The Eternal Fire…I Mean, Kindle Unlimited

The rumors started earlier this week, but it became official on Friday morning: Amazon’s home page trumpeted something new called “Kindle Unlimited.” It’s the Kindle version of Oyster and Scribd, or the book version of Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Kindle Unlimited is simple for the readers: pay $9.99 per month, and one can select from “over 600,000 books” (more on that in a minute) and thousands of audio books (not so much about that in a minute) as many times per month as one wishes. Are you one of those readers who like to have two or more books going at once? Step right up, my friend; you can have up to ten books at once from Kindle Unlimited on your reader and for as long as you want (so long as you keep forking over that $9.99 per month, of course). Finish a book, and you return it with a click or two and pick another book of you want, or finish up what you have and then select away again.  Do you read a book a day? Two books a day? Help yourself. The first month is free, and yes, I joined. Amazon makes it easy (is that a surprise?). Click on the sign up button, log into your account, and all of a sudden every book that is part of the Kindle Unlimited plan has a red button next to it that 1) indicates that it is part of the Kindle Unlimited plan and 2) announces that it can be read for free.

I was pleased to see that every book that Hachette has ever published is included in Kindle Unlimited. Just kidding, of course; THAT woke you up, didn’t it? Actually, none of the big five traditional publishers are represented on Kindle Unlimited. All of the Kindle imprints are present, as one might expect, and Open Road Media (mysteriouspress.com, anyone?), HMH, Algonquin, and Bloomsbury are there, as are authors’ works which are exclusive to Amazon. I also found a goodly portion of T. Jefferson Parker backlist to be part of it, and, if you are so inclined, The Hunger Games series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Seven Habits…you get the idea. You know that business dispute between Hachette and Amazon? I am sure  that the participation of Hachette (and, down the road, the other major publishers) is an important element of it.

There is also an audiobook component to Kindle Unlimited through audible.com but at this point anecdotal reports indicate that there are only two thousand titles or so are included in Kindle Unlimited. This number will undoubtedly increase.  Further, if you borrow an eBook that has an audiobook version which is part of the program, the audiobook is included automatically. And, of course, there is also the whisper sync feature included with many books. So there is plenty for everyone.

Kindle Unlimited is not Amazon Prime. There’s no long-term commitment with Kindle Unlimited; it’s for books only; and if you are already an Amazon Prime member, Amazon apparently is not folding Kindle Unlimited into your Prime membership. The only elements both programs have in common are 1) uh, Amazon and 2) borrowing books. With regard to the latter, Prime lets you read a book per month for free and lend books you’ve purchased; Kindle Unlimited is, well, unlimited; but you can’t lend other books you’ve purchased.

There is an additional consideration, of course, for the authors among us: how are the royalties for those authors whose works are included in Kindle Unlimited get paid? I did some searching for the answer, and even made a few telephone calls. Responses ranged from “Amazon isn’t releasing that information” to “I don’t know.” One source told me that for an independent author to receive royalties the “borrower” has to read at least ten per cent (10%) of the book (and yes, as an aside, it kind of creeps me out that Amazon would have a way of knowing how much of a particular book I have, or haven’t read). Once the author has accomplished that threshold through the reader, royalties are calculated along the lines of an equation which looks something like 5(x)+3(y)-42+(-7)=zippideedoodah. To put it another way, no one who is talking is really sure at this point. Authors who are free to do so might want to seek further information before committing, which of course is a good idea before entering into any contract, agreement or commitment.

There will be more — much more — to be said about Kindle Unlimited in the coming weeks and months. For the moment, however…are you interested? Did you sign up for a free trial? Have you given it a test run? And what would you like to see? I’ve already answered all of the questions but the last. I’d like to be able to borrow…graphic novels. I think that will happen when we land a man on the sun, but I’ve been surprised, pleasantly and otherwise, before. One can always hope.

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