There are so many things that I really love about Kindle and about being a Kindle author. I don’t want to get into Kindle-bashing because Amazon’s system is easy to use for readers and writers – but it does have some shortcomings.
Book-gifting across Amazon websites
Currently, only US Amazon users can enjoy book-gifting, but only amongst themselves. This is frustrating, since you can’t gift a book to someone in another country. If you have Amazon accounts in the US and UK (as I do) and a Kindle that’s registered to the UK (you can only register your Kindle to one country) then you can’t even log into your secondary country to gift someone a Kindle book – because your Kindle (which has nothing to do with the transaction) is registered in another country. The only workaround at the moment is to send the person a generic gift certificate, for which you need an Amazon account in that country. Or, I guess, have a second Kindle, which is registered to the secondary account. Hardly global thinking – indeed, many of my gripes would be resolved if Amazon actually traded as a global company and joined the dots on its many offerings.
Gifting or loaning review copies
As a writer, one thing I need to do fairly frequently is to let legitimate reviewers have a free review copy of my novel. At the moment, I either have to mail a printed copy or send someone a gift certificate. Verified authors should be able to either loan or gift as many review copies as they like, direct from their Kindle Direct Publishing account. This would make the process easy and be good for both parties – every book depends on getting reviews.
As with book-gifting, book-lending can only be done within the US. It’s a simple and great system – you loan your book to a friend for a fixed period, during which time you can’t read it. It works pretty much as if you had a printed copy so writers aren’t really disadvantaged. Again, this should work globally – not all of my friends are in the UK.
Review linking across Amazon websites
Book reviews clearly help to sell a book. Currently I have over twenty 4/5-star reviews on Amazon in the UK but less than a handful in the US – for the same book. It would help readers, authors and Amazon if book reviews were linked across other Amazon websites.
Campaign to get VAT removed from e-books
It frustrates people when e-books cost as much as physical ones – after all, there’s no physical or transportation costs. But some publishers do reduce pricing – only to have 20% VAT added back on, because for some reason I can’t fathom, e-books are seen as a ‘service’ and not as a book. The law needs to catch up with reality – and it’s companies such as Amazon who can help make it happen, by putting pressure on the Government.
Fix the review system
As I said before, reviews are really important to a book’s sales. But the Amazon review system is flawed – anyone can leave a review, whether they’ve bought the book or not. This means that authors can persuade friends to post glowing reviews and those of a vindictive nature can leave poor reviews for no reason. Would it be such a problem if only those who have bought a book were able to leave a review? (Or, perhaps, since a book can be loaned, only those who have loaded it legitimately onto their Kindle.) Authors are now able to easily see their reviews and can respond to each one with a comment – I really like that nice touch that enables an author to build a rapport with readers. However, an author can’t easily flag a review as inappropriate. These two simple changes would help to police the review system.
The Kindle infrastructure provides a seamless purchasing system – but it’s tied largely to Kindle’s own file format. I can understand this – but even iTunes supports MP3. ePub is pretty much the equivalent of MP3 and it would make people’s lives easier if they could install books that aren’t available on Kindle.
Social networking integration
There’s a lot of buzz about books on Facebook, Twitter and the excellent Goodreads (a massive and wonderful community of readers). It would be great if some of this buzz could be seen, as it happens, on an author’s page or on the book’s page. I’d like to see this integration taken further, too – so I can see what my Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Goodreads friends think of a book while I’m reading it, from within Kindle.
A lot of Amazon’s success has been based on its recommendation engine: you know, you look at something on Amazon’s website and you can instantly see how many people have bought it, if they bought something else instead and so on. It would be great to have recommendations on the Kindle itself – see what people thought of an author, related authors and so on. (The Kindle screen saver could be used to display information about your current read.)
More promotional tools for authors
I’ve personally found Amazon to be great for authors – they’re responsive to queries, fix issues fast and let you build your own author page to promote your work. But I think there’s more that can be done. Goodreads lets you host a giveaway draw for a new book, for instance, which really does raise awareness. So, I’d like to see Amazon giveaways along with the ability to post books at a special price for a fixed period – a ‘sale’. (With some restrictions, clearly. And yes, I know I can just drop the price for a month, but that doesn’t have the marketing pull of ‘20% off for two weeks’.)
As I said at the start, I don’t want to bitch about Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing or the Kindle itself – because I love it. Kindle’s a great product that’s hooked into a thoughtfully created ecosystem – but I think it could be better.
April 26th, 2011 at 8:07 am
Nicely reasoned, Peter – and I agree with everything you say. For interest, I’ve been commenting along similar lines on the lending issues, in my blog – http://bit.ly/hmcHpV.
Do you have a Smashwords account as well? I find that useful to get around the inflexibility of Kindle pricing. For example, to spread the word, I have a scheme where an existing reader can get a couple of free copies to give to friends they think would enjoy my work. Another arranges special discounts for book-clubs. All this is easily arranged through Smashwords coupons.
The downside, of course, is that these readers could not then review on Amazon, unless they already had an Amazon account (and if your proposal to ‘fix the review system’ was implemented, then they wouldn’t be able to review on Amazon at all).
I’m hugely appreciative of everything Amazon has done to help independent authors to make a mark and to drive sales, but experience has taught me not to put all my eggs in one basket.
April 26th, 2011 at 8:13 am
I don’t have a Smashwords account, but I think that’s something I need to fix. I’ll take a look at it – although my strategy is very firmly Kindle-centric, no reason not to look outside that. I’m a big fan of Amazon too, their system is really good – but it could be fantastic.
April 26th, 2011 at 8:49 am
Further thoughts on why a Smashwords account is important to me – http://bit.ly/e6KrDV It’s not because I’ll sell a lot there, but …
April 26th, 2011 at 8:09 am
These are some good points. I didn’t realise the reviews didn’t show up in other countries. I can’t understand why Amazon sites aren’t more integrated. I recently ran a giveaway on my blog where I would get the book sent direct from Amazon as I had some vouchers in my UK acc. It wasn’t till someone in America won that I realised I couldn’t use my vouchers with the .com account. So annoying. And costly.
April 26th, 2011 at 8:15 am
Fortunately I have an account on both sides of the Atlantic. But now Amazon.de has opened its doors to Kindle content, I will probably need to get an account there, too, so I can send review copies to Germany. Madness.
April 26th, 2011 at 9:17 am
I love love love GoodReads!
April 27th, 2011 at 5:25 am
That 20% VAT is a killer! I also write for UK digital pub, Total-E-Bound and was talking to them about competitive pricing with their US counterparts and they pointed out that they have to include 20% VAT on all the ebooks they sell and that US digi-pubs don’t. The sooner the UK government gets rid of that incredibly stupid bit of thinking, the better off we’ll all be.
And yes, Peter, I think you need to be on Smashwords as well.
April 27th, 2011 at 11:11 am
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July 23rd, 2012 at 2:49 pm
I agree with you on the point of reviews, it doesn’t seem to make sense neither does it look like something that they are willing to change.
November 29th, 2013 at 9:16 pm
The issue of not being able to gift a review copy from within Kindle seems particularly galling, since this would increase Amazon’s revenue and there’s no apparent downside.
November 30th, 2013 at 8:26 am
I can only assume that they want to stop “favour reviews” but it does make like harder for the author promoting his or her books.