A new startup called Oyster has received $3 million in seed funding, led by Founders Fund. The money will be used to build a library of books that members of the Oyster application will be able to access for a set monthly fee. The idea behind the app is simple: millions of people use e-readers and devices to read books now and currently the only way to get them is to buy them one at a time from book sellers or peruse the very limited selection at a public library.
Oyster wants to make it possible to get books in several formats as often as you’d like. It will work like a lending library or Netflix, where users pay a set monthly fee and have access to a set number of books at a time. When the user finishes with one book, they can “turn it in” and get another. But unlike Netflix or the library, Oyster uses Spotify-like social integration to encourage sharing so that the user’s friends can see what he or she is reading and get recommendations based on that – or even get the same book themselves. If the user really likes the book they’ve read, they can buy it permanently.
Oyster will be building its library by partnering with book publishers directly (not authors), so for now, independent authors are not likely to get access. Still, the publishers should see this as a win since they can contract a specific number of copies of their book, just as they do with libraries, and gain further sales and exposure as users buy books they enjoy and titles are shared with friends around Facebook and other social networks.
The founders of Oyster are definitely up for the task. Eroc Stromberg, formerly of Hunch, will lead the acquisitions while Andrew Brown and Willem Van Lancker, both formerly of Google with backgrounds in engineering and user experience design, will be building the app.