Oyster, the Netflix of books, is done. I’m not shocked.

Insert your own pun about Oyster being fried, or failing to produce a pearl.

Most of you probably haven’t even heard of it, but Oyster, the self-proclaimed ‘Netflix for Books,’ has been operating for a little over a year. It debuted to some pretty bad reviews and worries about the business model, but so did Netflix originally.

Of course, Netflix was adaptable, and proved that their ultimate vision was one consumers shared. Oyster? Not so much. It’s shutting down.

The aforelinked IBT article feels prescient, but being a consumer and producer of written stories, I think there are a few simple reasons why Oyster failed, and why future startups with the same model likely will as well.

Books Aren’t As Consumable

This was the big killer, and it was obvious to pretty much anyone in the business. As the IBT article says, none but the most voracious readers can finish more than a few books a month.  Add to that the fact that books are already sport a fantastically high time-to-cost ratio — you can purchase anywhere from 3-9 Kindle Daily Deal books for Oyster’s $9.99 subscription price — and it’s hard to see where Oyster’s value proposition is.

Publishers Are Conservative and Fearful

Book publishers hate change. Of course, so do network and film executives. But the publishing industry has been particularly slow to embrace the digital age — see all their petty fights with Amazon and Google about eBook pricing, archiving, etc. Oyster, from all the hearsay, had a a rough time getting some publishers on board, and though all the Big Six minus Amazon did eventually put titles on the service, even at the end the list felt anemic. The store is bulked up by entries that are actually just purchase links (imagine how infuriating it would be to click on a Netflix title only to hear that it’ll cost you an extra $12.99). New releases are nonexistent, and even many older, popular books are unavailable (Want to read the original Game of Thrones, released in 1996? That’ll be $6.99!)

There is Already a Netflix of Books — And It’s Successful

Thing is, we have a company that provides a service similar to what Oyster was trying to be. It’s Audible, the largest audiobook provider (some would say monopoly). An Audible subscription isn’t quite a buffet, but that’s okay — we rarely binge on books in the same way that we blaze through an entire season of a television show in a day. A single audio book often has a running time longer than thirteen hours, and the ‘power user’ audible subscription gives two books a month, which I’d equate to anywhere from one to three seasons, depending on how big of a doorstop you choose. That’s plenty for all but the most dedicated Netflix viewers.

Some might claim that Audible is far less relevant to the publishing industry than Netflix is to the television industry. I kind of doubt it. As proof, I submit to you John Scalzi’s post from a few months back showing that audio sales were fully half of his total sales. Not revenue — sales. Audible has become a major player in this space, and while Scalzi’s previous books might have grown him a bigger audio audience than normal (and his famous narrators don’t hurt!), I suspect this is not wildly out of line with what other authors are seeing.

So what now? Well, as the article says, many from the Oyster team have jumped ship to Google (Alphabet?) Play Books, leading to some speculation that Google is going to start a book subscription service. I kinda doubt it. Google would have to overcome the same problems Oyster faced, and while they certainly be able to throw a ton of money at the problem, money doesn’t change consumer habits by itself. And convincing publishers to participate might actually be harder given that industry’s distrust stemming from the book scanning fight.

I think what’s next is the status quo. eBooks, eBooks, eBooks, with a growing dominance of audio as well. Given Kindle’s success, consumers seem pretty happy with the way books are purchased right now (unlike in the days before Netflix, where your only choice for rewatching a show was buying $40+ physical DVD sets). Until that changes, there’s probably not much room for disruption.

A Quick Interlude

Hey y’all! Sorry for the lack of updates — I’m head-down focused on finishing up Chanter and whipping it into a presentable form right now, so I haven’t been blogging all the much. I’ll make it up in a few weeks, I promise! My Oscar writeups are coming, and I’ve still got to finish my Feast for Crows character sketches. It will happen.

For now, though, I’m over at Sirens Call’s blog talking about my Internet inspiration for The Bridesmaid, my story included in the “Legends of Urban Horror” anthology. Check it out, then stick around and check out the other posts for more author inspiration!

Reddit, Jezebel, Free Speech and Anonymity on the Internet

For those of you who don’t follow Internet drama, congratulations. You almost certainly have a more fulfilling day-to-day life than I do. But there were some pretty interesting events over the past week that I feel compelled to write about.

Reddit is an extraordinarily popular website. It’s basically an open slate — users can submit links (or simply text, like questions or statements), other users vote these links up or down and the most highly upvoted jump to the top. Reddit has something of a problem with misogyny and racism, as you’d expect with an unmoderated site. One community in particular, known as /r/CreepShots, is wholly devoted to taking pictures of unknowing, non-consenting women’s body parts in public (usually in tight pants or low-cut shirts) and posting them for users to masturbate to.

ShitRedditSays, a group formed to call out misogynist, racist bullshit on Reddit, started a media campaign to get CreepShots shut down. This was mostly a failure … until yesterday, when all hell broke loose. A (now defunct) tumblr popped up detailing names and personal information of several of the CreepShots creeps, and Jezebel posted an in-depth story covering the controversy. Needless to say, Reddit was outraged. Partially because they love creepy shit, partially because they are of the mindset that unfettered free speech is an unassailable ideal in every single case, and that to censor anything will mean the death of a free society, and partially because they have an aversion to the concept of “doxxing,” or posting the personal information of anonymous posters.

I’m not going to talk about Reddit loving creepy shit, because SRS does a fine job of that. Instead, I’ll talk about the free speech/doxxing issue.

1) On free speech: Reddit is not the government. I’m completely behind the concept of free speech when it pertains to laws and government intervention. I’m not at all behind it when it comes to private spaces moderating what speech is acceptable. You are free to post whatever horrible racist drivel you want on the Internet. You are not free to post it on my website. Reddit moderating objectively terrible content like CreepShots is not a violation of free speech in any way, regardless of the legality of creepy pictures.

2) On doxxing: there’s a hilarious double-standard for the Reddit hivemind here. Reddit defends CreepShots in the name of “free speech”, and yet, is completely unwilling to do so for doxxing. Newsflash — doxxing is legal and morally ambiguous in the same way CreepShots is. If you’re defending CreepShots in the name of “it’s legal speech,” you have no ground to object to doxxing. Absolutely none.

All of this leads to an interesting idea: what if there was no anonymity on the Internet?

A radical idea, I know, though I’m hardly the first one to think about it. One of my college professors (Computer Science, natch) advocated this approach, and at the time, I had a knee-jerk reaction against it. But if you think about it a bit further, there are some benefits. For one, no more doxxing. If everything you post on the Internet has your real name right there for everyone to see, the worry that someone’s going to out you, well … disappears. In addition, some (not nearly all, unfortunately) of the consequence-free marginalizing blather will dry up as well. John Q. Smith is going to be a lot less willing to post a creepy picture of a woman’s ass without her knowledge when an employer searching for “John Q. Smith” will bring up John’s creepiness.

Downsides? Of course. It fucking sucks that the Internet has the mindset of “default = straight white male,” and stepping outside of that opens you up to attacks. Many people choose not to fight against this, and refrain from identifying themselves as a woman, or gay, or transgender, to protect themselves. I totally understand. A non-anonymous Internet would take that strategy away from marginalized peoples, which I’m not totally comfortable doing. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that the default assumption might disappear once the diversity of people on the Internet is made more clear.

There’s also a host of smaller issues. It becomes a lot more difficult to do anything of questionable legality online, which is sort of … good and bad. While I’m not really an advocate of piracy, I don’t relish the idea of the RIAA having full access to torrent logs and the ability to match IP addresses to names. And I don’t like the idea of being outed for your interest in fully legal, fully consensual furry pony porn.

But there needs to be some sort of solution. The idea that the Internet should be a consequence-free zone for the worst sorts of behavior going into the future is not acceptable to me. And while I know that to Reddit and 4Chan, this unrestrained nature is the very key to the Internet, but I simply don’t see that as sustainable. When these doxxing and counter-doxxing and triple-reverse-revenge-doxxing start to happen everyday, I think we’ll see a lot of people naturally move from the “what happens on the Internet doesn’t count” model. The best course of action is likely for the Internet to remain anonymous, but for the vast majority of people to pretend like it isn’t.

What do y’all think? Do the benefits of an anonymous Internet outweigh the use of anonymity as a shield for deplorable actions?