Startup Case Study: Oyster

by Ketevan Dolidze

After browsing the internet for some ideas for great media startups, I came across a few that sparked my interest. However, among all, one stood out the most –  Oyster, which is a company that provides its users access to a lending library of over 100, 000 digital books. It was founded by Eric Stromberg (worked on the business aspect and met with publishers and lawyers to produce a workable contract), Andrew Brown (product manager at Google’s DoubleClick division, built the tech platform), and Willem Van Lancker (former lead designer for Google Maps, crafted the user interface) in September of 2012.

In a phone interview, Eric Stromberg, CEO and co-founder of Oyster, said: “I initially became fascinated by the transition from the print book to digital while working on a research project at Duke. Our team loves to ask the question, ‘What will the future of books look like?’ We want to bring books to the center of your life, and inspire you to read all the books you wish you’d read.” When the company launched in September, along with its iPhone app, it gained its members only through invitations. Once the individual joined Oyster, he or she now had access to more than 100,000 books for only $9.95 a month. By October of 2012 the company was able to receive $3 million in funding from Founders Fund, venture capital firm in San Francisco. By January 14, 2014 Oyster raised $14 million though an event led by Highland Capital Partners. The company states that it will use the $14 million on some expansion efforts, but no official statements describing the expansion efforts were made just yet.

After Oyster launched, some studies were conducted by Oyster’s marketing department that showed the company was losing readers by having the restriction of being able to join only by invitation. To reach out to a larger audience, Oyster removed this restriction, came out with an iPad app, and offered the user a 30-day free trial. As Mr. Stromberg stated in a phone interview: “The thesis is that over the next five to 10 years, more reading will happen on tablets and phones. We’re trying to create an experience that will lead the way.” Oyster was also successful at convincing some publishers that the all-you-can-read model will be beneficial to them as much as the company itself. Just a few months after the official launch, Oyster signed such publishers as HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin, Workman Publishing and Perseus. When asked about the actual collection of books in a phone interview, this is what Stromberg said: “We don’t put every book on the platform. We say, ‘Look, here are the great books we want to put on the platform.” Books are curated algorithmically and by real people.

In a formal pitch, Oyster argued that ”the business will draw in more readers, eventually expanding the universe of book customers. If you can build a product that builds a new audience, inspires people to read more books, that’s a win for publishers and readers.”

Some people refer to Oyster as another Netflix or Amazon. To stay ahead of its competition, Oyster is making their lending library more desirable to its users. Because Amazon offers a lending library for all Kindle owners, Oyster attempted to do this by making it a lot more desirable. Amazon’s lending library allows its Kindle users a “one-at-a-time” book borrowing system. However, Oyster did away with that restriction and allowed its users to borrow multiple books at a time, even the more popular ones.




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