In the past few months, we’ve seen the launch of several e-book subscription services using a Netflix-style pricing model, where users pay a monthly fee and get access to any title in the catalog. A new service called Entitle is going in a different direction — users still pay a subscription fee, but they can only download a few books each month.
Isn’t that a worse deal? CEO Bryan Batten argued that it’s not, for a couple of reasons. First, Entitle users actually own the books they purchase, so if they unsubscribe they still have access to the titles that they’ve already paid for. And while many people have become accustomed to the pay-for-access model popularized by Netflix and Spotify, Batten argued that there’s still “a majority of people who like the thought of owning something.”
“With an all-you-can-eat type service, people might put five or 10 books on their bookshelf that they may not ever get to,” he said. “And they don’t get to them, they’re lost if they cancel.”
Second, the Netflix model may make more sense for, well, Netflix, where it really is possible to binge watch an embarrassing number of movies and TV shows. But while there are bookworms out there who read dozens titles in a month, for the average reader the number is probably much lower.
And appropriately for a content company, Batten said the biggest lure for Entitle should be the books themselves. The company has deals with major publishers including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, HarperCollins Christian, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, with more than 100,000 professionally-published titles from authors like Stephen King, Dan Brown, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Crichton, Walter Isaacson, Janet Evanovich, Mark Halperin, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (uh, some of those are more contemporary than others). Batten pointed out that the Entitle catalog includes recent releases like King’s Doctor Sleep, Glenn Beck’s Miracles & Massacres, and Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit.
For a point of comparison, when Scribd unveiled its subscription service in October, its big publisher deals were limited to HarperCollins (including HarperCollins Christian), and it didn’t include the publisher’s newest titles.
We actually wrote about Entitle last month in an overview of various “Netflix for e-books” services. At the time, however, it was called eReatah. Apparently, the biggest piece of feedback during the beta period was to change the name, and even Batten admits now that the old name was “pretty terrible.”
Entitle’s current pricing is $14.99 per month for two books, $21.99 for three books, and $27.99 for four books. (In some ways, the pricing seems closest to a book-of-the-month type model.)
The company is also announcing that it has raised $5.3 million in funding. (Turns out the funding was actually disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission over the summer, but the filing didn’t attract too much attention.) Batten said the money comes from a single investor who asked not to be identified.
Update: The Digital Reader reported that Entitle’s ownership is a bit limited in that you can’t actually download the e-books to your computer, and they’re still locked up with digital rights management software. I tested this out on the Entitle website and the report appeared to be correct, though when I followed up with Batten he noted that there is a (somewhat circuitous) way to download:
You absolutely can download the books you get from Entitle. In iTunes you can use the built in File Sharing in the Apps tab to backup your books to your computer. We store them for our customers in the cloud forever (no matter if you still have a subscription or not) as well so this is normally not needed but it’s absolutely an option. Downloading the books is also available using the file transfer feature of Android.
As with every single other major ebook distributor (Apple, Amazon, Barns & Nobels) our books contain DRM which is a distribution requirement that everyone adheres to — not just us. If that requirement ever changes we would gladly remove the DRM from our books but unfortunately this is not an option at this time.
All of our members have permanent access to any of the titles that they download even if there are to leave the service and stop paying same as they would with Apple, B&N or Amazon a la carte purchasing.
Basically, Entitle’s “ownership” appears to be circumscribed in a manner similar to lots of other digital content. None of that contradicts the claims that Batten has made about the service, but given his emphasis on ownership, it’s probably worth pointing out.