Amazon’s rumored “Netflix for books” service is finally here: Kindle Unlimited. In theory, it sounds fantastic. Pay a monthly fee and read all the books your heart desires — but is it all that it is hyped up to be?
On the pricing front, things are pretty simple. $9.99 a month gets you access to all the books you could want downloaded straight to your Kindle eReader (see our reviews of the Paperwhite and HDX) or Kindle app (see our reviews of the Android, iOS, and PC apps).
As soon as your membership ends, your books disappear from your eReader or app. However, not only do you get the written books, but many books also include the Audible audiobook version for free. These titles will be listed as “Kindle Unlimited with narration”, and they are a limited bunch of the already limited selection, but still an incredible deal — and they’re searchable on Amazon’s website.
For instance, you could read and/or listen to the entire Hunger Games trilogy with this membership, which would normally cost you upwards of $80 to purchase the eBooks and audiobooks separately. Granted, you don’t own the eBooks or Audiobooks — you’re technically renting them for the length of your membership — but most people who hoard books only read them through once anyway.
Still, as eBooks typically range from $5-$10 alone, a subscription service at $10 a month really isn’t bad at all, especially if you plan to read two or more books a month. It also gives you the freedom to download books and read partially through them without trying to decide for hours if it’s worth the money to buy it.
Oyster and Scribd are Kindle Unlimited’s biggest competition. Currently, Amazon has none of the Big Five publishers signed up for Kindle Unlimited, which rather limits their selection. However, Oyster and Scribd both have signed on HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, two of the Big Five publishers.
That means that while Amazon has snagged some big name book series, like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the Hunger Games, Oyster and Scribd are likely to have a wider selection of popular books from leading publishers. Amazon is leaning heavily on some of these big name titles as well as its impressive self-published collection available through KDP Select. Kindle Direct Publishing Select is Amazon’s service for allowing self-published authors to offer their books up for Kindle Unlimited.
Amazon says they have over 600,000 titles; Oyster says they have 500,000; and Scribd says they have 400,000. However, it’s not always the number of books that count, but the quality of them. It’s very possible you’ll find books you really love on one service, but not the other.
Oyster costs $9.95 a month and Scribd runs at $8.99 a month, making them just about the same price as Kindle Unlimited. They have a head start, but with Amazon’s incredible market power, it’s hard to guess who will come out ahead in this.
How It Affects Authors
When talking about subscription services, the discussion often comes back to how the creators are affected. For example, does Spotify pay music artists a fair share? That’s an important question, and when it comes to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service, the answer might not be so clear cut.
Full disclosure: I am a self-published author with books available on Amazon, although I am not enrolled in KDP Select currently.
KDP Select has been around for a while and offers a double-edged sword to authors: better royalty rates in some areas, inclusion in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and now Kindle Unlimited, and the ability to offer discounts on your books — but your books must be available exclusively from Amazon. That means that self-published authors can’t publish their books elsewhere like Smashwords or Barnes & Noble.
Good or bad? It’s hard to tell. Since Amazon dominates the eBook market, they have the power to do this. Many see this as monopolizing, as Amazon forces exclusivity on its KDP Select-enrolled authors, but others love the benefits seen on KDP Select and don’t see many sales on alternative channels anyway.
Still, for those who are okay with exclusivity, the funds allocated to KDP Select can actually turn out pretty decent payments for authors. The KDP Select Global Fund — the amount that is split between KDP Select authors at the end of each month — varies from month to month, but is at $2 million for July 2014. For Kindle Unlimited, the author receives a payout anytime someone downloads their book and reads past 10%. You receive a percentage of the funds based on how many books were read. So if 1 million books were read, there was a $2 million Global Fund, and your book was read 1,000 times, you would receive $2,000, or about $2 per book. (1,000/1,000,000 = 0.001%. 2,000,000 x 0.001% = 2,000)
$2 per book may not sound like much, but it’s actually much more than most traditionally published authors make, and about average or slightly less than average for a self-published author on Amazon selling their books for $2.99-$4.99.
Kindle Owners’ Lending Library
Kindle Unlimited’s introduction may seem odd if you know about the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). The KOLL is available to Amazon Prime subscribers, and it allows them to download one book each month from the KOLL for free. Oddly enough, while the KOLL and Kindle Unlimited libraries have some overlap, you will find books available on KOLL that you won’t find on Kindle Unlimited and vice-versa. Plus, KOLL doesn’t include the audiobook deals like Kindle Unlimited.
Still, it is strange that Amazon now has two semi-overlapping subscription services for reading — one falling under the umbrella of Amazon Prime, and the other trying to branch off as a full-fledged service.
If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber and only read one book a month, Kindle Unlimited is probably unnecessary for you, but for heavy readers and non-Prime subscribers who still love the Kindle platform, Kindle Unlimited could be a great deal.
What Do You Think?
I certainly like the idea behind Kindle Unlimited, but with Oyster and Scribd’s head start and no support from the Big Five publishers, it’s hard to see how Amazon will be able to maintain subscribers for this service.
If anything, it’s probably worth it to try out the 30-day free trial and just cancel it if you don’t find enough major books that you want to read.
What do you think of Kindle Unlimited? Will you be using the new “Netflix for books”? Let us know in the comments!