The Kindle Conundrum: Should You Rent or Buy Digital Stuff?
Last Friday, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited: For $9.99 a month, you can get unlimited access to some 600,000 titles. Amazon adding this all-you-can-read service to its Kindle store provides a fresh opportunity to examine an ongoing digital quandary: Should you rent or buy the stuff you want to watch, hear, or read?
Here’s how I make the call.
If you buy it, is it yours?
Many movie, book, and music sites “sell” you content that has rigid “digital rights management” restrictions on it. These constraints make a purchase more like a lease: You have some rights to the content, but you don’t really own it.
Take video. Please. Apple, Amazon, Google, and other legitimate sources of movies by big-name studios deliver DRM-encrusted downloads that play only on authorized devices or in specific apps.
You buy the “wrong” gadget or program? You won’t be watching your alleged digital property on it. And you can forget about lending or reselling the movie to anybody. So for video content, I stick to rentals.
But if you are going to buy content, you have to give Amazon some credit — especially for book content. With a growing range of Kindle apps, including a Web-based “Cloud Reader” that should work in any modern browser, it’s crafted about the most benevolent DRM dictatorship imaginable. You don’t run into its boundaries nearly as quickly as you would with, say, an Apple iBooks purchase.
The flexibility of a Kindle can’t match that of an MP3 Amazon sells or an AAC-format song at the iTunes Store. Those come devoid of DRM; these digital files will continue to work for you even if Amazon or Apple vanishes.
So Amazon looks good as a digital purveyor. Surely its new all-you-can read program will be equally pro-consumer. Right? Not so fast.
The new Kindle Unlimited, like the earlier Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (which is free but requires an Amazon Prime subscription and a Kindle e-reader device), suffers from excruciatingly limited selection.
Those of you with enough gray hairs may remember the joys of exploring a video store at 9 p.m. on a Friday, looking for something, anything to watch. That’s what it’s like to browse Kindle Unlimited.
I gave this service a simple test: plugging in the top 10 best-selling fiction and nonfiction titles as ranked at The New York Times this week. Those lists include books from last year and earlier, which I thought would give Amazon a fair shake.