Blog – Posted on Thursday, Jun 27
What Is Kindle Unlimited — And Is It Worth The Money?
If you’ve ever heard the term “Netflix for books,” you’re already familiar with the rising trend of the book subscription model. These are services that allow readers to “borrow” books from vast reserves of reading material — sort of like a virtual library.
And if you’re a serious book lover, chances are you’ve at least thought about subscribing to one of them! Which means you’ve probably heard of Kindle Unlimited, one of the most prominent book subscription services on the market today.
However, despite its increasing popularity, the inner workings of Kindle Unlimited remain a mystery to many readers. You probably have tons of questions like: what is Kindle Unlimited and how does it work? Is it related to Amazon Prime, and if so, how? And, perhaps most crucially, is Kindle Unlimited worth the price?
We’ll answer all these questions and more in this comprehensive guide to Amazon Kindle Unlimited. However, if you have a particular question in mind, feel free to skip ahead to that section using the table of contents below.
What is Kindle Unlimited?
What is Kindle Unlimited?
Kindle Unlimited, or KU, is Amazon’s subscription service specifically for books, audiobooks, and magazines. Subscribers have access to a pool of over 1 million titles, as well as a selection of accompanying audiobooks and magazines. With KU, you can borrow up to 10 items at a time and return them at any time — like a massive virtual library with no due dates.
You can subscribe to Kindle Unlimited right now from this page. In terms of accessibility, you can use it on any device you want — not just a Kindle — as long as you’ve downloaded the Kindle app (click here to get it), or on the Kindle Cloud Reader in your browser.
Of course, you’ll also need an Amazon account, but that’s easy enough to sign up for if you’ve somehow managed to go this long without one. The only other qualification is that you live in the United States, or at least change your country to “US” on Amazon, which you can do here (under Country/Region Settings).
How much does Kindle Unlimited cost?
A Kindle Unlimited subscription costs $9.99 per month, or $119.98 per year. There’s also a free 30-day trial so you can test it out beforehand.
If you’re in for the long haul, keep in mind that Amazon sometimes runs price promotions on KU, such as deals on three-month and one-year subscriptions:
Look out for these promotions if you’re hoping to get a bargain on KU. Pending eligibility, they should appear on your digital subscription page. You can also get there from any page on Amazon, by selecting “Accounts and Lists” (in the upper righthand corner) → “Your Kindle Unlimited” → “Click here to join.”
Is Kindle Unlimited free for Prime members?
Amazon Kindle Unlimited is not included in Amazon Prime, which is Amazon’s premium subscription service for all products. KU a completely separate service that focuses solely on written and audiobook content. However, Prime members do get access to Prime Reading and the Kindle Owners Lending Library, both of which are comparable services (and which we'll cover in more detail below).
How does Kindle Unlimited work?
So you’re on board with what Kindle Unlimited is — at least in theory. Now we’ll walk you through how to actually use it, so you can get a taste of the KU experience before signing up.
Luckily, it’s pretty simple: Kindle Unlimited works by letting you borrow books (and/or audiobooks and magazines), up to 10 at a time, and then return them when you’re done!
Featured items to borrow will appear your KU dashboard, which tailors its suggestions based on your browsing and shopping history. On Amazon, you can access this dashboard by clicking on the “Shop by Category” icon (which looks like three horizontal lines in the upper left corner), then “Kindle E-readers & Books” → “Kindle Unlimited.” From there, you can also check out the full Kindle Unlimited catalog, under “Browse the catalog” on the right side of the dash.
To borrow a book from your dashboard, simply hover over it and click on the green button that says “Read now.” If you want to save it for later, click “Add to Library.”
To borrow a book from the KU catalog, click on its product page and then on the yellow button on the right that says “Read for Free.” This same button will appear if you’re browsing as usual and happen upon a book that belongs to the KU library, so you’ll never accidentally pay for a book that you can get through KU.
As for audiobooks, you can find them by selecting “Show results for: eBooks with Audible narration” on the left side of the catalog. This should filter results to only show books with accompanying KU audiobooks. When an audiobook is available, the yellow button on the product page will say “Read and Listen for Free.”
Finally, to view which books you’ve borrowed and return them when you’re ready, go to Your Borrowed Items page. You can find it under “Accounts & Lists” → “Your Kindle Unlimited,” underneath info about your membership.
Simply click the yellow “Return” button in order to return a book. But feel free to keep each book as long as you like — unlike a brick-and-mortar library, it’s not like you’re preventing someone else from reading it! The Borrowed Items page also keeps track of which books you’ve read in the past, so you can take pride in your literary prowess.
What kinds of books are on Kindle Unlimited?
Now let’s talk about the kind and quality of books you actually get with Kindle Unlimited. Contrary to the name, the reading material on KU isn’t quite “unlimited” — yes, there’s an abundance of books to choose from, but you can’t just read anything you want.
The vast majority of the KU library is self-published books, in part because every author who enrolls in KDP Select (part of Amazon’s ebook publishing unit) automatically has their book added to the KU library. This is great for readers seeking up-and-coming authors who haven’t entered the mainstream yet. It’s also great for the authors themselves, as KU is a diverse and dynamic landscape where self-published books can find a sizable, receptive audience.
However, it’s not ideal for people hoping to read lots of contemporary bestsellers for free — because while KU excels in the indie department, it’s pretty lacking in mainstream books. There are a few recent-ish bestsellers available, such as the Harry Potter series and Hunger Games books (which KU strives to promote, as you can see below). But these are few and far between compared to the profusion of self-published titles on KU.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the quality of books available on KU is any lower than, say, an actual library. Indeed, tens of thousands of KU titles have a 4-star rating or higher. You might have to sift through them to find something up your alley, but you shouldn’t discount KU on literary caliber alone, because there are some pretty amazing self-published books out there.
As of January 2020, here are the 10 highest rated books available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited, along with the number of stars/customer reviews they have:
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling ⚡ 4.8 stars and 20,297 reviews
- From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon ⏳ 4.7 stars and 5,967 reviews
- The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni 👧🏻 4.7 stars and 2,987 reviews
- Jeff Gordon: His Dream, Drive & Destiny by Joe Garner 💪 4.7 stars and 321 reviews
- Wool by Hugh Howey 👇 4.6 stars and 15,365 reviews
- Vicious by L.J. Shen 😈 4.6 stars and 3,375 reviews
- Close to Home by Robert Dugoni 🏡 4.6 stars and 1,986 reviews
- The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons 💧 4.6 stars and and 9,814 reviews
- A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White 🖤 4.6 stars and 7,249 reviews
- 1984 by George Orwell 👁️ 4.5 stars and 9,993 reviews
We’ll talk more about the KU library and whether it’s right for you at the end of this article. But those who’ve already made their minds up and want to cancel, pay attention to this next section!
How to cancel Kindle Unlimited
It’s easy to cancel Kindle Unlimited if you no longer find it useful (or if you want to bow out before your 30-day free trial is over). You can click here to do it right now, or navigate to the page yourself on Amazon: “Accounts & Lists” → “Your Kindle Unlimited” → “Cancel Kindle Unlimited Membership” (on the left).
You’ll have to confirm the cancellation again on the next page, and you should receive an additional confirmation email, but other than that you should be set! Once you’ve canceled, your card will no longer be charged, but your KU subscription will last until the next day of the pay cycle so you don’t lose what you’ve already purchased.
Alternately, if you’ve paid for a long-term subscription and cancel before it has run its course (e.g. cancelling six months into a year-long subscription), you’ll be refunded for the remaining months. However, keep in mind that if you do this, you cannot restart your subscription later — so be 100% sure about your decision before you hit that “Cancel” button.
Is Kindle Unlimited worth it?
Now for the most burning question of all: are the benefits of Kindle Unlimited worth its $9.99 monthly ($119.98 yearly) price, or would you be better off investing in something else?
As we touched on in the “kinds of books” section above, the deciding factor for most people considering KU will be what they like to read. If you already peruse tons of self-published books on Amazon and you’d like to cut out the cost and inconvenience of paying for each individual title, KU could be a great way forward for you! But if you gravitate toward Big 5 titles, you’re probably going to be frustrated by KU’s not-so-mainstream selections.
The other main factor to think about here is how many books you read per month. As some KU skeptics have pointed out, the regular prices of many self-published books on Amazon are very low — often $5.00 or less. This means you’d have to read at two or three KU books per month for your subscription to be worth the money… money that you could otherwise spend on non-KU titles you want to read.
What other Kindle Unlimited reviews say
Of course, there are other factors to consider if you're still on the fence about KU. For example, many reviewers have criticized the high cost of Kindle Unlimited relative to what the service provides. These Kindle Unlimited reviews tend to zero in on the publisher problem — the fact that so few Big 5 titles are available on Kindle Unlimited, and even fewer recent titles. They claim that the “over 1 million titles” logline is misleading because the KU library isn’t as mainstream as readers might expect.
Other reviews note that Prime Reading and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library — both of which come with Amazon Prime — are better bang for your buck than Kindle Unlimited. It’s certainly true that if you already pay for Prime, you should give these features a shot! With Prime Reading, you can check out books from a fairly small but exclusive library of 1,000 books; with KOLL, you can access a much larger library, but only check out one book at a time. (See below for more details about KOLL, which is closer to KU in terms of available titles and user terms.)
And finally, some reviewers are hung up on the fact that KU requires Internet access to browse its entire library. However, you can select 10 books at a time to read offline, so this will really only affect you if you’re frequently away from the Internet for long periods of time.
So what's the verdict?
Take what you will from these criticisms; the bottom line remains more or less the same. If you’re a voracious, indie-book-loving reader, Kindle Unlimited could be the perfect choice for you. If you’d like to become more voracious or indie-book-loving — or if you just want to binge-read all the Harry Potter books in a month — you can always give the 30-day trial a shot!
But if you know for a fact that you’re only going to be reading one book a month (at most), and you’d prefer that book be a bestseller, you'll be better off skipping this particular subscription. However, you could find a better option among the following KU alternatives! Read on to find out what they offer and how they stack up against Kindle Unlimited.
Alternatives to Kindle Unlimited
Scribd boasts over 80 million subscribers and access to more than a million published titles, plus about 60 million individual documents (the platform was originally designed to host and share documents, rather than books). Scribd has since grown to incorporate tons of full-length works from a wide variety of authors and genres… and, perhaps most importantly for users, includes titles from Big 5 and other major publishers! Yet it’s priced comparably to Kindle Unlimited, at just $8.99 a month after a 30-day free trial.
Those let down by KU’s lack of mainstream titles will be much more gratified by the offerings from Scribd. But of course, it’s not without a catch: despite familiar-sounding claims about their library being totally “unlimited,” Scribd still has to cap users at either three ebooks OR two audiobooks in order to maintain profitability. After you’ve hit this limit, your reading options get reduced to a much smaller pool of books, with very few bestsellers available.
Considering how much this kind of mainstream content would normally cost, Scribd is still a pretty sweet deal — but if you were thinking that unlimited bestsellers sounds too good to be true, you’re right on target.
Closer to KU in terms of scope and subscriber count (just a few million) is Bookmate, which has a library of about 500,000 books. Distribution deals with HarperCollins and Bloomsbury give it a mainstream edge, though no other service can really compare to Scribd on that front.
What makes Bookmate unique is its social element: users can create custom profiles and follow friends to see what they’ve been reading, as well as what’s on their TBR “bookshelves.” Think of it as KU meets Goodreads — if you love to share and talk about books with other people, you’d probably really enjoy Bookmate. You can try it for free for 7 days, after which point it costs $9.99/month.
There’s also 24symbols, a subscription service wherein the biggest advantage is its pricing: only $7.99/month, or $90/year. Like KU, 24symbols provides access to over a million books that are mostly lesser-known or independently published, with just a handful of mainstream titles on offer such as The Alchemist and Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey. You can read online, or simply download books to your preferred device using the 24symbols app.
4. Kindle Owner’s Lending Library
Finally, we have another Amazon-based option — bet you didn’t see that one coming. The Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, or KOLL, is a feature included in Amazon Prime. With KOLL, users can choose from the same number of titles to borrow as with KU; however, these titles are slightly different, and you can only borrow one book per month. Still, if you’re already subscribed to Prime and not taking advantage of this feature, you have nothing to lose by trying it out before you decide re: Kindle Unlimited.
Overall, whether or not you should subscribe to KU (or a similar service) depends entirely on you as a reader. What kinds of books do you enjoy, where can you find them, and how many would you like to read each month? Your decision will hinge on your answers to these questions — think carefully, and they’ll steer you in the right direction.