Friday, September 4, 2009

The Kindle part 3 - The Amazon Kindle Storefront

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon. 

My first experience with the Kindle Store was shocking with a side order of Orwellian onion rings.  After allowing the device to languish unloved on my only table for the better part of a week, I decided one sleepy, sunny Saturday morning to investigate the thing. 

The combination of newness and strangeness drew me ever closer as I puttered around that morning.  Eventually I freed it from its box and settled in for a bit of exploration.  After a few minutes of investigation following an obligatory battery charging session that must have been brief because I cannot recall any impatience, I powered up the wireless system and connected to the Amazon Kindle Store.  

The first two parts of this series were generally positive and bordered on fanboydom (which is absolutely a word).  The Kindle Store is home to much of my criticism for the device, however.  With the caveat that I am still using version 1, and that the battery life of the device with the wireless system engaged is incredibly brief, I will continue.

There are seven major sections to the Kindle Storefront.  I use exactly two of them and both of them occur at the bottom of the screen.  The top 75% of the screen contains the following:

Browse the Kindle Store
New York Times Best Sellers
Kindle Top Sellers
New & Noteworthy Books
Kindle Daily Post

and then the two options I actually use:

Recommended For You
and Search Store

Browse the Kindle Store - I suppose there are people that enjoy sifting through various paid content such as magazines, newspapers, blogs, and books (those are the choices) looking to spend money they had not planned on spending.  In my mind, that is what browsing is - a determination to spend money you don't need to spend but an indeterminacy upon the target.  Regardless, it is not a section I haunt.  I lack the battery life and would rather get straight to reading.  I do not enjoy shopping.

New York Times Best Sellers - Flat out, there is a lot of complete shit on this list.  I am not of the opinion that majority opinion is an excellent needle for picking out what you should read next.  Moreover, a popularity contest is not going to focus on the types and styles of books I want to read.  I suppose there are those that want to read what everyone else is reading.  I have never read a Dan Brown novel and I do not intend to start now.

Kindle Top Sellers - The same argument only with less range and depth of content.  It bothers me that this takes up space on my screen.  It isn't useful information.

New & Noteworthy Books - Technically I have clicked in to this once or twice, but it was on a dare.  Or maybe I was young and impressionable.  I certainly did not spend any money.  The only time I have been magically coerced into making a purchase I had no intention of reading was while listening to a riveting story on NPR.  That books was not even featured in this section of the Storefront, but I did complete the transaction while waiting for a red light to change.  I suppose I should not condemn the New & Noteworthy section, but there is a reason it is not called New & Purchaseworthy (well...two reasons, because I don't think "purchaseworthy" is a word).

The Kindle Daily Post - Completely useless.  Completely useless.  I don't care, Mr. Kindle Marketer Guy.  I am a walking billboard for your product, I do not need your version of the kool-aid.  I am already invested.  I have bought in.  Now you are just taking up space on my screen.

I am going to roll the last two sections (the pieces of the experience I use) into the rest of column and pick up where I left off with my mention of Orwellian onion-rings.  All of these sections were blatantly obvious as to their function and purpose when first I connected to the Storefront and went a-poking.  I was sitting on my front stoop in the delicious North Carolina sun on a quiet Saturday morning.  I did what I do whenever I enter a bookstore...head for the sci-fi & fantasy and start searching for my favorite authors.  That morning I started with David Weber.

Search Store: david weber    [go]

....
....

And behold, a few titles popped up.  Most of them were not by my author, and the specific ones I was hoping to see were not there at all.  However, at the top of the list was a title, by my author, I had not known existed (it was new):  Off Armageddon's Reef.  by David Weber.  If you have read this book then you understand that at that moment I had no idea what the gem before me held.

Scroll to the book    [click]

The individual pages for books are great.  They have tons of useful and useable information, the screen is filled to bursting with data I need to evaluate my selection.  There are link outs to reviews and also links to additional titles by the same author.  There is even the Amazonian "people who bought this item also bought..." section.  All of this is incredibly useful for determining the priory of a book with respect to its series companions and whether or not you should buy it.  I rarely do nowadays, but on that day I showed a measure of caution and used the "Read a Sample" option.

Read a Sample   [click]

... a few seconds go by and suddenly  "New item downloaded" flashes briefly on my screen.  I navigated back to the home screen, found my book snippet and dug in.  It was the first chapter / prologue bit and I was completely hooked only a few pages in.  Hell yes I wanted to buy that.  Back to the store!  (and here come the onion-rings)

Upon my return to the book page, I scrolled up to "Buy Now" and gave it a click:

Buy Now   [click]

This was my first purchase and my Kindle greeted me warmly by name (the device is registered to me).  It also said the following (in text, paraphrased):

Hello!  This is your first purchase on your Kindle.  Here is every credit card you have ever used ever in the past ten years or so on Amazon.  Which one do you want to use for your one click purchasing of Kindle books?

Scared the hell out of me.  There were 16 digit numbers on that screen I had not seen in years, many many years.  Before the shock could wear off I gently scrolled the wheel up the screen, and with a breathless "uh ... this one:"  I clicked.

The book arrived in its entirety less than 20 seconds later.  I noticed that my battery life was dipping so I killed the wireless and read my book.

It was epic.

Upon my return to the store the next week (looking at my usage file, my uptake was slow but steady) and over the course of the next month, I watched my Recommended For You section warp and grow as I made a few purchases.  I am not sure if it pulls any data out of my non-Kindle purchases...I think it might.  I appreciate the Recommended Section, however I have two major issues with it.

1.  The damn thing is only 4 pages long and cannot be extended.   Yes, I admitted before that I don't browse...what I meant is that I do not browse collections that are not targeted directly to me.  If I was presented with a refreshable, extensible, lengthy Recommended For You (me) section, I would browse.  Dammit...I want to see more than 40 books!

2.  Fuck Terry Pratchett.  I mean, you cannot, from the Kindle, tell Amazon to drop something from your list.  The moment I snagged a Garrett novel by Glen Cook (think Chandler meets low fantasy) combined with a few Bujold rereads (yes I bought electronic versions of books I own physically), 75% of my damn Recommended For You (me) section was filled with Terry Pratchett.  I have read a few of them, but I am not interested in his entire collection!  In fact, I am not that enthusiastic about reading him at all.  I have recently discovered that I can manipulate the list from the interwebs, but this is not an ideal solution.  I want to be able to drop books off that list from my Kindle.

Over all, the Kindle Storefront does what it is supposed to do.  I do not spend much time on it, but when I am there I find what I am seeking quickly (or determine it is not there quickly enough:  Weber, what the hell...I want Harrington on my Kindle!).  I am certain the experience is more user friendly for the Version 2 people.  I have definitely burned out the last joule of battery life completing a series of downloads.  The whispernet, the protocol used to deliver items to your Kindle is fast and free (to the user).  If the adjustments were made to the Recommended Section I would probably spend more time in the store and make more purchases.  The credit card thing was freaky at first, but now it is merely a small story I tell when giving a longer version of my pitch.  As a librarian, I can appreciate that search is front and center and, finally, the ability to cross navigate from a book to all books by that book's author is incredibly sweet.

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Geek - Gamer - Librarian - Writer. Only awesome at one of those things at a time, unfortunately.

About Fading Interest

After writing op-eds and travelogues for several years, after finishing a few books, and after failing to get the ball rolling with project after project I stumbled into an idea that might just hold my interest long enough to enjoy some level of satisfaction with my writing.