Amazon's Kindle Unlimited: Netflix for Books?

Category: Reference

Apparently, someone in Amazon’s product development department subscribes to my newsletter. Just two weeks after my review of Scribd, Amazon came out with Kindle Unlimited, their Scribd-killing 'all-you-can-eat' ebook offering. Here's the scoop...

Hello Kindle Unlimited, Goodbye Scribd

As I mentioned in my article Is Scribd For Dummies>, Scribd charges $8.99 per month for unlimited access to e-books. Kindle Unlimited charges $9.99. Scribd has about 400,000 e-books from nearly 1,000 publishers. Amazon claims over 600,000 titles from an unknown number of publishers, though we do know that five big ones are missing.

HarperCollins (who’s on Scribd), Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, and MacMillan are not on Kindle Unlimited. Industry speculation is that these publishers are not happy with Amazon’s Walmart-like negotiating tactics, as exemplified in its ongoing dispute with Hachette, the fourth largest U.S. book publisher.

What would you pay for Unlimited Ebooks?

Details of the fight have not been revealed but the fallout is painfully evident. Amazon has delayed deliveries of some Hachette titles and removed the option to pre-order “The Silkworm,” by Robert Galbraith, who is really “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.

One does not frustrate Potter fans with impunity; recent surveys reveal about 20 percent of those aware of the Hachette issue are buying more of their books from non-Amazon sources as a result. Stephen Colbert, a Hachette author, lambasted Amazon on his satirical TV show, calling upon authors to boycott the e-tailer.

The European Union’s anti-trust arm is “trying to understand what is going on,” perhaps the most charming admission that has ever come out of a government agency.

And over in North Carolina, startup Entitle, a self-described “hybrid of Netflix and a book club” is trying to put a brave face on things. Entitle, founded by a former pharmaceutical sales rep with no tech or retail experience, wishes everyone to know that it does have all the publishers that Kindle Unlimited lacks and competition is a good thing. Entitle's $9.99 plan entitles you to read two ebooks per month.

Marketplace Disruption: The New Normal

Amazon is disrupting the book-selling business once again, earning the ire and adulation of publishers and readers, respectively. But this might be a good time to note that Amazon has not shown a significant profit in any of its twenty (that’s “20”) years. One must wonder what Jeff Bezos is really up to, and why the stock market loves him.

Bezos would cast Amazon as the liberator of authors enslaved by publishing houses. Amazon offers authors Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle KDP), a means to publish their works as Kindle e-books and share in a global revenue fund. Who needs publishers that chisel authors with complicated contractual gotchas, right?

Except Amazon has its own chisels. Along with the debut of Kindle Unlimited comes the announcement of a change to the Kindle KDP Select program that does not look favorable to authors. Formerly, authors earned money when their books were downloaded; now, they earn nothing until a reader actually reads at least 10 percent of the book. Presumably, Kindle reader software counts each digital “page turn” as a page read, and that’s how Amazon will determine when 10 percent of a book has been read.

Kindle KDP Select pays authors when their Kindle e-books are purchased or borrowed in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. In return, authors agree not to distribute the digital versions of their works anywhere else.) Royalty rates vary by country, reaching up to 70 percent of revenue in Japan, Brazil, and a few other places.

But of course, 70 percent of pennies is still pennies. The trend for Kindle edition prices is inexorably downward. Authors run the same risk of starvation by obfuscation that they run with traditional publishers.

Is It Worth It?

For readers, “unlimited books for $X per month” is a rather disingenuous proposition. There are more free books in the smallest public library than anyone can read in a month. Realistically, four books per month is probably the high end of the consumer’s comfort zone, assuming the reader has any life at all.

But according to Digital Book World, the average price of a best-selling ebook is about $7.50. So avid readers of popular and current titles who consume at least two books per month may find the price point of Kindle Unlimited attractive.

Will you pay ten dollars a month for all the ebooks you can read? How many CAN you read in a month? Inquiring minds want to know, so post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Amazon's Kindle Unlimited: Netflix for Books?"

(See all 33 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

25 Jul 2014

I am currently in the process of trying Amazon Kindle Unlimited out for 30 days. I am an avid reader and enjoy it. Since I started my trial period I have read books valued at over $50. I am on a fixed income and would not be able to afford to read these books otherwise. I am retired and this is my hobby along with sewing, crocheting, woodworking and crafts. For me it would appear to be a win win situation even at the $9.99 monthly price. thank you

Posted by:

Ron Dickerson
25 Jul 2014

I am retired and I do not average reading 2 books per month. I used to read more. That is, before the age of the Internet

Posted by:

Jim Taszarek
25 Jul 2014

Remember the Motorola Razr and flip phones? Remem ber how well they worked as TELEPHONES? Clear duplex transmission? I love my recent smartphones (e.g. my Samsung Note 3. Have you seen/heard any reviews on current smartphones that are better at duplex, two-way voice than others? Back in "the day" the phones were dependable for conference calls - no longer. The voices are delayed and less clear.
Thanks LOVE YOUR MATERIAL. Keep it comin'.

Posted by:

25 Jul 2014

Kindle Direct Publishing not only protects authors from the obfuscating details from publishing, it also protects them from editors. I don't think I've read a KDP book yet that didn't need some attention --- even blatant punctuation and spelling errors, let alone some good old English teacher constructive criticism.

I'm sorry to hear that authors are paid so little and I agree with Hachette about the Walmart type pressures. I also agree that "unlimited" isn't such a great deal. Even if the only reading I did was on the Kindle, I couldn't do more than 4 books/month --- especially since I like long ones. I'm a voracious reader but I read regular paper books too.

Posted by:

Michael' Graham
25 Jul 2014

I just subscribed to your newsletter. I wanted to tell you that so far I am enjoying your information and your writing style very much. For my BA I was an English major & I'm 72 next month, and you have already made me Google a word. Thank you.

Posted by:

25 Jul 2014

Have you checked out It's a free service that directs you to free or cheap ebooks based upon the type of ereader you have. Obviously you aren't going to get books on the bestseller list, but you may be able to score books that are newly released or books in the middle of a series when a new one is expected to be released.

This is better for me in many ways because I only read about a book a month.

Posted by:

25 Jul 2014

I am an audible reader & "read" so little that any books to read for $/mo deal is not a good deal.

However, it appears that in another money loosing offer that Amazon has connected with AMEX & if I spend $20 or more on buying books from Amazon usung my AMEX card,I will get a $20 credit on my AMEX statement! We used to call that "A Loss Leader". Amazon??

Some years ago when Amazon notified me that my card info & account info @ Amazon had been hacked, I closed my account & have not put my info back into their system. What I need I can usually get elsewhere like Wal Mart online!

Posted by:

Jim Kniskern
25 Jul 2014

Yesterday our computer club at the Newark Senior Center was enlightened by the state's association of public libraries on the expanding use of ebooks and emagazines online throughout Delaware.

This free service to all using their local library card online is provided through the firm named "Overdrive", who manages checkouts and usage in order to protect the rights of publishers. This has become a popular alternative to paying for digital copies, and is expanding rapidly.

You may wish inform your readers of this trend; start by viewing "".

Posted by:

25 Jul 2014

Rather than spend $120 a year or more, I download books from my library for $0.

Posted by:

25 Jul 2014

I have a Nook and between the Public Library, Book Bub, Kobo and B & N's Free Book Fridays, I have enough avenues to avoid paying any subscription fees for books.

Posted by:

25 Jul 2014

Another great editorial! I want to support authors and other artists. It is good to know how we can support them. Public libraries make selections and read reviews and are excellent supporters of the creative people. Publishers and amazon and the like are burning and pillaging - to what end? Thank you again Bob. I am a fan.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I have no problem with public libraries, but it's a fallacy to think that they are free. Taxpayer dollars are used to build and maintain the library, and to pay the staff that works there.

And as for supporting authors, I'm not sure how they do that. Seems you could make a stronger case that they undercut authors because they give away a product for free, that would otherwise have to be purchased at a bookstore.

Posted by:

Mary S.
25 Jul 2014

I read 4 - 6 books a month, more if I can get audiobooks to "read" in the car, or while on the computer.

Since I started with Amazon Prime, I've been annoyed/angry that you can watch as many movies as you want, but only read one free book per month only if you own a Kindle. Another Prime user can watch 3 or more videos in the time it takes me to read a book. Because of that, among other things, I will continue to buy the books from my favorite authors and get other books from the library instead of giving Amazon more money.

Posted by:

Mary S.
26 Jul 2014

I read 4 - 6 books a month, more if I can get audiobooks to "read" in the car, or while on the computer.

Since I started with Amazon Prime, I've been annoyed/angry that you can watch as many movies as you want, but only read one free book per month only if you own a Kindle. Another Prime user can watch 3 or more videos in the time it takes me to read a book. Because of that, among other things, I will continue to buy the books from my favorite authors and get other books from the library instead of giving Amazon more money.

Posted by:

26 Jul 2014

Free Lending Libraries on the High Street are supposed to pay royalties to the authors whose books are lent out.

By the way, it's interesting to note the high standard of English contained within these comments by the book-reading section of your subscribers, Bob.

Posted by:

William Chamberlin
26 Jul 2014 in my opinion, is playing a risky business. I had a book published 1991 and its still in print. sells it for $285 a book. I, being the copyright owner, receive a royalty for every hard copy of the book they sell. My royalty comes from my publisher. However, took it on their own to digitize my book and now sells it for their Kindle for $235 per copy. They did this without written permission or any other kind of permission from me, the copyright owner, and they do not pay a royalty on it's sale. They probably do this on a wide scale knowing that most authors do not have the money to heir a copyright lawyer or they are not willing to go through all the trouble. When I wrote about all of this, all they did was send me their lawyers phone number. Every Kindle sale of my book at $235 is pure profit to them and all they invested in was one scan of my book. What can a poor author do to protect themselves? Evidently, copyright laws don't do anything to protect an author. has all the money they need to protect themselves. I live only on Social Security and need any extra money I can earn which isn't much being handicap.

Posted by:

26 Jul 2014

First of all, a comment on an Editor's Note above: publishers and authors do get their share on library purchases, which are generally hardcover editions and cost more than people pay in bookstores. E-book lending programs also often make the library pay again after a certain number of loans, Finally, most people who borrow from a library would otherwise not read the book, let alone pay the full price, and neither publishers nor authors like it when people don't read their books. Few books do better than break even over time, and publishing is a gamble that one book will earn enough to make all the effort put into the others worthwhile. (Yes, I work in publishing and it's no way to get rich but we do it anyway.)

As for Amazon, I have no love for them or their business practices. Their attitude is that any money a publisher now makes can be taken over by fair means or foul. Their attitude towards authors is to exploit the naive and reserve the right to cut their earnings unilaterally at any time: just ask anyone whose book is on and now co-opted into KU as well.

Anyway, most of the "over 600,000" books in KU simply aren't worth reading unless you're fond of badly-written and/or short formulaic works written hastily and published unedited. If you love books in e-format, you'd do better to look at the 2,000,000 or so available from Project Gutenberg at no cost. Few are new ones (unless an author chooses to release them to the public domain) but you can find almost any subject or genre and I suspect there's a much higher proportion of good ones. (I've got about 100 of them on my little Kobo, along with a few newer ones worth paying for.)

Posted by:

Sharon H
26 Jul 2014

I don't read ebooks. I stare at screens enough (PC, TV). I love the feel of a solid tome in my hands, physically turning pages and that wonderful scent of paper and ink. Oh yes, and the pictures, which never, ever look as good on one of these reading devices as they do on a physical page. In fact, almost every Kindle ebook I've read from Amazon has unforgivable grammatical and/or spelling errors. And a lot don't even have the illustrations that appear in the "real thing".

Sorry, but tackling something like Tuchman's 720 page "A Distant Mirror" on an ebook reading device will assure that my next prescription for glasses will require a higher power.

P.S. Libraries work fine for me. They are free, and that price is unbeatable. Debate on, my digital friends!

Posted by:

26 Jul 2014

Canadian. Libraries and Kindles are at odds. Read a lot. Will try anything. Thanks

Posted by:

Susanna Perkins
26 Jul 2014

I've signed up for the trial, and been very disappointed.. I read 4-5 books a week, and there's no way it's worth it for me because they just don't have the books I'm looking for.

OTOH, I've been happy with Scribd, and decided to stick with them after the trial period was over. While I prefer reading on my Kindle, reading on the tablet is fine and they have a much better selection.

Posted by:

27 Jul 2014

I always found it interesting the lawsuit brought by Apple and a bunch of publishers against Amazon was because they called Amazon a monopoly that "set prices *too* low." (Apple & co. lost and had to pay Amazon a nominal {at least for Apple} fine.)
I guess someone has to suffer if prices are "too low" but it isn't the consumer.
Personally, I think prices for e-books are still too high compared to physical books. No paper, no printing, no shipping, no storage, no handling, no mailing, and no returns. All the things that publishers claim that make books expensive.

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