If you’re a fan of Netflix, you probably think that paying a monthly fee to access thousands of movies and TV shows is worthwhile.

But would you be as interested in a similar service that lets you access thousands—even millions—of e-books? Services such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, and Playster offer large libraries of digital books for a monthly fee that's under $10.

Mirela Roncevic, the co-editor of the American Library Association’s journal eContent Quarterly, explains why consumers may like such services. “Digital reading is all about the freedom of how you want to read and when you want to read,” she says.  

But if you don’t read enough, subscribing to such services may not make financial sense.

While watching a movie on Netflix can take a couple of hours, books usually require more time. That could mean that current subscription rates are too high. Consider that best-selling e-books cost about $8 each on average if you buy them individually. You would need to read 15 books per year to break even on the annual cost of about $120 that you’d pay for an e-book subscription service. The typical American, though, reads about four books per year, according to data from Pew Research Center.

Besides that, e-book providers may not offer the books you are looking for. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, for instance, doesn’t include e-books from some top publishers, such as Hachette. In some cases, best selling books aren’t available either. The book, "The Last Mile" by David Baldacci, for example, was listed as the top hardcover book on the New York Times Best Seller list during the first week of May. But it wasn’t available at that time on Amazon Kindle Unlimited or Scribd.

Depending on your reading habits, you may be better off getting your e-books from other sources. Amazon Prime, for example, provides a “lending library” to members who occasionally read e-books. It allows you to borrow one e-book per month as part of its $99 annual fee. You can’t check out a new book until you’ve returned the previous one. But there’s a catch: To download a book, readers must own one of Amazon’s Kindle or Fire series of tablets, which range in price from $50 to $290. 

Or you could use the e-book app, Overdrive, to borrow e-books through public libraries. The app currently works with more than 90 percent of U.S. libraries and there’s no additional fee. The size and variety of the selection depends on how many e-books your local library has purchased. “You have access to a library of e-books that you are paying for indirectly through your taxes,” says David Burleigh, OverDrive’s marketing director.

E-Book Services

If you’re interested in an e-book subscription, all the services offer free trial periods allowing you to browse through the available books before signing up. Here are some options:

  • Kindle Unlimited: Price: $9.99 per month. You get access to more than 1 million titles and thousands of audiobooks. Subscribers are limited to 10 titles at one time. The service is integrated into Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers, but can also be accessed on Apple and Android devices. Some books offer the option of toggling between the e-book and the audiobook version. Kindle Unlimited offers a free 30-day trial.
  • Scribd: Price: $8.99 per month. The service offers 1 million books, comics, and audiobooks through Scribd’s app or through a browser. Scribd changed its subscription plan in March from offering access to unlimited e-books to a limit of three e-books and one audiobook per month. The service can be accessed on Apple and Android devices, as well as the Kindle and the Nook. There are also a small number of editor-chosen books that change each month and can be read on an unlimited basis. Scribd offers a 14-day trial.
  • Playster: Price: $9.95 per month. Here, you’ll find about 250,000 e-books available. The service also provides unlimited access to millions of movies, music, and games for $24.95 a month. Playster lets you subscribe to just one type of media—say games or music—for a lower prices and it works on a wide variety of devices. The service, which started in December, offers a 30-day free trial.
  • 24Symbols: Price: $8.99 per month. This service offers a library of 300,000 e-books. There’s no limit to the number of e-books you may read per month, though audiobooks are limited to one title per month. The e-books are available through the 24Symbols app or on its website. There is a 30-day free trial.
  • OverDrive: E-books here are available for free. OverDrive offers access through its app—which you can use on a Kindle, a Nook, as well as on Android and Apple devices. One caveat is that when the e-book is due back, typically after a few weeks, it disappears from your app even if you haven’t finished reading it. Borrowers can renew the title, unless others are waiting for it. In that case, the book will automatically download to the next person in line and you’ll go to the back of the list.
  • Amazon Prime’s Lending Library: As part of Amazon Prime’s $99 annual fee, customers can check out one e-book per month. Prime members will need to buy an Amazon device, such as Kindle e-book readers or Fire tablets, to use the service, since this service doesn’t work on Amazon’s free Kindle app.