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Should You Subscribe to Kindle Unlimited?
August 10, 2014 - 9:00pm

Have you been experimenting with Kindle Unlimited?

Is Amazon’s digital book subscription service worth the $9.99 per month price of admission?  

Molly Wood, the terrific tech reporter for the NYTimes, also asked this question. She concludes that you should probably allocate your book buying money somewhere else.

Is Molly wrong?

Yes and no.

The good news is that since Kindle Unlimited went live I have found 8 books that I wanted to read.  

The bad news is that I have now read all 8 of these books, and now I can’t find any other Kindle Unlimited titles that seem to be worth the time.

Does this mean that I’ll get rid of Kindle Unlimited? Probably not. I’m eager to see how Amazon grows the library. If one Kindle Unlimited book a month appears that is also on my Wish List then the subscription cost will remain a good deal.  

How can $9.99 a month make sense when so many Kindle books cost less than $9.99, and when it is already possible to borrow most of the books on the Kindle Unlimited list (1 per month) with the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library?

The reason is Audible. Each of the 8 books that I’ve read so far with Kindle Unlimited have had an Audible Whispersync companion.   

The only way that I can read so much is that I do most of my reading with my ears. Whispersync enables higher reading productivity. 

The ability to seamlessly toggle between the audiobook and the e-book, and to do so on whatever screen is close at hand (especially the iPhone screen), results in greater reading momentum.  When I am going back and forth between the audio and e-book version of a good book I’m more likely to read than to choose to watch a video or surf the web. 

If you are a Whispersync enthusiast then go ahead and subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. All Amazon needs to do is come up with at least one great Audible / Kindle combination per month to make the $9.99 subscription fee worthwhile.  

Here are my initial Kindle Unlimited / Whispersync books:

Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation by James McQuivey

A concise and provocative read from this very smart analyst from Forrester Research. Yes, we are all more than a bit tired of hearing about disruption. But don’t let disruption fatigue stop you from reading this thoughtful book. I’m thinking that I’d like to have James McQuivey come to campus to apply his framework to higher education.  (A subject he touches upon briefly in the book).

How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity by Rodney Stark

Rodney Stark is a distinguished professor of the social sciences and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.  Some readers may take issue with some of Professor Stark’s more sweeping conclusions, such as his arguments about the role the Catholic Church played in encouraging the evolution of the scientific method.  An inclination to disagree with Dr. Stark is amongst the best reasons to read How the West Won, as this learned and well-written book will challenge (if not ultimately dislodge) many long-held assumptions and conclusions.  When was the last time that you read (and thoroughly) enjoyed a book written from an ideological perspective at odds with the one that you hold?

The Substance of Civilization: Materials and Human History from the Stone Age to the Age of Silicon by Stephen L. Sass

A great argument as to why books are better than MOOCs.  Would I have taken a MOOC offered by Cornell’s Dr. Sass?  Maybe.  Would I have learned nearly as much about the history of materials (steel, bronze, iron, aluminum, glass, paper, plastics, and some others) if I had gone the MOOC rather than book route?  Definitely not.  For one thing, I tend to finish the books that I start.  Still, if Dr. Sass were to offer a MOOC now that I’ve read his book I’d be the first to sign up.  With some foundation and background in the material I think that I would be be primed to consolidate this information with video lectures, discussions, and assessments.   

Worst Ideas Ever: A Celebration of Embarrassment by Daniel B. Kline and Jason Tomaszewski

Failure is cool.  We are taught to fail fast.  Take risks.  Learn and move on.  The Worst Ideas Ever is a worthwhile addition to the failure canon.  The Apple Newton is included in this book, and without the Newton we wouldn’t have the iPhone.   So is the turkey fryer, the microwave cake, the Microsoft Bob operating system, and the Yugo (amongst many other truly bad ideas). I hope that the author’s write a follow-up book on the worst tech ideas ever.  What would you include?

Moving Day: A Thriller by Jonathan Stone

Moving Day is a good example of why a book subscription service is a good idea.  This is a book that I normally would not have read.  I had not read any glowing book reviews.  Nobody recommended the book to me.  Since Moving Day was included in my subscription I worried less about downloading the book.  If after 50 pages of listening or reading I decided to put it aside then no worries.  Subscriptions reduce opportunity costs.  What I found was that Moving Day turned out to be a cracking good thriller.  A perfect vacation read.  

Gutenberg the Geek (Kindle Single) by Jeff Jarvis

I’d love to lead a seminar or book club discussion around Gutenberg the Geek.  First, I think that there would be a high probability that everyone in the seminar / book club would finish the book.  Only 40 minutes by audio, half-that if you read with your eyes, Gutenberg the Geek offers a very high time-to-idea return on investment.  We need more nonfiction that helps us understand historical events with a modern lens.  If you are interested in either tech startups or the birth of printing (and who wouldn’t be interested in at least one of these subjects?) then go ahead and enjoy this fun read.

Sparkle (Kindle Single) and That's What She Said (Kindle Single) by Mara Altman

Amazon is not real popular nowadays in many of our pro-book and pro-authors circles.  The negative press and bad feelings that Amazon is engendering amongst book people is probably well deserved, as if nothing else Amazon has done a terrible job in explaining its side of the e-book pricing / paper book throttling dispute.  As we get all judgy on Amazon about books, we should also remember that Amazon gives authors like Mara Altman opportunities that were difficult to come by before Jeff Bezos took over.  You should buy Altman’s funny Kindle Singles even if you are not an Amazon Unlimited subscriber.  In Sparkle you will learn how and why you were duped into buying (or wanting) that diamond ring, and in That’s What She Said you find out what it is like to turn to stand up comedy when your novel fails to get published.  Useful life lessons both.

Are there other Kindle Unlimited / Whispersync books that I should check out?

What has your experience with Kindle Unlimited been?

Will you pay for the monthly subscription?

What are you reading?


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