DSC_0041I’m a big fan of subscription services for media. While there are certain items that I get a ton of value out of owning, I’m perfectly fine paying a reasonable monthly fee to get access to stuff that I’ll watch once or listen to sparingly. It’s cheaper than buying everything individually, and surprisingly convenient, thanks to the relative abundance of fast Internet around me in the Bay Area.

For that reason, Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited service piqued my interest. I love reading – to the point that it’s honestly difficult for me to shop at a bookstore without buying something – and the ability to access a massive library of books for half the price of a new hardcover seemed like a good deal.

kindleunlimitedWhat I found was a bit disappointing.

It’s clear from all of the searches I ran against the Kindle Unlimited catalog that I won’t be able to stop buying books any time soon. Much like Oyster, another book subscription service that was named a GeekWire App of the Week last month, the Kindle Unlimited catalog has massive holes where books should be. The vast majority of books that I currently want to read weren’t available, but I was able to find Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which has been on my list of books to read for a while.

One of the biggest advantages Kindle Unlimited has over its competitors like Oyster and Scribd is that Amazon has spent years to develop the strength of its e-book reading experience. Reading a Kindle Unlimited book on my iPad was just like reading any other Kindle book, and that’s a good thing. All of the same tools that are available to users from the full Kindle book, including narration in some cases, are available through Kindle Unlimited.

Unlike other services, users who want to stop paying for a subscription won’t be left high and dry when it comes to annotations in their books. An Amazon spokesperson told me in an email that it’s possible for someone who has let their Kindle Unlimited subscription lapse to re-purchase a book that they read, and get back all of their annotations. That’s a costly option, of course, but it means that users aren’t chained to a monthly subscription if they want to keep the notes in their favorite book or books.

If there’s one major area that Amazon can improve, it’s helping users to discover what on the service is both available and good. Right now, users have to choose from searching Amazon and hoping to find what they’re looking for in the Kindle Unlimited catalog, or wading through category pages to find a book among those listed that looks interesting.

Unless Kindle Unlimited titles quickly become as widely available as items with Prime shipping, Amazon needs to provide users with a better way to find good books available on the service.

I’d also be interested to see Amazon make Kindle Unlimited books available directly through its iOS app. One of the things that makes reading a Kindle book more difficult on my iPad is the fact that it’s impossible to directly purchase one of the books within the app since Amazon is unwilling to give Apple a cut of the sales it makes.

iPhone and iPad users can directly stream video that they get as members of Amazon Prime to the Amazon Instant Video app, so it would make sense to me if similar capabilities were extended to the Kindle app as well.

Overall, Kindle Unlimited seems like it could potentially transform into something that’s worth paying for, but right now, the benefits just aren’t there compared to how much the service costs.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • rick gregory

    Honestly, I think all of these programs have to offer quite a bit more than they do now in order to succeed since they all compete with something free for many of us – the library. I use Overdrive to access the King County system (http://ebooks.kcls.org) and it’s not bad. It suffers from selection problems a bit (some of that out of the library system’s hands as some publishers don’t make their titles available to library ebook programs), but I’ve read quite a bit from KCLS. Combined with books that I buy anyway because I want them available in perpetuity and the last thing I really need is yet another source of books, especially one that also has selection issues.

  • J and KC

    Interesting. Does this mean that I am only renting the books with Kindle Unlimited as opposed to buying them under the traditional method? Does Amazon delete them from my account if I quit the subscription service? I can order books on my Nexus 7 Kindle app, not on my iphone app. The problem seems to be Apple greed vice Amazon greed, or at least lack of Google greed.

  • Jeff Brozek

    I run a small independent publishing company ( Apocalypse Ink Production), and publish our books through Amazon as well as other places. I looked into adding out books to this program, but currently the only way I can do that is to make our e-books Amazon exclusive. ( They call it Kindle Select ). The contract terms mean that I cannot even sell e-books on my publisher website if I do this.
    For my business model, this just doesn’t work. I currently sell e-books through 4 locations, ( Amazon, barnes and noble, DriveThruFiction, and my company site apocalypse-ink.com ). And the big advantage to my own website, is I can sell e-books in the form of coupon codes, in person, at author readings, conventions, etc.
    As long as Amazon requires exclusive sale rights to the e-books to allow them to be added to this service, it is highly unlikely that the library will expand significantly.
    Now, obviously, I’m not a large publishing house, so I don’t know what sort of deals the large companies get to include titles in this library.

  • Tabatha Crayton

    I am using it as a free trial and for the price it’s a good deal because I share the account with my 12 year old. She needs books for school book reports so it provides a steady stream of material for that so it settles one issue for me. It would definitely be a problem though if I had a larger family because you can only hold 10 books in your library.

  • Kat Smith

    Libraries. Best deal ever.

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.
Senior Software Engineer, DevOpsEMC, Isilon Storage Division