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Posts tagged ‘amazon’


More ebook fun

It shouldn’t be news to any reader of this blog that I am a big ebook fan and that I have had a Kindle for a while now.

So, as seems to be customary this time of year, I’ll go back to one of my favorite topics — ebooks.

I think the new Kindles are cool, I think the ones before them were good as well and to be honest, there’s really nothing to complain about my – now aging – Kindle either.

I still like all the things I used to like about ebooks and I still dislike all the things I used to dislike. But there’s something that really bugs me more and more: pricing and release dates.

Let’s pick for example, the last book in The Wheel of Time series, probably my favorite fantasy series of all time.
Finally available for pre-order, you can find it on the Amazon webstore in Hardcover and Kindle format.
Notice first of all, the pricing. The hardcover is £13.10 and the ebook is £10.99.


This is wrong in my mind for two reasons, both related to how cost should get calculated.


1. Production process

I have not been involved in the book publishing process of either paper or digital books, but here’s what I guess is a reasonable high-level description of the process.


Hardcover book

  • Trees are cut
  • Paper is made from said trees
  • Books are printed on pages of said paper
  • Pages are tied together
  • Big heavy books are hauled all over the world
  • Books are placed in bookstores which require physical space and all the pains and costs of a physical storefront


  • Some conversion is done from the original digital format the book is in from author/editor to the ebook format it will be released under
  • The ebook is placed on the publisher’s servers for download

Now I’m no expert in any of these, but it seems like the ebook version is a whole lot easier and more cost effective. Not to mention greener.


2. What you pay for

A physical hardcover book can be used for the following:

  • Reading the content inside
  • Lending said book and content to a friend
  • Door stop
  • Ammo against annoying mosquitos
  • Last-resort flammable fuel in case of a zombie outbreak
  • Many more things that I can’t think of right now

An ebook can be used for the following:

  • Reading the content inside… unless you decide do move to a different ebook provider

So… does the small discount justify the reduced production cost of ebooks and the reduced benefits that come from buying an ebook instead of a physical book? I don’t feel it does. I really really don’t. I think they should be a lot cheaper than they are. I find numerous examples where the ebook is more expensive than the paperback and that’s just wrong.

But what I find it even more annoying is the release date. If you look back to my previous example, you may notice a detail so small that I nearly missed it when I was preordering. The ebook comes out three MONTHS after the hardcover.


Before I noticed that I was debating between the hardcover and the ebook. I was debating whether I want to own this wonderful series in physical form, out of fandom more than anything else, or whether I want to go for the more practical approach of getting it all on my Kindle and not taking up an entire rack of my bookcase with the WoT books. I would’ve maybe blogged about that internal debate and what it means to a book fan like me, who also happens to be a practical geek.

But I won’t blog about that. I won’t blog about that because I want to own A Memory of Light as early as humanly possible and I will not wait for nearly an extra quarter of a year for the ebook version. I won’t blog about it because if I want to get the previous books, I can pick between getting them at about £0.60 each in paperback (and I mean new) or £4.99 in Kindle format. I won’t blog about that because that debate is pointless in a world where ebooks are second-class citizens for publishers, so instead I’ll have to stick with this mild rant for this year.

But there is hope though… So, until next year, happy reading, no matter how you like it.


No film for you!

I’ve previously blogged about how bad the “legal” options for getting videos online really are when it comes to availability and ease of use, in comparison to illegally downloading torrents.

The Oatmeal noticed that as well and there’s a great comic as usual to argue that point.




The 1% of the experience

Since everyone loves talking about things in 1% and 99% nowadays, I’ll talk to you about the 1% of the [user/client] experience. It’s that little bit of the experience which can ruin everything, even if the other 99% is perfect. Case study: online shopping.

I started really experiencing online shopping when I went to the US and I have been doing a lot of that ever since. The main website for this was of course, I’ve pretty much never had any problems with them directly and any problems I did have, they resolved excellently. I’m not going to lie, I’m a fan.

After moving to the UK, I was obviously excited and expecting to continue doing the same thing on Surely there are some regional differences; some are good (no minimum purchase for free shipping), some are not so good (VAT always applies as opposed to sales tax in the US), but overall it’s more or less the same experience. Or rather, it’s the same experience until you press the submit order button.

In the US, Amazon deals with the big fish in shipping. While I may recall an exception or two, most of the stuff from Amazon came to me by USPS, UPS or FedEx. And though I had some gripes with UPS and I know the tubes are full with complaints about FedEx, these guys do their job pretty well, at least in my experience.

In the UK, Amazon seems to deal with a lot of other couriers… which unfortunately do not live up to expectations. I’ll give you an example. An order made about 1-2 weeks before Christmas was delivered by Yodel after mid-January. Not that they let us know anything was wrong, the website suggested the package is out for delivery pretty much everyday from the scheduled delivery day (which was a few days before Christmas) to the day it actually got delivered. For all that I know, it may still be telling us the same thing.

CityLink is another lovely. I missed their first delivery (on a Thursday) so I went online and rescheduled it for a Monday, when I was going to be home anyway. On Monday, wanting to make sure everything’s on track, I went online and to my surprise the website didn’t indicate that the package is on its way towards me. So I called them up where I was informed that unfortunately the depot “overlooked my request”. I was then given the option to reschedule again or to go pick it up (which I was told is only “a short drive away” from where I live). Apparently if you’re a CityLink customer, it is generally assumed that you are also a car owner.

I think Amazon is great. I think the website does what it’s supposed to do pretty well, I think the experience is good. I previously wrote about Amazon having some of the best customer service I ever interacted with. It’s not like they sent me a box of caviar and vacuumed my carpet, but rather that they did what I expected them to do in a fairly efficient and respectful manner… which is what I think all customer services should do, but it almost never happens. In other words, I genuinely believe that Amazon is doing mostly everything right. But this one little piece called delivery is broken in the UK and unfortunately, this is the piece that bridges the online world with the physical product that I expect to get, so even though it’s such a small thing, it devalues the entire experience. No matter what improvements Amazon would do on the online part, it cannot compensate for this one weak link.

There are many similar examples of such “1%” weak links. Security and protection of data comes to mind. Badly designed or unresponsive interfaces also. Every application, every product, every business has something of this sort and it should always be a priority to identify what this is and to focus efforts and resources on making it as close to perfect as can be. Otherwise, all the work on the 99% may not matter.


Kindle FTW

I remember reading about electronic paper years and years ago and being eager to see devices implementing this new technology, but somehow until last month, I had never actually seen it. But when I finally did come out of my cave and gazed upon the modern world, I was sold. Read moreRead more


Customer service

Clearly the regular posting is off to a slow start, but I swear I am trying, haha :-)

So here’s a short note about customer service (and I guess it’s also about LEGAL MP3 downloads). Now, given that the price difference between the regular disc and the MP3 album is often small and that I play discs in my car, I usually go for the disc instead of the MP3 (and rip it myself to play it on my computer and throw the CD in the car collection). But, I did make an exception twice.

First time I bought an MP3 album from Amazon, all was good. I liked the great quality, it was DRM free, so thumbs up for Amazon, thumbs down for iTunes. The second time I bought from Amazon, which was about a week back, things didn’t go so well. The download went good, but then the tracks were skipping (I’m guessing the original CD they were ripped from was dirty or scratched). So in other words, another small but terribly annoying problem, just as I had previously with iTunes. Now here’s the difference. When my iTunes album was messed up, I tried to contact them about it and I never heard back. This small failure in customer service ensured that I will never buy a track from iTunes again. On the other hand, Amazon responded fantastically fast (I think in less than two hours every time I wrote to them), were very polite and offered me a whole bunch of solutions. Now, the solutions themselves looked as if an automatic answering system spit them out because they were all solutions for download problems instead of messed up tracks, but with a service as big as Amazon, some preset answers don’t surprise me much, you have to keep things going, I can understand that – even if it doesn’t make me very happy. Eventually, unable to get things figured out, I requested a refund and again, very quickly, I received a confirmation that I will get refunded AND I was invited to try and get the MP3 album again in a few days, after they try and get a corrected version up (finally an acknowledgment of the real problem).

Now sure, I am still upset that the whole thing didn’t work right and now I have to get the disc instead and wait for it to be mailed and all, but their responsive customer service made me happy. Yes, I will think twice before buying an MP3 album again, but I might nonetheless. And I will definitely still consider Amazon my number one choice for Internet purchases as long as they keep up the good work like this. Everybody makes mistakes and that’s normal. It’s how you react to those mistakes that sets the difference, especially when it comes to mistakes towards your customers.

A little note here: the OVERALL quality of legal MP3 sales has got to go up, otherwise you will never convince people to stop doing it illegaly. If you download an album illegaly and it’s messed up, you don’t lose a cent, but when you start paying for it, you have some expectations and if those are not met, ethics alone will not keep people on the right track. Actually, they probably will increase the popularity of illegal solutions if anything.

Just in case anyone’s curios, this is the album I am trying to get. I highly recommend it: Bach:Concertos