If you're an avid or even an occasional reader, you've certainly purchased a book that you didn't like once you started reading and ended up never finishing. Monthly book subscription service Oyster aims to stop that from ever happening again. For $10 per month, you get unlimited access to a catalog of 500,000 e-books that you get read for as long as you want. The catch is that you don't actually own those books, and if you cancel your subscription they disappear. The app launched on iOS in January 2014, and came to Android in June 2014.
Oyster has been compared to Netflix, which is a decent metaphor because there are no due dates, no late fees, and you get unlimited access to the catalog of books. However, unlike Netflix, which has changed people's habits around purchasing DVDs, Oyster still has a ways to go before it changes how you purchase books. Because they company is still working with publishers to get more books, the catalog is still limited, so you won't find new releases or many of the popular titles from recent years. For those books, you'll still need to head to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local bookshop for an e-book or a hard copy.
Setup and design
By signing up for Oyster, you get a free 30-day trial, so you can try out the service before you commit. However, one of the biggest sticking points is that you have to enter a credit card to start your trial and use the app -- you cannot do anything inside the app until you do. Luckily, it's quite easy to cancel your trial before it runs out, or your paid monthly subscription -- just head to the Oyster website to do it.
Now on to design, which is Oyster's biggest strength. Both the Android and iOS apps are modern, colorful, and impeccably designed. Compared with the Amazon Kindle app, which is a bit bland and dark, Oyster is light and simple, with just a few menus for browsing and searching the catalog. There's a particularly pretty page of rich color photos where you can explore collections of books by genre, including summer reads, sci-fi, and children's literature.
The main screen is called the Home page, and there you'll find themed collections of books, recommended titles for you, and your reading list -- the list of books you want to read or are currently reading. There's also a carousel of book genres at the top if the page, and a search bar to hunt for books by keyword, author, and title.
Each book has its own dedicated page with the book's cover art, a synopsis, publishing details, accolades (such as if it's been featured on the New York Times Best Seller list), related books, and a handy button to add it to your reading list. There's also an "Activity" section, which simply shows a row of profile pictures of other uses who have added that book to their reading list. You can tap any photo to view that user's profile and see what else they're reading. To start reading a book, just tap the arrow icon on top of the cover art to download it to your device.
Reading a book with Oyster is similar to reading any other e-book. You can swipe or tap the edges of the screen to turn the pages, and overall the app felt responsive to my gestures. As you read, the app tells you how many pages are left in the chapter or section you're in, and roughly how much time it will take to finish.
Oyster gives you a few options to personalize your reading experience, just tap the middle of the screen to bring up a toolbar with two menus. The first one (indicated by a set of three horizontal lines) is a table of contents that lets you jump around to different sections of the book, which is particularly helpful for reference books or cookbooks. Unfortunately, with some books, this menu didn't always take me to the correct place.