Shopping for eBooks the hard way

Those of you with a Kindle will learn nothing from this week’s eAdventure but you you might enjoy the opportunity to snigger and feel superior.

The biggest negative side effect of not choosing the Kindle as my eReading device is having to shop at places other than Amazon for my eBooks. For some reason that is unfathomable to me no store that I have so far visited comes close to offering a shopping experience even one-quarter as good as that offered by Amazon. I have so far tried Borders Australia, The Book Depository (UK), Waterstones (UK) and had an aborted attempt at WH Smith (UK). American-based stores are excluded from these ramblings as they are all vehemently anti-foreigners (well they won’t sell to us at any rate). By and large the experiences have been underwhelming to say the least. Of these the ‘best’ is Waterstones who at least haven’t made me cry with frustration. Smashwords, an Indie publisher of DRM free eBooks, has potential but it and similar sites will need to offer a more reader-centric experience before they attract mainstream readers (at this stage it appears much more focused on attracting authors).

And so to my plea…

Dear eBookseller

Do you want my money? It doesn’t seem so. If you do, then here are some things you should implement ASAP:

  • Make it clear up front what geographical restrictions for sale apply to your store and/or individual books within it. I know it’s possible to do this because these days when I log into my Audible (owned by Amazon of course) account I simply do not see books for sale that are unavailable to ‘people in my geographical location’ (note to WH Smith, don’t bother doing this just for me because I’ll not visit you ever again on principle, having wasted a solid half an hour choosing books only to find out then that I couldn’t buy from you).
  • Offer a wishlist/save for later functionality. I cannot believe I have to even bring this up in 2010. Seriously, if you have some old copies of Internet for Dummies lying around you should probably read one.
  • Offer an RSS feed or some equivalent kind of alert for when new titles in certain categories/genres or by particular authors are added to your store. eBooks are being added to online stores in enormous clumps as new deals with publishers are made and/or backlists are released in the appropriate format. I would like to know when this happens for my favourite authors/series rather than having to visit your store and carry out the same arduous searches each time. If you tell me when a title by becomes available in your store I will in all likelihood click and buy without thinking. Why do I have to tell you how to get more money out of me, isn’t it your business to know this crap?
  • Cut out the pricing bullshit This is particularly applicable to Australian sellers (though publishers share this blame) who have, for as long as I can remember, blamed the tyranny of distance for the outrageous prices charged for books here so what is the excuse for more expensive eBooks? And you can all cut out charging more for eBooks than their printed versions too. Given that an eBook isn’t owned by the purchaser (it can’t be loaned or re-sold and often can’t outlive its device) and there are no printing or distribution costs just stop this kind of nonsense.

Lee Child's newest book costing $1.61 more in eBook format on Borders Australia website 6/10/10

    • Do not list eBooks as out of stock. It makes you look stupid. If you are in negotiation with the publisher then say so or don’t include the title in your catalogue at all until you are legally allowed to sell it. Yes Book Depository I’m talking to you and believe me it hurts to think so badly of you after having loved you for the past 2 years but in the same way that me claiming psychic powers doesn’t automatically grant them, you listing 340,000 titles for sale isn’t true if more than half of them are out of stock!

    • Check that the metadata that is provided by publishers (book title, author name etc) has been transferred sensibly to your database. I know this is radical thinking but perhaps you could employ a human to check the entries, weed out duplicates, ensure the genre categorisations are accurate, add a cover image and put the author’s name in properly

    Sincerely, Bernadette (in Australia*)

    (*it’s a country, look it up)

    Do you have any special request of eBook sellers to add to the list?

    Or perhaps you’ve had a pleasurable experience buying eBooks somewhere other than the places I’ve mentioned and would like to let me know (though please don’t torture me with tales of your fabulous American stores because none of them like foreigners and I’ve had enough rejection for this year).

    This entry was posted in eAdventure, rant or rave. Bookmark the permalink.

    20 Responses to Shopping for eBooks the hard way

    1. taphappy says:

      I’m in Melbourne & have bought quite a few ebooks from

      They’re australian based & I’ve had some success buying from them. Most titles have an ‘availability’ button which tells you which countries can buy that title. (if that makes sense).

      It’s a reasonably easy buying process (imho) and their range is ok (I read mainly crime & mystery)


    2. Thanks taphappy, that’s a new one for me to try…looks good at first glance (though still no wishlist…don’t they realise Amazon wishlist makes the company a small fortune?)


    3. Mandy says:

      This is hilarious Bernadette and so true. Before I got a kindle I read books on my pc and it was so frustrating. I’ve added a link to this post in our Aussie Readers group at Goodreads. Thanks for writing this. I laughed out loud a few times.:DD


    4. Marg says:

      Today is the first day that I have tried to find books that I wanted to buy, and so far it’s not going well.

      That and when you hear about free e-books, oh, except to anyone who doesn’t live in the US! So frustrating!


    5. I know how you feel Marg – I’ve found backlist titles easier to get than new releases and the UK stores far more lenient geographically than the yanks 🙂

      That site that taphappy mentioned above looks to have a decent range too so maybe try that one – at least prices are in Aussie dollars and you know up front if the title is available to you as a non-American 🙂


    6. Sandra says:

      You might like to try & its affiliated site

      Yes I know they are American but I buy from them all the time, no problem.

      And big plus – they have a wishlist. I also use that all the time too, very handy.


    7. Bernadette – I am so sorry to hear of your woes. I have to say, I don’t have an E-Reader, Kindle or otherwise, so I can’t really empathise. But I feel for you and I just love your ideas. Especially the pricing one. To me that one and the your plea to not make books available for one’s shopping cart that can’t be shipped to one are the best ideas. Simple ideas, people! Can’t be that hard to implement!


    8. Keishon says:

      All I can say is welcome to the world of ebook reading. As a US resident and die hard ebook reader, I am no longer able to buy UK books digitally and here I am trying to read as many new authors as I can outside the US. Publishers put a stop to that with agency pricing and geo restrictions. Prices, well, if the market dictates price then readers must be buying those ebooks at those high prices. I wish they wouldn’t but some ebook readers don’t think those prices are high. I’ll go as high at 11.99 but it’s rare.

      Shopping for ebooks – Amazon wins hands down. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to create a decent shopping experience but I guess it takes money to do so. Despite all the hassles of choosing this format, I still prefer digital to paper.

      I noticed that you haven’t touched on DRM = data rights management that locks you into just one store and one device. Or the hassles of authenticating and activating or inputting your credit card number in order to unlock your ebooks that you bought. That would be topic unto itself actually.


    9. JoV says:

      I am sorry to hear this Bernadette. There must be some telepathy going on around here, while I said I would like the Sony e-reader, imagine my surprise today when I look at and found at least 17 classics downloaded for £0.00, for free!! For Free?, for FREE!!! I just couldn’t believe it. I re-read all the functionality specs of the Kindle again and I can tell you Bernadette, I am nearly a convert of Kindle today.

      Can’t you return your Sony if it’s within certain purchasing time lapse? and try out the Kindle?


    10. JoV says:

      I am sorry to hear this Bernadette. There must be some telepathy going on around here, while I said I would like the Sony e-reader, imagine my surprise today when I look at and found at least 17 classics downloadable for £0.00, for free!! For Free?, for FREE!!! I just couldn’t believe it. I re-read all the functionality specs of the Kindle again and I can tell you Bernadette, I am nearly a convert of Kindle today.

      Can’t you return your Sony if it’s within certain purchasing time lapse? and try out the Kindle?


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    12. Jade says:

      Resounding applause!!!

      I have just started reading ebooks with the Kobo app on my Blackberry and have run headfirst into the availability issue. The most frustrating part with Kobo is that it literally does not tell you the book isn’t available (“in your region”) until you’ve hit the ‘buy’ button. And then when you go back to the main book list is asks you if you’re “sure you want to cancel the transaction” – as if I had any other choice!

      I have thankfully not encountered the ‘out of stock’ problem. I probably wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I had.


    13. Maxine says:

      I just go with Amazon. I have observed that other online booksellers seem to track it anyway, with their own offerings. (eg anything you can buy on the Book Depository with “free” postage, you can buy via Amazon for the same price, but the postage is separately itemised). In the UK, anyway. I appreciate this isn’t e-books, the topic of your post, but as a reader I just go with Amazon because they are so customer-centric, whatever else they may be.
      However, their search etc has never been as good with their own search engine as it was in the old days when they used the Google search engine. So I do recall when Amazon was a lot better than it is now. However, as a reader, no other site comes close in terms of ability to discover what’s available, stock levels, and price. I know a lot of people think Amazon is evil, and it may be, but it works for me.

      Having said that, I would quite happily buy another brand of e-reader to compliment my Amazon one (on which I have so far read the grand total of one book and purchased one more, if/when I can get a complimentary and good range of choice.


    14. @Sandra, thanks I’ll check that out

      @Keishon oh yes a post about DRM is in the works…I’m clarifying my thoughts and trying to take out all the swear words before I publish 🙂

      @JoV I know it might not sound like it but I’m still glad I chose the Sony and I’m not interested in taking it back. For a start having the Kindle wouldn’t make it that much better as I am in Australia and lots of books wouldn’t be available to me anyway even if I was using the Kindle. But I also think the only way the competitors will get better is if people use them and…er…give them constructive advice on improving their service. I get very wary of consumer-driven monopolies. And it’s not like I haven’t managed to buy eBooks…I bought 3 Jo Nesbo ones for 5pounds each just the other day…I just that I have to work a bit harder and not be quite so impulsive.

      @Jade the Kobobooks site really bugs me – different pricing for different countries and all sorts of nasty games…I haven’t actually gone through with a transaction there so didn’t include them in my rant but I agree they don’t appear to be any better than the others

      @Maxine though I’m not entirely keen on Amazon’s business practices I do agree their shopping experience wins hands down – shame they only seel eBooks for their own devices. I expect my alternative device / second eReader will end up being a tablet PC (like an iPad but not that one) on which I’ll use a Kindle app so that I can buy from them. But even so I would like to see other stores compete properly – as consumers we tend not to end up winning if there’s only one player in the market.


    15. Patty says:

      I am so sad for you about this…Amazon and Kindle are sort of unbeatable…they do offer hundreds of free books and have amazing author specials…I just bought the new Karen McQuestion book for $2.99…you shoulda otta have gotten a Kindle…have you looked at netgalley…tons of free books if you write a review for them…


    16. kathy durkin says:

      Oh, I sympathize completely. All of this would have me wringing my hands, pulling my hair and crying, too. I’m sticking to real paper books to avoid all of this.
      The New York Times on Wednesday had an article about the fury of ebook readers who are fuming about prices on some ebooks being higher than on hardcovers. They gave two examples: a book by Ken Follett and one by guess who? James Patterson.
      Just as an aside, I have books in a shopping cart at Amazon, but every time I check in an add something I get messages about the prices having been raised on most of the books.
      I don’t understand why people outside of the U.S. are having trouble purchasing U.S.-published ebooks, when U.S. companies push sales of everything on the global market. So I don’t get it.
      Your post is great and very funny, too.


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    18. shelleyrae@ Book'd Out says:

      Great post!


    19. Thanks for the informative blog post. I hope the eBook sellers around the world hear you and make the necessary adjustments. I just downloaded a free kindle reader from Amazon for my Acer laptop to try out the whole eBook via PC reading experience. So far I am liking it. My printed novel Champion is for sale every place in the world that sells books, and I now am thinking about using to release an eBook version. Any suggestions? Have a great day, Miles Cobbett


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