It has been one month since I encountered Oyster, a startup company that offers buffet-style selections of books to iPhone owners for a monthly fee. Since the initial product rollout, the service has been slowly expanding with new titles. With a free, one-month trial and the introduction of its iPad app, Oyster makes reading that much more accessible. My inner bookworm and outer cheapskate couldn't help but take Oyster up on its offer.
My first reaction to Oyster's service was that it would be painful to do any long reading on the iPhone's tiny screen. Even with the larger real estate of the iPhone 5, I found it annoying to scroll through all those pages. The alternative is to download the app on an iPad and use zoom, but this work-around doesn't offer the comfort or aesthetic feel of a native app. Now that the Oyster is natively supported on the iPad, reading has never been easier.
After you sign in, Oyster will hit you up with some of its recommendations (most popular, editor's picks, and spotlight categories), from which you can browse, or you can start searching by title or author. The selection is quite good for a company that is just getting on its feet. I was able to find books from Tolkien, Clarke, Orwell, and Vonnegut (I read a lot of fiction!). The app has incorporated a lot of the classics into its library. If you're a student, this might be a good enough argument to subscribe. Readers with more exotic taste (less well-known authors) or consumers of the latest literary craze (sorry, "Game of Thrones" fans) will have to look elsewhere for their literary fix.
Reading on Oyster is a seamless experience. Select the book(s) you want, the app will download it (them), and you can set off. There is no button on the display, so you can either swipe up and down to turn the page or tap the left or right edge of the screen. Tapping the middle text of any page will go up a menu to select another chapter, change the font and background, or return to the home page. My favorite feature is the ability to change the font to white text on a black background: It is a must-have for late-night reading. Oyster bookmarks and syncs your progress so that you can conveniently switch off reading between your iPhone or iPad. It even tells you the pages remaining until the end of the chapter. The best feature I've discovered is the ability to cache multiple books and then go offline to read. That's great for plane rides, long trips, camping, or any occasion when you're out of data service.
The price is a bit high ($9.95 per month) for a selection that some may find lacking. But if you consider that Netflix, now a household staple, started out very similarly, the library's selection is pretty decent. As its customer base expands, Oyster might be able to get more books from different publishers or reduce the monthly cost. The potential is also there for the service to reach into other media, such as magazines, journals, or even comics. But those possibilities are still a far shot. As of now, I can only see avid readers, students, or those embarking on long vacations being able to justify the monthly fee. But for the short time that I've had it, I've made my way through two books in a single weekend and am voraciously poring through my third. Perhaps by the end of the free trial period I might be convinced to continue as a paid subscriber.