Oyster, Digital Books on Demand and what it tells us about consumer behavior

The deal between Oyster, the “Netflix for Books” and Simon and Schuster is less important in its financial specifics and more important in terms of what it represents as the next logical step forward for the digital publishing sector.

Last May, books-on-demand service Oyster made headlines when it announced a long-term partnership with publisher Simon and Schuster to bring some of the biggest titles and authors to the often-described “Netflix for Books”. Oyster had scored a major victory above their main competitor, Scribd in this regard.

Whether or not Oyster, Scribd or one of a myriad of other competitors following the deal who are sure to follow suite ultimately win out in becoming the “Netflix for Books” is ultimately immaterial. What’s important here is that this concept of a “Netflix for Books” is now widely interpreted as something that needs to happen by publishers, digital providers and consumers alike.

The idea of on-demand or “streaming” services is, of course, nothing new. On-demand content delivery networks for everything from games (Steam) to music (Spotify) have existed for some time now and they’re continuously evolving in order to meet greater capacity, more demand for new features and so on. At their core, it’s all about consumer convenience though, it’s providing the end-user with a legion of books, or movies, or music at their disposal. It’s frankly surprising that the concept has taken so long to transfer over to the world of books (although that traditional publishers tend to be cautious about self-proclaimed panaceas may have something to do with it).

So we’re left with the confusing wider question about whether this now pre-assured victory of books-on-demand represents a victory for native apps or not. While Scribd, Oyster and others employ native apps to deliver their service, they’re not quite the same as the idea of a micro-bookstore repository, which many textbook companies are now employing, as a sort of mini e-commerce portal for example. While these certainly still have a place, one interesting knock-on effect in the book app space is that we’re probably going to see micro-transactions become less prevalent even in the education space, being replaced with the same sort of monthly payment models that consumers are now satisfied with in just about every walk of life, from gyms to TV shows.

So the Simon & Schuster deal actually shows us a lot more than a partnership and IP agreement between a vendor and a supplier. It underscores the appetite for an on-demand book service, to the degree that it’s likely we’ll see digital books as a service become the predominant model. More broadly this trend offers an interesting insight into consumer spending patterns as a whole: Provided there’s enough content to consumer a consumer is happy to pay a monthly fee, indeed, he is happier to pay a monthly fee as opposed to the “old” method of micro-transactions, even if he doesn’t consumer anywhere near what is available. In turn, this would seem to suggest that merely having the option available to consumer whatever he wants, whenever he wants (rather than the act of consuming the content itself) is something that you can put a monthly price-tag on.


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