Kindle Unlimited – The dawn of something new for digital readers??
One of the biggest stories this past week in the tech blogs was all about Amazon’s new offering, “Kindle Unlimited”. I have been a Kindle user since the Kindle 2 was released in 2009. And I’ve had a couple different models since then, including the Kindle Paperwhite, which is my current device.
Of all my gadgets and gizmos, I have always held the Kindle to be my favorite. I believe our personal tech should constantly amaze us. And while I use my smartphone and my iPad more often, it is the Kindle that causes that excitement again and again. There’s a hilarious bit Louis CK did on Conan about people flying on airplanes. Passengers were told that the plane now offered free high-speed Internet. When the service failed mid-flight, a fellow flier was immediately pissed. Louis CK’s response to his frustration was “We are FLYING PEOPLE!!! Isn’t this AMAZING?!? You are sitting in a chair IN THE SKY!!”
Our tech should cause us to feel that kind of wonder. And after years and years of reading physical books in dimly lit rooms, and struggling to keep track of notes for book groups, I now have a device that fits in my back pocket, holds thousands of books (a little overboard, I’ll admit), lights up, manages my notes, and provides dictionaries and Wikipedia links to help me keep track of more complicated story plots and characters. One click and I’ve downloaded a thousand page book right into my device. It’s a wonder. And after five years, it is still just as amazing as “sitting in a chair in the sky”!
Kindle Unlimited is supposed to be a big deal, a game changer, and I would look like the target audience. But I’ve been reading blogs like crazy and I’m ready to give my initial reaction. To keep with the site’s theme, I’ll break it down with “the cup half full” (good stuff), “the cup half empty” (bad stuff), and the “whole cup summed up” (summary).
The Cup Half Full
Who can argue with access to 600,000 books of all categories, and 150,000 audiobooks via whispersync? It’s important to bear in mind that while this gives you access to the “Audible” service, it’s only a 3 month trial for the 150,000 books, and afterwards you will be restricted to a smaller group of 2,000. It’s also important to note that in order to take advantage of the audiobook function, you’ll need a device with audio output. The Kindle Fire line will work (and any other tablet computer or smartphone), but the average Kindle, like my Paperwhite, does not support audio.
For $10 a month, the ravenous reading crowd will find great value. There are even a few big name books that almost anyone would find value in. Examples: All the Harry Potter books are present, Lord of the Rings Trilogy (if you can stay awake), and the Hunger Games books are there. It’s a great step in the same direction that Spotify and RDIO took music subscriptions services, and Netflix took film “rentals”. But it’s only a first step.
The Cup Half Empty
As a subscriber to amazon’s Prime service, I’ve had access to the “Kindle Lending Library” for quite some time. This service allows Prime members to access one Kindle book from a specific selection per month. What Kindle Unlimited does, in effect, is make the lending library available to everyone, for the first time allowing the service on non-kindle devices, like the iPad. I suppose that could be an item for the “good” list, but the problem is that the lending library has never provided a wealth of great reading options. This is clearly seen just by looking at the marketing of Kindle Unlimited on Amazon’s own website. The three main books you’ll see are the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games series, and Lord of the Rings.
Those are all great books (which became decent movies, wink), but don’t expect the soil beneath these best sellers to provide similar fruit. The lending library offers a great way into lesser known works across a wide genre range. But for the majority of readers that won’t be good enough. Amazon has been in many well publicized fights with a variety of book publishers, and those battles have resulted in Amazon launching Kindle Unlimited without a single major publisher on board. So if you want to read the New York Times best seller list, don’t expect this service to help you out.
That’s my biggest concern with Kindle Unlimited. While many are calling it the “Netflix of books” that’s only true if Netflix didn’t have any deals with major studios (which is far from the case). Amazon must find a way to either make peace with the publishing houses, or force them to finally change their business model (to favor amazon, interestingly enough). That’s no small task, and until amazon figures that out, this service will be constrained by its lack of titles.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
Are you a voracious reader? Do you chew through books the way some people fly through the new season of “Orange is the new Black” over on Netflix? If so, this service is perfect for you. Do you like to discover new things, and aren’t reliant on best seller lists to determine what book to crack open next? Then slam down that $10 and get started, it’s a no brainer. But for the rest of us, it might be best to hold off until the program grows a bit. Of course it’ll only grow if people show an interest in it. So there is a potential “investment opportunity” if you’re playing the long game.
I’m going to keep my 30 day trial going, and see what I find, how much I actually get read, and whether the cost is realized in actual value. I’m particularly interested in understanding how the Audible trial works. I’ll report back, at the end of the trial, as to whether I continue with the service, or if I just head back to my one book a month from the Prime lending library. For now, I’m skeptical, but still hopeful this is the beginning of a whole new way to be a reader in the digital age.