Why doesn’t Amazon tell us everything in the updates?
As I recently reported, Amazon released an update to version 5.3.6 for the Kindle Paperwhite. They announced the availability of it here: Kindle Paperwhite Update Version 5.3.6. You can also always find Kindle update information at
One of my readers, poisonalice, asked in a comment what had been changed (besides the big feature that they announced about making it easier to buy books from a sample). On the Amazon Kindle Forum, the same question was asked.
poisonalice also wondered generally: why doesn’t Amazon list the details of each update publicly?
I thought that good question deserved a fuller (and more widely-seen treatment) than what would happen if I only responded to the comment, and I think it’s something I haven’t addressed in depth here before.
First, let’s talk about what we do know about updates, and then consider the pros and cons of Amazon telling us more.
When Amazon releases an update for a hardware Kindle, you can typically either go get it yourself and transfer and install it manually, or it will do it on its own (eventually) “over the air”.
The first information we have about it is the number. The updates have three number components (5.3.6, for example).
The initial number tells you for which model it is intended, although it’s really more about the “operating system” version. I say that because the Kindle DX and the Kindle 2 got the same updates, even though the hardware was obviously different (the Kindle DX being much larger, and having different button configurations). You can also think of that first number as “generations”. The 2007 Kindle started with 1. The Kindle DX and the Kindle 2 started with 2. The Kindle 3 (later called a Kindle Keyboard) started with 3.
They change the second number when there are significant modifications…I think only when there are new features. You could tell the difference between, say, 5.1.x and 5.2.x just by using the device (eventually).
The third number has to do with “behind the scenes” changes, although you might see them if they changed the order of a menu, for example. Those may be largely “bug fixes” and performance improvements. Something that simply redrew the screens (“turned the pages”) more quickly would be indicated by a change in that third number, not the second…at least, that’s how I understand how it works.
So, if the change is to the middle number, there’s something different you can do with your device. If it’s to the third number, there may not be.
Even if the change is only to the third number, Amazon makes a statement about the update at the Kindle Software Updates page linked above. In this case, it says:
“We have a new, free software update available for Kindle Paperwhite. The software update will be delivered wirelessly and includes a feature enhancement and general improvements for your Kindle Paperwhite. This update automatically downloads and installs on your Kindle Paperwhite; however, you can also manually download the software and update your device via USB cable.
The software update includes the following enhancement:
Improvements when buying from a book sample While reading a sample of a book, you can view the price of the full book and purchase from the reading toolbar with one tap.”
They don’t tell us what those “general improvements” are…and that’s the question people ask in the forums.
Obviously, Amazon knows exactly what was changed: why don’t they tell us?
I think there are a couple of main reasons for that.
Everything that a company does costs something. I’ve taught Project Management, and it’s something people often don’t take into account in their own lives. I may have told this story here, but I had an employee who was walking a mile (each way) to save a dime on a candy bar. I explained to that person that they should calculate the time spent doing that based on what the employee’s salary was to see if that made sense. Not that the person was doing it during working time, but just to understand the value of the time. I always think that’s important. For example, do you need more printers in your office? One way to figure that is to find out how long it is taking people to work with fewer printers…they have to get to them, perhaps wait in line for them, wait for them to finish, or come back later and get the print out. You calculate that against their salaries, and that can give you a good idea about whether the additional printers are cost effective for your company.
In this case, there would be a couple of costs. One would be to put it into customer-friendly language. It wouldn’t work very well to just post the change log the programmers use…some people would understand it, but many wouldn’t. The people who craft customer-friendly text are very busy (and it would be fine with me if they were busier…I think the Kindles could use a lot more help information, both on the device and online). You’d have to assign them to that task…and that could certainly include them consulting with the programmers, which takes the programmers away from the never-ending task of updating everything. ;)
The second big cost would be Customer Service…which is quite expensive. If you put in that you changed something, people would contact Customer Service to ask why, or to ask why you didn’t do it a different way, or why you didn’t do something else. You can’t underestimate the expense (and value) of having someone who can take a phone call like that (that would be one of the communication channels) and make the customer happy at the end. Do we want Amazon to be spending their time and expertise on changes with which the customer doesn’t typically interact anyway?
Yes, there would be costs.
What would be the benefits?
You would satisfy some people’s curiosity. Certainly, there is a plus there…but I really don’t think you are going to lose sales and/or customers because someone didn’t get to find out what changes you made.
I don’t think it has to do with a fear of what competitors will do with the knowledge. I doubt there is anything groundbreaking going on in those bug fixes or performance enhancements.
Undoubtedly, Amazon may be concerned about the backlash they’d get…no matter how good the changes are, every data point can create criticism online. :)
The other thing, and I think this is essential, is that poisonalice (and the people on the forum) was thinking like a geek. Believe me, I appreciate that. :) I’m a geek myself, and I want to know about everything.
With our tech gadgets, we have typically been told about the changes that have been made to them. That’s partially because they were originally sold to people who created their own software to run on them, and had to know about operating system changes to interact in that deep way with them.
The Kindle revolutionized the e-book industry in the USA. There were, as I recall, more than ten EBRs (E-Book Readers) already in the market in 2007 when the first Kindle was released…and e-books were less than one percent of the US publishing market.
Why did the Kindle absolutely invigorate that market, to the point of explosive growth?
There is more than one reason, but I’ve always said that one of the main ones is that it appeals to readers…not just to techies. Freeing people from having to “cable up” to get books was huge. To appeal to readers, you want the way it works to be as invisible as possible.
I recently wrote a piece called
I explained there that anything that gets between us and the words is bad.
Knowing about the changes in the software makes you think about the device differently.
You pick it up. You read it. That should be about it. :)
Techies want to know about changes, even if they don’t interact with those changes, just because it is interesting.
Readers (and I’m both) just want it to work.
You don’t want to skew people’s perception of the Kindle towards it being like their desktop computers are (or were, in many cases).
I run into this issue at work. People want to use “human performance improvement” techniques. They want to observe the most efficient users (I work with medical people), and then export how they are interacting with the system to people who aren’t as efficient.
I’ve explained to them that it doesn’t really work very well.
If you come back to those “most efficient users” three months later, they are doing it differently.
One reason they are efficient is because they like change. They want to experiment, and push buttons, and are constantly looking for new aspects of the software.
Your typical doctor, nurse, medical assistant and so on? They don’t want anything to change in the software…ever. They don’t want to think about the software: they want to think about the patients.
That doesn’t mean that those innovators don’t also think about the patients…they do. It’s just that they also think about the software, and have fun with that. Not everybody does.
I honestly think that’s part of why Amazon doesn’t treat the Kindle like a tech device and post change logs. If there’s a new feature, they do tell us about it. If it is just a case of enhancements and bug fixes, I think the number of people that would…put off would be more than the number of people it would please.
What do you think? Does it bother you that Amazon doesn’t give us change logs? If so, why? Just on general principle, or would you do something with the information? Do you feel like you deserve to know because it is your device? Well, they aren’t changing the device…just the software that runs it. ;) You don’t have to take the software update…if you don’t care about using your device with Amazon (you could just deregister it). Do you think there are great undocumented features for your Kindle? I’ll tell you, there have been some in the past (Minesweeper on the first Kindle), but I think that’s become less likely with newer models, although not absent. I don’t think they publicize how to take screenshots, although I have written about how to do it. Please feel free to tell me and my readers what you think about these questions by commenting on this post.
Bonus deal: one of the Kindle Daily Deals today is actually twenty-seven deals: a bunch of thrillers (including the Ian Fleming James Bond books, published by Amazon in e-book form) for $1.99 each. When the Bond books are on sale, I always like to point out how they could be a great gift. You could buy fourteen of them for somebody for under $30…and you can delay the delivery. Think about gift giving occasions you may have throughout the year…this is how you can save money and get them a great gift. :) There are others in this deal, too, including J.A. Konrath and Dan Mayland. I think these may all be published by Thomas & Mercer, which is part of Amazon’s traditional publishing activities.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.