Kindle Unlimited: Who will it work for?

There are some pretty big gaps in Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited e-book subscription service. But for some customers it will have appeal.

This screen shot from an iPhone shows five books, top row, available through Amazon's Kindle Unlimited subscription service.

Is Kindle Unlimited … limited?

That’s the criticism Amazon is receiving after unveiling its Kindle Unlimited e-book subscription service Friday, which offers access to more than 600,000 e-books – with significant gaps.

None of the Big Five publishers – Penguin, Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster – appear to be participating, as several news outlets have observed.

Others have noted that many bestsellers are missing from Kindle Unlimited’s lineup, including any of the top five current New York Times fiction bestsellers, according to The Washington Post.

That’s led to some snarky comments.

“[N]ever have more books been available to you – unless you have a public library card,” writes Dino Grandoni in a Huffington Post article, “Amazon wants you to pay $120 for a glorified library card.” 

“Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited is limited,” trumpets BizJournal.

The Associated Press’s review came to the same conclusion.

“Amazon’s new "unlimited" e-book service lets you read 600,000 books. That sounds like more than you’ll ever read, but I found myself struggling to find the books I wanted,” writes the AP’s Anick Jesdanun. “It turns out the library of 600,000 is bit like a small bookstore with a few current titles such as ‘The Hunger Games,’ attached to a block-sized bargain bin of obscure stuff mixed with ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and other classics that are in the public domain and available for free online anyway.”

The Big Five publishers’ lack of participation may reflect an ongoing struggle between Amazon and major publishers. As The New York Times reported, “The online retailer faces growing scrutiny for its dominance of the e-book market and its tough negotiating tactics with publishers.”

Amazon and publisher Hachette have been locked in a long stalemate about e-book pricing models that has, at times, grown contentious.

That seems to have had an impact on Kindle Unlimited’s offerings.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean all readers should Kindle Unlimited the boot.

As Monitor staff writer Molly Driscoll reported in an earlier post, the service allows users to read as many e-books and audiobooks as they want for $9.99 per month. It offers a selection of 600,000 titles, including blockbusters like the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins and the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling.

While titles from the Big Five publishers seem to be missing, those from publishers like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, Bloomsbury, Algonquin, and of course, Amazon’s own self-published titles, are available.

Compare that with similar services like Oyster Books, which offers about 500,000 for $9.95 per month, and Scribd, which offers about 400,000 books for $8.99 per month. (According to the AP, both of these services offer extensive libraries from two of the largest publishers, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster.)

Nonetheless, Amazon has something these other subscription services don’t: dominance in digital publishing and a vast audiobook library, as the NYT pointed out. It’s bundling its Audible audiobook library into the Kindle Unlimited subscription service, so users can access more than 2,000 digital audio titles in Kindle Unlimited.

Kindle Unlimited is ““by far the most cost-effective way to enjoy audiobooks and e-books together,” Russ Grandinetti, a Kindle senior vice president, said in a statement. “You can easily switch between reading and listening to a book, allowing the story to continue even when your eyes are busy,” he said, referring to the service’s technology that allows readers to switch from digital to audio versions of a book quickly and easily.

Can’t decide if Kindle Unlimited is for you? You can start a free 30-day trial and decide for yourself.

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