The Terrible Fail of Ebookstores

Recently, I wanted to read an epic fantasy. I eventually found one (Nicole Lukien’s Gate to Kandrith), but I didn’t find it by browsing.

When I went to Amazon to browse for an epic fantasy, I was presented with a list of bestselling authors. As you guys know, I very rarely read bestselling authors. Some of us just don’t follow the popular crowd.

I decided to start looking around at other sites to see who had the best book browsing experience. I won’t get into the specifics of what I saw. What I want to talk about is what I want to see.

I want a shelf-browsing experience. Except at some experimental sites, I mostly saw lots of lists. Sometimes they were arranged in rows, which was nice. But the sort order was frustrating. Sometimes you could sort by price, sometimes by bestselling, sometimes by release date. But almost never could you sort alphabetically.

Why would I want to sort alphabetically? Two reasons. One, is that it gives me the closest thing to a random arrangement of authors on a shelf (other than a “random” option). Sometimes I want random when I am browsing. It’s a great way to discover books. And book discovery at online bookstores is unnecessarily difficult. Hence my difficulty in finding a decent epic fantasy to read. (In the end, I decided to see what Carina Press had to offer lately, which is how I discovered Nicole Lukien. My next stop would have been Tor; more on that below.)

Another reason is to be able to find that elusive author who’s name I can’t recall, but I THINK it starts with a G. Give me a page with nothing but Gs and let me scan ’em all.

Therefore, I would love a “shelf” webpage that shows me nothing but book covers. For years, publishers have had to pay for the privilege of having their books face out on the shelves. Well now they can all be face out … but hardly any bookstore arranges them that way. Just in neat rows from left to right, one row on top of the other, and with as little text as possible.

I want publisher sections. You just can’t beat Tor Books for epic fantasy. When I want an epic fantasy, I’m looking at Tor. If I can’t find their books at Amazon, I actually go to their website and start browsing around. I would love for bookstores to have publisher sections to browse. And they could probably make lots of money off of publishers by having such sections.

And why the heck have they not done this? At the bookstore, you can actually go to the Harlequin section and see row upon row of nothing but this month’s Harlequin Romances. Why can you not do that at online booksellers? It makes no sense. Did they try it and it just didn’t work? If so, how did I miss it?

AmazonFailDon’t try to sell me dresses. Why in the heck Amazon would think I would want to buy a dress from them is a complete mystery. If I want a dress, I go to Penny’s or Belk. I don’t go to Amazon. So why oh why is the top page on Amazon trying to sell me dresses? Amazon knows who I am. I am a Prime member and I have been shopping from them for years. They have, to quote the Terminator, “detailed files” on me. And yet they try to sell me dresses.

I realize that this is probably a placement paid for by some retailer. But they have just wasted their customer’s advertising dollars on me, completely and utterly. And they have ignored the needs of me, one of their valued Prime customers.

The very first thing it should be doing is trying to sell me the sequel to the book I read last week. Which it does, but you have to scroll down to find it. I should be grateful that they finally stopped trying to sell me a Kindle. Maybe they figured out from my recent purchases that I already have one. Nope, the Kindles are back.

At least they FINALLY got on board with gifting ebooks. Because giving ebooks as a gift is a wonderful thing.

What about you? What would you like to see at online booksellers, that you are not seeing? Got any bookseller recommendations?

17 Thoughts to “The Terrible Fail of Ebookstores”

  1. Both as an indie-author and a technology analyst I can well appreciate this rather scathing review. So simple and direct, and it would be comic if it wasn’t so frustrating. Two or three times there, why not indeed? And I fear the main answer is simply “bigger fish to fry”. Amazon did not pursue the Kindle so hard for no good reason- people are tied to a shopping experience now, and only the non-lazy are going to have any choice at all about what they see.
    Face it, Tia- a dress or a second Kindle is a better margin for them. Sigh.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I would love to do some business analysis for an ebookstore that offers a real browsing experience. I could start identifying some use cases even now.

      Attention ebookstore entrepreneurs! I have seventeen years software development experience, nine of those years as a requirements analyst. Let me know if you’d like to see my resume.

  2. I’m a nook owner myself, but I gave up on the browse option pretty much right away, figured I was too tech-unsavvy to work it properly since all I was seeing was stuff I wasn’t interested in (I don’t do thrillers. Not even best-selling ones.) I found out how to look up authors with the little key-pad, and that’s all I do. If I don’t already know about you, you won’t be on my nook. It’s just the sad, sad truth. Fortunately I still spend a lot of time in libraries, brick-and-morter bookstores, and reading reviews off the net, so my reading list is bigger than five well known authors.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I love the nook, but I hated the software and the lack of support. And it’s a shame because to this day, my first-generation nook produces a better eink display than my modern Kindle Touch. I have another post coming about refurbishing my nook–you should get a kick out of it.

  3. Sherri

    Not to be Amazon fan girl, although I tend to be an Amazon customer, you can do an Amazon search by a lot of things. This doesn’t give you the same feeling of browsing shelves, but I think we are pretty far from getting that in the ebook world. But, back to the Amazon search, you can use the Advanced Search ( to search by Publisher, subject, format publication date, etc.

    This is a search showing all of the current TOR pre-orders.

    I am not trying to change your mind. I know having to search like this is less satisfying than browsing a real world shelf, but at least it can get you closer to what you want and is available now. 🙂

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I’m totally with you and I have “Amazon Advanced Search” as a bookmark on my browser because Amazon tends to bury its Advanced Search link, which is another fail on their part. You are obviously a tech-saavy user of Amazon.

      But what about all those other folk who don’t know how to find the Advanced Search link? The only way I have ever been able to find it is by doing a Google search for it. I really don’t have any idea how you got “Advanced Search” to show up anywhere on Amazon where you did not actually do an Advanced Search first. Which is like being in a circle of frustration–you can’t do an Advanced Search unless you’ve already done an advanced search, but you can’t do that unless … you get it, I’m sure!

      Love the little search you did for me; I will be bookmarking it as well!

      1. Sherri

        You can get there. But you have to be on the Books page and not on the Kindle page. Why they have no link to this on the Kindle page, I have no clue. But I first saw it when I was looking for book that is only available in print.

        So to get to it: Go to the main menu and select Books (from the bottom half of the list on the left) and then Books at the top from the fly out menu on the right. You should then see an upper set of navigation link that start with Books on the left just above the gray demarcation line. In other words, you should be here:

        Advanced Search is the second link in from the left on that menu. And that lets you do all of the search options I mentioned. I think it is fabulous and deserves much more attention that it receives. 🙂

        1. Tia Nevitt

          Followed instructions … and there it is!

          It does deserve more attention, but if Amazon keeps hiding it, it will never get the attention it deserves!

          Amazon suffers from what I call oldware syndrome. It is a mishmash of their old software and their new, and nothing quite works like it once did.

          Gmail has the same problem and is the subject of an upcoming post.

          1. Sherri

            I know. I think your original comment that they are trying to sell you dresses is a part of that problem. Back in the day (you know, 4 years ago) Amazon presented me custom content on the main page. If I didn’t buy clothes from them, I wouldn’t see clothes. I would see a lot books and movies. Two things I have purchased from them consistently for the last 14 years.

            Now, if I want to see the things that match up with my interests, I have to look at the Recommendations page. With the ever so lovely carousel of items, which I don’t really like anyway.

            Okay, now I have on my pouty face and my niece would warn me that a bird is going to come by and perch on my lip.

            1. Tia Nevitt

              Ha! Yeah, I think Amazon is trying too hard to be the Wal-Mart of the Internet.

  4. JenM

    Amazon used to have tags and you could search by them, but they got rid of them because they were being abused. It was really unfortunate, because, for example, you could try searching for “virgin hero” or something like that, and you would get results consisting of books that had been tagged with that, plus, you could get some idea of what a random book was about by looking at its tags. I didn’t use it much, but it helped me a lot in trying to avoid Christian romances LOL. I’m assuming you can do something similar at Goodreads, but I’ve just really started using their site, so I haven’t tried to search peoples’ shelf tags yet.

    The sad thing is that Amazon is actually the best of the online bookstores in terms of discoverability and searcheability, and they are pretty pathetic. I’ve heard the other bookstores are far worse.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Interestingly, the tags on my book sill work with the Audible edition. But all the tags that were on The Sevenfold Spell disappeared and there are very few tags on there now.

      I thought removing the tags was draconian. If you know there is a problem, try to solve it, don’t take away a tool that people used.

      Agree that Amazon is the best of the big bookstores. For smaller bookstores, I like Diesel Ebooks.

  5. Deborah Blake


    I don’t read ebooks, so I had no idea the issue was this bad. I have a hard enough time finding the print books I want.

    I love your idea of the “bookstore” model with a romance section of bookcovers (where you could then click to read the “back” of the book), a mystery section, etc. SIGH.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I love the idea of clicking to read the back! I’ll add that to my dream software requirements …

  6. Raven

    Online bookstores I’m familiar with let you filter results by authors you want to see. I’d like to filter by authors I DON’T want to see. If some author I don’t want to read is taking up several pages of my results, I have to wade through a lot more pages to find anything I might want to purchase. Let me filter out certain authors, and I’ll be a happier customer.

    The online previews of books are usually pitiful. I don’t want to read just the first chapter (or less). I want to glance at the first few pages and also flip to a few places in the middle to see if the book’s quality remains consistent. I’ve been fooled by the first chapter more than once.

    Here’s one of my pet peeves. When I buy a book, Amazon fills up my recommendations section with every other book that author ever wrote. But that author is already on my radar, obviously, and I’m perfectly capable of searching out his or her other books on my own. I want to see books by authors I’ve never heard of but might like.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      More great suggestions. I am totally with you about the recommendations. I can hardly get away from John Scalzi because I bought several of his books recently. But when I’m done with a Scalzi space romp, I often want something that is directly opposite, like a Regency romance!

  7. I found browsing on Goodreads distinctly more satisfying than browsing on any bookstore. If I want to search for epic fantasy or, being me, more likely high fantasy or fairy tales, the solution is clunky, but do-able. Go to Goodreads, and call up a book you think folks should classify as the type of book you’re interested in. (I just got to “epic fantasy” thru Diana Pharoah Francis’s “Path of Fate” because I happen to be reading it. If I wasn’t reading high fantasy at the moment, I’d probably call up “The Lord of the Rings,” because it’s both pretty certain and easy to remember.)

    There’s a sidebar on the left. Scrolling past “Other editions” and the requisite advertisment, I find a table labelled “Genres.” The Third entry on the table is “Fantasy > Epic Fantasy 7 users”. Click on “Epic Fantasy,” not on anything else on that line. Clicking on “Fantasy” takes me to a page on fantasy in general, but clicking on “Epic Fantasy” takes me to a page on Epic Fantasy. After the definition is a list of new releases. That’s worth a look. Scrolling down… “Giveaways” isn’t worth a look when I’m in a mood to browse, but “Most read this week” might be worth a look. Likewise, I’d skip the lists, but might looka t the books displayed in “Popular Epic Fantasy Books.” However, the real attraction is at the end of that: “More Popular Epic Fantasy Books.” Click on that link; that’s what you really want. Now you have… I’m sorry, it’s not a sideways-running shelf, but an up and down list or stack. Still, it has a list of fifty books, with tiny covers and title and author links for each. At the end, I can reach more pages; 2-9 and pages 172 and 173. If you want to skip the first few pages, go to 9. I just didn, and now have access to pages 1, 2, 5-13, 172 and 173.

    No, it isn’t perfect, but only a library or publisher’s site is likely to be easier to use. Since the library will have only heard of the most popular, and the publisher never mentions any other publisher’s books, this is the best compromise I’ve found between complete browsing and workable browsing. I wish I knew an online bookstore that was truly easy to use, but frankly, every bookstore I’ve been to is more concerned with making shelving, etc. quick and easy for employees than in connecting customers to the books they want to buy. Libraries tend to be much better at connecting books to users. Unfortunately, they expect you to give the books back sooner or later. {wryly amused Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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