Word for Word: Ebooks are far from the final chapter
Oyster is a subscription service offering members access to as many books as they like each month from a collection of about 100,000 for $9.95 a month
Experiments in digital books have long been held back by an unwillingness among larger book publishers to take part. One can hardly blame them. They’ve seen what has happened to record companies and newspapers, and they fear for their business models.
Two recently announced experiments, though, seem to have lukewarm support, at the very least, from some of the five largest publishers in the business.
The first, Oyster, is a subscription service offering members access to as many books as they like each month from a collection numbering about 100,000 and all for only $9.95 a month.
It is not the first such service. Indeed, the Spanish site 24Symbols (24symbols.com) has a similar business model, but has a much smaller English-language selection.
Oyster’s other big advantage is that it features titles from one of those five giant publishers, HarperCollins, as well as books from smaller houses like Harcourt and the independent Melville House.
Hailed as a Netflix for books, Oyster has received considerable praise as well as raising some eyebrows, especially among authors. Just as Netflix took time to find its feet, Oyster will take time to develop and for now (probably because of territorial restrictions on books) it’s limited to residents of the US. Can the company develop a sustainable business model that rewards authors and publishers?
Another development is Amazon’s Match Book, which will give readers the chance to buy books they already own in print as ebooks, at prices of no more than $2.99, and in some cases without charge, as long as they bought the book from Amazon and the publisher is part of the programme.
Match Book feeds into the desire that some readers have to buy a book in print but have the ebook available should they for some reason not have the print version to hand.
Why should they be forced to pay full price for something they have already paid for, especially when the cost of the digital file is minuscule?
Publishers and authors, on the other hand, have been somewhat wary. They fear it will devalue ebooks and perhaps books overall, fears that are not lessened by their suspicion of Amazon, which is seen by many as an enemy of the industry.
Amazon is neither friend nor foe: it’s just another business trying to navigate this period of incredible change in all forms of content.
What these two new experiments suggest is that those who thought ebooks marked the high point
of change in the world of
books have several surprises ahead.