The Kindle is dead to me, and other thoughts on ownership

I’ve owned a Kindle since the earliest versions and spent thousands of money on books from the Kindle store. In the last few years I have been reading more books on my phone and iPad, but recently I thought reading on the e-ink display would be nice, so I powered on my old Kindle Oasis.

I was confronted with a newly redesigned ‘home’ screen - clearly some Amazon PM hadn’t been justifying their salary and needed to leave their mark on the UI. I dread this sort of thing as the changes are invariably for the worse. This was no exception. Half the screen is now taken up by ‘recommendations’ - a horrendous list of books I have no interest in reading.

And there’s no way to turn it off.

Consider the utter guile of this - I spent money on a premium device, paid extra to remove advertisements, and then without asking for my consent, Amazon decided to push advertising onto the default screen of my device.

It’s not a ‘home’ tab, it’s a shop.

I have no problem having deep integration with the Kindle store. I like the idea of having recommendations for books when I’m choosing a purchase. But I utterly reject the concept that this should be shoved in my face when I turn on the device.

It’s emblematic of the current tech culture of auto updates with UI changes that regress key functionality, and an utter disregard for the consent of the owner of a purchased device or service.

I call this phenomenon, product rot - the tendency for a product to get worse over time as the developers of it “innovate” and iterate for the sake of justifying their employment value, rather than actually improving the life of their customers. It’s characterized by a myopic focus on market growth at the expense of customer satisfaction.

I confess, I have been guilty of this over my career as well. I’ve felt the pressure to push for subscription revenue rather than charging for a product, even though nobody wanted this. I’ve implemented features based on growth focused metrics without considering user sentiment. I’ve shuffled pixels around to follow the design fads of the day.

But I’m tired of it, tired of the constant UI churn, tired of things breaking, or requiring me to relearn them. Tired of the constant quest for ‘intuitive’ UI compromising the efficiency of power users. Tired of never owning anything, and relying on luck for the status quo to remain.

I want to pay for tools that I can become a master with, that I can learn to rely on and trust. I don’t want to have to vote with my subscription revenue to keep my workflows working.

This is the reason I’ve started moving away from cloud products and building my own personal infrastructure. But clearly this philosophy needs to extend to my hardware too. The lesson of the Kindle is that spending money in a walled garden, doesn’t entitle you to the experience you purchase. You are still at the whim of the walled garden’s proprietor.

The sad thing is that the changes probably worked- the graph of books purchased on the Kindle probably kinked upwards, thus improving revenue and fulfilling the team’s OKRs. The PM responsible probably received their promotion and pay-rise.

But millions of Kindle owners now have to suffer through mandatory advertising before they can read a book they have purchased.

Amazon may make more revenue with this change, but they will no longer make it from me, I will no longer purchase Kindle devices and will attempt to avoid the Kindle store for books.