I love my Kindle — it’s the best way to read books. You can have hundreds of titles in one tiny package. I also love subscription services — I’ve signed up for Netflix, Spotify, and a few others. So when I found out about Kindle Unlimited I was pretty excited: a subscription service for Kindle books? This I could get on board with.
Unfortunately Amazon’s promise of more than a million eBooks for just $9.99 a month is too good to be true. Let’s look at why.
There’s a Poor Selection of Books
Amazon likes to trumpet that Kindle Unlimited has more than one million books available for subscribers to read. Unfortunately, you won’t find many bestsellers or popular books in there. None of the major publishing houses have made their books available on Kindle Unlimited. That means no Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, or Simon & Schuster. If you have a favorite author, there’s a good chance their work is published by one of these Big Five.
While writing this article I decided to dig a little deeper into the problem. Right now, there’s 1,293,482 books available on Kindle Unlimited. That number will have changed by the time you look; Amazon is adding new books every day. Of that, 1,259,598 books are Amazon Exclusives. This means they’re not available for sale anywhere else; in other words, they’re all self-published. That leaves just 34,884 non-exclusive books which is about 2.7 percent of the total. A large portion of these are also self-published, but some are likely to be from small publishing houses.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with self-published books, and success stories like Twilight and The Martian show there are some great books to be found, the lack of any books from popular authors is a problem. I don’t have the time or the interest to dig through the heap to try and find the next The Martian. I want to know that the books I’m reading are well written, properly edited, and entertaining.
The other side of this is even if you love reading indie titles, you’ve probably got a few major authors whose work you want to read too. For most people, Kindle Unlimited simply can’t replace buying books. If you want to pick up the latest George R.R. Martin or Bill Bryson title, you’ll have to buy them in addition to your Kindle Unlimited subscription.
Although $9.99 a month may sound pretty reasonable for all-you-can-read-eBooks, when you consider the price of the titles available it’s actually quite expensive.
The vast majority of self-published books on Amazon sell for less than $5. Many are less than $3 and some are even less than $1. This means that to make up for the $10 subscription fee, you’re going to need to read quite a few books a month.
If you only read the most expensive titles you can find, reading two books a month will see you saving some money, but you’ll most likely have to read three or four to make a saving. While plenty of readers can get through a book a week without any hassle (myself included), the temptation to read non-Unlimited books is going to be high.
Looking at the selection and the prices, I just don’t see many people being well served by a Kindle Unlimited subscription. If you like self-published books, you can easily pick up two or three a month for less than Unlimited costs, without the recurring payments. That way you can be far more flexible with how you spend your money.
You Need an Internet Connection
The best thing about the Kindle is that, unlike your phone, it doesn’t need to be charged every night or constantly connected to the Internet to be useful. If you use Kindle Unlimited, you lose some of this flexibility.
With Kindle Unlimited you can only have 10 books checked out at once. While that sounds like a lot, for many readers, this simply isn’t enough for an extended period away from WiFi. If I’m on holiday, I’ll get through a book a day. If even one or two books proves to be boring, or short, or any of a number of other things, then those 10 books won’t stretch to a week. That means that at some point I’ll be off hunting for a way to connect my Kindle to the Internet.
Although this might be an extreme example, the thing I love most about my Kindle is that I don’t have to update it all the time. Every couple of months I’ll load up on books. Unless something special catches my eye, I won’t connect my Kindle to the Internet from one month to the next.
Amazon Prime Is a Better Deal
If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber you already have access to Kindle Unlimited’s library for free. You can only take out one book a month, but if there’s a few titles you want to check out without paying for them, it’s a decent way to do it.
Amazon Prime is awesome and well worth signing up for with or without the free eBooks. Unless you’re ripping through self-published Kindle Exclusives, an Amazon Prime subscription costs less and offers countless other benefits like free shipping, great TV shows, and Amazon Prime Music.
Other Services Are Better
While Oyster appears to have been acquired by Google, Scribd is still around and for $8.99 a month you can read three books and listen to one audiobook. The big difference is that Scribd’s catalogue includes books from HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. You’ll actually find books from bestselling authors like Stephen King or Walter Isaacson available for you to download.
You can’t use your Kindle to read books you take out on Scribd — you need to use a Web browser, or an iOS or Android device — but that seems to be a reasonable trade off for access to a far better library. If you want to sign up for an eBook subscription service, it’s a better option.
Kindles are amazing and eBooks are the future. While Spotify and Netflix have managed to be really successful at turning music and movies into a subscription service, Amazon hasn’t seen the same results. Kindle Unlimited is a great idea but until the Big Five come on board it’s always going to lack the books most people want to read. When that finally happens, and it will happen, I’ll be the first to sign up.
Have you tried out Kindle Unlimited? What did you think of it? Do you agree with us that it’s not yet worth the money? Or do you love it, and couldn’t live without it? Please let us know in the comments below.