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Is Amazon Trying to Kill Interactive E-Books?

My colleague Chris was asking just a few days ago why people are not ‘innovating’ in e-books these days. Well, here’s why: Amazon doesn’t want us to. They seem to be cracking down on titles which deviate from plain-old text formats.

Exhibit A: I received an email yesterday informing me that Amazon was pulling my one and only actually-selling book from the Kindle store. Why? As their email explains:

“Books you have published are intended to be interactive but require additional resources aside from a Kindle device or Kindle application (phone/Mac/PC). The game or app experience must work entirely inside the Kindle reader, without the use of the browser or manual work such as a copy machine or screen capture program.”

The sin I committed in this particular case seems to be that I included URL links to colouring pages on the internet which are intended to be printed out. That was not the ‘meat’ of the book per se; it was an information text intended to be read on the user’s Kindle within the Kindle app. But if you wanted to look at the pages and print them, the link was there. And Amazon cried fowl because telling a user they might print something is taking them outside of the reader app, I guess.

This is problematic for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I have read tons of books (including by major authors and publishers) which have links to other content. That’s part of the point of e-books! One art-themed title I have offers a link on the first page to a PDF extra the author makes available on her website. A fitness book I have has several journal prompt pages which, while included within the text, can also be downloaded in printable PDF off the author’s website. And I have numerous books which feature footnotes, or lists of books for further reading and so on, all with hyperlinks to stores or websites. Why is this allowed for books by mainstream publishers, and not allowed in books by self-published authors?

And what about how-to books? Those lovely Lego books I reviewed last year all require Lego if you want to replicate their ideas. Does that constitute an ‘interactive’ element? What about how-to books of other types? My library got a whole bunch of deck-building books one week, in one of their weird little topical jags. Is a book like this, which requires me to have a deck in order to enjoy it, too interactive? Where does one draw the line?

So, a few take-aways from this experience. Firstly, I have learned that all those writing gurus who told me to diversify and list my content elsewhere were right, and I need to spend some time this summer looking at the Smashwords style guide and fixing my stuff to be compliant with their enhanced catalogue. It’s scary to put all your eggs in one basket when you do not control the basket. This is what draws many people to self-publishing in the first place! But it’s hard to make your own destiny when you are at the whim of an arbitrary rule. The great Amazon censors giveth, and sometimes, they taketh away.

Secondly, I think this may just be the push I need to start writing my passion stuff more. This particular title was my one attempt to cater to the market and write something I thought was specifically sell-able. And it WAS selling a copy or two a week. That was a nice little ego boost, but on just one title, did not translate to much money. As the Beloved pointed out to me, if I am going to only make a hundred bucks a year on it, why not just eff the market and write what I please? Who knows, a year from now, I may be grateful to Amazon for pushing me out of the ‘long-form journalism’ style of Kindle book and into the fiction world. I certainly don’t get the impression that they particularly want me writing anything other than just plain old words!

I did follow up with Amazon to learn what must be done to make my book compliant again. I was told that I needed to edit it to remove all references to ‘interactive’ content, and that I needed to then resubmit the book, with a cover which specifies (in a font as big as the title) that the book contains no interactive content and is completely enjoyable within the Kindle app with nothing else needed. Frankly, I just can’t be bothered. I’ve learned from past experiences that they don’t want me using public domain content. Now, they don’t want me writing ‘interactive’ content now either. So, what’s left? I guess it’s time to write fiction.

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