While Amazon launched its own lending library on top of its Amazon Prime service, there’s still an opportunity for other competitors to create a Spotify or Netflix for books. That’s the hope of New York City-based Oyster, a new startup which announced today it has raised $3 million led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.
The company is preparing a mobile app that will allow users to get unlimited access to a library of books for one monthly price. The app will combine discovery with access and reading, so users will be able to get recommendations and immediately begin reading. The app was designed from the ground up to optimize the reading experience on mobile devices.
The app will feature a growing catalog of books, from national best sellers to classics, both fiction and non-fiction. Oyster is looking at working directly with publishers, not with authors. The app is being tested right now with a small number of users.
In addition to Founders Fund, Oyster’s new funding comes from SV Angel, Chris Dixon, Founder Collective, Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital, Sam Altman of Loopt.
The company was founded this past summer by Eric Stromberg, a former business development and product guy at Hunch; Andrew Brown, who worked at Google and Microsoft; and Willem Van Lancker, a former user experience designer for Google Maps. Stromberg told me the idea sprang from his fascination with the transformation of books and what they will ultimately look like in digital form. He said he wants to create a tool for helping people find and read a lot more books than they’re doing today.
“We want to create a product that fits into people’s lives and lets them find books and read all the books they wished they had read,” said Stromberg.
Stromberg said there’s no date for the launch of the app and no price yet. He said he wants to create a social environment that lets people recommend books to each other, similar to how Spotify users can share their tastes with others. And Oyster will also work in the background to learn from a user’s tastes and habits to suggest other books. Stromberg will be relying on his experience at Hunch, which provided personalization and recommendation services to companies.
For publishers, Stromberg said Oyster gives them another way to generate revenue and get their content in front of users. He said Amazon’s Kindle best seller list drives a lot of sales for publishers but it prevents other works from being discovered. Amazon’s lending library also plays in this market but it’s limited to Amazon Prime customers and only allows for one book to be borrowed a month.
There are still a lot of questions about Oyster and whether it can compete against Amazon and other competitors. A lot will come down to its book selection and how Oyster’s talks go with publishers. Stromberg said Oyster will try to focus on quality over quantity. With the success of access-related media providers like Spotify and Netflix, this might be a chance for publishers to test out a paid library model and also lessen their reliance on Amazon.