Pando

Oyster expands 'Netflix for books' service with new storefront

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 8, 2015

From The News Desk

Oyster has added a storefront to its "Netflix for books" service. In doing so, it might finally allow people to turn to someone besides Amazon for things to read.

Unlike the subscription service with which Oyster launched, this storefront will boast titles from all of the major publishers. Consumers won't have to sign up for the monthly service to access the storefront, nor will any benefits be given to people who pay for the subscription product and buy something from this store.

But that doesn't mean the offerings aren't complementary. People already had to purchase some books that weren't offered in the monthly subscription service -- this storefront will allow Oyster to sell those books instead of driving people to Amazon. If a book's available via the subscription, great; if it's not, no problem.

This problem is common to other platforms: content companies aren't prepared to hand over everything to subscription-based services. "I'm a Netflix subscriber, but I also buy movies on iTunes," says Oyster chief executive Eric Stromberg. "That's something we're excited to bring back to this experience with books."

Stromberg has a point. Even though I wrote in 2014 that owning digital content can seem like an anachronism, I've purchased several digital films, e-books, and albums over the last few years. In almost every case, this was because whatever I wanted to watch, read, or listen to wasn't available via any streaming services.

It was possible to easily purchase most content from a variety of sources. But for books, the only real digital store I considered was Amazon's, simply because it offered the most content on the most platforms at the most appealing price. Now there's an alternative to that monolith, and it hasn't come a moment too soon.

My job as a reporter is to be objective, within reason. But as a consumer, I would prefer not to support a company that treats its workers like cogs in a machine, whether that's by screwing them over with non-compete agreements or trying to ensure warehouse workers aren't paid for being frisked when they clock out.

Pando contributor Kevin Kelleher articulated the problem with Amazon in 2012:

Amazon has cultivated a virtue – lowering costs for its customers – but is overlooking the collateral damage. And that’s the thing that’s changed – subtly but significantly — about Amazon for me. It’s not the stereotypically evil company that runs roughshod over others in the name of making a profit. Amazon’s profits are controversially small. Amazon has made its customers the paramount concern of its strategy. It has, over the years, saved us a tidy sum of money. And it’s done it with a shopping experience that is about as friction free as it gets.

But I wonder if Amazon hasn’t made low costs too much of a priority. It’s one thing to disrupt book publishers from what is clearly an outdated business model, it’s another to prevent them from building a new business model that relies on consumer behavior data. It’s one thing to make delivery as fast and cheap as it can possibly become, and another to build a logistics system that serves customers at the cost of abusing workers. For a long time, Amazon was the best option for getting new books. Its apps were available on every major platform, and it had the lowest prices in the business. But, now that Oyster's launching a storefront, there's an alternative available on many of those same platforms featuring the same exact books for similar prices.

Oyster won't completely replace Amazon. I doubt it plans to open warehouses around the world and work to replace all of Amazon's services by itself. Yet this new storefront shows that Amazon isn't unassailable, and gives people looking to spend their money somewhere besides Jeff Bezos' monolith another option.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]