Monday, July 21st, 2014

Seriously, Fuck You, "Kindle Unlimited"

0y1FZ1pZjopvtctnlyX0BUDro1_1280Last week, Amazon informed us that for ten dollars per month, Kindle users can have unlimited access to over six hundred thousand books in its library. But it shouldn't cost a thing to borrow a book, Amazon, you foul, horrible, profiteering enemies of civilization.

For a monthly cost of zero dollars, it is possible to read six million e-texts at the Open Library, right now. On a Kindle, or any other tablet or screen thing. You can borrow up to five titles for two weeks at no cost, and read them in-browser or in any of several other formats (not all titles are supported in all formats, but most offer at least a couple): PDF, .mobi, Kindle or ePub (you'll need to download the Bluefire Reader—for free—in order to read ePub format on Kindle.) I currently have on loan Alan Moore's Watchmen, Original Sin by P.D. James, and The Dead Zone by Stephen King.

Perhaps you would prefer to download books onto your Kindle, and keep them there permanently. In that case, please hie yourself over to Project Gutenberg, which has been offering free public domain e-texts since 1971. There, you may download any of over forty-five thousand books onto your Kindle. Or one of thousands of Librivox audiobook recordings made by volunteers, all in the public domain. (R.I.P. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg and one of the Internet's greatest benefactors.)

You can do anything you like with the public domain books and recordings you download from Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive: Make a literary Girl Talk-type mashup with them, hide Satanic messages in there via "backmasking," make letterpress reprints of the books and illuminate them by hand with gold leaf like a medieval monk and sell the results on Etsy. It's all free and legal. That is what "public domain" means. (By the bye, I wrote to the PR contact supplied by Amazon in the subject press release, and asked how many of these six hundred thousand titles offered through Kindle Unlimited are in the public domain and therefore, already free to the public, but did not receive an answer.)

Are you interested in borrowing the most recent titles? Perhaps you belong to a public library. I live in Los Angeles, and am a grateful and loyal patron of the Los Angeles Public Library, and of all the lucky things in this world, I live about ten minutes' drive away from our gloriously beautiful and fantastic main library downtown. But maybe I don't feel like driving ten minutes—in which case I can use my Kindle to check out e-books from the library, zillions of them. There are all different e-book programs, such as OverDrive, and countless recent popular books to check out, including Insurgent, which is the sequel to that daft Divergent book. (I saw the movie on the plane, I don't know! I can't help myself.)

Maria Bustillos is a writer and critic in Los Angeles. She also started an auction site for rare books, once upon a dot com.

75 Comments / Post A Comment

carpetblogger (#306)

So, I live abroad in a country without public libraries. I return to the US twice a year and like to use my excess baggage allowance for staples like peanut butter, pork and booze. I will never need to make mash ups of books and can usually find classics for free, if I am so inclined. I read mostly non-fiction. Do you know the only place that has those books? Amazon (and not, I will point out, Amazon Unlimited. Or Oyster).

I can read about book on the Awl and own it in 30 seconds (as I did with the Metropolis Case). If Amazon unlimited expands its offerings beyond mass market crap I will subscribe to it in one hot second. Ebooks have changed my life.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@carpetblogger that is not true. You can buy e-books at Powell's and a lot of other places that are not Amazon.

Zh (#283,023)

@barnhouse check your info . I just called Powells and they informed me they no longer do ebooks. As a long term expat with insomnia Amazon is/was the only solution to buy an ebook and have it downloaded to my kindle without wifi . It works ANYWHERE with a cell signal. I like AMAZON and until something better comes along I'll still use them because the damn thing works.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Zh Powell's is affiliated with Kobo; your Kobo purchases pass through the Powell's site (or other affiliate); you can read Kobo books on Kindle using their Android app.

@carpetblogger may I point you to Also, it's entirely possibly to use other people's log in for American Public libraries to access their ebook collection.

Zh (#283,023)

@barnhouse why don't you call them and ask? I did twice and both people said no more ebooks and no longer affiliated with Kobo. So you CAN'T buy ebooks at Powells, according to Powells. Unless two people at Powells were just fibbing for some reason.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Zh the links are on the Powell's website, and my Kobo page at this very instant reads: "Welcome, Powell's Books Customers". The point in any case is that there are other places, not Amazon, where you can buy eBooks. B&N, Kobo, whatever.

carpetblogger (#306)

@happymisanthrope I just looked at Oyster today — it's a lovely site. But I searched books on my Amazon wish list and only 1 or 2 were there (which was 1 or 2 more than Amazon Unlimited offered, but still)

I guess my commitment to anti-Amazonness is weaker than my commitment to reading what I want the second I want it. It is probably equivalent to my desire to download/learn/manipulate another app when I have one already that works every single time. As for a library, I have a hard time finding a state that will give me a driver's license.

Amazon bugs me but until there's an alternative that works just as well, I'll fight different battles.

@carpetblogger What I meant for the library was to ask one of your American friends for their password and log in. Almost all of the programs I know of will let you check out multiple books at a time, so if you know someone who doesn't have an e-reader, the you're totally in luck. And there's no late fees.

@carpetblogger I'd give you mine but that would mean I need to go in and pay an overdue fine (I'm terrified of judgement).

carpetblogger (#306)

@happymisanthrope That's very kind of you and I don't want you to feel judged. But let me throw this out there in a non-dickish way: I don't pay US taxes (technically I do, but definitely not local property taxes that fund libraries). Wouldn't me borrowing someone's (or even getting one of my own) library card be far worse that me paying for books — full price — through Amazon? So many dilemmas in the Modern Life.

barnhouse (#1,326)

–stop buying peanut butter there! or yoga mats, for pete's sake go to a store.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

It's funny but lots of the peoples * prefer to pay for things, or to pay more for things, especially when vast herds of other peoples are paying for the same things and there is a brand name for easy reference. It's as if they're trapped by a force field inside the shoposphere. [* Not in reference to carpetblogger]

carpetblogger (#306)

I admit I am a slave. But I do still pay for books.

HelloTheFuture (#259,085)

If Amazon were to offer a paid service that was 1. fair to writers and 2. let me borrow new, popular titles without waiting in a hold queue with 120 other library patrons, I would be on it SO FAST.

But Amazon Unlimited's selection is pretty abysmal. There are gobs of public domain novels available, as well as a lot of bottom of the barrel books that nobody was jumping to pay a monthly fee to read.

If Amazon Unlimited were to truly work, I would like to read "An Untamed State" right now and I would like to read "The Magician's Land" on August 5 when it releases AND I would like the authors to be compensated fairly.

I'd be willing to pay $25 or more a month for that.

Zh (#283,023)

@HelloTheFuture So Amazon pays the authors? I thought that was the publishers. Please fill me in on this because I thought that's the way it works.
And since when does Amazon have a hold queue? Isn't THAT the public library?

RJ Blain@facebook (#283,107)

@HelloTheFuture I'm an author enrolled in the unlimited library… and I get paid each time someone reads my book. The $9.99 helps fund that.

Libraries by one copy of a title, and loan it out. I don't see royalties for anything but that first title.

For authors? Amazon's lending library is far superior. I get paid.

Public libraries are great for readers.. but I get paid zilch after the physical copy, which they loan out many times.

HelloTheFuture (#259,085)

@RJ Blain@facebook That is really useful to know. Thank you!

Open Library (#283,019)

Thanks for the shoutout. In addition to the several million free titles we have for everyone, always, we also have 200,000 ebook titles that we lend worldwide. We're pretty happy with it.

JamJam (#283,044)

@Open Library I get excited to get ebooks through Open Library, and every time I try, it says that my device (iphone) isn't able to download it. I try various things to get around it, then get sick of it and buy a book elsewhere, or go to the library. Why can't it just be as simple as selecting the book I want, and downloading it?

822481213@twitter (#283,228)

@JamJam You might be better off asking over at their website.

Zh (#283,023)

Maria you're right that borrowing a book perhaps should be free, BUT, most of the time the book I actually want to read is on Amazon, not any of the other sources you cited. And the publishers charge for the ebook and make a profit from ebook sales. I don't know if you used the fword seriously or just to get page hits. But it sounds like you just don't like Amazon, just because.

@Zh Actually, most of the books that you're thinking about won't be available on Amazon's Kindle Unlimited because the large publishers have decided to not participate with this program.

Zh (#283,023)

How do you know what books I'm thinking about?

And you must work for either a publisher or Amazon to know that the publishers have decided not to participate.

You should change your ID to Happyknowitall. Talk about Dunning-Kruger Effect.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Zh the nonparticipation of the Big Five publishing houses in Kindle Unlimited was very widely reported.

Zh (#283,023)

@barnhouse thank you.

awlful (#283,026)

Let's see,

1) according to the LA County public library website, their last FY operating budget was $114,946,994 funded by taxpayers — hardly free (

2) Open Library doesn't loan books, it's just a web index that links to other services (inluding Amazon).

3) Good luck finding Hunger Games on Project Gutenberg.

4) If you don't like the service, then don't pay for it. Better yet, create your own service. The powers of capitalism.

5) You've made no logical arguments as to why Amazon should offer their wares for free. Classy headline, though.

xee (#8,831)

@awlful she's not saying "amazon should offer their wares for free", she's saying "amazon are asking you to pay for what is basically a library card for a shitty library"

awlful (#283,026)

@xee Second sentence of the article:

"But it shouldn't cost a thing to borrow a book, Amazon, you foul, horrible, profiteering enemies of civilization."

Thanks for playing.

RJ Blain@facebook (#283,107)

@xee If we go to a place outside of our boroughs, we're required to pay for our library cards. About $150 a year. Only free library we get is the one closest to our house/in our specific town.

There is one 'all city' library where I think all boroughs can get a card for free, but unless you roll lucky on the die, you're paying over $100 for a card for a year.

So maybe because of where I live, this isn't a surprise to me at all.

xee (#8,831)


I don't agree with you that "it shouldn't cost a thing to borrow a book" means "you should lend books for free" – she is not suggesting that Amazon give away any of the wares it currently sells. They are introducing a scheme by which users pay for something that previously was free as a cultural norm and considered a public good. She's not saying they should introduce the scheme but not ask for money, she's saying the scheme isn't a good thing.

xee (#8,831)

@RJ Blain@facebook that's really sad to hear! I'm sorry your library provision is so off-putting and expensive. Can you get inter-library loans from other libraries to your local one?

AReadingWriter722 (#283,112)

@awlful It shouldn't cost a recurring monthly fee to "borrow" a sub-par book. What "game" are you playing?

For $120 a year, one would do well to purchase quality used books.

Jacking up their annual fee by a rather large percentage & then turning around and immediately rolling out this nonsense (there is not $10 a month of value in what is on offer for "borrowing") Amazon is riding a slippery slope. If they want to delve into the intricacies of online capitalism they should talk it over with Netflix. They burned themselves in a similar fashion not too long ago, and had to back track pretty quickly.

@xee Amazon's lending library only lets you borrow a very tiny number of books, with a short time before they must be returned. This is fair, because Amazon is footing the bill for Prime users to read them. (It was never actually free). People can lend books to each other, just as they always could. (Those books were paid for by the user who is lending them – and there were always many limitations on this).
The idea behind this is that a person can borrow unlimited books for a small monthly fee, and the author STILL GETS PAID. Let us not forget that particularly important aspect of this.

Mr. B (#10,093)

I do not own an e-reader and do not plan ever to buy one. I never order books from Amazon because it is evil. There are no decent bookstores or libraries nearby. And yet I'm a big reader who buys a lot of books (too many, really), and I really don't feel technologically deprived or disadvantaged. It really isn't all that hard!

Zh (#283,023)

@Mr. B okay, I know you're trolling but I'll bite…
Why is Amazon evil?

Mr. B (#10,093)

@Zh Um, I know you're trolling but … why isn't it?

Zh (#283,023)

@Mr. B I'm just curious as to how you can define them as evil. For example what evil things do they do?

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Zh Google "Amazon warehouse employees" and then "Amazon Hachette". That should take care of the next couple of hours.

Kzpbb2 (#283,029)

Captivated by your very imaginative headline, I read your article. It appears to me your concept of "free" is inaccurate. "There are no free lunches" is still as true as ever. Someone, somewhere, somehow is paying the cost to provide these e-books. Taxes, fees, surcharges and a thousand other hidden line items that we pay for ultimately fund the "free" stuff.
UPDATE-just saw awlful's comment above. Bravo!

freetzy (#7,018)

@Kzpbb2 Sure libraries are not free, they are paid for by taxes duh, but you're already paying for the service so you might as well use it instead of paying extra for worse service (worse meaning Amazon Unlimited's offerings are so far pretty bleak). Like, if your boss gives you Cubs box seats, you're already paying with your soul by working at your crappy job, you might as well go to the danged game instead of refusing those and then buying tickets to sit in the upper deck.

Zh (#283,023)

@freetzy "paying with your soul"!? WHERE ON EARTH DO YOU WORK? and how does your boss giving you Cubs tickets (which sounds like a nice boss IMHO) work into that?

This is a bit of a tangent but I can't resist pushing back a bit on the mention of public domain sound recordings at the Internet Archive. They have lots of stuff available for download that is not public domain in the USA. It's more "flying under the radar, no one is likely to sue" stuff. In the US no sound recordings have fallen into the PD because of their age; that won't happen until 2067! Only what has been given to the public domain is PD here. Yes, our sound recordings copyright is in desperate need of reform.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Russell Miller@facebook you are absolutely CORRECT about the need for copyright reform, for sound recordings and everything else. However, the Librivox audiobooks referred to above are all donated by volunteers, and all in the public domain.

@barnhouse Thanks. I was looking at the first sentence of the next paragraph & didn't catch the reference just above it.

Amazon is evil because it has essentially put ever other bookseller in America out of business, thus becoming a monopoly–which is against the law in America. And, yes, Barnes and Noble itself is about to go under, as well.

Zh (#283,023)

@Lyone Sami Fein@facebook
How the heck did THEY do that? The cliche used to be Barnes and Noble or Borders were putting the mom and pop independent bookstores out of business. And how could they do that without the help of those same store's customers? I remember my hometown bookstore ordering books from Ingram and having to wait two or more weeks to get my book. Sometimes it was out of stock and so I couldn't get it. With Amazon I get what I want in two days or with the Kindle in seconds. Is that evil? Come on!!!

UncleStu (#232,509)

@Lyone Sami Fein@facebook

Yes, and doing it as a corporate goal. Just like Walmart does, consciously.

contrarian (#283,137)

@Zh Amazon is evil because they sell you the book you want to read at a reasonable price, I suppose. If other bookstores can't do that, it's obviously Amazon's fault.

Michael Hart – there was a man. A frontiersman not a pioneer; I feel like we hardly understand our debt to him. If there were some legitimate effort to build a monument to him (though I never actually met him) other than Project Gutenberg itself, I would gladly contribute to it.

No waiting list for one of the reasons for a KU membership. Another one is not all libraries have every indie/self published book. They can't afford to and Amazon does have more types of those books including one that are only published through Amazon. Public domain books are great but maybe those aren't the ones people want to read. I also find it funny that you got all this anger against KU but this type of subscription book service has been offered for a while by others. Where is the fuck you Scribd or Oyster? Or is this just more of I hate everything amazon does?

21274165@twitter (#283,106)

I get the urge to lash out against basically anything Amazon does, trust me, but this is an *incredibly* narrow-minded perspective on Kindle Unlimited – not least of all because there are already other companies who have experienced success with this model, like Oyster and Scribd. Kindle Unlimited is not a library card:

Cygnifier (#283,111)

Why should borrowing all books be free? While that's a lovely concept, the people who try to make their living writing should have a reasonable expectation of being able to do so. It's fine for public domain books to be borrowed for free, but it's fair to charge for books that are still part of the writer's/publisher's market. Otherwise we are expecting people to write, edit, and publish and get paid nothing for it. Even at the library, our taxes pay for the books.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Amber: authors are paid through Scribd and Oyster at rates negotiated with each publisher. The terms of those deals have not been made public, but we have heard no Hachette-style howls of mutiny, as with Amazon. The (very reasonable) terms agreed between Scribd and Oyster with the self-publisher Smashwords have been reported. So far it appears that authors and publishers are being treated relatively fairly at Scribd and Oyster.

Finally, neither Scribd nor Oyster (nor Netflix, come to that) appear to be attempting to acquire monopoly control of their respective industries.

Kobe Wild@facebook (#261,090)

$10 not a big deal. No really. My time is worth more than that. Digging around in a library is so 1980's… If I really need free, I can always pirate a book.. there are 1000's of collections of books already scanned and nicely packaged in torrents. I currently pay $45 a month for access to technical books and videos Via (Safari books on line). I consider it well worth it, as technical books don't age well and I really don't want to waste the time adding more books to my library more of which I've started throwing away.

If you want something to bitch about… how about $20 a day parking fee's in San Francisco.
There's a waste of money and a ripoff.

Relax Maria, it's clear that you don't like Amazon. And by now most of avid readers are aware of all the Free ebooks available, so your article isn't of great help for many of us interested in reading with a limited budget.
I'm looking into this new monthly fees offer to see what books they offer and if there are the type of books i'm interested. Another consideration will be if i'll have enough to time to read the books that i'm paying full price for my kindle and the books that i'll be able to get with the kindle unlimited. They give me the opportunity to try the service for one month FREE, so i'll take advantage of that. So, i hope that after a month i'll have an idea if the $9.99 per month, that it's within my budget, will be a good service for me.
I'm hoping that they will offer books in Spanish too because half of the books i buy are from Spanish authors.


Hachette isn't part of KU nor are any of the five big publishers. Their "howls" are on a different issue. Perhaps KU is part of the contract negotiations but we don't know for sure. Also other leaks have appeared since that article that show that Amazon isn't the only one that is at fault in fight and they aren't the only one that isn't playing fair.

I've seen a lot of worry from KU authors about them being unsure about what their cut is going to be and more anger over the exclusive issue, but nobody seems to know what the pay out is going to be. I've seen several authors comment they made a lot with the kindle owners library before KU started.

I can't help but think people are pissed about Hachette's fight so everything amazon does is horrible, evil, and Amazon is out to rule the web. As more come out about Hatchett/Amazon fight the less I think Hatchett is the poor abused underdog like they want everyone to think. Amazon is big but so is Walmart, and that doesn't make them a monopoly.

Fuck off and die, Maria, you god damned self entitled socialist piece of shit. Here's an alternative solution: go fucking slit your wrists. <3

822481213@twitter (#283,228)

@Joe Cassara@facebook You know, if you get this wrapped around the axle about every little thing you're in danger of your elastic snapping and turning inside out. Maybe you need to get off the Internet for a while and go out into the big blue room.

358558606@twitter (#283,222)

@Joe Cassara@facebook smh outta line

@Maria – keep in mind that Kindle comes with free cellular service, so you can get your books anywhere [that has a cellular signal]. "profiteering enemies of civilization" is beyond hyperbolic – it's just flat out false; Amazon is the most customer-centric company I've ever seen.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Joe Cassara@facebook Please ask your doctor to up your dosage.

822481213@twitter (#283,228)

A major part of my local public library's funding is from book rentals — people pay to borrow the book.

While I would love for all book borrowing to be free, it's very likely my public library would have to close if book rentals stopped.

The rental books are the romances and Westerns everybody claims not to read but a lot of people actually do. I am thankful to those romance and Western readers — they keep my library alive for people who can't afford to rent books.

reaslneak (#282,953)

Yup i am truly satisfy with your comment as its better to borrow books then to have them for rentals, get the amazing wishes for EID Mubarak SMS

@822481213@twitter How does the author get paid in YOUR scenario?

I'm sure Maria loves to work for free.

You seem to be one of those people who believes they're entitled to everything that others have worked very hard on, for free. You know the difference between a public domain work, and a recent work? No one gets paid once the book in public domain. The author is either dead, or has released their rights.
You know the difference between a public library, and Kindle's new deal? THE PUBLIC LIBRARY PAID FOR THE BOOKS FOR YOU. The author has received money for them.
In your world, you apparently think authors should all give you books for free, and don't deserve to be paid. Shame on you! This isn't about Amazon's profiteering, it's about your greed and entitlement. If you like reading, and want to keep on doing so, then buy a #$# book. If no one's willing to pay to read novels, why should anyone bother to WRITE them? This isn't a hobby. People don't write, revise, edit, format, and market their books 'just so people can have the joy of reading them.' Stop being so freaking selfish.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Donna Michele Fernstrom@facebook lol. Several (NOT all) commenters here have astutely noted that as the author of this post I am in fact an author. It would be pretty remarkable, therefore, if I were against authors getting paid.

Traditional publishers take a larger cut of e-book proceeds than does Amazon-as-publisher. But in exchange, they offer authors and readers services they need. I leave you to consider how many authors, given the choice between self-publishing through Amazon or taking a conventional deal at FS&G, will take the former.

Compensating authors for e-books distributed through libraries: as I mentioned above, both Scribd and Oyster have made acceptable deals with the Big Five (acceptable to the Big Five, I mean) that result in author compensation for those books. It's Amazon's greed and its insatiable monopolistic ambitions that have created the situation I'm so angry about. Everyone who cares about literary culture should avoid doing any business there ever.

jimbo2112 (#205,320)

I absolutely am in favor of authors being paid, and will gladly pay for books or check them out legitimately, whether electronically or physically.

I am not at all in favor of Amazon's business model, which is very similar to Wal-Mart's in the sense that it seeks to control market share as a means to squeeze its suppliers (in this case, both authors and publishers).

Someone stated public domain was expired copyright. "the author is dead" Not any more. The laws changed in 1976. "The law automatically protects a work that is created and fixed in a tangible medium of expression on or after January 1, 1978, from the moment of its creation and gives it a term lasting for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years." For two authors if one was not hired by the other, it is the surviving author.
I may grant permission for a book to be released to the public domain but no author will ever give up a copyright if they bother to think about it.

507889606@twitter (#285,835)

Reading is an art payer as an artist
I like the amazon warehouse library

Okay…here is an advantage that most people don't realize.

For ten bucks a month, readers/customers can now sample ANY self-published book with much less risk of wasting their money or being inconvenienced by having to return shitty ebooks.

Seriously, there IS value in that alone.

All KDP Select titles are forced to be in the Kindle Unlimited program. That means all the self-published shit on Amazon (my own included, mind you). Now people can separate the crap from the less crappy crap and not worry about spending money on it. They can just keep reading a few pages of each until they find something worth finishing.

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