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What is Kindle Unlimited? Amazon’s book-borrowing service explained

Whether you’re a bookworm or an occasional reader, many of us have been reading voraciously during recent times — and regardless of whether you’re a “real book” or e-book fan, all that reading can make a hefty dent in your budget. Luckily, Amazon created Kindle Unlimited, a monthly subscription launched in 2014, granting you access to more than a million titles for Kindle, including e-books, comic books, audiobooks, and even magazines.

You might still be wondering “What is Kindle Unlimited?” or maybe you’ve already considered subscribing to the service — or you’re not sure if it’s worth the money. Here’s how you can find out. We explain how it works, how to get started, and whether you should spend your hard-earned cash on a subscription.

What do you get with Kindle Unlimited?

Sign up for Kindle Unlimited homepage.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Kindle Unlimited works like a library — you can check out up to 10 e-books, audiobooks, or comic books at any one time, or take advantage of included magazine subscriptions to titles like Women’s Health, Stuff, and Good Housekeeping, among others. Borrow titles as often as you like, as there are no due dates (so no penalties if you forget to return a book). The Kindle Unlimited catalog contains a variety of titles from different genres and authors — everything from crime fiction to romance, science fiction, and fantasy. However, you’ll find the focus is on self-published, indie authors. That’s great if you enjoy discovering new authors and stepping out of your reading comfort zones, but not so great if you’re after the latest Michael Connelly book.

Do you need a Kindle device to read Kindle books?

You can pick up the latest Kindle Paperwhite for under $150 on Amazon right now — but you don’t need a Kindle device to read books from Kindle Unlimited. The Kindle reading app is available for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac, so you can read anywhere, at any time. Even though it only supports specific file types like MOBI and AZW, you can also work with PDFs. The app also lets you share your favorite titles with your friends and family so you can make reading a social activity. It’s free to download, and if you do have a Kindle device, it saves your last page read to your account, so you’ll never lose your place.

How to get started with Kindle Unlimited

Library of books on Kindle Unlimited.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You can browse the current Kindle Unlimited catalog before deciding whether to subscribe. To sign up for a 30-day Kindle Unlimited free trial or subscribe to Kindle Unlimited — it costs $10 a month — you’ll need to sign in to your Amazon account. Then click on the menu (the three bars at the top left) and select Kindle E-Readers and Books, then click Kindle Unlimited. Confirm you want to sign up for a free trial — or, if you’ve already had your free trial, you’ll be prompted to confirm you want to join. Once you’re signed up, you can view the catalog by clicking Kindle Unlimited in the menu.

Borrowing books on Kindle Unlimited

To download a book, just click on the book you want and click Read for $0.00 to download it to your device. If you have a Kindle device and also use the reading app, make sure you scroll down and choose the device you want to read on right now from the drop-down menu under Deliver to. Remember you can have up to 10 books at any one time — if you’ve reached your limit, you’ll need to return a book before borrowing another.

How to listen to audiobooks with Kindle Unlimited

As well as e-books, Kindle Unlimited gives you access to more than 2,000 audiobooks, and when you borrow an e-book through Kindle Unlimited, you’ll also get the option to buy audiobooks at a reduced price with Whispersync deals. You’ll need the Audible app to listen to audiobooks, and you can download it on almost any device, from your phone, tablet, computer, or Kindle device to Alexa-enabled devices, Sonos speakers, and Fire TV. You don’t need an Audible membership — just log in to your Amazon account once you’ve downloaded the app. Look out for the headphones symbol next to the Kindle Unlimited logo when you’re browsing books on Amazon, and click “Read and Listen for free” to download the audiobook to your Audible library.

Where an audiobook isn’t available for free on Kindle Unlimited, you’ll sometimes see Whispersync deals in the menu below the Read for free button — for example, Add Audible book to your purchase for $x.xx. Just check the box next to this before you click Read for free and the audiobook will be added to your purchase.


Returning books

To return books you’ve finished reading, log in to your Amazon account on your PC, tablet, or phone and go to Manage your Content and Devices. Select the title you want to return from the list. In the pop-up window, click Return this book, then click Yes to confirm. You can also return books through the Kindle app or your device’s library.

Canceling your Kindle Unlimited membership

There’s no commitment with Kindle Unlimited, and you can cancel at any time. If you decide to cancel your subscription, just go to the menu, select Your Account, and scroll to Memberships and Subscriptions. From here you can view and manage all your subscriptions. Choose your Kindle Unlimited subscription and click Manage subscription to change your card or billing details or cancel your membership. Select End membership on [DATE] and fill out the date you want your membership to end. It will remain active until your next billing date — but this feature is handy if you want to cancel for a future date beyond that. Once your billing date passes and your membership is canceled, any Kindle Unlimited titles you have checked out will be deleted from your devices.

Is Kindle Unlimited free for Prime members?

Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading are two different services, even though they have similar offerings. Prime Reading comes with an Amazon Prime membership — which includes shipping benefits, discounts on products, access to free music streaming through the Amazon music app, and a select offering of free books on Kindle. Kindle Unlimited, on the other hand, is a paid service dedicated to books. For $10 a month, you can get access to millions of e-book titles, but this does not include any Amazon Prime benefits outside of this. You can choose to purchase only one membership, or both, depending on your needs as we’ll see below.

Kindle Unlimited vs. Prime Reading: Which is better?

Amazon Prime Reading book catalog.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Both options are excellent choices, but if you already have a Prime membership, the Unlimited choice may not make sense. You have access to over 1,000 books, comics, and media from your Prime membership, including pieces from big-name publishing houses. However, if you’re looking to expand your horizons and find reading material from new and under-the-radar authors, Kindle Unlimited could be your window into new worlds.

The purpose of Kindle Unlimited is to give new authors and smaller publishing houses center stage. You’ll get recommendations based on your reading habits, but you may not find that latest bestseller. On the other hand, Prime Reading is packed with popular books from familiar publishers, along with a selection of bestsellers, and all books are hand-picked by the editors.

Ultimately, every one of these products benefits a different demographic of readers. Prime Reading offers readers (who already know their favorite authors, publishers, and genres) access to quick lists and a catalog of interesting titles. Kindle Unlimited may best serve the readers who prefer debut authors and new, lesser-known titles fresh to the market.

If you already own an Amazon Prime membership (currently $10 per month), you can access Prime Reading for free. That membership includes all the benefits of Prime, like fast shipping, Prime Music, and Prime Video as well. Both services offer the same ten-book allotment for simultaneous check-outs.

If you don’t know which book service you may prefer, consider the number of books you read during a given month. If you’re a leisurely reader who prefers to pick up a book every once in a while or prefers well-known authors or titles, then Prime Reading may be the best choice for you. Conversely, the bookworms who always have their nose in a book may find more bang for their book with Kindle Unlimited. Many of the titles in the Kindle catalog are already pretty competitively priced, so you may need to read quite a few books to make the most of your membership.

What is the difference between Kindle and Kindle Unlimited?

Kindle is a broad term that refers to many things including the actual Kindle reading devices you can buy as well as the free app you can download on your smartphone and other compatible devices. Kindle Unlimited is a monthly subscription service that gives you access to a large library of e-books to read on your Kindle device and the Kindle app. It’s not necessary to have Kindle Unlimited to use the Kindle device or the app. Users are free to browse the books or read the titles that are available for free without needing a subscription. Avid readers, however, may benefit from purchasing a subscription to discover new titles.

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Paula Beaton
Freelance tech and travel writer living in (somewhat) sunny Scotland. Gamer, tea addict, never without a good book.
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