Remember libraries - those big buildings filled with books? If you’re anything like us, you haven’t been in one since university. That said, digital libraries are very much alive, with services like Rakuten Overdrive, Borrowbox or RB Digital renting out eBooks to online library members across the US and UK.
If you want more flexibility with your renting than a service tied to a national library, and want to read borrowed books on your Kindle, or the excellent Kindle App, Amazon’s answer is called Kindle Unlimited.
With over a million ebooks to choose from, accessible across Kindles, smartphones, tablets and computers, it’s a great way for bookworms to get access to loads of literature. The service also offers up some audiobooks too, with the monthly subscription fee giving you scope to store 10 offline titles at any given time.
Unlike libraries, there’s no ‘due by’ date, so no late fees, just leisurely reading until you’re ready to swap out your downloaded titles for more; think of it as the Netflix we’d want our kids to be hooked on. Also unlike libraries, however, there is a subscription fee to be paid. Read on to find out if it's worth your money.
What devices are supported?
Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service works directly within the Kindle app, which can be downloaded to pretty much any device with an internet connection. The big players include iOS and Android phones and tablets, Fire tablets and Windows or Mac devices, all through their respective stores.
Naturally, Kindle Unlimited books can also be read on Kindles - Amazon’s excellent eReaders, which range from affordable budget eInk displays to premium backlit slabs like the Kindle Oasis. That said, other manufacturer’s eReaders, such as Kobo Clara or Forma won’t support the service.
Alternatively, if you want access to your books at work or at a friend’s computer, you can also log into your Kindle account and fire up your Unlimited library through a web browser like Chrome, Edge, FireFox or Safari. Our preferred usage? Discovering books using the web browser, and reading them on-the-go.
How much does Kindle Unlimited cost?
Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99/£7.99 per month, which equates to $119.88/£95.88 a year, so depending on how many books and magazines you buy, it could be a great way to streamline your costs, provided your chosen titles are available on the service.
You can sign up for a trial which should give you a flavor as to how much of the content you want is available.
How many Kindle Unlimited titles can I rent at once?
You can rent ten titles at any given time with your Kindle Unlimited subscription. This covers books and magazines, so you can mix and match until your library is full. If your library is at capacity, when you come to rent an 11th title, the service prompts you to either buy it or remove another Kindle Unlimited title from your account.
So it's just books?
Kindle Unlimited definitely isn’t just a book service, with glossy magazines and audiobooks available to download too. Certain magazines can be rented as standalone issues, while others can be subscribed to and delivered to your Kindle device or app as new issues are released.
Many titles like National Geographic are optimised for the display they’re being viewed on, reflowing the text to display perfectly, and resizing images. This means whether you’re reading on a long smartphone or a wide tablet, the experience should be easy on the eye. Others, however, don’t, so will leave you having to deal with a fair bit of pinching and zooming if on a smaller display.
Audiobooks are a bit harder to pin down than magazines and work with Kindle Unlimited in two ways. The reliable way is through WhisperSync, with Audible downloads that you’ve purchased syncing with Kindle Unlimited books. This means that you can pick up where you left off when you’re juggling a single book across eBook and audiobook formats.
The service also includes over 2,000 free Audible audiobooks, which can be listened to through the Kindle app or the Audible app according to the website, apparently. That said, in our experience, the service constantly suggested we buy the audiobooks included with the Unlimited package, and we weren’t actually able to make a single ‘Audible narration included’ book playback for free.
What happens to my old Kindle books?
If you’re worried about messing up your library with loads of Kindle Unlimited books, don’t be. All your old books remain in-tact and are just supplemented by your rented books and magazines until either you ‘return them’, or cancel your Unlimited account, which can be done at any time.
What other alternative rental services are available?
If you like the idea of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, but want to shop around, then the main competition comes from Scribd. Offering a one-month free trial, Scribd costs $8.99 (about £7.25) per month, and even gives you a free access to Blinkist, Pocket and Mubi at no extra cost, so long as your Scribd subscription is active. The main drawback of Scribd is that it isn’t available on Kindles.
If however, you plan on reading content on your phone or tablet primarily, it’s a great alternative with easy to find audiobooks (that work). One point to note, unlike Kindle, which is a global service with great localisation, Scribd is a US-centric offering, so magazines, in particular, are the US versions.
The best thing about Kindle Unlimited?
While the audiobook offering isn’t perfect, one thing the Kindle Unlimited experience does better than the rest is display eBooks. It offers extensive customisations to the look and feel of your eBook, right through to a feature called Word Runner, which helps wannabe speed readers whizz through titles by displaying single words at a time at a set pace.
With all the services mentioned offering free trials, and Kindle Unlimited giving you a 3-month grace period to figure out if the service is right for you, if you’re addicted to reading and have an Amazon account, it’s definitely worth checking out.
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