I love Amazon.
Since I got my Kindle for Christmas, I’ve spent more time shopping on Amazon and ordered more items from them than ever before. Note, I did not say I’ve spent more money with them than before. After Christmases 2011 and 2012 alone, I can safely say my book downloading hasn’t yet come close to my physical orders in cost.
I am, rather, as thrifty in my ebook habits as I ever was in acquiring physical books. Used books, hand-me-downs and, occasionally, PaperBackSwap were the main ways I grew my paper library. For Kindle, it’s Pixel of Ink for scoops on free books on Amazon and Project Gutenberg for all kinds of classics, plus Kindle Daily Deals and other promotions. I’ll buy a book at list price if it’s really important, but I begrudge anything over $10 as publishers hanging onto the last bit of extra cash they can garner before the market corrects for the fact the physical product costs more to produce and deliver. I am all about writers, editors and (please hire one, people) copy editors getting paid. Even in the digital age, marketing a major author takes some cash. I’m not cool with seeing the Kindle edition go for the same as the paperback. There are millions of books in the world and I’m happy to find one within my price range.
While I am still not spending much on books, in many ways, Amazon’s features and business practices have changed my reading experience.
The Daily Deal is certainly the most obvious change. Each night around 3 am Eastern Standard, an extremely good deal goes live for 24-hours. I pride myself on being thrifty, but not cheap, so I try to look at the one day only specials Amazon posts with a critical, but not too critical eye.
A few titles, I’ve pounced on without a second thought. I’d seen How We Decide reviewed at some point, likely on Slate. I bought Matched based on the recommendation from a book blog and because I love dystopian stories. Neverwhere because Neil Gaiman is wonderful and weird. As I already explained why How to Read Literature Like a Professor was too tempting to resist.
Up until recently, I didn’t check out the Daily Deal every day. My change in schedule has made it more a part of my routine. I get off work at the same time the deal goes live and find myself pulling up the page on my phone in the elevator on the way out of the office. Since the prices typically range from $1.99 to $3.99, I’m pretty comfortable going ahead with as many as are worthwhile especially since I am often disappointed with the offering. Dog the Bounty Hunter’s memoir somehow isn’t my idea of compelling literature.
The nights when I instantly nix the title are the easiest. Most often, as the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Since my taste in books runs broad, the tiny blurb on the Kindle store page is seldom enough to rule out the deal. Next, I read the summary to establish wither I’m interested in the slightest. I can’t explain the factors which get me past this point, except to say most books make it to the next stage: I download a sample, usually the first chapter and a half, to my Kindle for inspection.
Sampling is one of my favorite things about using Kindle. It is a million times better then standing the the bookstore, reading the back cover and making a rush decision. Maybe if I’d had the luxury of hanging around Barnes & Noble for an hour whenever I wanted, I wouldn’t be so enamored, but for me starting a book before making a financial commitment has been a revolution. Plus, rather than keeping a wish list of books I want to remember to buy down the road, I simply download the sample.
With the Daily Deals or, my new discovery, $3.99 and under monthly specials, I prioritize sample reading and decision making for those titles. Naturally, I don’t want to discover after the price has returned to normal that I must finish the book. Some would mention the Kindle lending library, but it only offers one book a month which is nice but not enough to keep me in reading material.
The Daily Deal, even downloaded as early as 3:02 am, causes the most pressure. I find myself looking at these works far more harshly than I would if, say, I checked them out of the library on a whim. Rather than letting the story roll over me, I look for things which would drive me to stop reading: Characters who seem annoying or unrealistic, historical inconsistencies or plot holes. If I am to invest both my precious reading time and my hard earned $1.99 in a book, I don’t want to put it down unfinished.
In a book offered at regular price, the effect is not so drastic. I can safely say, I won’t buy it unless it was pretty much a sure thing before I read the sample. Take Scali’s Redshirts. Even at $11.99, I happily pressed “buy it now” because I knew I would love every moment and was unwilling to wait for the price to drop and considered it more of an early adopter tax.
I am sad to say, I have given free books – paper and digital – far more of my time than I should on many occasions in an effort to given them a fair shake. Maybe it is better that I am so terribly critical of these early chapters. I feel a strange near-guilt over cutting books I find unworthy. Worse, it seems arbitrary and unscientific as I can sometimes say why I didn’t buy a book, but I can hardly ever name the reason I say yes without an honorable recommendation or a known author. What if I was wrong to buy On Bear Mountain and not to buy Garden of Lies, nixed because I felt it unrealistic to have a wealthy 1940s American woman out shopping by herself in the final weeks of her pregnancy. Since the entire plot hinged on it, I could hardly continue. If I was wrong, I may never know, but I may read a glowing review in the coming weeks and regret my decision.
Likely it is better, this new vetting process. While my fondest wish may be to get to all the wonderful books, I must face my time is limited and read accordingly. Still, it feels strange to scrutinize so in the early pages of a book I wonder if I’ll ever feel it normal.
Now, excuse me, it’s nearly time to pull up Amazon and hit refresh until the Daily Deal posts.