Is Kindle Unlimited worth it?


Some things to think about before you sign up for Amazon's latest service. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Amazon.com introduced a new subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, on Friday. This $9.99 per month, all-you-can-eat feature gives you full access to a hundreds of thousands of e-books.

Bookworms, wipe your mouths; that drooling is unsightly.

But before you run out and sign up for the free trial, here are some things to consider before you make your decision.

How many books do you read per year?

Kindle Unlimited is $9.99 per month. So you'll be paying Amazon, whose chief executive Jeffrey Bezos owns The Washington Post, around $120 per year for the unfettered e-book access. If you're habitually spending money on more than one book per month, then it's a service to think about. It has its perks for big book buyers -- namely that don't have to worry about spending money on a book you end up hating.

But, chances are, you aren't reading more than one book per month. In January, the Pew Internet and American Life Project asked how many books the typical American had read in the past year.

The answer? Five.


Courtesy of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

There's no judgment here. Books take time to consume--and require undivided attention. (Even walking and reading is tough.) But just remember that if you're not one of those folks reading at least 13 books a year, then a $10 per month book service is probably not a top priority.

Is there another service that could be a better fit?

Part of what makes Amazon's service so appealing is the fact they're offering you access to a catalog of 600,000 e-books. But that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be able to read any book that you want. Amazon's Kindle Unlimited catalog is heavy on classics, famous series such as "Harry Potter" or "Lord of the Rings" and, of course, the books that authors self-publish on Amazon.

But if you want any of the top five current New York Times fiction bestsellers, for example, you're not going to find them in the Unlimited catalog. (They're on Amazon, just not as a part of the Kindle Unlimited pool.)

I recently did a rundown of other companies that are trying to be the "Netflix for books," before this announcement. What I found is that no book subscription service has everything you want to read.

Oyster, for example, has access to a lot of the back-catalogues of publishers big and small, but not many bestsellers. Scribd has a great selection of quicker reads, thanks to a broad selection of documents, poetry and short stories. And Entitle, another type of books subscription service, does have bestsellers from Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins -- but there's a limit to how many books you can buy per month.

Basically, the service that fits you best is the one that matches up with your reading list. If you have to read the latest novel now, having a Kindle Unlimited subscription won't help you.

How does this fit in with my Prime subscription?

It doesn't. Prime members -- who already pay $99 per year to Amazon for two-day shipping, streaming music, streaming video and a limited number of  e-books at no extra cost  -- don't get any extra perks here. Amazon has launched this as a separate service. Sorry.

What about Audible?

Kindle Unlimited does pose some interesting possibilities  for subscribers to Audible, Amazon's audiobook service. The service includes some unlimited access to narrated books, or e-books that come with audio tracks. Amazon already offers a lot of e-books that will sync with the title's corresponding audiobook. It's convenient, actually, for when you're trying to get through a book and multitask--read some in bed and then pick up some more while you're doing chores around the house. At the same time, not everyone wants to pay twice for the same book.

Kindle Unlimited solves that particular problem, but trading your Audible membership for a Kindle Unlimited membership also means giving up a big chunk of the current Audible library. There are around 2,000 books with audio tracks on Kindle Unlimited right now. Audible boasts over 150,000 titles.

If you can't decide whether you should give up your Audible membership for a Kindle Unlimited sign-up, Amazon isn't making you choose just yet. Kindle Unlimited comes with a free three-month subscription to Audible.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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