So the new Kindle Unlimited program has readers and bloggers buzzing. In particular, one tweet caught my eye. It inspired a pretty good twitter rant, so I figured it’d be the perfect thing to expand on for a blog post! First, the tweet (handle removed to protect the innocent):
“I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to spend $120 a yr for Amazon’s new program when the library is free…“
I can think of plenty of reasons, which I’ll get into in a moment. But first, I want to clear up one very real misconception:
The library is not free.
Yes, the library is government funded, and yes you technically can check out books without forking over cash. But guess where the government gets the money to operate the library? Your taxes. Most likely sales tax, maybe some of your income tax if the state kicks in. Either way, it’s coming out of your pocket, whether or not you know. Furthermore, these libraries are often (and chronically) underfunded. I can only speak for what I know, but the most of the new fiction that comes into my local libraries is actually funded by Friends of the Library: non-profits attached to local branches that collect donations (often monthly…like a subscription) from members and uses those funds to purchase books. These books often have strings attached, such as a shortened borrowing period with no renewals or a per day rental fee (.25/day).
Point is, you may not be paying $9.99 to access their offerings, but it’s not free either.
So why would you want to go with Kindle Unlimited instead of going to the library:
First and foremost: not everyone has access to a library. The more rural you get, the farther and fewer they become. “Go to the library” assumes that a person has the time and the means to make the physical trek to the library. Some people don’t have cars and public transit doesn’t get them where they need to go. Or what about the person who lives in a rural area and would have to travel say 10 miles or more to get to the library. It’s not always practical. Furthermore, even if you do have a library nearby, it doesn’t mean it’ll operate on a schedule that works for the person. The LA Public Library (LAPL) system operates on a staggered schedule. Some days it’s open 10:30 – 5, other days 12:00 -8. Not everyone works a traditional 8:00-5:00 job where they can make it during those hours, and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to mix up your days and get there to discover it’s closed. So yeah, just because one exists doesn’t mean it works for a given person.
Not all libraries are well stocked. I mentioned on twitter that when I was using the library heavily, that most of my books had to come through the inter-library loan system. It could take days or weeks or even months to get my hands on a book that I wanted to read (and not necessarily a best seller either – it took more over two months to get The Name of the Wind and it came out several years ago) and anyone who puts a lot of books on hold can tell you about nightmares where three or four books come in for you all at once. I can’t speak for other systems, but in the LAPL if there’s a hold on a book you can’t renew it, so if you can’t finish your books in time, you either need to eat late fees (0.35/day/book) or turn in without reading. It’s frustrating at best. Before I got my Kindle, I remember going to place a book on hold and looking at where I was on the waiting list against the rest of my hold list to try and figure out the odds of everything coming in at once. It’s not something I miss.
Also, indie titles (and there are some good ones out there) often never make it to libraries, but are available on the new Kindle Unlimited, so that might be a deciding factor for some.
Money is obviously a driving factor in any decision to subscribe to a service like Kindle Unlimited. Some can’t afford it, and that’s cool, but some people can. And those people may well decide that they rather spend the $10 on Kindle Unlimited instead of dealing with all the attendant hassles of going to the library. $9.99 is about the price of one paperback, and just under a new release price of a hardback on Amazon. If you have a Kindle and read at least two (but let’s say 3 or more for better value) books a month, then it very well could be a worthwhile program. Plus, the first month is free so you have the chance to browse the catalog and see if it’s a good value for you.
At the end of the day, whether or not Kindle Unlimited is right for an individual really is an individual decision. I know people who won’t go this route because they prefer paper books, because the cost is just too high for them, they don’t read enough to feel like it’s a good deal or have concerns about royalties authors may or may not be a newspaper. OTOH, I do know at least one person who is already planning to sign up, and if I didn’t have a decent sized back-log of books to get through, I’d seriously consider it.
Regardless of what a person decides, as long as a person is getting books legally, they shouldn’t be judged for the method of delivery, period. From those who are looking down at those who continue to shop Amazon through the Hatchette mess, to the author of the tweet that is implicitly looking down on those who go for Kindle unlimited, this kind of nonsense needs to stop, because it helps no one. I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll end this by quoting the tweet of a friend of a mine:
You’d think that those passionate about the written word would be passionate about (kosher) ways people can access it.