Kindle Unlimited: More details and a few questions about Amazon’s subscription book service (exclusive video)

Kindle Unlimited

An ebook subscription service, available on any device including your Kindle: That appears to be what Amazon is planning, but is it worth $9.99 a month? What kinds of books are available and how do authors get paid? Here are a few more details about what we do and don’t know about Kindle Unlimited: Amazon has so far not responded to my requests for comment.

First, here’s a video about Kindle Unlimited that we were able to pull from Amazon’s website:

The video doesn’t provide a lot of details about Kindle Unlimited beyond what we reported earlier. Through the service, the video’s narrator says, you’ll have “the freedom to explore over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks in the palm of your hand,” plus “unlimited reading and unlimited listening on any device for $9.99 a month.” There’s also apparently a 30-day free trial.

What ebooks are included?

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There were 638,416 available ebooks listed on a page on Amazon’s website that was live Wednesday morning that has been taken down since we first reported its existence. None of the books appeared to be from Big Five publishers — HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Macmillan and Hachette — suggesting that, at least initially, many of the most well-known bestsellers wouldn’t be available.

However, I saw titles from smaller publishers like Algonquin, Bloomsbury, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Workman. The most well-known titles that appear to be included, and are also featured in the video above, are the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games trilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In addition, as you might imagine, many books from Amazon’s own publishing imprints are included: One page lists 989 “KU Exclusives,” consisting of books from Amazon’s publishing divisions. Also, as noticed by the users of Kindle Boards Wednesday, books from Amazon’s KDP Select program appear to be included. KDP Select gives self-published authors promotion and other perks in exchange for making their ebooks exclusive to Amazon for a set period of time.

Can you get it on a Kindle e-reader?

It looks like it: Beyond mentioning that Kindle Unlimited is “on any device,” the promotional video shows it on a Kindle e-reader, an iPad, an iPhone and what appear to be a Kindle Fire tablet and a Fire Phone. It certainly makes sense that Kindle Unlimited would be available through all of Amazon’s own devices.

What’s the difference between this and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library?

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is a perk available to Amazon Prime members who own Kindles: They can borrow one ebook a month from a library of 615,038 titles. Kindle Unlimited, by contrast, appears to be a standalone paid service that, as mentioned in the video, offers unlimited reading and also audiobooks. Based on my preliminary research, however, it doesn’t seem as if the two libraries — Kindle Unlimited and KOLL — are very different.

What’s the competition?

Amazon would have two main competitors in the ebook subscription space: Oyster and Scribd. Oyster, which launched in 2013 and is available for iOS and Android (and Kindle Fire), is $9.95 a month and includes access to over 500,000 ebooks, while Scribd is available on a number of platforms (including iOS and Android and Kindle Fire) and includes access to over 400,000 ebooks for $8.99 a month.

Oyster and Scribd both have deals with Big Five publishers HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, meaning that many well-known bestsellers are available through those services; Kindle Unlimited, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to have secured deals with those major publishers. But Oyster and Scribd’s libraries are also filled with a lot of self-published ebooks via a deal with self-publishing site Smashwords.

What are the biggest differences between Kindle Unlimited and the competition?

Kindle Unlimited

So far, the differences appear to be that Kindle Unlimited has no Big Five titles and Kindle Unlimited includes audiobooks. One major difference is that Kindle Unlimited will likely be available through Kindle e-readers. That’s not true for Scribd or Oyster. And it would be a big reason for avid Kindle e-reader users to choose Kindle Unlimited rather than Scribd or Oyster: If they are already using their e-reader all the time anyway, and can now access more books through it via a subscription, that would be a big perk.

How do authors get paid?

It depends on who your publisher is. Publishers Lunch reported Wednesday (subscription required) that publishers participating “via direct agreement” — which appear to be Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bloomsbury, Open Road and Workman, among others — will be paid an ebook’s wholesale price when a reader completes a certain percentage of the book. That’s the same way that Scribd and Oyster operate. Then there are those well-known “big” books also included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, like the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games trilogy: Amazon has a separate Harry Potter deal that presumably encompasses (or was changed to expand to) Kindle Unlimited as well, while in the case of the Hunger Games, according to PL, “Scholastic will get paid their full wholesale price every time one of their ebooks is opened by a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.”

If you’re a self-published author participating in KDP Select, however, it looks as if your book can be included without your explicit permission simply under the terms and conditions you already agreed to: According to one poster on the Kindle Boards, “Books in Select will automatically be enrolled. Like the KOLL you won’t be able to opt-out if you’re in Select. You will be payed [sic] if you someone reads 10% or more of your book. The payment will come out of the same KOLL fund, just as if it was a borrow.” That “same KOLL fund” is a set pool of money from which self-published authors are paid each time their book is borrowed. Its amount changes every month but in July the total fund was $1.2 million.

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