Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kindle Unlimited

I know it's no secret that I read a lot. I read almost exclusively fiction, mostly urban fantasy (or paranormal) and mystery/thrillers, with a little "women's fiction" thrown in. I have also almost exclusively migrated to digital, rather than physical, books. I read on my iPhone, my iPad, and on my Kindle Fire. Less on the iPhone, usually if I'm waiting in line for something. Whether I read on the iPad or the Kindle mostly depends on which one is closer to hand.

I follow several blogs that post free and discounted Kindle books, and I'm also on a couple of email lists, so I pick up quite a few free ebooks that way. I keep track of new release dates for my favorite authors, and add upcoming books to my Amazon wish list. If I see a book that I think I might be interested in, I will usually go ahead and add it to my Amazon wish list, and send a free sample to one of my devices.

I know that there are many more proprietary ereaders out there, Kobo and Nook being the ones I can think of off the top of my head. If I see a mention of a free or sale book on one of those platforms, I will usually go get it, since I have their iOS apps on my iPad, but I usually don't even think to go read anything on them, I'm so happy with the Kindle experience.

I have also tried the subscription services -- Oyster, Scribd and Entitle. I believe they are all around $10/month with the first month free. The problem I had with all of them was that I thought it was hard to find books that I wanted to read. I guess it's mostly because I spend so much time on the Amazon site, but Amazon does it so well with the books that they recommend based on my reading habits. The subscription services I mentioned made me kind of nervous, like I had to be sure that I was reading enough books to get my money's worth out of the subscription price (although I didn't pay for any of them, I cancelled before my free month was up). I think a lot of the problem is just like anything else -- it's hard coming into an already-established market and being successful. I have no idea whether they are successful or not, I assume they are, but they just weren't for me.

This is all leading up to a love letter to Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited service. Most of the big publishers aren't participating yet, and who knows whether they will or not, considering everything that's been going on between Hatchette and Amazon, for instance. They say there are over 600,000 books available now; most of them are probably self-published or indie publishers, but I haven't had any trouble finding plenty of books to read. The price is comparable to the others at $9.99/month (with the first month free), and it also includes audio. If there is audio available for a book that you choose, you can listen for free. The subscription also includes three free Audible audio books, one a month for the first three months.

You can have ten books out at a time, with no due dates. When you finish a book, you can return it, just like a library ebook, and get something else, or keep it as long as you want, with the caveat, of course, that if Amazon decides to discontinue the service or something like that, they can suck the book back out of your Kindle, but I think they can already do that anyway, actually.

Oh -- I wrote all that, but the whole point of thinking about it was to comment on something that I keep reading on other commentary about Kindle Unlimited. It seems like everyone who writes about it says something like, "but with Amazon Prime you get a free ebook anyway, plus free shipping and streaming video, and it's $99 for a whole year, so why would anyone want to buy Kindle Unlimited for $10/month and just get ebooks?"

Maybe most people do feel that way, I don't know. And yes, with Amazon Prime, you can read ONE book for free per MONTH. One. And that's it. Not one at a time, ONE. I don't buy enough physical stuff from Amazon to care about the free shipping, and I don't really care about the streaming video, either, so Prime doesn't make sense for me, but Kindle Unlimited is perfect. If you don't read, or don't read much, maybe access to one free book a month is fine. I don't know. I do know that I read at least 100 books a year. This year I've read 115 so far, so considering we're just over seven months into the year, that's about 16 books/month.

Now that my library offers ebooks, I do occasionally get one there, but they don't have much of a selection yet. If it was possible to get every ebook that I wanted from the library, Kindle Unlimited might not make sense, but at least for now, it seems like a great value to me.

I have occasionally felt guilty about buying an ebook when I could request the physical book from the library. It's not the waiting that I mind, usually, but the fact that after reading so much digitally, I find it almost impossible to read a physical book. It feels awkward--I have to hold it open with my hands!--and you have to have a good light, which I often do not. I don't know. I just know that I enjoy reading on my digital devices a lot more than I enjoy holding a book in my hands. I don't care about the feel of a book in my hands or the smell (which a lot of people mention), I really just want the words.

When I was buying books in bookstores, I would sometimes pick up a book that looked interesting, but put it back because of the way it was printed -- too large margins, or too big type, or deckle edges, or whatever. I don't have that problem with ebooks. I can set the font to whatever I want, whatever size I want, and all books are created equal.

And another point -- I don't know for sure, but I believe Unlimited operates under the same model as the other subscription services and pays authors their free after a certain percentage of the book is read (maybe 20%). So while they aren't getting the revenue immediately, they aren't getting shut out, as it might seem.

Here are a few good books that I have read for free:

The Eighth Guardian (Annum Guard) by Meredith McCardle (YA time tavel paranormal)
Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde (literary fiction)
When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde (literary fiction)
Vanished by Kendra Elliot (thriller)
Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott (thriller)
A Trail Through Time by Jodi Taylor (time travel; fourth book in a series)

And the best non-free book I've read recently: "Mortal Danger," by Ann Aguirre. It's $9.99, but you can read the first five chapters free. It was excellent. The book is about Edith, a student at a private high school. Unattractive, unhappy, bullied and humiliated to the point of deciding to kill herself. But right on the brink, she is stopped by a young man, Kian, who offers her the chance to get revenge on the students who tormented her. Revenge isn't free, of course, but it sounds like a good idea at the time.

Edith enrolls in a summer science program away from home, and with Kian's help, reinvents herself as "Edie," pretty, self-confident, smart, with a new best friend and a summer boyfriend. Right away, things start happening to the students who bullied her, and they just keep happening . . . Edie begins to think that the bargain she made might not have been the blessing that she thought it was at first.

Edited to add: Entitle is a subscription service that lets you purchase two ebooks per month for $9.99/month. They do have new releases and best sellers, but during my free period I really struggled to find just one book that I wanted to read, and hadn't already read.