When eReatah launched their book club style subscription service in early September they promised that users would be buying and owning ebooks rather than paying for access in the likes of Spotify, Oyster, and the like.
This service is leaving beta this week with a new name and a redesigned website (the old one was horrendously bad), but sadly they are still no closer to keeping that promise than they were 3 months ago.
Entitle, as eReatah is now known, has raised $5.3 million in capital, and it offers a subscription plan that more closely resembles Audible than Oyster. This startup has a catalog of more than 100,000 titles, including both backlist and frontlist works from HarperCollins, HMH, IPG, Ingram Content Group, and Simon & Schuster.
It sells a subscription plan that lets customers add 2 to 4 titles per month to their library. Prices start at $15 per month, and the ebooks can be read on Entitle’s apps for, iPad, or iPhone.
Entitle is boasting that they offer recent releases from major authors including the likes of Stephen King, Dan Brown, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Walter Isaacson, and Janet Evanovich. This is a claim that Oyster and Scribd will have trouble matching with their Netflix-style subscription plan, so I'm sure that it's going to appeal to a lot of readers.
Unfortunately, this service suffers from the same limitation of Oyster and Scribd. Like its competitors, Entitle doesn't actually sell you the ebooks. Sure, you can access the ebooks after your subscription expires, but you are stuck with using Entitle's apps.
Update: Entitle now supports downloading ebooks and transferring them to ereaders.
Want to read on your ereader? Sorry, that's not possible. Want to download a copy for safekeeping? You can't do that either. Would you like to read on your Windows smartphone? You can't because Entitle hasn't released an app for that platform yet.
Do you want to remove the DRM? Sorry, that's not possible, which means that Entitle isn't really selling the content. Like Oyster and Scribd, Entitle is selling access to the content.
And as recent events have shown us, so long as the vendor controls access to the content you don't actually own it. it was only yesterday that Boing Boing informed us about an Amazon Video customer that lost access to a video when Disney yanked the rights.
The customer was under the mistaken impression that he had bought the video, but apparently that was not the case:
Bill sez, Last "December I bought some favorite Christmas specials for my kids with the idea they could watch them every year. Went tonight to watch one ('Disney Prep and Landing 2' if you're curious) and it was gone from our library and couldn't be found on the site at all. Amazon has explained to me that Disney can pull their content at any time and 'at this time they've pulled that show for exclusivity on their own channel.' In other words, Amazon sold me a Christmas special my kids can't watch during the run up to Christmas. It'll be available in July though!"
Update: Amazon has worked to restore access to the content they took away (AllThingsD). That's good, but it doesn't change that they took it away in the first place. Also, this is not the first time that Disney has taken back previously purchased content (AppAdvice).
Like Entitle, content in Amazon Video is trapped inside the vendor's apps. That's what made it possible for Disney to take back the content that was "sold", and Entitle is stuck in a similar position.
I'm not saying that Entitle is going to have the same problem, but I am saying that until you can get the content out of their apps, until you gain control, you don't actually own it. This issue is why I don't "buy" videos from Amazon, iTunes, or most other services, and it is why I am avoiding Entitle.
What about you? Do you think this is a good value, given the risks?