Doug Responds to Stuff: The Netflix of Books

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Summary: Oyster is setting itself up as a pay-a-fee, read as many books as you want service. What does this mean? Probably not too much, yet.

BLOT: (09 Sep 2013 - 08:23:37 PM)

Doug Responds to Stuff: The Netflix of Books

Listening to the Series 7 Doctor Who soundtrack. Had forgotten this thing stretches all the way back to "Asylum of the Daleks". I'm enjoying it. I think my favorite nu-Who OST is still Series 5 ("I Am the Doctor" possibly my favorite Who track beyond the various theme songs themselves), but I still like it. If you have generally disliked the Murray Gold experience, stay away. He's playing a little brassier in places, a little more experimental in others, but it's still a Murray. If only "Bah Bah Biker" was a bit longer...sigh.

Now on to the meat of the post: At Last, the "Netflix For Books" Is Here. Of course, that's a lie. The "Netflix" of ebooks [this is a digital excursion only] has already been here for a bit: Libraries with Overdrive/etc and, to a lesser degree, Amazon's "borrow a book per month if you have Prime" [as two examples]. Oyster does have a chance to improve on the former by offering unlimited instances of a book to be checked out (where many library ebook systems require "individual copies" to be bought and that's how many e-readers can access it at a time), and to improve on the latter by offering a more solid selection with more check-outs. With a price near $10 a month, Prime will still be cheaper ($79 per year = about $6.58 a month and that includes free shipping and access to a roughly Netflix sized library of streaming movies at no additional cost) and Amazon will likely find a way double-quick to drop that 1-per-month limit if it needs, so Oyster really needs to go hard on a perceived business model difference and selection upgrade (looks like it will be driven by a "You read this, try this!" sort of thing, which might be good, but Amazon has Goodreads and Shelfari to back any similar move up with lots of data).

To what this really boils down is whether or not they can fill a niche. There are those who are opposed to Amazon with a vengeance. There's one niche. There are those who live too far from a library with Overdrive. There are those who hate libraries for various, possibly small-government, reasons. There's another. There are those who will go to any place that allows them to read what they want when they want it. There are those who will do anything that looks good. There are those who don't quite like books, and especially hate buying them, but sometimes like to read. If Oyster can fulfill these things, even if it is a little more expensive or has some odd rules, then it will succeed.

What does this mean for the book industry? Probably nothing. Not really. These companies going in on the deal are some of the same ones that told a federal judge, or at least let Apple tell a federal judge on their behalf, that selling an ebook for less than $12.99-$14.99 a piece with a restrictive license that allowed very little sharing and absolutely no reselling would destroy the fabric of American letters. Now they are going to turn around and take whatever handful of cents that Oyster is going to give them? Even assuming something like 80% [which is probably at least 30% too much] of membership fees go to the publishers, these publishers, who have been hinting that without high hardcover sales that they cannot survive and that marginal costs of ebooks are why they have to charge so much, will have so suddenly changed their tune as to be suspicious. This means we have two scenarios most likely facing us:

  1. Oyster will indeed be the Netflix of books and not the "Spotify". Meaning there will be some A-list titles, many B- and C-list titles, with a wash of low-selling items like non-fiction or second run children's fair. Some major series will have a few key books for check-out, meaning that purchases will be made to get the complete series, with A-list titles showing up and disappearing on a fairly constant basis.
  2. These companies have done some testing and found that people are still likely to want to buy a book after trying it out, especially if you have a 1-at-a-time style restriction that means that going back to books you've already read for some reason will eat up some of your valuable month-chunk. Note that this is starting on the iPhone and not the iPad.

I'm also not 100% convinced this isn't a company trying to make a splash so it can sell itself to the highest bidder. Partially it's just how start-ups seem to work nowadays, and partially it's lines like this, from their recent post A Preface:

Today, book buying revolves around transaction, not purely on finding great books. Transaction is important, because authors deserve to be paid for their works. But authors also deserve to have their books treated in a way that reflects the care they put into their writing. Currently, people buy books online in the exact same way that they buy lamps, blenders, and kitchen knives. The process of finding your next book is very different from purchasing a knife, and it should be treated that way.
By moving from individual transactions to an access-based model, readers can explore and enjoy books freely; more like your corner bookstore than a big box retailer. This leads to a more fulfilling experience built exclusively on taste and relaxed reading.

Jesus, did they the hire Tazo's copy writer? Go ahead, tell me again how this mid-quality black tea is a balanced chi of mountain mist and wild sunlight. Or, you know, how paying $10 a month so I can treat books as just another streaming medium will help me to relax with a cup of hot cocoa at an 80-style New York corner shop while respecting an author, unlike actually buying the book, because that's like, how I get knives man.

At any rate, I think your average American is a little "meh" on book-ownership, meaning that something like this will eventually dominate. It's true of movies and music, why would books be different? And just like now, where I can buy limited edition indie films or watch them on Netflix, I'll be able to buy limited edition indie books or read them Oyster or its various soon-to-come cousins. Fans are going to be ever the future of media, I just hope it's a fun and quality future.



Written by Doug Bolden

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