Oyster Books Subscription eBook Service: Great Idea, Awful Execution

One of the hardest things about quitting my job in a bookstore was giving up on easy access to and an employee discount on books … lots and lots of books. I love to read, and I’ve deeply embraced eBooks. So I was very excited to try Oyster Books, the so-called “Netflix of eBooks”, with a similar all-you-can-read flat rate concept.

Oyster isn’t the only service out there, but they are one of the bigger ones, with a decent amount of publisher support. This is key, since it means they have recent titles and not just old classics and self-published books. The service is $9.95 a month, and you can download as many titles as you wish to the app, though like Netflix you lose them if you cancel the service.

On paper it’s great, but the reality leaves a lot to be desired. Loading the library is quite slow, and I found the various genres took a long time to load. Search is also very buggy and not very refined. A search for “Crichton” brings up Michael Crichton, as well as other authors named Crichton, but it also brings up related titles. That’s not bad, but it would be far more helpful if the related titles were broken out separately. In addition, nothing is sorted by author name, so books written by Michael Crichton as John Lange are mixed with regular Michael Crichton titles, as well as one from the collected poems of Iain Crichton Smith in the middle of all that. There’s just no rhyme or reason to it. Adding to the frustration — if a book isn’t in Oyster’s inventory, other similar titles may show up, but since the search is so jumbled you still need to check and make sure the book you wanted didn’t end up below ten related titles for no apparent reason.

All this wouldn’t be so bad if the reading experience was decent, but that falls apart too. There are very few settings available within the books, mainly centered around font size and background color. You can pull up the contents but can’t bookmark anything. However, the app does offer the chance to make notes. What really had me crawling the walls with frustration though, is how you flip pages. Instead of left to right, it scrolls up/down. It’s awkward, and I hate it, and yes, I am being picky. But flipping left/right preserves the idea that you’re reading a book — not flipping through a web page.

My own quirks about page flipping aside, the lack of bookmarking is a huge issue. You’re essentially counting on the app and the service to save your spot, and you can’t search within the book, so take note of the chapter you’re in just in case. The bizarre mix of features and missing options, like note-taking but no bookmarks, and the up/down scroll, feel like someone designed Oyster without actually considering the reading experience itself.

There are a lot of ways to read on a budget. There’s the public library, which offers both physical books and ebooks. There’s Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, who routinely offer books for free or very cheap as daily deals. There are plenty of self-published and small publisher titles who offer aggressive pricing, and there’s even the occasional ebook bundle offered. With all these options, Oyster needed to be perfection to justify an ongoing monthly cost for books you don’t even own if you cancel … but the service isn’t even close to usable, let alone perfect. I love the idea of an eBook subscription, but Oyster isn’t worth the cost at this point!

MSRP: $9.95 per month

What I Like: Good selection of titles

What Needs improvement: Terrible reading experience; broken and bizarre search results; slow; no bookmarking; iOS only

Source: Personal purchase


Categories: eBooks

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