Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Oyster Book Service shutters but the future of books is looking good

When Oyster first started a few years back, it seemed like a potentially interesting model to get people reading and, more importantly, to bring buzz back to the books and publishing world.

Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. Oyster announced that it was closing up shop. Modeled on Netflix, the aim was to get people to sign up to a subscription service whereby each month a book would be e-delivered to various e-readers so you'd have a certain amount of time to read the book before it would disappear and another would re-appear.

I looked into it. It seemed complicated to arrange and I couldn't deal with it. Another issue is that I read on so many different kinds of devices and platforms that it didn't seem suitable for me (I literary read on my phone, iPad, notebook and, of course, mainly paper books).

Still. It's always a drag when someone trying to create a new idea falls flat.

That said, I think fears that have hovered over the book world for many years now, if not overstated, are starting to feel passe. After all, according to several people in the know that I've talked to, digital book sales account for only around 14% of sales in literary fiction and that number has not increased in a number of years.

So ereaders taking over the book world, those fears, have long been considered overblown. (This is for literary fiction, remember: genre fiction does have a higher rate of e-readers though even then it's not more than half of book sales and, again, doesn't seem to be increasing).

The publishing world still moves along: there are hits and there are misses. There are runaway successes that surprise and there are huge bombs. I'm much more optimistic than I was just a few years ago.

Make no mistake: it's not easy: writers rarely can make money off their art. I dislike the concentration of what gets buzzed about (the same 10 books for weeks at a time). But there's an entire industry of Canadian literature that is thriving with our own literary stars and classics. That's a great thing. Not only that, but we have to remember that artists rarely can make much money off their art: singers, dancers, painters, media artists, often have to take full-time jobs to make their art. Few make it big and very few can afford to quit and just live off what they produce.

E-reading on the beach: not a good idea
Publishers are surviving (some barely, it's true). Book culture seems alive and well. There are hundreds of literary journals, blogs, websites that explore book culture and translated fiction has even managed to eek out a small place at many of these places (and successes like Knausgaard and Ferrante show that there is an appetite for translated hits).

And a new bookstore opening around the corner seems like a positive sign, too (one bookstore doesn't prove anything but they do tell me that things are going very well over there).

All of this to say that Oyster shutting its doors is sad but it's also a sign that book lovers don't want gimmicks or revolutionary models to encourage them to read. They just want good books...and as long as publishers can deliver on that, publishing and book culture will continue to thrive.

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