After two years of operation, Oyster, the e-book subscription venture offering unlimited access to a million titles for $9.95 a month, is shutting down operations and most of its staff is leaving to join Google. The company will wind down operations over the next few months.
According to a report on the tech news site Re/Code, most of the Oyster staff, including CEO Eric Stromberg and Oyster cofounders Andrew Brown and Willem Van Lancker, are leaving the company to join Google Play Books. Re/Code called the deal an “acqhire,” noting that while Google has agreed to pay Oyster investors for the right to hire away most of the Oyster staff, it is unclear whether Google is actually buying the company.
While it is also unclear whether Google Books plans its own e-book subscription service, this wouldn’t be the first time the tech giant acquired a startup venture in order to turn it into a Google business. Re/Code pointed to Google’s July acquisition of Homejoy, a service to connect consumers with professional cleaners, which is in the process of being relaunched as a similar service under Google.
According to a statement on the Oyster blog, “We will be taking steps to sunset the existing Oyster service over the next several months. If you are an Oyster reader you will receive an email personally regarding your account in the next few weeks.” The statement noted that “your account will continue to operate normally in the meantime,” and then gives instructions to subscribers who wish to get a refund.
Calls to Oyster for comment have yet to be returned. The company launched in September 2013 and eventually secured about $20 million in venture capital investment.
The closure of Oyster comes two months after Entitle, another e-book subscription service, closed. With Entitle and now Oyster gone there is one remaining standalone e-book service, Scribd, as well Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service.
Update: New information has been added to this story identifying Google's role in Oyster's shutdown.