from The New Yorker
Why do we buy books? Well, until very recently, there were few other ways to get them. We could go to a library, or borrow them from people we knew. Otherwise, we had to buy them. And, until recently, buying them meant buying objects, the sturdy real things, and keeping them somewhere—neatly in bookshelves, dangerously in basements, or resignedly in boxes left unpacked from the last move. E-books made ownership easier but less sure. Hold up your Kindle or your tablet or your smart phone and give it a shake; they’re in there somewhere—or else in the cloud. Technology made some purchases unnecessary; publishers couldn’t squeeze us for Milton or Dickens anymore since they’re available for free online. The Kindle has a lending program, with which you can let someone borrow one of your books for fourteen days (hurry along, borrowers of “War and Peace”). But mostly, and unlike with music or movies or digital journalism, to consume books we still buy them and then get to keep them.
The founders of Oyster, a handsomely designed new app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, are hoping that people are looking for a new way to get access to books. The app, which takes its name from a line in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (“the world’s mine oyster,” spoken, incidentally, by a thief), currently gives users access to more than a hundred thousand titles for a monthly fee of just under ten bucks. (Netflix for books, as it’s been called.) Users tap a book to read it instantly, and can store up to ten downloads at a time to read offline. Oyster also offers recommendations based on previous selections, and allows users to share what they’ve been reading on social media. (You can also turn off the social features and read privately.) Right now you need an invitation to join, but Oyster will be expanding both how many people can use it and the number of available books, and the founders say that they plan to release a version for iPad later this fall.