Kindle Unlimited: A New World of Reading



Today, I just want to tell you about a huge light bulb that went on in my head when I was thinking about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

In case you haven’t heard, that’s a subscription offer for $ 9.99 a month. It lets you read all ebooks that are enrolled in lending, but you can only borrow ten at a time. Amazon says subscribers can choose from about 600,000 books right now. (Mostly indie author books, but that’s details.)

And this is how my thought pattern went:

Most people don’t realize that when you “buy” an ebook, you’re not actually gaining ownership of it. You only buy a license to an ebook, which allows you to put that file onto the readers of your choice (up to a fixed number, that is). That’s very different from buying a physical book. You cannot share an ebook with friends, and you cannot sell it like a used book. You do not really own it in the true sense of the word.

In essence, you’re borrowing that file for life. Or until something happens, the server goes away or your reader bites the dust. Transfers are possible, but they are definitely more difficult than moving a book from one shelf to the other. So basically, you’re borrowing that file for an endless period, for a fee. That process is clunky, if you ask me, full of possible problems and potential failure.

And let’s face it, how many books do you re-read? I’m a book nut, so I actually re-read quite a few and enjoy it. However, I would expect most people to read a book once and then be done with it, especially fans of mystery and romance, two of the biggest genres.

Then it occurred to me that Kindle Unlimited represents simply the next step in the evolution of reading.  Since we don’t *own* ebooks in the true sense of the word, offering a flatrate for the entertainment (and educational) service of reading feels like simply outsourcing the need of keeping books in our living space, or virtual space on the readers.

Outsourcing? What does that mean when talking about books?

We’ve outsorced storing money and pay for the service. Nobody hides gold coins in an old sock below a loose floorboard anymore. Instead, collectors have some, but most people do not. Our money is mostly electronic by now.

We’ve outsorced heat – we no longer tend the fires ourselves, or go and collect firewood. We flip a switch, or turn a dial, and the electricity company sends heat, or the furnace in the basement fires up, burning fuel we pay for. For me, it’s turn the thermostat, and hot water provided by a heating plant nearby makes my apartment cosy.

We’ve even outsourced food and cooking to a large degree. The number of people growing their own food and cooking from scratch is rather low. I use canned beans, and buy my bread, veggies and meat in the supermarket. I know some co-ops that supply veggies for a flat fee.

We’ve outsourced live performances to a degree. Cinamas, TVs and all that led to YouTube and Netflix. No need to be home on time or miss a favorite show. We can enjoy visual entertainment at our convenience for a flat fee.

Why not outsource our library?

Once this really catches on, once it’s no longer exclusive to KDP Select and lacking the Big 5 books, or even tied to Amazon at all, once all those starting problems are eliminated – this is something awesome. Eventually, we might even get the readers themselves included in the flatrate, just like it happens with smartphones which are included in the cell deal.

It’s a technical disruption of the reading process that’s taking it to a new level. Nobody has to give up books or their collections. We just get an entirely different way of providing that particular way of occupying our brains we call reading.

And I find it utterly fascinating. I feel as if I’m stepping into an SF world when I think through the implications of the idea behind Kindle Unlimited.

No more crumbling books.

Yes, I lament that my favorite paperbacks are starting to fall apart after 30 years. An electronic file will stay fresh, mostly. It can even be kept up to date.

No more out of print books.

There will be curators of book files, just like there are national libraries now. There will be repositories – think Project Gutenberg on an even larger scale.

My favorite books at my fingertips whenever I want a re-read.

I can see the danger of entrusting our intellectual property to computers and electronics. It could be wiped out by a world-wide catastrophy. Which would make a good SF tale. But right now, I’m just utterly fascinated by watching what could be the birth of an entirely new way of reading.

Our world got even more awesome right now.

What do you think? Is this utter nonsense? A premonition? Just starry-eyed tech-love? Or is it a big leap into a different kind of society? Write a comment!

About Hannah Steenbock

Hannah Steenbock is an author, dreamer, and coach. She has published several short stories in English and German, as well as one novel in German. In 2013 she started self-publishing her work. In 2014, she has won two awards for her short story "Sequoia".
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