The last time I wrote an article for Teleread on the whole Amazon business, my message was a simple one: if you want to compete, compete! Do a better job. Make a better website, a better store, a better product. Do a better job than Amazon does.
I got another tiny example today in what exactly that means. Just a small little moment of elegance, a feature nicely done which showed me why Amazon is the market leader in this area. I had downloaded a sample and was reading it, and I decided I wanted the book. I called up the menu, and there as a button right there to buy it. I didn’t have to even leave the sample to go to the store section. It was just ‘tap, and buy.’
Okay so far. Better than Kobo—you do have to leave the sample to buy it, or you did the last time I tried to buy a Kobo book. But it gets better. Amazon downloaded the book in the background while I was in the sample. And then they somehow transferred me into the book itself, exactly where I had left off. I didn’t even notice blip or flicker in the screen! Suddenly there was a little pop-up telling me I was reading the book now, and I just carried on with it. Then when I did finally venture back to the home screen, I saw that the sample had been automatically deleted for me, the full book was there and I could go about my merry way.
Slick, Amazon. Very slick. And that? That’s why they are winning this game right now. Why isn’t anybody else making it this easy?
I think downloading to where you left off is new. It has only started doing that for me. Lately, however, I’ve started going directly back to the site so that I can make my purchase from smile.amazon
Joanna, you need to get out a bit more. Apple’s iBooks app on my Mac lets me do something quite similar from within a book sample. It’s a quite obvious feature and nothing to provoke a “Gee, golly, gosh!.” The issue is probably not the greatness of Amazon, but the deficiencies of Kobo.
In fact, I just checked with Brad Thor’s Act of War. iBooks not only offers me a buy button, it has an option that I’m virtually certain no Kindle device or app offers. That Apple sample allows me sign up for a newsletter FROM THE PUBLISHER with special offers, bonus content, and new releases from them.
That means that, when I buy, I can choose to establish a relationship with the publisher that bypasses Apple. Amazon, in contrast, has gotten a lot of flack from publishers from blocking any access to readers who buy through it. That difference exists because Apple does not regard publishers (in this case Simon & Schuster) as targets for bullying. Amazon does. The convenience of readers matters less to Amazon that having the upper hand.
There are other ways Apple shows more willingness to cooperate with authors and publishers than Amazon. Amazon dictates that samples be a fixed 10% starting from the beginning. That is tolerable with novels but little else. Apple lets authors and publishers either opt for the first 10% or supply their own sample, one that can come from all over a book. For some of my ebooks, I put much the best stuff there, so whether a reader buys or not, they get that good stuff.
Apple also allows authors and publishers to post at the iBookstore up to five sample pages. That encourages them to make those pages attractive. Amazon doesn’t do that. Just that measly first-10% sample.
That said, there’s a lot that Apple could be doing but isn’t. Simon & Schuster can afford to maintain a reader mailing list and the like. Apple would do well to create ways that would allow every author and publisher to maintain similar contact with their readers without messy web programming. That’d mean Apple-supplied things like author webpages and mailing lists for when a new book in a series comes out.
And with the recent release of a new and improved InDesign that can create marvelous fixed layout epubs, Apple needs to improve how ebooks are sold. That fixed layout epub allows an author to create a digital book for larger screens (iPads and Macs) that looks identical to the print version, including complex layouts and the same page breaks. It’s great for children’s books and textbooks.
The downside it that those fixed layout pages look impossibly small on an iPhone. I know. I’ve tried. That means that some readers need both formats. There Apple is coming up short. It should be possible to upload both formats at the same time. Both should display on the same store book page. And buying one (for an iPad) should also let users get the other (for an iPhone). That Apple needs to do, particularly to avoid reader confusion.
Does Amazon offer that? No, in fact Amazon is making it hard to create a the fixed layout equivalent for their KF8 format. When I queried them about how I could create such versions of my books, Amazon told me I’d need to pay some third party (probably thousands of dollars) to do it for me. Gee, thanks.
Contrast that with Apple who offers not one but two ways to create fixed format epubs. One is the free app IBooks Author. The other is a result of their working closely with Adobe. When I’ve created a print version of my book within InDesign do you know how long it takes me to create both reflowable and fixed layout versions? About five minutes if I am really slow.
Amazon offers nothing remotely similar. And offering nothing similar that means that in many cases in the future that ebook you’re reading on your Kindle is not going to be formatted as well as that same book on an iPad. I’ve got a host of books I could easily release as fixed-format epubs that would never make the transition to reflowable Mobi and KF8.
Amazon is ahead in this game because it entered it first and in a big way. (Sony’s bumbling attempts hardly count.) But it has already lost about 20% of its market share to Apple and has turned to DOJ’s lawyers to try to beat back Apple’s competition. That’s not the mark of someone who believes their stuff is better.
The key factor is likely to be whether Apple will enlarge their market by releasing Android and WIndows versions of their iBooks app. That’s put more heat on Amazon.
Michael, Apple’s big achilles heel is that it will not let me read on an e-ink device. There are some people, myself included, who just don’t read as well on a tablet. Maybe it’s the size and weight, maybe it’s the backlight, maybe it’s the other distractions, I don’t know. But when I sit down to do my ‘serious’ reading, I reach for my Kindle, not my iPad.
Michael, in reply to your first paragraph, the Kobo store is rubbish. I love the devices (I have a Kobo Touch) but dread using the bookstore. If I access it via my ereader, many books that are on the website can’t be found (usually indie titles). The last time I used it on my Mac, I had Amazon open in another tab so I could use the ‘Look Inside’ feature that Kobo solely lacks…