The world of ebook subscription services lost one of its earliest proponents late Monday evening, when Oyster—the so-called “Netflix of ebooks,” which also recently opened an online book store—announced it was shutting down “over the next few months.”
The surprise announcement comes less than two years since Oyster’s debut in September 2013. The company has yet to announce an official sunset date meaning it’s not clear how long Oyster subscribers have left on the service.
With Oyster gone, that leaves Scribd ($9 per month) and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited ($10 per month) as the two major “all you can eat” subscription options for insatiable readers.
Oyster used an oddly worded blog post to say goodbye. Right before it announced that the subscription service would shut down, the company said, “As we continue on, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of ebooks and mobile reading.”
Oyster itself is shutting down, but it appears a good chunk of its team will “continue on” with Google, according to anonymous sources who spoke with Re/code. Google will apparently shell out cash for the right to hire some Oyster staff to appease investors, prompting Re/code to call this an acquihire.
The team will reportedly be working on Google Play Books, which suggests Google may roll out its own Oyster-like service. That is just speculation, however.
The story behind the story: Oyster is shutting down just as the future of the ebook comes into question. Despite an explosive early start, ebook sales have started to flatten in recent years. Printed books such as paperbacks, meanwhile, are growing slightly, according to a recent study by the American Association of Publishers. That may not be an indictment of the technology, but a result of rising ebook prices. Why pay $15 for the Kindle edition of Sue Grafton’s X or Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel Make Me, for example, when you can get the hardcover editions on Amazon for a few dollars more?