Friday, 26 September 2014

Kindle Unlimited Comes to the UK

This week Amazon launched their Kindle Unlimited service in the UK, so I thought I'd take it out for a spin and see if it is any good?

So what is it? Kindle Unlimited is a kind of Netflix (or LoveFilm/Amazon Prime Video) for books. Subscribers can read as many books as they want for no extra charge after they've paid their subscription from a large selection in the Kindle Unlimited library (over 650,000 according to Amazon). You can get a free 30 day trial, and then it costs £7.99 per month.

Other companies, such as Scribd, have tried the subscription book model, but Amazon has the whole Kindle ecosystem to back it up, with millions of people already reading on their devices and apps. There's also a tasty extra in the form of Audio narration on some books, with Whispersync for audio as standard on these.

Hey, back up a minute. Whisper-what? Basically Whispersync is Amazon's own system whereby if you are reading a Kindle book on multiple devices, it will automatically sync to the latest page you are on, even if you most recently read the book on a different device. This is really good for when you don't have your Kindle with you and want to read for a few minutes on your phone when in the queue. Providing you've got an internet connection (Wi-fi or 3G), it works flawlessly.

Whispersync for audio takes this a step further. Say you've got the Kindle version of a book and the online audiobook version from Audible.co.uk (another Amazon company), you can listen for a few minutes on Audio, then switch back to the Kindle version to read it. Ideal for driving to work when you just have to know what happens next.  Now most people aren't going to buy two copies of a book just so they can do this. This, in theory anyway, is the great thing about Kindle Unlimited. If the book is labeled as 'Kindle Unlimited with Audio Narration' you get the Kindle book AND the audiobook to read free as part of your subscription.

I decided to give this a go. I chose 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel. It was marked as Kindle Unlimited with Audio Narration. So far so good. I clicked 'Read and Listen for free', which immediately downloaded it onto my Kindle. After loading up the Audible app on my phone I noticed that it had appeared at the top of there too (Although I'm not a current subscriber I have used Audible in the past - if you haven't you can download an Audible app for free from your device's app store). Superb. I started listening to the book while doing the washing up, then migrated to the sofa when I'd finished. Turning off Audible, I picked up my Kindle, selected the book and it immediately prompted me to go to the page I was up to from the audiobook. It worked flawlessly, as did switching back to Audible on my phone later. I was impressed.

That's all very well, but content is the key. Amazon says they have over 650,000 books in the Kindle Unlimited programme, but what does that actually mean? Well it has some impressive headline books including all the Harry Potter books and the Hunger Games trilogy. The reality though is that a large proportion of the books are either classics which would be free anyway, or self-published books from Amazon's own Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. What was also disappointing is that only about 2,000 books out of the 650k have audio narration bundled in free with it.

I was pleased and surprised though to see a good selection of books by Arthur C Clarke in the program. While these don't have free audio, you can add the audio for a discounted £3.99. For the digital and audio versions, this isn't a bad price.

So all in all this is not a bad addition to Amazon's range of services. While you can't search for a book and realistically hope it will be Kindle Unlimited, you can browse a wide range of books and can try lots of new and different books for free. You can also get free or cheap audiobooks as an add on, which can only be a good thing. Will I continue with Kindle Unlimited after the free trial? I'm not sure yet, but it is certainly tempting.