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Why Kindle Unlimited isn’t a great match for the Kindle Classroom Project (for now)

Kindle Unlimitedfavicon Last week, Amazon unveiled Kindle Unlimited, its new book subscription service. A “Netflix for Books,” Kindle Unlimited lets you borrow as many books as you like for $9.99 a month.

Amazon hopes to compete against other (sort of) popular book subscription services Scribd and Oyster. At first glance, Kindle Unlimited seems like a perfect match for the Kindle Classroom Project.

The most crucial part of the Kindle Classroom Project’s success — even more important than the Kindles themselves — is that students have immediate access to high-quality books. If they want to read a book that is not currently in the Kindle library, they tell me, and because of generous donors, I purchase the title immediately.

The only problem with the current system is that Kindle books, on average, cost $9.99. That’s not too expensive, but especially at certain points of the year, student requests pick up, and my Amazon gift balance gets close to zero. As a result, I am always worried that eventually I will run out of money and have to tell a student, “Sorry, I can’t get that book for you.”

But what if my students could borrow an unlimited number of books? That would mean that I could ask 12 people to donate $9.99 per year (one generous donor per month), and all of my concerns would be solved! Right?

In theory, that’s true, but there are three things that prevent me from pursuing Kindle Unlimited, at least for now.

1. If you stop subscribing, you lose your books.
With Kindle Unlimited, you rent books. You don’t own them. (Some may argue that you don’t really own Kindle books even when you buy them, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another post.) Because you’re borrowing the books, once you stop paying the $9.99 a month, your books disappear. That just doesn’t make sense for the KCP.

2. The program is not meant for teachers or classroom libraries.
When you buy a book from Amazon, you can transfer the title to up to six devices on your account. That means when a book is extremely popular among my students, I sometimes purchase multiple copies. Kindle Unlimited is meant for personal accounts, and as far as I know, it would not be possible to borrow more than one copy at a time.

3. Most important: The selection is currently extremely limited.
There are currently 600,000 titles in Kindle Unlimited’s library. That sounds like a lot of selection, but it certainly isn’t unlimited. The library is particularly shaky when it comes to young adult fiction. Besides the big blockbusters (like Divergent and Hunger Games), there isn’t too much there. Of course, the selection may improve, but right now, it’s pretty middling.

Though I won’t be signing up for Kindle Unlimited right now, I’m not disparaging Amazon’s attempts to get into the book-subscription market. KU seems like it can save some money for heavy readers who don’t like to borrow e-books from the library.

Please let me know if you have opinions about Kindle Unlimited and whether you think I’m doing the right thing not to pursue it at this time. Also, if this post got you excited about making a contribution to ensure that students can always request books they want to read, please check out the Contribute page. Thank you!


  1. micheleg

    The current KU seems very much geared toward individuals. My hope is that Amazon comes up with a similar service but for libraries, with much more selection. It could be great, as long as they keep their titles current and varied!

  2. Mark Isero

    Michele, you speak the truth. I’ve been looking for a long-term solution for collection management and circulation. KU definitely isn’t it, and neither is Kindle Whispercast, where you can distribute content to Kindles from a central place. What’s best, maybe, is Overdrive, though some people really don’t like it. I’m going to look into Overdrive soon to see if it’s an option.

    • Mark Isero

      Thank you, Bonnie, for the tip! Would love to hear your take on Kindle Unlimited’s selection. Enough books for students, or mostly for adults?

Please share your brilliant insights!