Review : Is Kindle Unlimited Worth It?


UPDATE: I am now noting kindle unlimited availability, by book, in my monthly reading lists and providing ongoing analysis of whether kindle unlimited would have saved me $ that month. For my Sci-fi & Fantasy reading list–August 2014, kindle unlimited would have saved me $10, so the value has improved for me in the past month. Will keep you posted, @securityjones.

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This past week, Amazon introduced kindleunlimited, a service available for $9.99 a month, which offers a library of more than 600,000 e-books and thousands of audiobooks.  In this post, I look at whether that subscription is worth it for most readers.

The least you need to know:

The kindleunlimited subscription, as launched, provides little value for the vast majority of people. 

Continue reading for all the details and analysis.

The Washington Post has asked Is Kindle Unlimited worth it? in one article and I want to address the same question here, since I found their answer unsatisfying in terms of specifics.  Their main criteria came out to be how many books 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.

According to the research highlighted by the Washington Post, the average person doesn’t read enough to make kindle unlimited worthwhile, but it may be worth a look if you read more than one book per month.

This simple analysis really only makes sense if you are someone who primarily reads paperback or hardback books and are making the jump to ebooks.  Realistically, if you are reading ebooks on a Kindle or Nook or your iPad already, then you are already reaping large savings over your peers who still buy “real” (non-electronic) books.  My wife, for example, reads 3-4 books a month, but it is not at all clear to me that she’d benefit from this new service.  On one hand, when she’s looking through the Amazon library, she gives preference to books she sees that she can “borrow for free”, but on the other hand is equally willing to spend 11.99 to pre-order the latest from a known and well-loved author.

How many books do you read?

So, let’s start where the Washington Post did with the question of how many books we read.  I looked back at the actual digital orders for my wife and I from the beginning of April to July 20. Note that Jacki largely reads romance/romantic suspense/romantic comedy and I primarily read science fiction & fantasy.

 

April

May

June

July

Jacki

4

3

4

1 (so far)

Jeff

8

6

13

10 (so far)

So, using the rough guideline from Washington Post, it looks like kindle unlimited could be a good fit for both Jacki and me.  Let’s continue looking at a second question.

How much do you spend on books each month?

I made a spreadsheet of all of the ebooks that Jacki and I purchased and read since April and divided the total by the number of days.  It turns out that Jacki has spent about $0.75/day and I’ve spent about $1.50/day – but let’s look at that by month (rounded values).

 

April

May

June

July

Jacki

$42

$16

$20

$3 (so far)

Jeff

$30

$45

$63

$25 (so far)

Again, it looks like kindle unlimited could be a good fit for both of us.  Even though Jacki hasn’t spent $9.99 yet in July, it seems likely she’ll buy another book or two.  Even if she doesn’t, the potential saving from the other months make a subscription look potentially valuable.  So, if all of the books we’ve read could be acquired under kindle unlimited, it would clearly be a deal of us.

So far, though, we’ve been ignoring one huge question – how many of the books we buy would be offered as part of kindle unlimited?

How many books did we read that were covered by kindle unlimited?

In this table, I captured how many books we actually read that are covered by kindle unlimited and then put the $cost next to it.

 

April

May

June

July

Jacki

0 / $0

0 / $0

0 / $0

0 / $0

Jeff

1 / $4.33

1 / $3.25

2 / $7.60

3 / $8.66

This puts in solid numbers and it is clear that kindle unlimited would not have been a value for either Jacki or me.  In fact, if we wanted to read the same set of books, we would have ended increasing our costs by more than $55 over the time period. (representing the difference between the monthly totals in the table and $9.99)

For another data point, I did a forward analysis looking at books on my “Recommended for you > Books on Kindle” and found that only 49 of the 150 books (~ 30%) on the list were covered by the subscription.  My average book cost was $4.42 [note: these costs include tax since we live in Washington] and I read an average 9 books/month in the table above, so let’s call it 10 books per month since July is not over. 

In theory, it looks close for me if I read 3 subscriptions books each month of an average value of $4.42.  Again though, the value isn’t quite that high, since the average cost of my books covered by the subscription were only $3.40.  Another issue would be the variance – I’m not going to get a refund on months where I read less than 3, while I would have to read 4 or greater to really accrue any savings in a given month.

Would it be valuable if you only read self-published books?

To be succinct, no.

To be honest, when I started this analysis, I sort of expected that kindle unlimited would be of value to us because we tend to read a lot of self-published books from Amazon. 

I’m a huge supporter of self-published books on Amazon, which has opened up a vast new set of science fiction and fantasy series that I otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.  I’d estimate that 80% of my ebook purchases now fall into that category thanks to awesome stories from Christopher Nuttall, Lindsey Buroker, Jamie McFarlane, Michael G. Southwick and many, many others.  These authors, given a fighting chance, are creating some great stories to entertain us – and becoming better writers with each book they release!

On the other hand, these books are cheaper anyway.  Out of 37 books since April, only 6 cost me over $7.  Over half of the books cost me less than $3.50 including tax.

Contrary to what I expected though, when I look through these authors’ books on Amazon, many of them are not covered by kindle unlimited.  School in Magic, for example, and Bookworm by Chris Nuttall and I don’t see any of Buroker’s books are in the subscription, nor Chris Hechtl’s books.

So, in spite of speculation by myself and media, even folks who focus exclusively on the emerging self-publishing genres on Amazon aren’t necessarily getting enough value to justify the monthly subscription.

When would kindle unlimited makes sense?

Assuming you are a pretty frequent reader, there are two scenarios where kindle unlimited could be worthwhile:

Scenario 1: It would be worthwhile if enough of the books read are covered by kindle unlimited which consistently cost more than $9.99 total, per month.  As demonstrated above, this is not the case for us with the current set of books covered by kindle unlimited.

Scenario 2: It would be worthwhile if one was willing tailor their choices to what is covered by kindle unlimited.

Honestly, scenario 2 seems very unlikely for any dedicated reader.  Are you not going to read the latest from your favorite author if it isn’t in the subscription?  Unlikely, so that means you’ll pay for books above and beyond the subscription while still needing to read enough volume from kindle unlimited to make it worthwhile.

And while having some high profiles book series like the Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter makes it seem more valuable and interesting, I suspect avid readers have already read all of these.  I know I have.  To make it valuable to me, there are a few things that will have to happen:

  • Known and loved authors for key genres will have to join the program.  Think of the books you read that show up on Amazon and allow you to place an advance order.  I’m not holding my breath on this one, but this would seriously increase the $ value of the subscription.
  • If all self-published fiction (at least for key genres) was included.  I suspect it is heading this way, so I’ll have to do a reassessment in 3-6 months to see how things have changed.  I will still be buying books outside of the subscription for ‘big’ authors/books, but this sort of change could represent a bigger savings to me.
  • A change in the business model.  I can’t anticipate what this would be, but in my opinion, the current business model is almost completely unsustainable because the value to customers is so low.  It must be a loss leader or forcing function for Amazon towards some other future objective because it is hard to imagine very many readers for which the subscription is worthwhile.


Other Considerations

I don’t leverage the audiobooks, so I didn’t really assess the value of the “more than 2,000 digital audio titles,” but at least one of my colleagues was very interested in that.

Also, I didn’t look at a scenario for youth or children readers – and this could be more appealing for newer readers since they won’t necessarily have read Harry Potter or whatever.  I did spot check my 9yo sons three favorite book series and none of them were covered by kindle unlimited, so that is a data point.

Another thing that I didn’t explore was leveraging one account for the family.  My wife and I use separate accounts for our book purchases because of the recommendations, so I did my analysis that way.  Eyeballing the final table makes it obvious that even if we worked from a single account, kindle unlimited would add cost for us, rather than saving us anything, but your mileage may vary.

Finally, I’m a bit of a collector. One thing I love about my kindle/Amazon experience is that I can go back through 2010 and see exactly what books I read, when I read them and potentially read them again.  I don’t know how that changes with kindle unlimited.  Is it like Netflix in that I could read a book, but potentially lose access to it later when a contract expires? I don’t like that idea, especially when we’re talking about books that only cost $2.99.

Conclusion – Kindle Unlimited is Not a Value for Most People

As an avid reader, the idea of a “Netflix for books” is one that appeals to me, but in my analysis, the kindle unlimited service as it is currently implemented would simply increase the amount of money I’m paying for my books. 

Comments (37)

  1. That is true and I’d even put myself sort of in the category, in that I’m always reading something. But it isn’t free, so you look at the alternative scenarios. Right now in my recommendations (just looked), there is 1 book for 0.99, 1 book for 1.99 and
    3 books for 2.99. If I’m willing to filter to (some subset) as you describe, and only read 1 book per week, then I can buy 4 books for less than $9.99 without even looking very far in the list. Also, if there is a month when I get busy and read less, I haven’t
    paid $9.99 for nothing. If I was more budget-focused, this might be a value for me. However, if I was really budget constrained then I’d probably leverage openlibrary.org and the King County Library more heavily.

  2. Thanks for the copyediting feedback! I corrected some places (and several other mistakess you didn’t point out), so let me know if you find other errors. Best regards, Jeff

  3. As I note in my update, selection has increased for me already, so August would’ve save me money (though over 4 months, it is still a net loss, so I’ll continue to monitor.) I think they needed to get it in place before making it a more prominent part
    of their strategy for self-published authors.

    Melissa – glad to hear you are liking it. I’m still not sure how I feel since I like to "collect" my books and Netflix has shown me that stuff "on the list" can easily be taken "off the list."

    MichaelC – We used to leverage one account, but it is a trade-off. My wife and I read very different genres, so she was always super annoyed by my influence on the recommendations. It is better to use two separate accounts for us 😉 Interestingly, I’ve been
    thinking in the context of the whole Hatchette dispute that Amazon should be adding some budget-friendly editing services for self-published authors too. As a (someday) aspiring writer, I think I’d value it.

  4. Massimo – good info thanks! I wondered what terms and under what conditions Amazon ‘offers’ authors for participating in Kindle Unlimited. I agree that the exclusivity clause seems counter to good business goals for them. Were I the Amazon PM, I’d want
    to make KU a default for any self-published author on Amazon with few restrictions in order to drive up the library of content. It must be relatively straightforward to distinguish a KU ‘rental’ from an actual purchase, for purposes of payments. Frankly, it
    pains me to see the kernel of a good idea executed so non-strategically. As is, it still seems like a better options to run a temporary discount (e.g. free first book) and get listed with Bookbub, others, to better maximize marketing.

  5. Ed (DareDevil57) says:

    thanks for sharing.

  6. Ed says:

    Some people will read books just to read them. So if the latest Steven Kings isn’t in the list, some will wait and see if it is added. Meanwhile they’ll find a free book that they do like.

  7. Marcel says:

    I read three or four books a week, and signed up for the Books Unlimited free one-month trial, thinking to save money. However, I found only second-rate books are available under the plan, or ones you can find free anyway. if you want to read the good
    ones, you still have to pay for it. I will not be renewing my subscription.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Image background from wallpaperup.com

    July was a mixed reading month for me, some great and

  9. sky says:

    I’m reading the heck out of my free one month trial, going through the few Kurt Vonnegut books I missed in high school and reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver series. But once I’m done with those, I don’t see that Amazon has much in their offerings I would
    want to read, other than classics, which are already free most of the time on Kindle anyway. So I will likely cancel my membership when the free trial is up. There just isn’t enough covered that I will want to read. I couldn’t find two books a month form here
    on out. Also, you didn’t mention this, but it’s not just a straight up $ cost comparison. You have to RETURN those unlimited books eventually. You can’t them to re-read, like you can a paperback or a kindle edition you’ve bought. Why not just go to your regularly
    library? Our library also has e-book loans, though I haven’t quite figured out their system yet.

    But for $0, I will have read about 7 or 8 books before the month is done.

  10. Donn Griffith says:

    I joined, and 24 hours later, I cancelled. I had assumed that 600,000 books would be about everything on Amazon. After spending 2 and 1/2 hours trying to buy some books I was interested in, I found that most of the books were not included in the offer.
    I cancelled after 24 hours, so that I wouldn’t have an automatic payment withdrawn in 30 days. I think this is poorly explained and shame on Amazon for selling a service that misleads people. If this stays the same it will do more damage to Amazon’s reputation
    than the revenue it generates.

  11. Sharon says:

    I too canceled before the 30 days was up. Though I did read quite a few books that were not available via my library, Amazon didn’t offer the books for free I really wanted to read, they wanted me to buy them. Not a chance…why buy a book that I will
    only read once?

  12. Philip says:

    My wife and I have similar reading habits and enjoy both Audible and eBooks in a single account, with a greater concentration on Audible for which we already exceed the $14.99 monthly subscription. We read/listen to many of the popular genres and already
    spend more than the Unlimited monthly fee. We’d support a larger monthly fee with truly unlimited access to both eBooks and Audible. We’ll wait a while to see how this shakes out!

  13. Mork says:

    I kind of suspected as much, since the Kindle Lending Library has such a joke of a collection. Is it pretty much the same book selection as the one-a-month that Prime offers? I have had prime since it began but now with the price increase and the crappy
    books (plus watching the Prime video on an Apple TV requires streaming it through an iphone or ipad first which is often poor quality and a pain) and I don’t have books shipped anymore. Originally the Prime paid for itself in the first month or two on shipping
    but now with e-books I do very little shipping. My library (Hennepin County, MN) offers a e-books and actually does it through Amazon. Works great. may be a short wait for more popular titles but you can have 15 on reserve at any time so you usually have at
    least one. I think Amazon is looking at losing a lot of customers and revenue over the next few years unless they improve the selection or lower the price. Thanks for your review. I’m going to do the free trial of unlimited but that’s it!

    Also, sign up at bookbub.com’s daily email. I download at least 2-3 books a week through them and never paid more than $2. Plus you can keep it!

  14. Debbie says:

    Thank you for this detailed analysis! I just saw this Kindle option. I read more than 4 books a month, and I wondered about the selection of offerings through this "unlimited" option. Your review just saved me an additional $9.99 a month – $ that I will
    spend on books I actually want to read! Great review! – IMO – this feature should be included in the new, more expensive "Prime" offerings. We’ve been Prime members for years, and I expected some increase in service for more $. Sadly, this is not the case.
    Not sure if we will keep up our Prime membership this year. I’ll need to perform a similar cost/benefit analysis before our renewal date. – Your efforts were a huge help to me! Thanks again!!

  15. Robin says:

    I just heard about Kindle Unlimited and from browsing on their site was having my doubts but your post helped clarify the issues. I was hoping it would be worth it for my elderly mother as she reads dozens of books a month but has fairly narrow areas of
    interest. None of her favorite authors were included. And even older series available in ebook form (I checked on Rex Stout, a favorite of mine) were not included. My libraries keep improving their ebook offerings so I’ll stick with free for now. Thanks for
    doing the heavy lifting in your analysis – very helpful.

  16. Alma McDermott says:

    Thank you for your review. I am a Prime member, and used to be able to get free books to read once/month with the Prime Lending Library perk. Now I can only get those monthly books from the Lending Library if I pay $9.99/mo. for Kindle Unlimited. It’s
    too bad they took a "bait and switch" approach to this as the Lending Library was for Prime members and now it’s only available for Kindle Unlimited members. I will not pay $9.99/month for books I’ve already read (as mentioned in your review) and will stick
    to my Public Library from now on to borrow e-books to read. Not sure if I’ll continue as a Prime member.

  17. Melissa says:

    I read a lot of self published books mainly to do with travel or self help and I find a lot of the books on the list are books i’m interested in reading or a LOT are books I’ve already paid for. I know I’m saving money already I just wish this had been
    around sooner.

  18. michaelc says:

    A couple of thoughts. Since you can have more than one device signed into an account, wouldnt it be possible to have your whole family or group of friends signed into an account? That would make it more viable.

    As far as Amazon’s next step is concerned, what they need to do is to improve the quality of the self published books to make them have a broader appeal. In short, they need to start an editing service (maybe in exchange for a percentage of your sale price)
    to will help whip your manuscripts into shape. If they were smart they would do it along the lines of the Mechanical Turk service, at least for the first round of editing.The second round might have to be an individual or a small group, in order to make the
    suggestions more directed.

  19. Dee says:

    I appreciated the feedback which has helped me to decide against Kindle Unlimited. I would love, however, if you would realize that ‘I’ is not always the appropriate pronoun! When you say, "…it looks like kindle unlimited could be a good fit for both
    Jacki and I" it should be "…a good for for both Jacki and me." After all, you wouldn’t say, "a good fit for I." (At least I hope you wouldn’t!) This occurred over and over in the post!

  20. Steph says:

    This was a great article – thanks for breaking it down like that! I can see that for my personal reading, I would be wasting money on this if it were just for myself. I thought the range of Unlimited titles was pretty bare – the items I was specifically
    looking for weren’t there at all. However – I have two children, and I read bedtime stories to them every night. Also, they’re having to do homework where they choose a book to read each day for 20 minutes or so. For this scenario, I think the Unlimited is
    working great. They both have their own kindles and I can browse through and add books for them. They’ve even got "Choose Your Own Adventure" books – which I thought was pretty awesome. We’ve switched over to e-books (now the bookcases in their rooms have
    been repurposed) and we’re able to keep the content fresh – choosing a new children’s book every night if we want to. It’s been great for this specific scenario.

  21. dani says:

    I love mostly everything about Amazon. When they took away their Prime membership benefit of being able to borrow a book for free and replaced it with Unlimited, I was, and still am, disappointed. I was willing to spend 9.99 a month seeing as I read about
    3-4 books in that time. I checked out what it had to offer. I mainly only read sci-fi/fantasy so obviously that’s what I looked for.. When they made the switchover I was reading novels from Raymond Feist, and so that’s who I searched for. I found mostly ALL
    of his books you’d still have to pay for in addition to paying for Unlimited. That alone was enough to piss me off. Needless to say I will not be subscribing to Unlimited but I’m sure it will make a certain percentage of readers happy.

  22. Retta says:

    I was perplexed by your comment that people reading books were saving money over people who bought paperbacks. I always find thee book version (of a newly released book) to be higher than the cost of a paperback. Which is kind of ridiculous really.

  23. Lynn says:

    i read a dozen books a month. most of my reading is done at work while waiting for production. i need to read books that do not require a lot of concentration and can be put down and picked back up randomly thru the day. unlimited fits my needs pretty
    well. i also rent bestseller free from my local library.

  24. pete_s says:

    It doesn’t seem that anyone else has commented on this, so perhaps it’s just me… but what made me cancel my 30-day freebie within an hour of starting it was Amazon’s utterly appalling (as in nonexistent) search facility. There are broad categories, but
    as soon as I attempt to search for an author or title, I’m back to the whole library – not just the Unlimited collection. To me that’s enough to render the whole scheme completely useless, and it wrecks Amazon’s reputation for clever thinking. It’s lazy and
    exploitative.

  25. Jason says:

    Not worth the money, the selection is abysmal. In my goodreads que I have 24 books, I was astonished to find that none of them were available through the kindle unlimited program. Those 24 books are from a wide variety of topics. So if you are at all picky
    about what you read don’t waste the 9.99 a month.

  26. Lynn says:

    I download books to my Kindle from the public library. It’s free. There are a few drawbacks: it’s set up like a "regular" library where you might have to put a copy on hold, then wait for it to become available; you have a limited number of days to read
    it ( my library lets you choose 7, 14, or 21 days); depending on the number of copies and the amount of people waiting for the book, it might take a while to be able to download; sometimes brand new releases aren’t out in ebook form right away; If you put
    a bunch of books on hold, thinking it will be awhile before you come up in the queue, you might all of a sudden have 5 books available. My library only allows 10 downloaded (checked-out) books at a time. You do need a library card to use the service.

    My library offers audio and e-books.

  27. Darryll2 says:

    Thank you all. My mind is now made up. No thank you Amazon.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Image background from wallpaperup.com

    September was another great reading month, with a new

  29. Myst says:

    I love my Kindle Unlimited. I have discovered fairly unknown self-published authors that tell wonderful stories that are as good as the big names. I save lots of money each month. I do occasionally buy other books including tech books which I would not
    expect to be included. As an aside, I bought and read the Hunger Games trilogy before it was "cool". I found this article interesting, but for me, the limited unlimited program fit right in my reading target area. May peace be with each of you, Must.

  30. Massimo Marino says:

    Jeff, good analysis. There’s a missing piece of information in your "How many books did we read that were covered by kindle unlimited?" As an author, (science fiction), I might be interested in having my books listed in Kindle Unlimited but there’s a caveat:
    Amazon asks authors and publishers the exclusivity. You cannot list your titles in KU if you also sell in stores other than Amazon.

    So, what books can you find in KU? Only those who don’t sell anywhere else, nor are offered anywhere else. It is worth for single novels authors, debut authors, to start creating a readership then, off from the program and offer the novel to all markets and
    readers. Sustainable? Hardly. Amazon should get rid of the exclusivity clause. It hurts readers more than readers can realize.

  31. Shade says:

    Great Review! I’ll say my monthly trial for when they’ve bettered the service. Thanks.

  32. Fi lascelles says:

    Thanks for saving me money! Just a point re multiple users on one account. We do this, as why should my family have to pay for books that I have already bought? However a real downside is that the search facility on the kindle is now so slow that it has
    become unusable and I have resorted to using Apple iBooks. And taking away the Prime borrowing is really poor customer service. Amazon has some good stuff going for it, but they should stop being greedy and start thinking about customer service and need!

  33. Lucy Fuller-Bull says:

    Your review tells us a lot more than Amazon does, confirming, as I suspected, that the choice available ia actually more restricted than it appears with not necessarily the books I’d want to buy. Downloading several books a month, Kindle Unlimited seemed
    a good option until reading your research – if it truly was ‘unlimited’ then it would be too good to be true for most readers. Many thanks!

  34. Dave says:

    Excellent summation, Jeff.

    I’m currently trying KU for a month. One thing that bothers me is that the "selection" is being overrun with HUGE numbers of "junk" books. What I mean is that there are scores and scores of people whipping out titles using regurgitated filler, or text from
    wikipedia. In one search under "autobiography" I was presented with page after page of listings from the same book mill, all with the same cover design, just titled for different subjects.

    So I thought, well, I will just do a sort based on user popularity. Unfortunately, after paging through these many "junk" books which did end up further down the list, I still discovered that some promising individual books (newly added) were lost in the shuffle,
    appearing after the junk listings. This means legitimate authors who aren’t promotion-savvy through other outlets will simply get buried in the heap.

    Another funny thing: I ran across a book which was titled something to the effect, "Why Kindle Unlimited Is Not A Good Deal For Most People." Of course, you could read it for free on Kindle Unlimited.

    Lastly, it seems to me that this is just another nail in the coffin for starving writers. We consumers are stabbing ourselves in the back in our race to the pricing bottom by making it difficult for the creative people who bring us joy to even survive – or
    become known in the first place.

  35. liz says:

    Thanks for saving me from KU. I read about 9 books a month (if not more) mainly crime and thrillers and if there are not going to be many of my favourite authors then it is not worth my money. I shall just continue to reserve them from my local library
    – and that’s free! I still have around 3,000 paperbacks to re-read too and I do like th e"feel" of a book.
    Dave I love the idea that someone has written a book titled "Why Kindle Unlimited Is Not A Good Deal For Most People" that is available on KU. Ironic.

  36. Dee says:

    Thanks, I was not sure if the selection of authors and books would be satisfying enough for my tastes, your review helped me a lot. The information Amazon offers is very poor. And knowing that Amazon demands exclusivity to the authors (thanks, Massimo
    Marino) in AU creeps me out. Faust anyone?

  37. price says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your evaluation of Kindle Unlimited. I’d have exhausted the trial subscription and a few months paid subscription before laying out the various angles as well as you’ve done for us. Very helpful.