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Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited

Published by marco on

The Amazon Kindle Paper White is a pretty good deal if you’re already dependent on Amazon Kindle content. Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime are largely crap content with the occasional gem. If you’re already getting content from elsewhere, you’ll continue to do so because almost none of the content worth having is included in either of these services.

Replacing an E-Reader

I recently had to replace my old Amazon Voyage because I left it on a train and was unable to get it back. I tried reading with Kindle on the phone but, as nice as that app is, reading on the phone is no replacement for an E-Reader, at least for me.

I’ve had an E-Reader for almost a decade now. I started with the Sony Reader, which was good enough, but suffered from software and hardware deficits that finally put it to rest a few years later. About 4 years ago, I got an Amazon Voyage, with all the bells and whistles, and was quite happy with it.

Then I lost it.

So I read through the Guidemaster: Ars tests and picks the best e-readers for every budget by Valentina Palladino (Ars Technica) to get the lay of the E-Reader land. The two main contenders were the Kindle Paper White and the Kobo Clara HD.

I had actually used the mechanical buttons quite a bit, but these are apparently passé. Nothing but the top-end models of either the Kindle or the Kobo offer physical buttons. So I made my peace with it: no physical buttons.

The high-end versions are really nice, but they cost more than twice as much as a perfectly lovely reader. They have more LEDs for night-reading, more color ranges for before-bedtime reading. They have physical buttons. They are, by all rights, wonderful. Still, I decided it wasn’t worth the money for the slight perks.

So it was between a Kobo and another Kindle. The Kobo offered “clunky” Overdrive integration, which would have been nice to use with my NYPL subscription. I currently check out Kindle books and have to send them to my reader via Amazon. A direct integration and download would have been nice. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing what “clunky” means, though.

The support for EPUB books was also a plus, but the EPUB format from the public library is locked down with Adobe DRM, which likely would have been another uphill climb. Also, the Instapaper service only integrates with Kindles. I would have had to switch to Pocket for my weekly articles. I wasn’t really looking forward to switching that service as well.

On top of all of that, I actually have several Kindle books that I’ve recently been given or have purchased very cheaply. I would no longer be able to read those were I to switch to a Kobo.

I really wanted to get away from the Amazon hegemon, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The Kindle Voyage was one of the few high points in my otherwise fraught relationship with technology, software and hardware. It did everything I wanted—Instapaper on a regular schedule, library books via NYPL, notes in a neat and parsable TXT format—and held several weeks on a single charge. It never crashed. It occasionally rebooted. Even the UI kept getting better and better (especially highlighting). It just worked.

So I went for the Kindle Paper White.

Amazon Content Services

Lucky for me, it was Prime Day, so I got quite a deal on it—as long as I agreed to test-drive Amazon Prime for 30 days. Fine. €40 was a great discount from a reader that was better and only half the price of the Voyage I was replacing. On top of that, I found €28 on the German Amazon store, so I ended up spending very little to replace my lost Kindle.

So I signed up for Prime. In Germany. On top of that, I got access to Kindle Unlimited, but in the US. This is all a bit confusing, to be honest.

What is clear to me is that neither of these programs is worth paying money for. Unless something changes drastically, I will be canceling both before I have to start paying any subscription fees.

Almost every TV show I’d like to watch on Amazon is either not available in Europe or not included in Prime. Ditto for several movies I searched. Kindle Unlimited is not at all unlimited: not a single book I’ve searched for far—and I looked up about a dozen books from my wishlist—is included. A bunch of books I’ve already read are included, but that doesn’t help much—those are also available from the public library.

TV Shows and Movies on Prime

Amazon’s Prime offering in Germany for TV shows stands at 25% for the shows that I searched. I include them below.

I also searched for movies and the English-language offering is quite restricted as well. German-language movies I searched were not available.

The Expanse is not available for viewing.

 The Expanse

American Gods is not available for viewing.

 American Gods

Taboo is not available for viewing.

 Taboo

Mr. Robot is not available for viewing.

 Mr. Robot

Fleabag is not available for viewing.

 Fleabag

Something called NOS4A2, starring Zachary Quinto, looks interesting, but also is not available for viewing.

 NOS4A2

The Man in the High Castle is available.

 The Man in the High Castle

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is available.

 The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Books on Kindle Unlimited

Kindle books—even German ones—are only available from the American Amazon store.

Nation by Terry Pratchett is not included.

 Nation by Terry Pratchett

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett is not included.

 Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

I went through dozens of books on my wishlist; either the books aren’t available as Kindle books or they’re not included in “Kindle Unlimited”. At what point does the truth-in-advertising law kick in?

And the Kindle Unlimited Store is very sleazy. Here’s a “Gore Vidal” book that was written by someone else.

 Gore Vidal 'book' that was not written by Gore Vidal

Here are a bunch of books I’ve already read. Cold comfort for me—and definitely not a reason to pay for unlimited access to books I don’t want to read.

 Some books I've already read on Kindle Unlimited

Mostly, the Kindle Unlimited store is filled with flaky-sounding, generic junk by authors I’ve never heard of (probably most are self-published).

 A bunch of junk by people I've never heard of

And then there’s the obligatory giant pile of softcore, light BDSM, husband-material, soloflexed romance novels. The NYPL is also littered with this tripe. Both services’ pinheaded recommendation algorithms love this content and suggest it for anyone who just searched “Chomsky” or “Lem”. It makes you feel a bit more secure that the AIs aren’t quite ready to take over yet.

 A giant pile of softcore romance 'novels'

To wrap things up, the Amazon UI also makes it very easy to think that maybe you’re just not properly signed up for “Kindle Unlimited”. I clicked the big link at the top because I thought I was either (A) on the wrong site again (e.g. Amazon.de, where the service doesn’t exist) and using an account where it wasn’t activated or (B) had to jump through yet another hoop to activate it.

You have to read the tiny text at the end carefully to see that I have Kindle Unlimited, but that the offer they’re making is to “add 6 months to your existing membership”. It would be very easy to slip up and order 6 more months in addition to the 3 free months of a useless service, in the mistaken hope that you’d finally see some interesting books.

 Sleazy attempt to get me to sign up for 3 months o… Unlimited before my free trial is even 5 days old

Conclusion

It seems the Amazon’s giant warehouse of content is filled with crap. Anything worth watching or reading still costs money. If you subscribe to these Amazon services, then you’ll likely start gravitating to watching or reading crap just because it’s included in your subscription.

If, however, you like to choose what you watch or read, neither of these services will save you much money. You’ll still have to shell out to get most of the content that you’re really interested in.