November 24, 2014

Amazon Formally Launches Kindle Unlimited E-Book (and Audiobook) Subscription Service

share save 171 16 Amazon Formally Launches Kindle Unlimited E Book (and Audiobook) Subscription Service

We posted some extended comments focusing on what this and other ebook subscription services might mean for the library community the other day when news of Kindle Unlimited leaked. We’ve included some of them at the bottom of this post and added a few new thoughts.

Today, the Kindle Unlimited service was formally announced.

Fast Facts

A subscription of $9.99/month provides

  • Unlimited Access to 600,000 ebooks
  • Unlimited Access to 2000 audiobooks
  • All ebooks and all audiobooks available to all subscribers at all times (aka no waiting list)

Worth noting that many of the titles Amazon is touting are also part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). This service is available at no extra charge to Amazon Prime subscribers who own a Kindle device. Subscribers can “borrow” one book per month.

In terms of ebook content, Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) offer just about the same content.

Let’s compare some major differences:

  • KU is available to all. KOLL only available to Amazon Prime subscribers.
  • KU provides access to about 2,000 audiobooks as of today. KOLL does not offer this service.
  • KU is available on on both Kindle devices and apps. KOLL only available on Kindle device.
  • KU has no limit on how many books you can view/read. KOLL only permits one book per month.

Additional Details and Info About Some Titles Available (From News Release)

Unlimited reading: Access over 600,000 books including best sellers like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, Water for Elephants, Oh Myyy! – There Goes The Internet, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, All the King’s Men, Wonder Boys, Ask for It, The Princess Bride, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, The Atlantis Gene, Kitchen Confidential, The Sisterhood, Crazy Little Thing, The Blind Side, and The Giver, plus thousands of classics such as Animal Farm, To the Lighthouse, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Cat’s Cradle, and The Good Earth, as well as books featuring beloved children’s characters from Sesame Street, and useful reference titles including books from the For Dummies series and Lonely Planet travel guides.

Unlimited listening: Keep the story going with unlimited access to more than 2,000 audiobooks from Audible with Whispersync for Voice, and switch seamlessly between reading and listening to customer favorites like the Hunger Games trilogy, Life of Pi, The Handmaid’s Tale, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, The Great Santini, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Winter’s Tale, Boardwalk Empire, El Narco, Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies, Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, The Finisher, Johnny Carson, The Stranger I Married, and Life Code.

Kindle exclusives: Choose from hundreds of thousands of books only found on Kindle, including Brilliance by Marcus Sakey, The Hangman’s Daughter series by Oliver Pötzsch, War Brides by Helen Bryan, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct and Matthew Hope books, When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath, Chasing Shadows by CJ Lyons, and Sick by Brett Battles.

Short Reads: For a quick escape, select from thousands of books that are 100 pages or less, including Kindle Singles from Stephen King, Andy Borowitz, and Nelson DeMille, and short fiction from Amazon Publishing’s StoryFront imprint.

Free three-month Audible membership: In addition to the thousands of professionally narrated audiobooks from Audible included in Kindle Unlimited, subscribers get a complimentary three-month Audible membership, with access to more than 150,000 titles.

Popular Kindle features: Enjoy all the great Kindle features customers love such as Whispersync, Popular Highlights, X-Ray, customer reviews, and Goodreads integration.

Read and listen everywhere: Access across Kindle devices and free Kindle reading apps for iPhone, iPad, Android tablets and phones, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, PC, Mac and Windows 8—so you always have your library with you and never lose your place.

Comments from Gary Price

First Posted on July 16, 2014, Edited and Extended July 18th

One thing that WILL happen because of Amazon’s apparent growth in the all-you-can-read market (regardless of what they precisely plan to offer) is that there will be a greater awareness of the availability of ebook subscription services.

Are libraries ready to compete (or call it what you like) with these services not only today but also in the future? As I pointed out earlier this week, a recent AP article about Oyster and Scribd makes no mention that many public libraries offer collections of ebooks free to cardholders, new books unavailable from subscription services at least at this time. This article was published by many news organizations.

Since the leak of the Kindle Unlimited service on Wednesday coverage has been seen on MANY blogs, new sites,, tv, newspapers, etc. Very few, if any, make mention that libraries offer ebooks to cardholders. If the library community (as a whole) could only get a small percentage of this type of coverage for the services we provide (and library services are also free to the end user) things might be different in terms of the public awareness of what we offer.

Throughout the period (as ebook subscription services have come online during the past few years) I have suggested that the library community (especially the public library world) become familiar with these services and at least discuss their possible implications for libraries in terms of library usage, collection development, and budget.

I’ve also explained (or at least tried to) that whether or not these services become all the rage and move people away from the public library for content they will also play a role in public perception and relevance of the library which is still often focused on books/ebooks and being quiet by the media. In other words, Oyster and Scribd have to do a good job marketing their services to thrive and survive.

Of course, Amazon is one of the best at creating buzz about and attention for whatever they do. Sadly, and far from a new concern, is that libraries don’t do a good job of marketing, especially on a meta (national or even state) level. Yes, there are some excellent examples of libraries doing great work in marketing but again I am talking big picture.

I believe that what we are seeing today is just a portion of what will become available moving forward especially as Amazon, Oyster, and Scribd expand and services focusing on specific subjects or genres come online. In other words, these services will look different in the future in terms of the content they offer. Expect more.

My number one reason for pointing out the possibility of these services becoming mainstream over the past three years was (and remains) an attempt to make libraries proactive, aware, and get them planning for the future, versus—as we too often see—reactive, with an “oh no, the sky is falling” mindset.

Will all of the ebooks library’s have acquired at very high prices (and cannot be sold to others even for pennies on the dollar) mean little in a few years? Will we be paying later for what what we are paying for today? I don’t have any answers but I do think it deserves a discussion.

By the way, I realize that not every public library user will want to pay to or can afford to pay for a subscription service. These issues need to be part of the discussion. However, we’re seeing what was once fee-based content services offer free ad-supported services. For example, Hulu is introducing more free content this summer and the entire Spotify collection of about 13 million tracks is completely free for tablet and desktop users who don’t mind some commercials each hour.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see ad-supported ebooks become part of the landscape in the future.

Finally, I think it’s worth noting (in this case as a point of information) that Amazon has a great deal of DATA (close to three years worth) about how people borrow, read, interact, and return ebooks borrowed from a library. This is valuable information they can use to make their service very appealing to current library users.

Where do they obtain this data? The answer is simple. If you have ever borrowed (or assisted someone borrowing) a book on OverDrive and placed it on a Kindle,  you and/or your library shared the data with Amazon. My guess is this was part of the reason why OverDrive was able to work out a deal with Amazon. This massive warehouse of data can be extremely valuable to a lot of what Amazon does and it’s likely they also share some of it with publishers.

As we’ve also pointed out for privacy and transparency reasons, Amazon has a permanent record (unless the user manually removes it) of every ebook borrowed from OverDrive and placed on a Kindle device for reading. If the user makes digital notes in the book Amazon also has that data permanently in their database unless the user manually removes it.

So, when, if ever, will a discussion begin?

UPDATE:  Scribd has issued a statement about what appears to be the new Amazon ebook subscription service:

“The apparent entrance of Amazon into subscription market is exciting for the industry as a whole. It’s validation that we’ve built something great here at Scribd. Publishers, authors and readers alike have all seen the benefit, so its no surprise they’d want to test the waters. Successful companies don’t fear competition, but rather embrace it, learn from it and use it to continue to fuel their own innovation which is exactly what we intend to continue doing.”

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.