Amazon Kindle Unlimited Can’t Beat the Public Library

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As a reader of three or four novels a month, purchased primarily through my Kindle Fire, I am always looking to save money on book purchases. When I heard about Amazon Kindle Unlimited, a $9.99/month service allowing you to borrow all the books you wish in a month, keep them as long as you like, and then return them when you’re done, it sounded like a smokin’ hot deal. Is it worth the hype? Not really. Here’s what I found out.

I’ll start with the good things about the program – or at least the parts that got me to sign up and explore. The first month is free, so there’s no harm in checking it out. You’ve got access to over 600,000 titles which you can enjoy on any device, even if you don’t have a Kindle, just by utilizing the Kindle Reader application on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Another nice perk is that a Kindle Unlimited subscription includes a three-month Audible membership, which adds professional narration to any title you purchase, provided that it’s available on Audible – most are. It’ll allow you to easily switch from reading your book to listening to it without having to find your place. The Audible membership gives you one “credit” a month that you can use toward the purchase of other Audible titles as well, and even current Audible members will benefit from the credits.

It sounds pretty good so far, right? Well, here’s the sour news: you’re not going to find the latest bestseller on the list of available books. You’re not even likely to find last year’s bestseller, except on a rare occasion. Amazon has yet to secure distribution contracts with ANY of the five major U.S. publishers – Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon and Schuster.

When I heard about Amazon Kindle Unlimited, I thought “that sounds awesome! I am definitely spending enough to be covered under that $9.99 a month.” I have a list of about thirty books that I’ve been meaning to read, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to make some headway. Yet everything I searched for was not on the list of available titles. Not even older works that I thought for sure would be easy to find.

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited has two major competitors in the subscription eBook business: Oyster (500,000+ titles for $9.95/mo) and Scribd (400,000+ titles for $8.99/mo). Both offer titles from HarperCollins and Simon and Schuster. Oyster Books CEO Eric Stromberg pointed out to that “of Oyster’s top 100 titles, only eleven are available on the Kindle Unlimited service.”

To their credit, Kindle Unlimited has a huge selection of young adult titles to choose from. If you’re a parent with a voracious reader in your household, and you’re constantly purchasing new titles for him or her to read on a computer or mobile device, then you may find some benefit from the program, particularly if your kid likes to burn through a particular genre.

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When I reviewed the “actual prices” of the e-books listed and compared them to the monthly fee, it averaged about three to four books a month to “break even,” so just keep that in mind. You’re not going to be refunded for months where your child’s reading drops below this amount because they get busy with an extracurricular activity or finals come around.

After all this scrutiny, does the service make sense for anyone? In my assessment, there’s a couple of cases where it may. First, if you are one of the rare few who have not read The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series or the Lord of the Rings series, and you could somehow see your way clear to burn through two or more of the books in these series per month, you’re going to save about $6 if you can get through two books. Obviously, you’ll save more money on your first “free trial” month.

Second, if you’re a person who’s willing to tailor all your monthly reading to the books on the list. I have a friend who only reads books on the list of freebies available through Amazon Prime. This type of subscription may appeal to her, if she was willing to shell out an additional $9.99 a month, but bear in mind that a lot of the books on this list overlap books that are already free to borrow through Amazon Prime, so it appears that you’re paying twice for many cross-over titles if you maintain both subscriptions.

Lastly, don’t forget the beauty of the public library. While some e-book collections are not as robust as we may prefer, it should still be your first stop to browse for free content to download to your devices. One tip from a reader that exclusively borrows digital titles from libraries is to call ahead to libraries in other cities before you pass through. Some will offer library cards (and therefore access to their eBook library) to non-residents, which can greatly increase the number of titles available to you. The latest bestseller may have a lengthy wait list, but then again, it’s not likely to be available on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited anyway.

Nerd Chick Adventures is written by Andrea Eldridge and Heather Neal from Nerds on Call, an onsite computer and laptop repair company in Redding. They can be reached at [email protected].

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, a computer repair company that specializes in on-site and online service for homes and businesses. Andrea is the writer of a weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She prepares TV segments for and appears regularly on CBS, CW and FOX on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, More Good Day Portland, and CBS 13 News, offering viewers technology and lifestyle tips. See Andrea in action at