I’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.
What 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.