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Ebook sample subscriptions and automation

How “Send to Kindle” can help neutralize Amazon

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 10.52.39 AMPublishers who sell ebooks direct to consumers typically do so in EPUB format. That’s because most publishers are still wedded to the false sense of security DRM provides and EPUB offers a popular DRM solution. Contrast that with Amazon’s format, MOBI, where Amazon is the only company who can apply and manage MOBI’s DRM’d files and settings.

A former colleague of mine and I used to get a kick out of reading the many painful steps readers are forced to go through when buying DRM’d EPUB files direct from publisher websites. It’s not uncommon for the process to require more than a dozen steps to proceed from buying to reading. Most of the process has to be endured once again if the consumer decides to start reading the same book on another device.

Click here or here to see the many hoops one must jump through to install DRM’d EPUB ebooks on one device as well as read them across multiple devices. It’s no wonder when you search for help on the topic the most popular links aren’t how to manage the process but rather how to remove the DRM and eliminate the associated headaches.

More and more publishers are starting to realize that DRM is pointless but they’re still missing out on one of the biggest opportunities of all: Putting their DRM-free ebooks into a reader’s Kindle library.

It’s no secret that Amazon dominates the ebook marketplace. Most readers have built a substantial Kindle library and the last thing they want to do is create a new library outside the Kindle ecosystem. They simply want all their books in one place.

Amazon’s Send to Kindle functionality has been around for quite awhile and I believe it’s one of the most underutilized services available to publishers. The Send to Kindle email option lets publishers push non-DRM’d ebooks directly onto a consumer’s Kindle bookshelf. I’m sure it was originally designed for documents other than ebooks but I think it’s time for book publishers to take advantage of it for their ebooks as well.

In addition to simply selling EPUB or PDF ebooks, why not provide readers with the MOBI version and push them directly onto their Kindle devices and apps? All you have to do is ask the reader for their unique Kindle email address and then have them enable inbound emails from your domain. Once that’s in place you’re able to place the ebook on their shelf just like Amazon does.

Once you’ve established that direct relationship with the consumer and their Kindle account, why not ask them if they want to opt in to receiving future related ebook samples from you? They’ll no longer have to search for similar books from your list as you’ll be able to automatically push samples to the reader’s Kindle bookshelf as they’re published. Take it a step further and make your samples available via this service 30 days before they’re available anywhere else. Get even more creative and offer a random free ebook prize to some number of lucky winners every month. There are plenty of ways to make Send to Kindle work for you and your customers.

It’s all part of creating a compelling reason for readers to come to you, the publisher, rather than always relying on retailer partners. Used wisely, the Send to Kindle service can help neutralize Amazon’s dominance while also helping publishers establish a better direct relationship with their customers.


Steven M. Moore

The real problem goes beyond DRM. The chaos in ebook formatting reminds me of the old beta max v. VHS controversy times ten. Forget faux security; there are too many versions of ebook files. There is no standard. Ebook files are software but they aren't treated as such--there's no org that's defined the standards for a basic ebook file. Beyond logic and common sense, I don't know what it takes for the ebook reader manufacturers to knuckle down and create a standard, but the industry certainly needs it.
DRM was created, of course, to protect against piracy. I have mixed feelings about the latter. I don't really sell enough books to have a strong opinion, but it seems that an author's name recognition will still benefit from pirated editions of her/his ebook, but that royalties from book sales would obviously suffer. From your analyses, it's pretty clear that the gyrations you describe have that effect anyway.
Maybe we can only solve the big problem (standard, non-DRM formatting) by chipping away by solving many little problems? Consider this comment evidence for my confusion. My retailers are Amazon and Smashwords and others the latter distributes to. I don't sell from my website. Maybe if I did, I'd worry more, but right now I have to follow the rules of Amazon and Smashwords whether I like them or not.

nate Hoffelder

"In addition to simply selling EPUB or PDF ebooks, why not provide readers with the MOBI version and push them directly onto their Kindle devices and apps?"

Because Amazon might not let you.

Baen Books and O'Reilly have lost the privilege, and so did Packt.

The weird thing is, Amazon has some secret policy on publishers using send-to-kindle. There are Polish booksellers who can still use it, but there's no way to tell who will get banned next.

Nate Hoffelder, editor of The Digital Reader


We've been meaning to look into this possibility for some time. Thank you for giving us such a clear roadmap. Publishers could certainly use this feature to push sample material for forthcoming books, providing opt-in via eMail and social marketing.

Joe Wikert

Thanks for weighing in on this, Steve. I'd like to think the MOBI standard is firm enough to support this, particularly since it's what Amazon itself uses for their ebooks.

Nate, it's not lost on me that Amazon can shut this service down at any time. That said, I still think it's worth pursuing, especially since it can be implemented by a publisher with minimal development expense. I also hope the DOJ starts paying attention to the various ways Amazon reinforces their dominant position with tactics like this.


Nate highlights the huge problem with this advice. To say that it can be implemented with minimal development expense ignores the bigger issue. The real expense to the publishers would be in encouraging customers to go to a lot of work (signing up for a direct purchase account, providing their private send-to Kindle email and then telling Amazon it's okay to accept emails from the publisher) only to have the service likely be discontinued due to lack of interest OR if it is somehow miraculously a success, have Amazon shut it down for them. The publisher will lose a lot reader good will, and burn exactly the kind of motivated readers it should be taking very good care off. This is exactly the problem with DRM, where badly executed schemes keep punishing the customers most interested in working directly with publishers. On top of that, there will be plenty of other customers what will be annoyed the minute they find out they have to do three very intrusive steps (give up a credit card number, provide a private email, give blanket permission to have emails sent to their Kindle). Many sales will simply not be made as customers realize what's involved. And don't count on them to then go to Amazon buy your book. They might go there and buy something else or simply give up on your entire library because it seems like a hassle.

Overall, publishers would be better served by focusing on creating the best content they can, content people really want, and worrying less on how to battle Amazon. Make your stuff available everywhere and let the customers figure it out what devices they want to read it on and how.

Direct sales are probably a waste of time and energy, but if someone wants to experiment along those lines it would be better for them to simply allow customers to download ebooks (in PDF, epub and mobi) and then provide simple instructions on how to side load into the Kindle (which can be done with the send to Kindle app by the customer themselves) and any other device. As for providing samples and advance reads, that is best done by old fashioned email and downloads on the publishers site. No reason to put Amazon in the middle of it. Email lists are already proven to work well to sell books. A publishers site should have free samples anyway.

On top of that, when someone wants to buy your book, you should really think twice before trying to push them into a direct sale rather than a one click from an Amazon or iBooks link. You've got a very good chance of getting them to change their mind.

Joe Wikert

Thanks Mackaybell. As with just about anything, this isn't without risks. I'd like to think most reasonable readers would assume that, particularly since I'm suggesting one use Amazon's own platform to help neutralize it. That obviously comes with risks. Regarding samples, yes, many publisher sites offer samples directly but I haven't seen any that push those samples onto a reader's Kindle bookshelf. I'm simply pointing out that the bulk of ebooks these days are read through the Kindle platform, so it's wise to think about how to integrate efforts like samples within that platform.


I tend to only purchase EPUB books if I can get them cheaper than the equivalent on Amazon, and if they are DRM free, so I can convert them to the relevant format legally via Calibre. Some publishers though, offer both Mobi and DRM format.

That said, I tend to get a lot of e-galleys and review copies for my Kindle which are not from Amazon, so use the 'send to Kindle' function a lot.

Eliot Kimber

Steven Moore says: "files are software but they aren't treated as such--there's no org that's defined the standards for a basic ebook file."

This is not true: the IDPF defines the standard for EPUBs (http://idpf.org) and the major EPUB readers do a reasonably good job of implementing the standard correctly (and continue to improve). The next revision of the EPUB spec will try to make the standard a little more consistent with what EPUB readers actually do or need to do.

There is no single standard for DRM (and as others have pointed out, DRM is pointless anyway, so who cares that there's no standard?).

The bigger problem I think is that Amazon refuses to directly support the EPUB standard. This both reduces interchange and hobbles what you can do in an MOBI book relative to even EPUB2, not to mention EPUB3. For example, at least through MOBI version 8, Amazon explicitly disallows embedded video even though all the Fire devices can play video.

Fortunately you can provide an EPUB directly to the kindlegen process to get a good MOBI version, but still it's silly that Amazon forces you to do that. Clearly their interest is maximizing their own proprietary control of the delivery channel, not the needs of publishers.

Bob Kruger

I was the developer for Baen's Web API and had this fully automated, but we had to pull the feature. Amazon does not let publishers automate use of Send to Kindle. If you're moving in any volume, they will get wise to it and ask you to stop. You'll have to let your customers send the ebooks in themselves.

Joe Wikert

Hi Bob. Thanks for sharing your Baen experience. Your point about letting customers send the books themselves is where I see an opportunity. It can still be automated but as long as the files are sent by the customer, not the publisher, there shouldn't be a problem. Still, as I noted before, Amazon could shut the entire program down but that would seem a bit over-the-top, even for Amazon. I realize what I'm suggesting here is different from what I originally wrote but my point is that this still represents a service that has potential.

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