Kindle Unlimited: We try Amazon's subscription service for ebooks

New voices and old classics abound, but you won't find the latest bestsellers here.

Credit: Amazon

If you’re a Kindle user, you’ve undoubtedly come across titles with that Kindle Unlimited logo and an enticing “$0.00” price tag attached. You’re curious, yes? With titles in genres from mysteries and romance to sci-fi and self-help, Kindle Unlimited is an easy and affordable way to sate your appetite for eBooks. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Kindle Unlimited?

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service that’s been likened to Netflix for eBooks. For a monthly fee of $9.99 after a free 30-day trial, you get access to a whopping one-million-plus eBook, audio book, and magazine titles. You don’t own any of the books, but you can borrow as many as you want and enjoy them for as long as you want— hence, “unlimited.”

Take that one million number with a grain of salt, as it’s beefed up by a lot of public domain titles (many of which are already free to download from Amazon and elsewhere), self-published books, and selections from independent publishers. Books from major publishing houses like HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette, and Macmillan aren’t available through Kindle Unlimited.

browse kindle unlimited Michael Ansaldo/IDG

Kindle Unlimited recommends new and popular titles as well as those based on your shopping history.

The beloved Harry Potter and Hunger Games series are here, though, as is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and a host of books by popular thriller author Dean Koontz. But these seem to be the exception rather than the rule, and popular titles and authors take a considerable amount of poking around to uncover.

How does Kindle Unlimited work?

Using Kindle Unlimited is much like downloading and reading any Kindle book you purchase. You find a title, click on the orange Read for Free button, and select the destination from your registered devices.

There are a few ways to find Kindle Unlimited titles. You can search the Kindle Store, but the search results will return purchase-only books as well as Kindle Unlimited offers. To be sure the book you’re looking for is available through Kindle Unlimited, look for the logo and zeroed-out price next to it.

amazon kindle unlimited lifestyle 3 Amazon

Kindle Unlimited books can be read on your Kindle or any device that supports the Kindle app.

You can also go to the Kindle Unlimited page, which will immediately display “new and notable” titles as well as recommendations based on your shopping and purchase history. Given the Kindle Unlimited’s voluminous selection, this isn’t a bad way to choose your first few books and get your feet wet with the service. Once you’ve downloaded a few books, this page will also start recommending titles based on your recent Kindle Unlimited reads.

Each book you download gets added to your personal Kindle Unlimited library, accessible on the Manage Your Content and Devices page on the Amazon site. Although you can read an “unlimited” number of Kindle Unlimited titles, you can only have 10 in your library at one time. If you exceed this amount, you’ll be prompted to return a title to add a new one.

What devices work with Kindle Unlimited?

You can read Kindle Unlimited books on your Kindle, any device that supports the Kindle app, or on your PC using the Kindle Cloud Reader. And, as with any purchased Kindle eBook, you can read the same title across devices.

How do you listen to audiobooks?

If you’ve never listened to an audiobook on your Kindle, this is a great opportunity to try one out. Many Kindle Unlimited titles include the audiobook version with the eBook—look for “Read and Listen for Free” on the download button. Once the title is delivered to your device, you’ll see a headphones icon in the upper right corner of the book cover.

kindle unlmitied audiobooks Michael Ansaldo/IDG

Many Kindle Unlimited eBooks include the audiobook version.

Open the book, tap the page to display the toolbar, then tap the three-dot options icon at the far right. Select Switch To Listening and you’ll be prompted to download the audio. Pop in your Bluetooth headphones, press play and enjoy!

How do you return books?

The easiest way to return a book when you’re done reading it is to long-press the title on your Kindle and select Return to Kindle Unlimited from the menu. Any notes and highlights you’ve made in the book will be saved for you should you borrow the book again.

Alternately, you can go to your Kindle Unlimited Library on Amazon, click the checkbox next to the title and select Return this book from the Actions menu.

How do you cancel your Kindle Unlimited membership?

If you decide Kindle Unlimited isn’t for you after your trial period is over, you can cancel at any time. Just go to your Kindle Unlimited Membership page—you can find it by selecting Memberships & Subscriptions from the Your Account menu. Delect Cancel Kindle Unlimited Membership on the left of the page, then press the Cancel Kindle Unlimited Membership button on the next page.

Is Kindle Unlimited worth it?

If you’re a voracious reader, Kindle Unlimited is pretty compelling. The ease with which you can stock up on reading material is pretty addictive and the number of titles is dizzying. The service puts its best foot forward, though—most of the big, popular books like those mentioned above were prominently displayed on my Browse page but once I dug deeper I found a dearth of major authors and titles.

How much value you’ll find in Kindle Unlimited really depends on your reading habits and tastes. If you read more than a couple of books a month and you enjoy discovering new voices, you may love the service. The 30-day free trial certainly makes it a low-risk proposition. If, however, your reading tastes veer toward the bestsellers’ list, you’re better off saving the money you’d spend on a Kindle Unlimited subscription and buying those titles instead.

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Michael Ansaldo

PC World (US online)
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