Amazon’s puzzling Kindle Unlimited program

Amazon has unveiled a new subscription service called Kindle Unlimited, designed to give Kindle readers unlimited access to a limited library of eBooks, all for $9.99 a month.

From the Kindle FAQ:

Kindle Unlimited is a new service that allows you to read as much as you want, choosing from over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks. Freely explore new authors, books, and genres from mysteries and romance to sci-fi and more. You can read on any device. It’s available for $9.99 a month and you can cancel anytime.

The problem I have with Kindle Unlimited is the same problem I had with Amazon Prime Music. When I first dug into the Prime Music library, none of the music I looked for was included. There certainly was plenty to choose from, but it felt like looking through the cutout bin at the record store.

At least I could rationalize Amazon Prime Music, since I was already a Prime member and Prime Music was included at no extra charge. Kindle Unlimited, on the other hand, has a similar restricted choice, but runs about $120 a year. I spent some time digging through the Kindle Unlimited library and did not find a single title on my reading list. And it’s not like I was picking obscure titles. These were popular books with hundreds of reviews.

From the linked NY Times article:

The service, Kindle Unlimited, offers a Netflix-style, all-you-can-read approach to more than 600,000 e-books, including blockbuster series like “The Hunger Games” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” nonfiction titles like “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis, as well as literary fiction and classics.

So far, however, none of the five biggest publishers appear to be making their books available through the service.

HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, for example, are not participating, representatives from the three companies confirmed.

Penguin Random House and Macmillan declined to comment, but a search on Amazon suggests that they are not making their books available.

I think this is a bit of a stumble for Amazon, a money grab. I’m an insatiable reader and I would go for this if all of Amazon’s book library was included. But as is, no thanks.

  • Stupid Amazon. Spit on publishers, and then nearly give away their books for free? And they should think this is a great deal?

    No, Amazon thinks it’s a great deal because Americans read on average five books a year. So that’s $24 per book.

  • Martin Johnson

    I believe a lot of the 600k books in unlimited are being published through Amazon. Depending on your genre of choice this is good or bad. For example a LOT of the sci-fi coming out today is being self-published by the authors through Amazon. When you also take into account that Amazon, through their ownership of Audible, is the largest producer of audiobook content and those audiobooks in turn are also included in Kindle Unlimited you can start seeing some significant value.

    Amazon is at war with publishers and they’ve just created a system where Kindle owners (the most popular e-book platform) can face a choice of $15 for one book or as many books and audiobooks (which are hideously expensive) as they can read in a month for $9.99. If you are an avid reader (which most Kindle owners tend to be) this is a compelling idea. Looking at the war with publishers it will be interesting to see if Amazon can start pushing more readers away from the big publishers which in turn will drive more authors towards Amazon’s system since. I would imagine Amazon is more than willing to offer up and coming authors a better revenue split than the big publishing houses since Amazon doesn’t care whether they come out in the red on the deal or not if it gets them marketshare.

    Whether any of this is good for consumers in the long run is debatable since having Amazon in the driver’s seat doesn’t seem that much better than having the old guard publishers there. I do think Kindle Unlimited is a much bigger move than we’re giving it credit for here.

    • rick gregory

      “If you are an avid reader (which most Kindle owners tend to be) this is a compelling idea.”

      And if you don’t care what you read.

      The same argument could be used for Netflix, etc. “If you watch a lot of movies, Netflix is a compelling idea…” – if you don’t care what the movies are.

      But many people do care what they read or watch and aren’t simply going to want to fill up the hours reading any old crap.

      Amazon is also up against a free service. It’s called “The Library” and you can use Overdrive and similar to check out rebooks and audiobooks. You have similar issues with selection, but you’re not paying for it.

      • Martin Johnson

        “The same argument could be used for Netflix”

        And they’re doing terribly…

        “many people do care what they read or watch and aren’t simply going to want to fill up the hours reading any old crap”

        You assume that an author that publishes through Amazon is “any old crap”. First I will agree that there is a lot of crap published through Amazon. There’s also a lot of crap published by the big houses. There’s a lot of good stuff published through Amazon however and there’s a lot of good stuff the big publishers would never let see the light of day because it doesn’t have broad enough appeal. The big publishers don’t have a monopoly on talent or taste. If you’re looking to a big publisher to tell you what’s good and what’s not you are going to miss out on a lot of good reading.

        Regarding the library option, yes this does compete with libraries. But if you haven’t noticed a lot of libraries around the country are taking it on the chin funding-wise. Libraries should be awesome but they’re being decimated. You are correct that if I just want an ePub doc that I can transfer to my device there are routes one can take. But the whole argument is ignoring the fact that Amazon (and other book stores) have been moving a tremendous number of books and eBooks for years now. Clearly there are value adds that Amazon brings to the process that libraries do not. I don’t think we can argue that people don’t know that libraries exist.

        Now maybe you don’t use the features like WhisperSync and WhisperSync for Voice but these features alone are, to me, worth a for-pay library system. They’ve changed how and where I read. The result is that I can read more books faster.

        Also, lets not forget that Amazon runs the Kindle Owners Lending Library as well which is totally free as long as you own a Kindle. Unlimited is just bringing that along with audiobooks to any device supported by Amazon apps (which is great if you read on many devices) and upping the concurrent checkout limit to 10 items.

        I hate sounding like an Amazon fanboy, which I am decidedly not. I hate that Amazon uses their muscle and disregard for margins to drive out competitors. Amazon will one day soon be a clear monopoly in eBook distribution and we will all suffer for it. My arguments for Unlimited come from the place of someone that has a Kindle Wish List a mile long and actively switches from one device to the next (Kindle Paperwhite, iPhone, iPad, Web) and medium (book when I can, audiobook while driving, chores, etc.). For me Unlimited is tempting and if Amazon can come to terms with the big publishers for those titles that really are stand-out then it only become more tempting.

        • It’s a common gripe among detractors of subscription services that they don’t have a lot of A-List titles. The thing is that there are a lot of great things on the services (Netflix at least often has some fairly recent things on it that were fairly popular, like World War Z for example — and the not so popular but something I was waiting for like Pulling Strings). I find the cries about services not having someone’s subjective idea of what is good and what isn’t to be tiresome.

          I listen more to the concern that subscription models provide even less money to the artists as the purchase models do — both downloadable content and original media (DVDs, books, CDs, etc.) Those have much more merit and something should be done — but getting money to the actual creators of the art and content has been a problem forever.

        • JohnDoey

          Netflix actually has a surprisingly low number of subscribers. So does HBO. So does the New York Times. And all of them are only roughly $8–$10 per month. But it is common for consumers to pay $50 per month (or more) just for home Internet bandwidth, and $80 per month (or more) for mobile Internet bandwidth. So the majority of the money that consumers are spending every month on digital entertainment is going into the wrong pockets. That is why consumers are motivated to use BitTorrent and are demanding lower content prices. I don’t think you can have a sensible discussion about what consumers should pay for content and how without addressing that elephant in the room.

          The wholesale cost of Internet bandwidth is always going down, and yet the retail cost is always going up. The Internet has basically become cable TV, except cable TV actually pays the content makers. So ISP’s are screwing everybody over.

  • Is there any word out there on how Amazon’s service compares to services like this that already exist like ScribD and OysterBooks?

  • bookii
  • JohnDoey

    The problem is: writers gotta eat.

    Until such time as the supermarket offers a $9.99/month all-you-can-eat grocery shopping, it is not practical to have access to the entire bookstore for $9.99/month either.

    The number of people who read books is alarmingly small. If you read books, you have to pay into the pot to keep the whole boat floating. Otherwise, writers stop writing books and start panhandling.

    The thing is, you are likely paying $50–$200 per month for Internet bandwidth (home and mobile) from giant corporations who are making giant profit margins on that service, and always working to reduce the quality of that service, and who have not met even the most pessimistic of user expectations. And then you want to pay $9.99 for unlimited books which you will download through your $200 service? If you think about it, you should be demanding $9.99/month unlimited Internet access, and spending the money you save on the specific books and music and movies that contribute positively to your life.

    What we have now in 1990’s terms would be $3000 CD players and nobody has any money left to buy CD’s, so everybody is copying them and demanding they be sold for free. The CD player should be $100 and you have $2900 left over to buy music. The music is the whole point. Not owning the CD player or Internet bandwidth.