Thursday, January 27, 2011

Protip for book publishers

The Inner CircleIn the nearly three years since I bought my first Kindle, I've become an enormous fan. I've purchased about 100 books, and have read books on the first gen Kindle (now gifted to my in-laws), second-gen Kindle (a gift to my wife), my iPhone 3GS, my Nexus One, my iPad, and my Nexus S. The reading experience has been consistently terrific - synching between devices (so you can pick up on the phone where you left off on the Kindle) is flawless, the experience of transferring titles to any device is simple, and the more recent ability to lend titles to friends is great too.

But I had a terrible experience with a book last week, notable as much because it's the first time I've felt that the Kindle degraded my reading experience in three years. To be clear, this isn't Amazon's fault - it's a combination of a disappointing book (hardly their issue!) and a dumb decision by the publisher (which may have been intentional).

Let me explain: I heard an interview last week on NPR with Brad Meltzer, author of a new book about intrigue at the National Archives. (I know what you're thinking, and in hindsight, perhaps I should've thought twice: "intrigue" at the National Archives?) It sounded interesting, and I'd read some of Meltzer's work before so I picked it up.

I wasn't really enjoying the book as I read it. The plot strained credibility in several places, twists were pretty foreseeable, and Meltzer never really pulled me in. But it had one thing going for it: as I watched my progress meter on the Kindle get to just 25, 30, 40%, I figured that perhaps the best of the book was still in front of me. Maybe this was just necessary setup for a more engaging ride?

Then, at 47%, I was at the end of the book. The book didn't just end on a cliff-hanger, it ended with the main conflict in the story completely unresolved. Certain that there was a mistake, I tried to re-download the title. I skipped ahead to 50, 55% to see what was there - and discovered that Meltzer's publisher had bundled an entirely different book - by a different author - in with this downloaded title. End result? Total, utter confusion. (I'm not alone - here's one reviewer who had the same reaction; there are many others in the book's reviews.)

This is partly the author's fault: I can't remember another book I've read where the author so utterly punted on the central conflict at the end of the book. (After reading some reviews on Amazon, I discovered that this is the first book of a series Meltzer intends to write centered around these characters.) But it's also the publisher's fault: if they hadn't included the second book in the download, at least the Kindle's progress meter would've accurately reflected the % of book I'd read. As it was, the % meter reflected the % of the downloaded item I'd completed, which is useless - why do I care that I'm 47% of the way through the combination of two books by two different authors?

If Amazon has any opportunity here, it's to prohibit this kind of bundling by publishers - it degrades the user experience, and through no fault of their own, renders one of its key features useless. One of the tremendous assets of the Kindle reading experience is that it's consistent - not only across devices but across titles.

Bonus: I guess maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss the notion of intrigue at the National Archives. From this week's headlines:
Maybe Meltzer was on to something...?!

1 comment:

  1. Actually, Rick, I think this is genius! The problem with a thriller is that you know from how far you are from the end, so you know whether this is a big problem (it can't be if you're not far enough into the book) or a small problem and how far away the ultimate resolution. Binding two books together avoids the problem.