Monday, September 1, 2014

Oyster Books Review

I thought I'd share my experience trying out Oyster Books - an online e-book subscription service that offers unlimited e-book reading for $9.95 per month (think Netflix but with books). Over the coming months, I plan to try all the major services (Oyster, Scribd, Entitle and Kindle Unlimited) and blog about them.


Signing up was a breeze and comes with a one month free trial, a $9.95 value. For an even better deal, you can get $15 in credit if you sign up with my Oyster invitation.

I signed up using the Android app but you could just as easily register with the iPhone/iPad or your web browser. It does, however, require a valid major Credit Card so that billing may start at the end of your trial should you choose not to cancel.

Book Selection

The book selection is impressive. A lot of book subscription services like to tout large numbers, over 500,000 books in Oyster's case. However, the count of books is irrelevant if there's nothing you want to read. I had no problem finding books by well-known authors that I actually wanted to read.

Oyster recently added Simon & Schuster's entire back list (e.g. books older than one year) to its catalog. This really adds to their breadth with authors like Stephen King and Dan Brown. For the curious, you can search for your favorite authors and books to see if they offer it. In a lot cases, I found a healthy, but incomplete, selection of books from my favorite authors such as Dan Simmons and Neil Gaiman.

Reading Experience

My normal reading is done with a Kindle Paper White and I fully expected a degradation in experience with Oyster. With my Paper White, I love the e-ink's lack of glare and the soft glow of the backlit screen. This is especially nice when reading in bed.

At first, I tried reading with Oyster on my Nexus 7 tablet. I found it too heavy, though, compared to my Kindle. I quickly switched to my Samsung S4 and pretty much did all of my reading there. I was able to adjust the font size and background to be night friendly.

Options: Night Mode

Compared to the Kindle Paper White and the Kindle Android app, the Oyster application was frustrating at first. With the Kindle, they've optimized the touch screen for the most common operation: flipping to the next page. As such, the page turns forward by touching all but the very leftmost side of the screen. Not so with Oyster.

Oyster's Android app makes you touch the rightmost side of the screen or use the volume controls to move the page forward. This is especially frustrating if you want to hold the phone with your left hand. For me, the volume controls weren't an option since they made a distracting beeping sound on my S4. I couldn't figure out how to turn the beeping sound off.

The Android app also had some lag to it while re-rendering from portrait to landscape mode or vice-versa. I also had a few frustrating experiences when I got out of bed with the phone only to find that it had reset back to the beginning of the chapter. I suspected this had something to do with changing the phone orientation. I only had this happen one evening but it happened several times and was very frustrating.

As far as other platforms, I did spend one afternoon reading on my Chromebook. It offered all the same options as my phone as far as font customization, etc. It also seemed to synchronize where I left off on my phone seamlessly.

It should be noted that there's no ability to bookmark or take notes, unlike the Kindle. For me, this was a minor loss but I could see how this would be a negative for some people.


Cancellation was even easier than signing up. There's not much to say here except that it is no hassle. You can cancel anytime and then resume later. You don't get any partial refund but do get to keep using the service until your month is over.

Takeaway: This Will Change the Way You Read

Oyster has the ability to change the way you read and I took full advantage of it. I had several books in flight at the same time, which was nice. With the Kindle, I typically read books one at a time since it costs me about $10 for each book.

A good analogy for traditional Kindle vs Subscription books would be as follows: I like steak but if I ate it every day, I'd soon tire of it. I also like seafood. It'd be nice to have steak one night, seafood the next, chicken the night after that and so on. Oyster lets you read like this. It gives you variety. That's really nice.

Also, you don't have to decide whether to drop $10 on a book based upon a Kindle sample that only got you slightly past the introduction. You can read as far as you want to and then pick up something else if you don't like the book. Decide for yourself! Sign up for the free trial or use my invitation for $15 in free credit.

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