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Why can't you give Kindle books as gifts?

Amazon and other e-book sellers don't allow people to give e-books out as gifts. You only can by for yourself.
Amazon and other e-book sellers don't allow people to give e-books out as gifts. You only can by for yourself.
  • E-bookstores don't let users give digital books as gifts
  • Author says Amazon should let you buy Kindle books for friends
  • One alternative: Get a gift certificate and tell friends what books to buy
  • Author: "That process feels less like a gift and more like a command"

(CNN) -- Amazon recently has been touting the growing popularity of its Kindle e-reader and mobile apps.

Kindle sales spiked after the company slashed prices for the device from $259 to $189 (for the smaller model), according to Amazon. And the company now says it sells more Kindle e-books than printed hardcover books. (As this website pointed out, Kindle book sales still lag far behind Amazon's paperback sales.)

Like an increasing number of my friends, I own a Kindle and also have the Kindle app installed on my phone. While there are things I dislike about Amazon's approach to e-books and e-readers, I've come to prefer e-books to printed books. For me they're more portable and versatile.

I spent the past weekend vacationing with another avid Kindle user, my friend (and Placeblogger founder) Lisa Williams. Between hikes, we lounged on the deck of a mountain cabin reading our Kindles and discussing books. We hit upon a common frustration:

Why can't you give a Kindle book as a gift to a fellow Kindle user?

It's true: On, you can only send a printed book to someone as a gift. Amazon deftly sidesteps this issue on their Kindle gift support page, but the bottom line is that you cannot directly purchase a Kindle book for anyone but yourself. The closest you can come to giving someone a Kindle book is to send them an Amazon gift certificate and then tell them which book to buy -- which is awkward, convoluted, and a bit obnoxious.

That process feels less like a gift and more like a command.

For the record, the same limitation appears to exist with the Barnes & Noble Nook, with the iPad iBookstore, and in Sony's e-book store. (Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this matter).

Of course, you could e-mail an e-book in .pdf or .mobi format as a gift, if you can find the desired title in that format (legally or otherwise). But this defeats the twin benefits of mass consumer appeal and convenience -- cornerstones of Amazon's business.

E-mailing an open-format e-book assumes that the recipient has a computer and knows what to do to get that file from the computer onto the e-reader. For some e-reader users that's no problem, but for many (perhaps most) it would be like getting a new steering wheel as a birthday present with a card that says "just install it."

I'm surprised that Amazon, which has managed to find ways to sell (and upsell) just about anything to anyone, would want to make it easy for Kindle users to buy each other books as gifts. Yes, they'd have to revamp their routing system for e-book downloads, so you could send a book to a Kindle you don't own. Yes, they'd have to figure out how to deal with Kindle book gifts sent by mistake to people who don't actually use a Kindle or Kindle app. And they'd have to solve other problems.

But we're talking about, paragon of online retailing. The business logic is obvious: e-readers are increasingly popular, so there's money to be made.

And all those Kindle users have birthdays.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amy Gahran.


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