Kindle Unlimited – what's that?

English: Latest Kindle (2011) showing Esperant...
English: Latest Kindle (2011) showing Esperanto characters. Esperanto: Lasta Kindle montranta Esperanto-literojn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this yet. It appears that Kindle Unlimited was officially released on Friday, but there wasn’t really any prior notice (including to authors).

What is it?

The basic idea behind Kindle Unlimited is similar to a library, but with a fee. So maybe a better comparison would be Netflix, but for books rather than movies. For $9.99 a month, you are granted access to an unlimited (although not actually unlimited, but we’ll get to that) number of books. You pay the fee, and at that point you can read all the books you can handle during that 30 day period, for no extra charge.

Sounds like a great deal, right? Well, yes and no. You have to look at not only the subscription price, but at your spending habits when it comes to books. By spending habits, I mean what you actually spend, but also the prices of the books you typically buy. Let’s say you’re a busy mom who works and you only read one book a month, and that one book is usually a Harlequin romance that is generally priced around $3.99. If that’s you, then spending $9.99 a month for unlimited books isn’t really going to do anything for you – except take an extra $6 a month out of your bank account. But let’s say, instead, that you’re a single woman who reads every time you have 30 seconds to spare, and you go through anywhere from 10-20 books a month. At even just $1.99 a book, 10 books a month runs you $19.99. So signing up for Kindle Unlimited would save you a minimum of $10 a month.

You also should check with your local library (or maybe you already have). My local library has lots of ebooks I can borrow for my Kindle, and I often do. The catch I’ve found with my library is that I can only check out 2 books at a time, and they don’t have any recent releases. The latest Stephen King? I can get it in physical copy, but not ebook.

Which brings me to the next point about Kindle Unlimited.  So far, it does not appear any of the big names are available in the Kindle Unlimited program. Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson and others that publish with the big publishing houses are not in the program. Now, for an indie author like me, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means that my inclusion in this program (and yes, my books are included), means that within the program, I’ve only got to get your attention over other indie authors, as opposed to trying to get you to get past the major names to see my work. It shrinks the pool, which might be a good thing for me and other indie authors. But for you, the reader, this is another thing to consider before you fork over $9.99 a month.

If all you read are big names, it’ll be a waste of money to join Kindle Unlimited – at least for now. Rumor is that eventually, they may be included as well, but who knows when that will be? But if you love indie authors, or you’re at least open to giving them a shot, this could be ideal for you. After you pay that $9.99 subscription fee, you pay nothing else for books that are in the program. Which means that you can get books, start them, decide you don’t like them, and return them. You won’t feel that you wasted money on the book, or need to return it for a refund, or feel obligated to finish it because you spent money on it. You can get short stories, longer books, try new genres, new authors, whatever you want – all with essentially no risk.

How does it work?

Now, you remember when I mentioned above that the unlimited isn’t actually unlimited? Let’s talk about that. It is unlimited, in the sense that you can get as many books as you want in a month. However, it is important to note that you can only keep 10 at a time. It’s like the library, in that regard. You can check out 10 books, read them all in one day (and if you have that skill, will you teach me, please?), take them back, check out another 10, and so on. Same idea with Kindle Unlimited. You can check out all the books you want in a month, but only in increments of 10.

That term, check out, is important to notice, too.  You’re not buying these books. You can re-check them out, if you like. But they won’t remain available in your account and on your Kindle permanently, like the books you buy do. You return them, just like you return them to the library. There are no due dates, so you can keep them as long as you like, but once you return them to check out more, they are no longer available on your device or in your account. So if you’re the kind of person who loves to go back and re-read books over and over again, Kindle Unlimited might not be for you (although, in theory, you could use the program to vet books and purchase the ones you love enough to actually want to keep after you’ve read and returned them through the program).

It’s also important to note that if you cancel your membership in Kindle Unlimited, you lose access to any books you have through the program. So you can’t sign up for a month, download a bunch of books, and then cancel your membership – just in case you wanted to try that.

There is one more thing about Kindle Unlimited, and it could be a huge advantage. If you love audiobooks as well as ebooks, you will love this. Any books included in Kindle Unlimited that also have an audiobook version will automatically give you access to both the Kindle and audiobook versions when you check them out (you can also get a 3 month complimentary Audible membership when you sign up for Kindle Unlimited).

So, what do I think about the program?

I’m not entirely sure what I think yet. As both a reader and an author, I see some pros and cons to it.

As a reader, I’m a bit disappointed that there don’t seem to be any big names included. Although I do read plenty of indie authors (we have to support each other, right?), I do still love my King, Patterson, and Kellerman. If they included the big names, and the recent releases by those big names, I’d be quite inclined to spend the money on this. My local library never has any new releases in ebook format, so to be able to get that through this program would definitely get my interest.

As an author, I feel like I really don’t have enough information about how this affects me yet. Amazon has been a bit vague in telling us how it works for us. We know some basics, such as that we’ll get paid the way we do for borrows from the Prime program. But until some time has passed and we’re able to start seeing some results, I can’t really form much of an opinion on whether I think this is good or bad.

Right now, I’m looking at this the same way I did the Kindle Countdown Deal when it was first introduced. I’m not sure how it’s going to go, but I’ll keep an open mind until I see something one way or the other.

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