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Opinion: ‘Netflix of books,’ Oyster, might make e-books new norm

“Zooming In” is a weekly series in which Photo editor Shelby Lum provides her insight on pop culture.

Watching Crayola commercials makes me a little jealous. The possibilities of 3-D chalk and markers that only write on paper put my longing for a 64-pack of crayons to shame. Really, almost all the toys children play with now put mine to shame. The land of make-believe and imagination in a backyard has been ousted for the world of video games and high tech gadgets made just for children.

The artifacts of my childhood are obsolete and it’s becoming increasingly obvious it’s not just my toys of yesteryear that no longer matter, but one of my other favorite childhood pastimes as well — real paper books.

Tangible books might become a thing of the past quicker than I would like to think possible, because the “Netflix of books” is starting to gain a bit more attention. Oyster, the book equivalent to Netlix, allows members to access more than 100,000 books for a $9.95 monthly membership fee. Guess what, you can even get a free trial for the first month (which is oddly similar to Netflix).

By 2011, a fifth of DVD sales was gone, thanks to the lovely gents at movie streaming sites, and even now, Netflix management is considering dropping out the option to have DVDs delivered at all. So thanks, Netflix. DVDs are a near relic of the past, and if they are any indicator, books are on their way out as well.

Oyster gives readers unlimited access to its online catalog, so books can be read over a period of time. Unlimited sounds like a pretty good deal.

I never gave e-books much thought, and waved away the possibility that a so called “e-book revolution” would do much (I’m a book purist). Not enough people want to make an investment in a Nook, Kindle or other tablet exclusively made for e-books that paper books could be shoved out quite yet.

But the influence of the Internet might pose a different story. A lot of people have at least some steady access to the Internet, and Oyster makes it feasible to read on anything, not just a tablet. Bookworms can rejoice and read on phones, computers or anything.

Or bookworms might not.

While DVDs are being ousted from necessity, I have yet to meet anyone with a sentimental attachment to a shiny disc. But I have met people who have an attachment to a book.

So I will reluctantly admit that once Oyster expands its collection, it could ruin the future of books. It’s not quite where Netflix is, but it could get there pretty soon. In January, Oyster raised $17 million to expand and latch onto as many platforms as it can.

Admittedly, I am a late adopter to most everything. I didn’t get a smartphone until last year and I don’t use Siri. I was hesitant about Netflix because I liked to meander my way through the Blockbuster aisles — something I will never get to do again. I still don’t appreciate e-books.

So naturally, I’m an Oyster skeptic. I would love to think it would be impossible for the company to crumple bookstores into oblivion.

But the rumblings of change are in the air for the good ol’ paperback book.


  1. Stumping this website again when they have very few major authors I read.

    No Stephen King
    No Dean Koontz
    No Terry Brooks

    No name brand authors other that a few romance authors…..no money from me or anyone I know!

  2. Thanks for making me aware of Oyster – I hadn’t heard of it before. I’m curious how they will work with independent publishers, so I’ve made an inquiry regarding that. The main issue I see is that they are Apple platform only. Why do this? Everywhere I look, Android devices have considerably more market share. But ignoring the iOS vs Android debate, why not take a more platform agnostic approach and have an app for any platform. There’s a reason Amazon is so dominant in the e-book marketplace, and a reason why Netflix has become so successful at video on demand: users can switch from platform to platform without losing their place with almost no effort. My guess is that Oyster won’t really penetrate the market until they’ve figured this out.

  3. I actually disagree that people don’t get attached to digital books. We run a subscription book service for old books (let’s call ourselves “Netflix for old books”, why not, everyone else wants to be Netflix) on our website at http://www.forgottenbooks.org and offer both print and ebooks. We have a large percentage of our customers that download more ebooks than they could realistically read because they want to make a solid electronic library. Perhaps they will come back to them later, or just want to peek at a small section of each ebook, but I think that they become attached because that’s what we do with books. The beauty of the written word has always been its message, not its form.

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