Netflix for Books…How to Make this Model Work

There has been a bunch of news lately about subscription services and books…the so called “Netflix for Books.”  The premise is simple, you pay a monthly fee and then you pick books from their library.  There are three major players in this field right now:

  • Oyster – who I think was the first to join the scene
  • Scribd – who followed closely in their tracks
  • Entitle – the relative newcomer


For all of these players, the most important component to their success is going to be getting an extensive library of best-selling titles as well as a wide range of books for people to choose from. I’m betting that the subscription service model will be a successful one, but it’s not without challenges…which I’ll get to in a minute.

To me, the best example of an organization who is succeeding at a subscription service is actually none of the above…it’s – the major distributor of audio books. Almost everything you would want to read is available on that site. I, myself, am seeing a bit more than 40% of my sales coming from the audio version. But Audible has something that the other three doesn’t…publisher acceptance.  Because audio books are a format that they can’t easily sell/market the publishers see Audible as a distributor…a way to release their books in yet another format.

But when it comes to ebooks, the publishers don’t see the above as just another distribution channel.  Instead, they see it with a fair amount of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  For the first two services (Oyster and Scribd) I can see the reasons why they would have trepidation.  In those two services it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for the reader. They pay the same monthly service whether they read one or thirty books a month. This could mean some significant reduction in revenue if the highly valued voracious reader can get all their books for a fraction of the price that they are paying more. The other challenge is determining how compensation is counted. What if the reader skips to the last page of the book? What if they read the first 1/3?  What if they take three months to read the full thing?  Trying to determine when the publisher is due their cut of the overall pool is a tricky one.

Entitle, however, has a different model, and interestingly they are following the Audible paradigm. With Entitle, you pay $9.99 a month and you pick any two books you wish to read, reducing the price of all your reads to essentially $4.99. This model is an interesting one as it offers a nice discount for readers, and still compensates publishers in a way that they would be comfortable. With entitle, the publisher is paid as soon as a book is download. There is no calculation or percentage read determination that comes into play, plus they don’t have to worry about the voracious reader who gets to consume hundreds of dollars worth of books for one low monthly price.

We are at the very early stages in this new way of selling and consuming ebooks, so it’s difficult to determine who will emerge as a dominant player…but ultimately it’s going to be the one that gains the largest set of titles from the publishers, and at this point, it seems to me that Entitle has the best shot. I can see no reason why a publisher wouldn’t use Entitle given their model, but it will probably take time for them to acquire an extensive set of books. Publishers, after all, don’t embrace change quickly.

I do think that subscription services will be part of the future of books as it is so popular in other entertainment mediums such as movies and music. As always the trick is finding a system that works for the consumer, the content creator, and the ones who controls what is sold where.  I’m going to be keeping my eye on this one.


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  1. I can honestly say, I’ve been waiting a long time to see this come about. With content providers such as Netflix for videos, Spotify and Pandora for music, it seemed only natural that books would be next. And yes, it will be very interesting to see how they play it.

    In my mind, I feel like publishers are going to have to give some amount of books away for free to entice people to use the service. Spotify is basically 100% free but you have to listen to ads and some tracks are unavailable unless you’re a premium member. Give away the first book in your trilogy but make the user sign up and pay monthly to read the other two and I’m pretty sure readers won’t even bat an eye (Tor gave away the first Mistborn novel before the release of the second and after reading #1 I probably would have paid double what I ended up paying for #2).

    I’d be interested to hear other thoughts though. Maybe I’ve got this all wrong.

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