With over a million titles in its collection, Kindle Unlimited is by far the best-known eBook subscription service. But it isn’t included with Amazon Prime and costs $10 a month—a hefty fee for a service that mainly relies on self-published authors.
It’s an awkward situation that leaves customers and critics polarized. And that’s understandable. Kindle Unlimited is a steal, but if it doesn’t appeal to your interests or reading habits, it’s not worth your money.
Much like Audible, Kindle Unlimited is an add-on service for Amazon customers. It isn’t included with Prime and costs $10 a month, though Amazon occasionally offers a yearlong Kindle Unlimited membership at a discounted rate. (You don’t need Prime to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.)
The Kindle Unlimited service does what you’d expect—it unlocks millions of eBooks for free. You can download and read these books on any device, including your Kindle, smartphone, Fire tablet, iPad, or computer. But you do not own the books that you read through Kindle Unlimited, and the service only lets you download 20 titles at a time.
While Kindle Unlimited is one of the best-known eBook lending services, it’s not the only option. Services like Scribd compete directly with Kindle Unlimited’s business model, and you can rent digital books from your local library for free using Libby.
Authors who submit their books to Kindle Unlimited aren’t paid for each download. Instead, they’re paid for each page that subscribers manage to read. And the rates are quite low—less than half a cent per page, according to Amazon’s publishing FAQ.
It’s a questionable payout system that major authors and publishers aren’t willing to deal with. So, Kindle Unlimited’s catalog is filled to the brim with self-published romance, sci-fi, and thriller novels. There’s also a huge selection of magazines, including People and Popular Science, plus a decent number of history books.
And while Kindle Unlimited lacks many contemporary classics, it does offer a ton of books from long-dead authors like Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, and Zora Neale Hurston. These titles are published through AmazonClassics and, in my experience, rarely contain typos or other problems.
But the AmazonClassics series tends to focus on books that are public domain, which means that they’re already free to download on sites like Project Gutenberg (and are already included with your Prime account). They also lack the supplemental materials and annotations that are usually included in re-prints by Penguin Random House or HarperCollins.
Classic books that are still under copyright are rarely offered by Kindle Unlimited. And if you want to read any contemporary best-sellers, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, you’re better off visiting your library or buying the book outright.
If you’re already a Prime member, you may not need Kindle Unlimited. Your Prime account already comes with a service called Prime Reading. This grants free access to over a thousand eBooks, including those AmazonClassics that I mentioned earlier and the full Harry Potter series.
Generally speaking, the Prime Reading selection is a lot stronger than what you get with Kindle Unlimited. Every book offered through this service is hand-picked by a group of editors—there’s less fluff, less pulp, and less to choose from.
But Kindle Unlimited gets you a lot more books than Prime Reading. It’s also a haven for self-published novels and includes a ton of popular magazines, which you can’t say for Prime Reading.
And at $10 a month, Kindle Unlimited costs a lot less than a Prime membership (which is currently $13 a month or $140 a year). Then again, Prime comes with a ton of extra perks, so maybe this is a moot point.
A Kindle Unlimited subscription unlocks millions of books for just $10 a month. And in theory, that should make Kindle Unlimited a great deal. But it really depends on your reading habits.
Again, most of the books on Kindle Unlimited are self-published. And if you were to purchase these books outright, many of them would cost just one or two dollars. So, the average Kindle Unlimited user needs to read at least four or five books each month to get their money’s worth.
If you’re a voracious reader, you’ll have no problem reading five books a month with Kindle Unlimited. Especially if you’re into self-published romance novels, thrillers, sci-fi, and so on.
But those who only read a few books a month will have trouble meeting this goal. They may be better off just buying books piecemeal. And hey, buying books isn’t so bad—you get to actually keep them.
Now, if you like to read magazines, Kindle Unlimited will pay for itself very quickly. The Kindle Unlimited service includes People, Food and Wine, Popular Mechanics, and a boatload of other popular magazines that normally cost $6 to $10 without a subscription.
Like a library, Kindle Unlimited lets you rent a wide selection of books for free. But a Kindle Unlimited subscription costs money, and the millions of books offered by Amazon are mainly independent, self-published titles.
That’s why I suggest trying a library app before using Kindle Unlimited. Most public libraries work with Libby to provide eBooks, audiobooks, and movies for free. You can download this content to your Kindle (or any other device) through the glorious power of the internet. All you need is a library card.
The only downside to your local library is that it can’t rent out a digital book to more than one or two people at a time. This restriction doesn’t exist on Kindle Unlimited, and of course, there’s no due date to return a book from Amazon’s service.
Once you’ve rented a few eBooks from your library, you’ll know whether Kindle Unlimited is worth trying. Bear in mind that new subscribers get their first month free—maybe you should try comparing Kindle Unlimited to your library’s digital services to see which one you like best.
I should also reiterate that Amazon Prime customers get some books for free. And if you aren’t happy with Kindle Unlimited’s selection, competitors like Scribd may tickle your fancy.