Kindle Unlimited? No Thanks.

With the onslaught of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, I am trying to figure out a strategy for staying sane (no comment). Even though I’ve worked from home for 20 years, I’m used to getting out and being interactive. I can’t watch TV for long without losing interest. Baseball and football will keep my attention for a while, but I’ll eventually tire of those and start mucking about with my phone.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to catch up on some reading. I’m currently reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood in hardback. I have The Tiger waiting in the wings, but I’m itching for some classic sci-fi.

Poking around on Amazon, I found some newer books by authors I like. While browsing, I was presented with an advert for Kindle Unlimited, so I went to the information page to check it out. It seemed like some big names were in there, including the Harry Potter books. I tried to find specific titles that were in Kindle Unlimited, but I couldn’t find them in the regular book listings. I also couldn’t browse for the titles without being an active subscriber to the service. Amazon is offering a 2 month plan for free, so I signed up. Once I was added as a subscriber, I sought out some books that were on my mind.

How about ‘Second Foundation’ by Isaac Asimov? I’d read the first 3 books when I was in grad school. It doesn’t exist for Kindle Unlimited. “Alright, how about one of Jim Butcher’s ‘Dresden Files’ books?” Nope, not a one. “Maybe some cyberpunk or cypherpunk titles?” William Gibson? None. Neal Stephenson? Nada. “Well, s–t. How about some old-school sci-fi?” Andre Norton… a few co-authored titles, but none of her good stuff. Arthur C. Clarke? Nice try.

Fine, let’s switch genres. In this crazy time, Stephen King’s The Stand would seem like a fit choice. Nope. Also, none of the Dark Tower books.

Travel? There are the Lonely Planet guides, which would be nice, but I don’t think I’m going to be in Provence or Tuscany in the next year. How about Peter Maile’s classic A Year in Provence? Not a chance.

OK, what does Kindle Unlimited have in those 1 million books they are advertising?

  • J.K. Rowling. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re searching, she will show up in your results. I read the Potter books to my kids when they came out, but I’m not interested in reading her expanded universe.

  • Lots of titles that are self-published or authors that wouldn’t crack the NY Times lists in any genre.

  • Public-domain titles that can be found on the Gutenberg Project site.

  • Kids chapter books. This seems to be an area where maybe the subscription would work, but it’s hard to convey the joy of a book in electronic form. Especially if you’re trying to limit the amount of screen-time your kids get.

  • Mommy porn. If you’re into beefcake smut, there’s plenty of it on Kindle Unlimited. In general, there’s a lot of low-effort smut in many of the fiction genres and these titles often show up in the first page of results.

  • Self-help titles that were relevant in the 1990’s. That’s alright, I don’t really want to read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

After an hour of digging around and finding little of interest, I cancelled the subscription. I’m disappointed that Kindle Unlimited is such a complete mess. Especially considering that books were where Amazon got their start. It’s a great idea, but a horrible execution.