29 October 2013

From Mark Coker at Smashwords

Oyster Shipments to Begin in Three Days.

On September 5, Smashwords announced a distribution agreement with Oyster, a new and innovative ebook subscription service. Oyster offers consumers unlimited access to more than 100,000 ebooks for only $9.95 per month.

At the time we announced the deal, we also announced that we wouldn’t begin shipping to Oyster until at least 72 hours after we shared the financial terms with you.  The clock starts now.

I also stated at the time that I believed the terms were author-friendly, and that Smashwords authors would be pleased when they learned the details.  Today, via this email, I’m sharing the details.

Here’s a link to our original announcement here. 


From Guest Blogger Randall with a thanks to J.M. for the tip.

Ebook Subscriptions, Ebooks, Smashwords

25 Comments to “Oyster”

  1. A single Oyster user could conceivably read multiple books by the same Smashwords author in a single month, and the author will be paid for each book. As a Smashwords author or publisher, you’ll earn 60% of your book’s retail list price whenever an Oyster subscriber reads more than 10% of your book, starting from the beginning of the book forward. It’s an author-friendly model. That’s the same rate Smashwords authors earn when we sell ebooks through the major retailers such as Apple and Barnes and Noble.

    Those sound like good terms. And I’ve opted in.

    But I’m wondering if I’ve missed something. And am eager to hear the views of fellow TPV readers. How do the terms strike you? What do you think?

  2. Yeah, well I’ve got that shellfish allergy, so…

    • My first response was to check and see if this was a month with an R in it. (No R, no oysters, as everyone knows.)

  3. I’m still out. I’ll wait and see. The terms look good, but why hide them until the last minute?

    “starting from the beginning of the book forward.”
    What if they start from later in the book e.g. read a sample elsewhere and then continue on Oyster?

    • Mark clarified with a statement later that it’s 10% of the book total. It doesn’t necessarily matter what part of the book they read, so much as how much they read. I don’t know for sure, but from what I was seeing/reading, it’s not a 10% sample, either.

      Basically, if they’re interested in your book, they can grab it. If they then go on to read 10%, then the author gets paid for it. They “borrow” it immediately upon showing interest/when they start reading it, and it goes from there.

      The 10% is useful, because if the book is non-fiction or something, then someone might only be interested in one part, and would go on to read that chapter. They might skip the rest. In this case, the author will still get paid once the reader reads 10%, as opposed to needing them to read a higher percentage (which might never happen for something like non-fiction if the other chapters weren’t of extreme interest to the reader).

      For fiction, it’s likely that the 10% will be at the beginning of the book, but I guess you never really know.

  4. Sorry – I hit submit too soon! And how many books have I purchased, gotten through a portion of and found I really didn’t like it? So from a readers point of view – Oyster sounds like a good idea.

  5. I’m wondering, if they end up with a lot of avid readers (I can read a book a day when I’m in the mood to read), how sustainable paying 60% of list price per title read to 10% will be when they’re only charging each user $9.95 per month.

    I know that in webhosting, you can offer “unlimited” because most people won’t use very many server resources.

    Just don’t quite see that applying to a service like this though. =\

    • Yes.

      If each subscriber pays $9.95 per month, but reads (perhaps) $40 worth of books each month, how does Oyster do anything but lose money?

    • That’s exactly what I’m wondering. It seems this service would be most attractive to readers who go through at least a few books per month, which would make it a money-sink from Oyster’s POV.

      I can see that they might be hoping it’s like gym memberships, but I don’t know if it’ll work the same way. I doubt the 60% for 10% deal is going to last, but it’s certainly a good deal for writers so long as it does.


  6. On the other hand, how can an author lose by going with it? If Oyster goes under, they go under and you are back where you were. It isn’t like you incur a cost by letting them try with your books. Sure, someone might get (gasp) a free read, but you might gain a fan. And if it works, it makes you look like a visionary. The ROI is perfect, from my perspective.

    • Will you get paid before they go bust?

      • Doesn’t matter, as it cost nothing. Tis a gamble, like most business, and they are taking the larger one. My books are just being made available. Gaining readers is important. Gaining outlets is nice. If it works we all win. If the doomsayers are correct I’m not out of pocket. I don’t see it differently dealing with the Amazon buyers who speed read and then return books within seven days.

  7. There are some VCs who will take a bath on this one. I don’t see any way Oyster can make money in the long term. Their deal is only attractive to people who already spend more than $120 a year on books. To get those people (like me) to sign up, they need a wide selection. But if they get a wide selection, their subscribers will read even more books than they do now. Which will put Oyster way in the hole.

    On the other hand, most of the folks who already spend a lot of money on books are invested in the Kindle ecosystem. So, they will have trouble getting us to switch.

    But most of all, this startup breaks the first rule of startups: Don’t compete with Amazon. I’m not even kidding. Read this if you don’t believe me:


    I sure Oyster thinks they have proprietary pricing, but does anyone believe that Amazon can’t take these guys on?

    • Good points, William.

      Amazon isn’t some Dilbert-esque company that don’t know what they are doing. Competing against them isn’t easy- just look at Kobo, Apple and the trad publishers.

  8. The one main downside to Oyster is the fact that when a reader “borrows” or reads your book there, there’s no real increase in visibility.

    When a reader buys your book from any other store, you gain the benefit of also-boughts, sales rank, potentially getting on lists (best sellers, HNR, movers & shakers, etc.), and a lot more.

    Oyster doesn’t really have that. They have “lists,” but as far as I know they’re curated by the Oyster staff, so it’s more like “We think these are good books” as opposed to “Customers bought a lot of these books and you might like them if you like books like these.”

    In essence, Oyster is great for a certain type of reader, but in general that reader isn’t helping to build a “business.” It’s extremely similar to people who mostly just borrow books from their local library or buy discount books from a used bookstore (or just grab free books off Amazon, etc.). These -can- be great readers, and they can benefit the author in a business sense through word of mouth, maybe good reviews if they’re willing to review it on other sites like Goodreads or whatnot, and other intangible benefits.

    These readers are also great for the writer who really loves the craft and just wants people to read their book, disregarding any potential profit from it. I think every writer likes that in some regards, but the “dream” is to get paid for it, too.

    So… saying that, I don’t think Oyster is bad, but it attracts a different sort of person. If you can build a reader/writer relationship with those sorts of people, it can be great. Word of mouth is powerful, and having an advocate of sorts is really important sometimes. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and if you can find a voracious reader who’s pulling for you, then that’s great.

    From a more “business-oriented” standpoint, disregarding the intangible/ephemeral benefits and the “love of the craft” ones, as well, Oyster isn’t really the best. It’s not going to build you up as a brand in any meaningful way, you know? You won’t be an Oyster bestselling author, nor will Oyster borrows count for any of the big lists (not that many indie authors are making it on there now, but it should still be taken into consideration). Readers reading your book on Oyster won’t give you any increased, tangible visibility.

    I think the idea of it is fine, though. Whether Oyster stays in business for the long run or not, it still won’t really change what it “is” to an author. There’s no reason not to distribute there, but there’s also no real reason to push readers there, either. It’s kind of like Smashwords’ Sony distribution channel. I appreciate my readers who buy my e-books through Sony, and I try to distribute as many books as possible there (save for a few that I have as KDP Select exclusives), but I also wouldn’t ever consider pushing readers towards Sony.

    I -would- consider pushing readers towards B&N, Amazon, and iTunes, as the benefits there are higher.

    (This all might sound callous/indifferent to readers, but to be completely honest, I can’t provide readers with books at an accelerated pace if I’m not making money from it in order to pay my bills, so it’s really not. The more money I make, the more I can give back and offer giveaways, have better things going on, and so on. If we don’t think of the business aspects and how it benefits our business, then we aren’t going to be able to provide readers with -the best- of everything, which is what I think they deserve)

  9. Good points Cerys du Lys. I don’t think it will make a huge difference to us as writers either. It might earn a little (if it works) and the analogy to SONY is good. I don’t get much there, but I won’t refuse to distribute there because their sales don’t meet my expectations.

  10. Except I don’t use Smashwords anymore.

    The “Smashwords edition” and painful process that makes a grown man cry, finally got to me.

    I’ve gone completely to D2D now.

    • Me too. I keep waiting for D2D to put their fingers in some of the same channels that Smashwords does.

  11. I figure, it’s another avenue for potential visibility, and it doesn’t cost anything, so there’s no harm in trying and maybe some benefit.

  12. I’ve opted in all my various series “Book 1′s” in hopes readers will borrow the first book and enjoy it enough to buy subsequent books.

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