Why I Don’t Buy Book Subscription Boxes

Whenever I’m scrolling through Book Twitter or looking through Discord, I always see people talking about book subscription boxes. Pretty ones, just like the one in this picture:

Subscription box by Illumicrate

The picture shows a subscription box by Illumicrate, a book subscription box company I’ve seen recommended a lot. If you purchase a book subscription box from them, you can either get one newly released hardback book per month, or the hardback book plus exclusive items matching the book like mugs, bookmarks, stationery, and more.

After reading a discussion post by Pages Unbound about the environmental impact of book subscription boxes, it got me thinking about my own relationship with book subscription boxes.

The price of these boxes is too high for me

With Illumicrate for example, you pay £17 per month for a book only subscription or £27 for the full box. On top of that, I’d have to pay shipping . Since I live in Canada, the cost of shipping is pretty high. Shipping costs £16.99 for the book only and £17.99 for the full box.

In total, that’s £34 pounds (about $58.50 CAD) for one book and £45 for the full box (around $77 CAD) for the full box! Ouch.

Picture from Book of the Month

There are cheaper boxes out there like Book of the Month, which gives you one book per month out of a selection of five and the ability to skip months you’re not interested in. That will cost you $12.50 to $16.67 USD per month depending on your subscription.

That’d be about $15.63 to about $20.84 CAD per month for me – a much more reasonable price. This box is also more flexible as it allows you to choose what you’re interested in without the knick-knacks of other boxes. But they don’t ship outside of the US so this isn’t a possibility for me either.

I understand that businesses can’t control for currency conversions and shipping rates, but with those two factors, book subscription boxes become too expensive for me. It’d be much cheaper to purchase the book outright and use the money left over to buy more books and other small items.

I also don’t know if I can handle the surprise.

To be fair, the surprise is supposed to be part of the fun of the box. Even if you don’t get something you like immediately, at least you have the opportunity to try something new. The box does the book curation for you and takes some of the work out of buying books. You might find a new author or a new business that you had never heard of before, but which you love!

But what happens if you spend so much on a subscription box, only to receive a book with tropes you don’t care for or products you won’t use? It just seems like a bit of waste, both in terms of money and in terms of the items themselves.

Again, it just seems more worth it to me to purchase the items outright without a surprise. If I want to try new things, I can always turn to the wonderful book blogging community for recommendations!

Have you ever purchased book subscription boxes before? If so, what was your experience like?


The Problems with Kickstarter: My Thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s Record-Breaking Kickstarter Campaign

On March 1, 2022, fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Sanderson released a video called “It’s Time to Come Clean”.

In the video, Sanderson said that he secretly wrote four novels over the past two years. He announced his plans to release those novels to his fans through the crowd fundraising platform Kickstarter and his company Dragonsteel Entertainment.

If you pledge $40 USD or more to Sanderson’s project, you will get all four of his secret books in eBook form. One eBook will be delivered in every quarter of 2023. If you pledge $500 USD or more, you’ll get quarterly eBooks, quarterly audiobooks, quarterly exclusive hardcovers, and eight swag boxes. And there are all sorts of tiers and rewards in between.

Lots of people are interested in Sanderson’s rewards, so much so that in one day only, the campaign raised $15 million. It’s on its way to becoming one of the most funded projects ever on the site. As I’m writing this post, over $18 million USD (from a goal of $1 million USD) has been raised with 71,000 backers. And the project has 28 days to go!

For Sanderson, this project has been a huge success. As a well-known and respected author, I am confident that he will be able to deliver on his promises, with the backers receiving what they were promised.

However, if more authors start releasing their books on Kickstarter, I think they and readers should be aware of some of Kickstarter’s problems before committing to using the platform. I think the downsides of Kickstarter have been glossed over in the discussion about whether Sanderson’s campaign could be a game-changer for other authors.

Scams and Kickstarter’s lack of accountability

There are a lot of Kickstarter projects where creators haven’t delivered the rewards promised to backers in a timely fashion – or they haven’t delivered them at all.

Image from Skarp Technologies’ Facebook page

Take the example of the Skarp Laser Razor. Skarp Technologies raised over $4 million USD for the “first ever razor, powered by a laser” before the project’s funding was suspended by Kickstarter. There’s a problem: this product doesn’t exist. It’s 2022 and the Skarp Laser Razor still isn’t a thing! It might not ever exist. As noted in this 2015 article by Eric Limer, Kickstarter cancelled the project and refunded all the backers.

The people who backed Skarp Laser Razor were lucky to get refunds. Others, not so much.

Many of the people who backed the Coolest Cooler, one of Kickstarter’s most funded projects, never got what was promised to them.

Picture from the Coolest Cooler Kickstarter

This project raised over $13 million USD for a portable party cooler. However, as described in a 2019 article by Kurt Schlosser, over 20,000 backers did not get their rewards after five years of waiting. The company behind Coolest Coolers settled with the Oregon Department of Justice over many consumer complaints, with the agreement giving some compensation to some backers who never got anything. But Kickstarter never refunded them.

Kickstarter actually notes that they “do not issue refunds”. Or, to be more precise, it usually doesn’t issue refunds even in the case of scam projects. While the creator is responsible for completing the project, Kickstarter does not enforce this. Kickstarter states that it isn’t responsible for creators that don’t complete their projects

Like I wrote earlier, I think Sanderson will follow through with his project and his backers won’t be disappointed because of how well-known and respected he is. As far as I know, there haven’t been any problems with him and his business practises.

But in the unlikely case that things go horribly wrong, the tens of thousands of people that backed his project aren’t really protected by Kickstarter, as demonstrated by the two cases I discussed.

Kickstarter and the blockchain

In December 2021, Kickstarter announced it was going to move its project to the blockchain. Oh boy. The blockchain is a doozy to define, but Wikipedia describes it as “a decentralized, distributed, and oftentimes public, digital ledger consisting of records called blocks that is used to record transactions across many computers so that any involved block cannot be altered retroactively, without the alteration of all subsequent blocks.” You might have heard this word before in relation to cryptocurrency and NFTs.

Kickstarter went back on this plan recently after a lot of backlash, but only kind of. They’re still moving forward on integrating blockchain into their website, just with a lot of consultation. To me, this is a sign that they aren’t really listening to the creators and backers who use their platform.

This Mashable article by Jack Morse, this article from The Verge by Jay Peters, and this article from Dicebreaker by Chase Carter all provide information on what went down if you’re interested. In short, there are some serious problems with moving to blockchain from the environmental to the ethical and beyond. What does Kickstarter need blockchain for anyways?

I know many people are not interested in buying products from, or supporting companies involved in blockchain technology, so this is also something to be aware of.

All this is to say, if you’re considering backing a Kickstarter project, be careful.

Do your research on the project and consider whether you’d be okay with losing the money you put into the project should it fall through. Know the risks that come with backing something on Kickstarter. It doesn’t hurt to be more aware of Kickstarters’ business plans regarding blockchain either.

Sanderson’s Kickstarter will probably work out fine and many readers will be happy, but that’s not true for every project on the site.

I think it’s important to note Kickstarters’ problems before the book community gets too excited about how game-changing Sanderson’s campaign could be. I hope that potential authors who are thinking about doing a similar Kickstarter campaign will think deeply about the risks before proceeding. And it’s something for us as backers to keep in mind before we pledge our money to creators on Kickstarter.

Personally, I am concerned about the lack of accountability on Kickstarter and their blockchain policy (which was a big motivation for writing this discussion post). I think it’s great that people have Kickstarter as an option to raise money for their projects, but I won’t be backing them.

Have you ever used Kickstarter before? Do you think it’s something other authors should explore?

How to Buy Free eBooks on Amazon

I love reading books – and I also love getting a good deal on books! Since I’ve started looking out for them, I’ve purchased hundreds of free eBooks from Amazon, several of which I’ve reviewed on this blog and loved.

In this post, I’ll teach you how to look for free eBooks on Amazon.

Kindle Best Selling Free Books

One way to find free eBooks is to browse through Amazon’s list of best selling free eBooks. They curate a list of the top 100 free Kindle eBooks, with the list updating every few hours.

Here’s how I do it on Amazon Canada: Look under the “Kindle Books” heading. Click “Best Sellers & More”, then “Kindle Best Sellers”, then “Top 100 Free”. The page looks like this. From there, you can browse to your heart’s content!

Manual Searching

The other method I use to find free eBooks is to search for the genre or keywords I’m looking for in Amazon’s search bar. Once you’re there, filter the listings by selecting “Sort by: Price: Low to High” on the drop-down menu to the right of the page.

This way, you can look specifically for the things that you’re interested in and find titles that aren’t on the best sellers list.

This is example of what your page might look like this once that’s done:

Some Caveats

I find that it’s typically self-published authors who release their books for free, not traditionally published ones. If you’re not interested in reading self-published works, these books may not be for you – but hey, at least they’re free?

And, these free books are often only available for a limited amount of time. If you see something you like, pick it up before the book disappears, and check to make sure that the price is indeed free.

The genres that are available also vary. If you’re a big romance or mystery fan, there are a lot of free titles to choose from. I see relatively fewer free books in genres like non-fiction.

Make sure that you’re purchasing the Kindle Edition, not a paperback or audiobook, and make sure that you’re purchasing the eBook and not the Kindle Unlimited version if you’re not a subscriber.

It’s the bottom option on this picture you want to be clicking, the one that says “Buy now with 1-Click”, not the top one!

Thanking the Author

Remember that the author has chosen to release their book, something that they spent a lot of time and possibly money on, for free.

When you’re done reading, consider leaving a review for the author on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever other platforms you like. If you liked what you read, consider purchasing and supporting the author’s other work.

Do you buy free eBooks on Amazon? If so, do you have any tips on how to find the best reads?

2 Months Later: My Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

Picture by freestocks.org from Pexels

I recently purchased a Kindle Paperwhite to replace my aging Kobo Touch. With my purchase came a 2 month free trial of Kindle Unlimited!

I had two concerns about Kindle Unlimited: the selection of books available and whether the price was worth it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pay for the service after my free trial ended, so I documented my thoughts about both categories.

What is Kindle Unlimited?

For $9.99 USD/$9.99 CAD/£7.99 per month, subscribers get access to a catalogue of over a million books, a couple thousand audiobooks, and magazine subscriptions. That’s a lot of content to choose from! It’s worth noting that Amazon sometimes runs sales that make the subscription price even cheaper.

However, subscribers don’t actually own the content they read. Instead, they borrow the books from Amazon. Subscribers can only borrow 10 books at a time and these books will expire once the subscription ends.

You don’t actually have to own a Kindle to purchase a Kindle Unlimited subscription! You can read Kindle books in your browser, through their mobile app, or through their desktop app.

Is the selection good?

For my preferred genre of cozy mysteries: yes. There are tens of thousands of cozy mysteries to choose from! However, some genres have more books available than others, so your experience might vary.

It’s important to note that Kindle Unlimited doesn’t have a ton of books from major publishers. Most books that I’ve seen are either from smaller publishing presses or from self-published authors. If you’re only looking for very well-known authors, Kindle Unlimited might not be for you.

Is the cost worth it?

I think the answer to this question depends on how much you’re reading and if owning a book matters to you. For me, the cost is worth it if I am reading enough in a month.

I don’t re-read books a lot and I don’t purchase many books for myself, so not being able to own the book wasn’t a big deal to me.

During my free trial I read 10 books, worth $48.82 in total. This is well above the $19.98 fee I would have paid for two months of Kindle Unlimited! I enjoyed reading most of these books.

I feel like Kindle Unlimited is a great way to take a chance on new authors, genres, and plots. For example, there’s a lot of self-published books on Kindle Unlimited. I’m sometimes a little wary of these books because the quality can be very variable – some self-published authors spend a lot of time editing their work whereas others do not – but it was reassuring to know that I could just return a book if it wasn’t very good. Luckily, I never had to do that for the books that I did choose.

Would I buy Kindle Unlimited again?

Yes, but not right now.

Ever since university started back up again, my reading (of non-academic books) has slowed down considerably. I don’t think I’ll be able to get my money’s worth with Kindle Unlimited, especially when I can read ARCs, Prime Reading books, books from my local library, and books from my TBR.

That being said, I can see myself picking it up for a month or two at a time during less busy times of the year. I know that they sometimes run promotional deals, such as a discounted rate of $4.99 per month for a 12 month subscription, which I’ll continue to look out for.

Have you ever tried Kindle Unlimited? If so, what do you think about their services?