see what they are reading, and what they recommend. For someone who writes under a pseudonym, I found these lackluster. Oyster requires your real name and address for billing purposes, but for you to link up with people on Twitter, you must log in to your Twitter account, linking your Twitter account to your Oyster account. You can change your displayed name as you like, but you can’t just type in someone’s Twitter handle and choose to follow them on Oyster if they have an account. You have to know the name they go by on Oyster. If you are trying to shield your identity, you might find these options confusing and difficult. It would be great if say, you could choose to follow a Twitter user of my choice, and automatically all the accounts that that user chooses to follow.
The mechanism for discovering more books through the app is erratic; you can browse by genre and sub-genre, but that’s no guarantee that you’ll find a book you like even when they have it. For instance, there is a dating section within the self-help genre, with a scrolling series of book covers, about a dozen or two in number. The Game by Neil Strauss appears, as does a book by Kezia Noble. No books by Uncle Roosh appear… except when you search ‘Roosh,’ four of his titles appear – Bang, Bang Colombia, A Dead Bat in Paraguay, and his magnum opus Compliment & Cuddle: The Beta Male Method To Getting Laid. Oyster’s poor book discovery algorithm is single-handedly keeping men from cuddling their way to relationship bliss.
Oyster recently put up their library on their website, except it lacks the vital search function that the app has. This is a pretty glaring oversight—the service may be ‘training’ potential users to treat it like a buffet. Instead of searching the menu to see if they offer what someone already wants, the user makes a selection from what’s available.
Through the genre directory and lists of popular titles and topics, Oyster shows off a fair number of books. Unfortunately, it seemed like a lot of trendy fare that didn’t pique my interest. While some may appreciate that, I would have liked to see some exposure given to older, more classic books, be it Henry James or Philip Roth, books that Oyster in fact has. It almost feels like Oyster is trying to compete with conventional booksellers by showing off their shiniest newest titles, but for the most part I don’t care how fresh off the presses a book is, just that it’s good and relevant to my interests. Oyster’s slick interface for reading means that Oyster is valuable even for delivering free books to your device.
Oyster doesn’t have the latest blockbusters. That would cannibalize new book sales too much, and to include them would surely mean charging double or triple its current monthly rate of $10. For the rate it’s charging, its hard to expect the equivalent of movies currently in theaters delivered to your TV at home at the same time. And, on a casual glimpse, there seemed to be a lot more left-wing books prominently displayed than right-wing ones, though that may be because Oyster’s users tend to be liberal.
Oyster doesn’t stock new releases; it offers books published at least 3 months prior. And just because a book is that old, it’s no assurance that Oyster will have it. For any given copyrighted book, odds are it’s not in Oyster. But if you go in with the mindset of finding something among what they already have, you should have no problem being satisfied. You can peruse their catalog here: https://www.oysterbooks.com/ As in the analogy at the beginning, a buffet is never the equivalent of a fixed entrée of the same price – you give up some of the more popular, pricier fare, and the ability to make specific choices, to consume as much as you like.
If you keep an open mind, you’re sure to discover some interesting finds, and start reading them immediately. You may even read about topics you never knew you were interested in. For instance, I started reading about Taoist sexual practices, and already have multiple books on the topic on my reading list. And compared to the library, getting more books is quick and easy.
It’s never a good idea to rely on one company for a vital service, and the book industry is no different. With Amazon’s vast share of the ebook market, and its occasional penchant for censorship, the need for more competition is dire. Even if Oyster is just as bad as Amazon, the mere existence of competition should keep Amazon on its toes. And for books with flagging sales, their presence on Oyster can help them avoid entering total obscurity. When users can read anything they want at no extra cost, they’re apt to take more risks with what they read. For the manosphere, whose ideas and content get zero exposure from the mainstream media, this could be an essential advantage to spreading its ideas to ‘unchurched’ men. Writers could choose select works to appear on Oyster to build interest in their newer works. The social networking features of Oyster could help users see what their friends are reading and build interest in heretofore unknown books.
Color me optimistic. Oyster and its rivals hold out the promise of shifting people away from the media of mainstream television and film, whose content is overwhelmingly filth and lies, to more worthy works. If you’re seeking to improve the health of your mind and unplug from the mass conformity of modern intellectual life, I can’t think of a better move than canceling your cable and Netflix subscriptions and choosing an Oyster one instead. Not that Oyster lacks its own trashy equivalents to the sports and celebrity worship of mainstream media, but the scales are tipped; with thousands of books to choose from, it is far easier to find constructive wisdom for the man receptive to it.
Pros:Unlimited reading Slick interface, very easy to locate new books and start reading them immediately Low rate of $10 a month, with first month free Holds potential for sharing book recommendations with others easily
Cons:iPhone and iPad only – no Android or Windows version for now Book catalog not as expansive as Amazon No audiobooks Book discovery and promotion erratic Lacks search function within books Lackluster privacy and anonymity protections Inability to filter out content of no interest to the user
Rating: 8.5/10, Would Bang And Tell My Friends About It
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