Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service is now available, offering access to 600,000 book titles and 8,000 audiobook titles for $10 a month. You can start a free trial today, but if you'd like to know immediately whether this is the digital borrowing service for you, we've got the answer:
Books are marvelous. Reading books is marvelous. But Kindle Unlimited seems decidedly un-marvelous and probably isn't the most logical deal for you, especially if you're an existing Amazon Prime member.
Access to 600,000 books sounds great, but the book selection itself at launch is lackluster. The Kindle Unlimited library includes big-ticket series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, but new releases published by the 'big five' publishing companies like Simon & Schuster are nowhere to be found, because Amazon doesn't have agreements with them. So you'll need to want to read a lot of books, but not care too much about which books.
The biggest knock against Kindle Unlimited, though, is that its offerings overlap so much with Amazon Prime. Prime doesn't include audiobooks, but it does offer the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, which allows you to check out one book (out of a selection of 500,000) per month as part of your overall subscription. The Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited selections appear to be largely the same. Kindle Unlimited, though, costs $120 per year to Prime's $100. Which is confusing, given that with Prime you also get free shipping, access to Amazon Music, Amazon's streaming video service, and that Lending Library access. It's an incredible deal, and a no-brainer if you ever order stuff from Amazon or have any interest in its music and movie selection. Now, you do need a Kindle device to access the Lending Library, which means some Prime users don't have access. But if you plan on using the lending services for more than a year, buying a Kindle device would actually give you more bang for your buck in the long run than signing up for a separate $100/year service because you don't have one.
Moreover, Kindle Unlimited isn't the only lending service. Subscription book-lending companies Oyster and Scribd both offer strong libraries. Scribd ($9/month) has 400,000 selections, which is objectively less than Amazon, but includes deals with the large publishing houses you won't find on Unlimited, so the ratio of books you'll actually want to read vs. weird filler is better. Oyster ($10/month) is in the same situation: the lending library is 500,000 strong, smaller than what Amazon is offering, but with the advantage of a selection that includes books published by the large publishing houses. Want to read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson or Born Standing Up by Steve Martin? You'll need Oyster or Scribd. This doesn't mean you'll necessarily prefer Oyster or Scribd's library over Amazon's, but you might. (I do.) Aside from the high profile franchises like Harry Potter, Amazon's overall selection lacks a distinct advantage over competitors.
Maybe if Amazon blocks Oyster and Scribd subscribers from using their subscriptions on Kindle hardware, Kindle users will have no choice in their lending service. But until then, the smaller companies have the necessary licensing agreements to offer a superior selection for the same price per month, if not cheaper.
So there are a number of reasons this offer will have limited appeal. But limited appeal isn't no appeal.
If your preferred method of distracting yourself from the soul-eviscerating slog of your daily commute is audiobooks, Kindle Unlimited's offer of 8,000 choices might make the subscription cost worth it.
Or! If you're a voracious reader who compares the Kindle Unlimited library to Oyster and Scribd's and finds it superior, and you're don't care about the rest of Amazon Prime's offerings, it isn't a bad deal.
Amazon also hasn't mentioned whether the debut of Kindle Unlimited will affect the current Lending Library. It could someday introduce a discount for Prime members, or close the Lending Library to spur Prime members to sign up for Kindle Unlimited. If it makes either change, the service will make more sense for Prime members. I've asked Amazon if it plans to offer lower price for Prime members or shutter the Lending Library, and I'll update if I hear back.
And if Amazon ever makes nice with the big publishing houses and gets them to agree to participate, it'll be a whole different story and a whole different service.
For now though, I'd wait on Kindle Unlimited. The idea, so far, better than the execution.