Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Amazon’s Read Anywhere Is a Sad and Unfufilled Promise

Disapprove by striatic

/disapprove by flickr photographer striatic

Amazon is supposedly the leader in ereading technology but from the Kindle devices to the web app to the desktop software, the reading experience is inconsistent and even crude. If not for the one click buy which Amazon had patented in September 1999, Amazon’s apathetic attitude toward the software and user reading experience may have prevented it from coming to dominance.

Amazon wins right now because the buying and reading experience is virtually seamless. Has there been anything more transformative in consumer online spending that the one click buy? I mean, even Apple licenses once click for iTunes. The frictionless method of purchase is the key to device + content interrelationship.

But Amazon, for all its technology capabilities, has allowed its software and reader experience to languish. Witness the launch of the web reader from Amazon after Apple made Amazon pull the KINDLE store link from the Kindle App. The Amazon Cloud reader doesn’t work with every browser. In fact, it doesn’t work on the over 80 million iPhones and iTouches out on the market. Those device owners that can use the Amazon Cloud reader can only bookmark a page. There is no dual column capabilities either. It is one large wall of text.

Screenshot of Kindle Cloud 2011

You can’t highlight, type a note, or even use the social reading aspects offered by kindle.amazon.com.

Worse, the reader experience isn’t consistent from device to app. While I can email content to Kindle device, I can’t email content to the Cloud Reader or the apps. While I can create (albeit in an unweildy and almost unuseable manner) collections on the Kindle device, I cannot do so on the Cloud Reader or the Apps. While I can search on my Kindle device through all the content, I cannot do so on the Cloud Reader or the Apps. (An obvious refrain). But that does not make the Kindle device superior. Because of the tiny keyboard, making notes is a hassle. Because of the low onboard memory, searching for a particular book or author is so time consuming that I often set my Kindle aside and read through a dozen emails before the search is completed.

No Kindle platform allows me to sort my archives by RECENT purchases which is a significant flaw for anyone with over 30 books in their Kindle library. To some extent, as a big Kindle book buyer, I feel punished for my avidity.

Only the Kindle for PC allows for copying and pasting and that wasn’t rolled out until last month (July 2011). Michael Hyatt wrote an entire blogpost about how to copy and paste highlights and notes from a Kindle book.

The Princeton study on its ereader pilot program (PDF) said this:

Battery life, text resolution, internal memory, screen size and physical weight were the most highly rated features, while the Kindle web browser, navigation between books and documents, highlighting text, the keyboard, and annotating text got the lowest rankings

There is no way to mass download titles. You have to go to your Archived section and redownload books one by one. Even though you can sync individual notes and highlights, you can’t sync your entire library so that the Kindle App booklist and archives match your Kindle device booklist and archives.

The inability of readers to be able to sort, search and modify their collections is a huge oversight. The inconsistency of reader experience from platform to platform reduces reading pleasure. While buying is frictionless, the reading experience is not. Only competition, it appears, will push Amazon to provide a better, and unified, reading experience.  Here are three things that Amazon can do to fulfill it’s promise to allow people to read anywhere:

  1. Give every platform the same features.
  2. Allow readers to create collections that are synched with the account and useable no matter the platform whether it is the laptop, the mobile device or the Kindle reader.
  3. Include a “recent purchased” sorting option.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

25 Comments

  1. Sandia
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 05:41:47

    as much of a kindle fan-girl as I am, I have to agree with you on many points of your post. I hate the lack ability to truly create a library and download multiple items – even like if I wanted to download all the books in a series

    I don’t highlight much, so the lack of that function doesn’t bother me much. What annoys me a little is that sync to furthest page doesn’t work when you are re-reading a book, since it thinks that the last page is always the end of the book – not sure if they fixed this, I’ve pretty gave up on that and used only the kindle since 2009 .

    I just got one of the $99 HP touchpad and installed the kindle beta – useable only in portrait. I probably won’t be using this much to read books either.

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  2. Deb
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 07:10:23

    I love that you guys despise Amazon almost as much as I do. Almost.

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  3. Rose May
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 07:10:43

    I love my Kindle, there’s no doubt about it, but I’ve definitely been annoyed by some of the things you mentioned – specifically the small keyboard that makes taking notes a laborious process (especially if you want to include a comma or some other form of punctuation!) and the inconsistency between apps and the Kindle device itself. While I love my Kindle, I don’t know if getting a I-pad will change my opinion on which e-reader is the best out there. The Kindle gets a lot of hype, and in some ways it deserves it, but it could definitely be more user-friendly.

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  4. Ritu
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 07:50:46

    I got a Kindle for my friend and I used it for 2 weeks before I gave up on it. I need to organize my book collection. I went mad with the Kindle because I couldn’t do it. I have a Sony 650 which does organization loads better. And that is why I haven’t switched to any other e-reader even though the no wireless is such a negative point. I wish I could get my hands on that elusive e-reader – wireless with great organization capability at affordable price. *Sigh*

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  5. Statch
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 07:59:04

    I do love my Kindle but I can’t understand why they haven’t made the software more user-friendly. I miss my Sony’s ability to accept tags from Calibre. I’ve just adjusted my habits to deal with the Kindle collections, but why can’t they allow me to select more than one books at a time to add to a collection? That one feature would make a huge difference.

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  6. Sunita
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 08:13:35

    I am seriously disappointed by the Kindle Cloud reader. Why on earth can’t you send a sample to it? When I’m looking at a book on my laptop I have to open the Kindle for Mac program. Why the extra step?

    @Sandia: I use the Kindle beta on the TouchPad and I get a 2-column view in landscape. I really like it. I’m not sure why you’re not able to do that.

    @Statch: Great to see you again!

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  7. Amy Kathryn
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 08:59:00

    @statch Maybe I am not understanding what you really meant but you can add multiple books to a collection at once by putting the cursor line on the collection name, hitting the right arrow, choosing add to collection, and then hitting the enter button for each book you want to add. Keep hitting page next through your list of books until you add all you want, then hit done. This is the way I did it after adding so many Heyer books at once recently during the sale.

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  8. Tina
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 09:04:41

    @Statch:

    I’ve just adjusted my habits to deal with the Kindle collections, but why can’t they allow me to select more than one books at a time to add to a collection? That one feature would make a huge difference.

    You can add multiple items to a collection. You go to the collection, select it, hit the menu button, select ‘Add/Remove Items’, a list of all your books come up. You just scroll and select which items you want to add to the collection. If they are already there, they have a checkmark next to them.

    I enjoy my Kindle. I guess it depends on what you want it to do. For me, my kindle is my dedicated reading device. That is all I use it for.

    I was never a big note-taker or annotaer when I read in paper. I am a little anal-retentive about my books being somewhat pristine. I am not even a spine cracker. I have books that are 20 years old that I’ve re-read multiple times that are mint. That habit carried over to the kindle so I barely use the keyboard. I highlight quotes mostly.

    Since my kindle is my reader, I don’t tend to read across devices (actually I hate reading on the iPad or the iPhone).

    My biggest problems with the Kindle were the inability to organize my books and that got changed. And the inability to read library loans from the Kindle. Apparently that is forthcoming.

    I do agree that it would be nice to be able to organize by purchase date, but I also side-load a lot of books so I am not sure how that would work? Acquisition date? I do have it sorted so that the most recent books appear first, but that also includes the ones I have been most recently perusing.

    Overall, it does for me what I need it to do and I am happy with it.

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  9. Hannah
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 09:21:54

    @Tina on which Kindle app are you able to select multiple books?

    I haven’t tried the Kindle cloud reader yet. For the most part, I’m happy with the Kindle apps though I agree they lack organizational capabilities. The only other reader I use (or try to use) on a regular basis is Overdrive for ipod touch. It’s so spectacularly bad–pages load slowly, audiobooks often crash–that the Kindle apps are good to use by comparison.

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  10. JenM
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 09:23:19

    Like many others, I adore my K but these are all valid concerns. I rarely take notes or search so the clunkiness there doesn’t bother but with 900 books in my archive, I would kill for a better way to sort them. I just keep hoping there will be an improvement at some point.

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  11. Jessica
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 09:43:42

    @sunita

    I am seriously disappointed by the Kindle Cloud reader. Why on earth can’t you send a sample to it?

    I’ve been sending samples to the cloud reader. It shows up as the default in the drop down under “send sample” once I installed the app for my browser.

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  12. Sunita
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 09:49:57

    @Jessica: D’oh! Thank you! It was grayed out in my “send to Kindle” panel in my list of purchased items, and I somehow overlooked it when I was choosing a device for samples.

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  13. Becca
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 10:06:51

    for me, what continues to make my kindling a superior experience is their customer service. Imagine being able to return a book within 7 days! I’ve used their ‘call me’ kindle customer service just a few times, but never had more than a minute wait, nor had them not be able to solve my problem.

    OTOH, I don’t use highlighting much, nor notes – my reading is almost entirely fiction. For that, I prefer my kindle even over my Sony 350.

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  14. Keishon
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 10:23:44

    I think all digital readers are a disappointment to one degree or another. But I realize your article addresses the unfulfilled promises set by Amazon.

    As a voracious reader, I’m just disappointed that no one has a desire to make the reading experience any better even with you and several others publicly addressing the weaknesses for several years. With each new reiteration there is always something significantly missing. Of course the buying experience will always be priority. I guess the rest can keep till later.

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  15. Sandia
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 11:00:06

    @Sunita:
    I just tried it again after we installed some updates and this time it worked! sit feels a little heavy for one handed reading though. No complaints though – it was a great steal for $99!

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  16. Lorenda Christensen
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 12:25:40

    “To some extent, as a big Kindle book buyer, I feel punished for my avidity.”

    Amen to this one. I have around 300 books available on my Kindle, and it is indeed great to read a book on. But to find a book on? It’s miserable. I hate the Kindle store on the Kindle device, and I’ve found myself using the PC version more and more to create collections. On the Kindle I usually keep everything archived except the one book I’m reading, because I refuse to scroll through twenty-some pages to find a book.

    And if I want to re-read a book, I usually don’t bother looking for it in my archived items on the kindle, I just go back to Amazon and resend it to the Kindle. Which defeats the purpose of read anything anywhere.

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  17. Nikki
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 12:42:27

    I agree about the difficulty in terms of accessing your books. The most recent Amazon website updates made it easier for me to send books to myself. But I have around a 1000 books give or take a hundred so the lack of organization is frustrating. I will say that this has been a common problem with any electronic reading for a long time. I have submitted my complaints so hopefully as they update this will improve.

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  18. Brian
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 16:52:20

    I often get the feel that Amazon is doing just enough with their apps and Kindle devices to keep one step ahead of other vendors and that they aren’t interested in doing anything more than they have to in order to achieve that. None of the stores (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Sony) disappoint overall. Is 3-5 years (the age of most of these ebook stores) long enough to expect more? If not, how long must we wait.

    The Kindle 4 Android app is “good enough” and I use it frequently, but it could be sooo much better as could pretty much every aspect of the various Kindle apps. In reality the apps put out by various stores go from just OK (Amazon, B&N, Kobo) to really crappy (Sony). At this point Amazon can say they have the most platforms available, but that’s about it.

    The software on the Kindle itself while completely usable has the feel of something done 100% by a programmer (as opposed to a collaboration with ‘book people’) with little thought to actual things like typography and usability that could make things even better (not that it’s horrible, but it could be better).

    Collections are a major disappointment for me. I much prefer something like what Bookeen has had for years where you just organize your books by folder like you would on a desktop/laptop and if you turn on folder view they just show up that way (along with cover thumbnails) multi-levels and all.

    Archives definitely need some work. I have almost 1,700 books in my archives and it’s a pain in the butt every time I want to look for a book. My own personal archive on Dropbox organized by author is much more useful and usable. While not perfect they could take a page from the Cloud Player devs and make it at least somewhat better.

    I get the feel that there are different folks doing each app with no cohesive plan for an overall user experience. What they should be doing is trying for a similar feel across all platforms and all their digital content (Books, MP3s and Video).

    That all sounds really down on Amazon, but they’re still where I buy most of my stuff. It’s just easy to see how much better it could be and frustrating not to see it come to fruition.

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  19. CourtneyLee
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 20:08:23

    Like a few other commenters, my Kindle does for me exactly what I need it to do. I don’t highlight much, I don’t use the apps or cloud, don’t search, and I tend to keep books in my collections as opposed to in the archive. I would definitely like to be able to put archived books in collections to make them easier to find, though. And sub-collections would be convenient as well.

    Also, navigating the Kindle store on the Kindle is a bit of a pain. It would be nice to have more options besides “return to store” when I download something because using the back button is annoying. I’d like to be able to search free books beyond the top 100. And for goodness’ sake, let us sort search results in multiple ways. There’s more to life than “sorted by bestselling.”

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  20. Jane
    Aug 29, 2011 @ 08:24:10

    @Brian Yes, this is I feel as well. My familiarity with Amazon stems from the fact that I use it ALL the time so it’s the system with which I have the most familiarity.

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  21. Carolyn Jewel
    Aug 29, 2011 @ 09:21:45

    I am so grateful for all your really thoughtful reviews on eReaders. I really really hope ALL the companies are paying attention.

    If only they would listen to what readers say . . .

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  22. Daisy Harris
    Aug 29, 2011 @ 09:28:48

    Agreed. Which is why I went out and bought a Nook this weekend. (Formerly read on Kindle app on iPhone and iPad but once one-click was gone, the shiny was off the apple.)

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  23. LG
    Aug 29, 2011 @ 09:54:36

    @Daisy Harris: And unfortunately, even the Nook could use a lot of improvements, or at least the version I have could (I’ve got the older wireless model, with the touch strip at the bottom). I’d love it if the My Documents area were browseable by cover, the same way the Nook Books area is, since 99% of my e-books are NOT from B&N, and cover images are often how I remember books I’ve purchased but not yet read. I’d love it if the Nook took advantage of metadata I know, via Calibre, is there (series info!). I’d love it if note-taking and highlighting were less painful – I only read fiction on my Nook, but I like to take notes for blog posts. I’d love it if organizing my e-books could be done in batch.

    You’d think there’d be some company out there doing their best make an e-reader that never has a moment where it feels like a barrier between the reader and the books. Unfortunately, it seems like the primary concern is making an e-reader that’s just good enough that people will want to buy it, after which the companies concentrate most of their energies on selling e-books via their stores. Sometimes it feels like the only way a truly good e-reader could be created is if a company that did not also sell e-books made one, because then all they’d have to concentrate on is the e-reader and the software.

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  24. Statch
    Aug 29, 2011 @ 20:21:59

    @Amy Kathryn and @Sunita, thanks for the information on how to add multiple books to a collection on the Kindle! Now, why couldn’t I have asked that question BEFORE I downloaded dozens of books and added each one to the same collection the hard way? Or better yet, thought to search online to see if there was a way to do it before I asked a stupid question? Sigh. :->

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  25. Kindle Collections Expands to Desktop Software - Dear Author
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 13:58:08

    [...] two weeks ago, I was complaining about things I felt the Kindle software could do but isn’t doing. No. 2 was synchronized collections. [...]

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