The concept is a Netflix for ebooks–for a fixed price per month, you get to read as many ebooks from the vendor’s catalog as you want. Oyster came out with a product earlier this month. Now Scribd has announced a competing product. The prices are about the same: $9 per month for Scribd, $10 per month for Oyster.
Scribd has a deal with HarperCollins that gives them access to most of that publisher’s backlist, and this appears to be a differentiator. Assuming that both companies get the technology right, the key would seem to be who can offer more of the books people want to read. (Oyster only works on smartphones, not tablets, and that seems nuts to me; presumably they can change course if it turns out that most people agree with me.)
As a reader, I’m not especially interested — I just don’t have enough reading time, and my tastes are too eclectic, to make the products worth it. Also, I’m perfectly happy to read a hardcopy book from the library. I suppose the concept might make sense for other people, but I’m a bit dubious. Unless you can sign up all the major publishers, the selection is bound to be limited in ways that readers will find frustrating.
Having said that, I have plenty of listening time on my endless commute, and I have recently joined Audible, the big audio book company (now owned, along with most everything else, by Amazon). Its model is to make you buy credits, either one per month or a bunch up front (I bought a bunch up front). This gets you a substantial discount over their prices for non-members. The cost comes out to be about $12 per title, which doesn’t seem too bad. And they have a huge catalog, including lots of my friend Jeff Carver’s novels. So far it seems like a good deal from my perspective; your mileage may vary.