“So many people are returning them…”

“So many people are returning them…”


I was at work today, and happened to walk into a conversation about the Kindle.

It was nice, because one person was recommending this blog to another person.


The question came up about whether I’d “upgraded” to a Kindle Fire yet.

One of the two people said (approximately): “Oh, all the reviews are bad. So many people are returning them.”

That’s because of this

New York Times article

I gently pointed that out, and explained that nobody outside of Amazon knows how many Kindle Fires are being returned. Amazon doesn’t release how many are returned…or even how many are sold (although Jeff Bezos has said “millions”).

I think the damage was done, though…I don’t think that logic was going to undo what the person had heard.

One of the first people who alerted me to the article was my reader, John Tobison. I wanted to give you my first response to John:

Wow! I haven’t had that unpleasant a spin since the teacup ride at Disneyland. ;)

I’ve said this before: I’m still surprised when news sources run such an arguably biased piece. Blogs are different…those are often opinion pieces (I even have a category for “opinion” on this blog).

I’m not sure why I still expect journalistic standards to be what they were before. Of course, in the 1800s, mainstream newspapers published some apparently false articles (see, for example, this article on the New York Sun’s Moon hoax, but that’s different from this.

This current article by David Streitfeld made me wish for Jeffrey Trachtenberg’s balanced reporting mainstream reporting on e-books and publishing from the Wall Street Journal.

I’m going to recommend that you read the article, but do it as a study in critical thinking.

Let me give you just the first paragraph:

“The Kindle Fire, Amazon’s heavily promoted tablet, is less than a blazing success with many of its early users. The most disgruntled are packing the device up and firing it back to the retailer.”

Now, is any of this factually incorrect?

Probably not technically. How do you define “heavily promoted”, “blazing success”, “many”, and “most disgruntled”? If you can’t define it precisely, it’s tough to test as a hypothesis.

Would ten people be “many”? Sure, that seems like many. It’s not much out of millions, of course, but we don’t have either number.

I know that one Kindle Fire was returned…I returned one with a scratched screen. Unless you’ve returned yourself, or been part of a return, you don’t know that I returned it…you are taking my word for it.

Are there problems with the Kindle Fire?

Absolutely. I’d be happy to see some changes.

That doesn’t mean that the device is a failure and nobody likes it, though.

As I write this right now, there are 5,526 reviews.

They break down this way*:

5-star: 2,665 (48.2%)

4-star: 1,059  (19.2%)

3-star: 647 (11.7%)

2-star: 479 (8.6%)

1-star 676 (12.2%)

Certainly, 12.2% 1-star reviews is something to notice. The Kindle Keyboard, an established model, only has 3.8% 1-star reviews.


That “established” part is important. I would guess that the initial reviews of a product tend to be lower. Why? Well, for one thing people don’t know what it is. After the Fire has been around for six months, people will have a better sense of it, and will be less likely to be surprised by what they receive. That’s just a hypothesis, though.

Also, the product may improve over time. That’s part of the weird (to me) spin in the article.

Why is it a bad thing that Amazon is going to release an update to improve the product?

That should be a good thing, right? Whether it is fixing problems or giving more features (and the one we may see by the end of the year may do both), it shows a company supporting its customers. Oh, you could argue that they have no choice when the product is bad…maybe say it is like a mandatory recall for a car.

I don’t see it that way, though. Amazon isn’t recalling them…it’s enhancing them.

This would be the third update since the release of the Kindle Fire. The first one happened before most people had the device.

I see that as a good thing.

Okay, let me run a few queries through the reviews:

Yes, 327 reviews contain the word “return”.

38 of those are 5-star reviews. They love the product! They are mentioning return, at least sometimes, because they are praising the return policy.

Only 116 of the ones that mention “return” are 1-star reviews.

91 people used the words “send” and “back”.  Fifteen of those are 5-star reviews.

How about the word “love”?


By the way, some reviews may have been added while I was running the queries.

There were at least 500 5-star reviews in the “love” batch…that’s as far as they displayed them to me.

They based some of the article on the usability “study” I recently mentioned. I put the study in quotation marks because it was only four people.

Let’s look at the positive a bit more. 🙂 What would I like to see in the update?

  • Text-to-speech! I think that’s possible, and it would greatly enhance the device for me
  • Built-in parental controls. While the free Kids Place app takes you a long way down that path, it would be nice to have a bit more sophistication (like blocking streaming video at certain rating levels, like R)
  • The ability to edit or hide the Carousel
  • The ability to have something like folders or Collections. It might be possible to do that by giving us more control over the bookshelves…if we could name them and arrange within a shelf independent of the other shelves, that would help
  • The ability to lock the power button so people wouldn’t accidentally turn it off when they set it down. It could be locked so that it took a several second depress to unlock it
  • They could do quite a bit of work on the Silk browser…I think it could connect more types of places, for example. I like Silk, but it could be more flexible
  • I still have some problems with it recognizing presses…it got better after the last update

As you can see, I don’t just blindly love Amazon products, despite the name of this blog. I generally like what they do, but they clearly don’t understand privacy concerns very well (we’ve seen that before). However, I do like that Amazon improves its products after you buy them…although I know they haven’t updated some older models of the Kindle in a while.

What do you think? Does the article make a fair point? Is the Fire a failure, a success, or is it too soon to tell? What changes would you like to see in the next (or future) updates? Feel free to let me know…

*Thanks to Dave, one of my regular readers and commenters, for pointing out an error in my math. That has been corrected. The number of reviews was corrected, but I think I had miscopied a percentage

Update: David Streiftield, the author of the original article, has published a

follow up comment

Streitfield doesn’t mention people saying that it was the way the article was written that concerned them, which I think is interesting. That’s what caught my eye about it…the “angle of attack”, so to speak.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

26 Responses to ““So many people are returning them…””

  1. tuxgirl Says:

    Per a comment by cs in the kindle cs forum, there will be some form of parental controls, and some sort of I.provement to the carousel in the next update.

  2. Howard R. Debs Says:

    First, I am an early adopter of the 1st Gen. Kindle. Second, I am a recent Kindle Fire user. Third I have your Kindle Fire users manual and get your ILMK blog with Pulse (great app.) on my Kindle Fire.
    I am also a communications specialist with over 40 years experience. Your rejoinder to the NYT piece was timely and much needed. I hope it gets a wide circulation. As of my latest check, the NYT piece itself had generated 388 comments; I have reviewed a good number of these and the commenters are picking apart this surprisingly (for the NYT) skewed piece of journalism. If I didn’t know better I’d think they had an ulterior motive.The Kindle Fire is in fact poised to change the dynamic of the market for what I characterize as “consumption devices”, i.e. tablets. (Tablets aren’t by virtue of their present design attributes yet viable as true “production devices”, but they may get there.) Anyway, thanks for providing an excellent conduit of information about an ingenious early 21st century communications device, ingeniously marketed, The Kindle Fire. Who knows what might come next?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Howard!

      Thanks for the kind words! I really appreciate that.

      Oh, I don’t expect my piece to get much exposure or have much impact…except for a fairly small group of people. EBRs (E-Book Readers) and tablets have gone mainstream. Negatives get spread and paradigmatically integrated much more than positives. Thinking about it, that makes sense to me, and says something good about people’s attitudes.

      Let’s say a perceptual scale of the world being good or bad. If people were at zero (right in the middle), then things that make the world worse for that person (we’ll say “bad” for shorthand) and things that make the world better for that person (we’ll say “good”) would be equally interesting. People would be looking for them both. On the other hand, let’s say that a person is already sees things on the “good” side…they are plus twenty. They would, perhaps, be more concerned about seeing bad things, so they weren’t brought down. A person who was on the negative side would be more interested in positive things.

      That presumes, of course, that the goal for people is to get to that zero state. One could argue that people who are seeing things as good would be looking for more good stuff, and who are seeing things as bad would look for more bad stuff.

      I’m going to go with that desire for the center state, though…it makes the world seem better. 🙂

      I’ve used the term “entertablet” (entertainment tablet) for what you are calling “consumption devices”…yours makes sense, too. I just like neologisms. 🙂

      Edited to add: as to what’s next (or at least in the future), I’ll write a post speculating about that in the next few weeks. I’ve been doing that, and I’ll go back and look at how my guesses did last year. I usually get a few, miss a few…and Amazon usually has surprised me with something. 🙂

  3. Goldarn Says:

    Since Amazon doesn’t disclose sales figures (like Apple, for instance), they invite this kind of speculation. However, as much as I like purchasing ebooks from Amazon, openness isn’t in their vocabulary.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Goldarn!

      Certainly, releasing specific figures for sales and returns would make it easier to refute an exaggeration suggestion of returns, particularly if it could be compared to other products.

      Does Apple release the number of returns for the iPad 2 or iPhone 4S? That would be interesting to see…I didn’t see that figure with a quick search, though. Do you know of a place where they do that? If they don’t, Amazon giving us the figures wouldn’t tell us if the product is being returned more or less often than other products.

      I agree with you that Amazon seems extra secretive to me…I do sometimes like the surprises in development, though. 🙂

  4. Marian Says:

    I saw first reviews on Amazon and I am amazed how many people buy the thing because it is hyped and don’t think what it is, how they could use it. They do not do their homework. Just because it is cheap (for tablet) they press the buy button without thinking.
    I like the idea of Fire, but I found it would be next to useless outside of the U.S. and I found it before it was shipped, just did some reading.
    In U.S. you have very benevolent return policies, returning a thing only because you realize later you did not want it ? How much money does it cost to companies to support these stupid returns ? If it does not work, yes, return.
    As of Fire software, there is no product that works perfectly in the beginning. Yes, more testing will remove bugs, but you get more usability feedback from real users from real life. I hope Amazon will use that.
    Although, they seem to be unable to update such an obvious thing in nonFire Kindles as moving from last item in the menu to the first one with the down arrow, that drives me crazy.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Marian!

      I agree with you…it’s better to research it first. 🙂 At this point, getting a Fire outside the USA (where it isn’t even sold directly) wouldn’t get you much value compared to Americans.

      It’s worth noting, though, that many buyers pushed the buy button as soon as it was available, before they could do much research. We’ve had Kindles sell out in the past at the holidays, and people didn’t want to take that chance.

      To be clear, most companies don’t have a policy like Amazon’s on returns. 🙂 We consider that extraordinary. The policy (which also applies to people who buy a Kindle outside the USA purchased from Amazon.com) is that you can return the Kindle within thirty days of purchase. If there is nothing wrong with it, the customer pays the return postage.

      We do have that mentality, though. I remember when a sibling and I went to Australia. My sibling needs a special diet…and before we went, we were told that you don’t send food back in a restaurant (which we commonly do in the USA). We were in the hotel restaurant in the morning, and carefully explained the situation. Unfortunately, my sibling’s food came differently than we ordered it, and we had to return it for medical reasons.

      The next day, when we came in to eat, somebody who hadn’t seen us the day before greeted us with, “You’re the ones that can’t have bread, right?”

      Apparently, the staff had talked about it so much we were able to be recognized…sight unseen. 🙂

  5. susan Says:

    I read the same article this morning and frankly felt a bit outraged by the obvious bias. Who are these “many ” returning their k fire? I love mine, it’s my first experience with a tablet device and touch screen so there is a bit of a learning curve invoked, but I ‘m having great fun learning! I think people have become jaded in their expectations of new tech. They have lost the sense of wonder or the “Cool!!!” factor. I remember when it took an entire building to house a computer, in the stream of things not really that long ago. While I agree there is room for improvement I think the criticism is harsh.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Susan!

      Well, to some extent, it’s a sign of the success of the Fire. It’s more impressive to go after Number 1 than to go after Number Three or Number Forty-Seven. The bigger the target, the more impressive your attack…hypothetically. 😉

  6. Pam Says:

    These reviews just make me so sad. I think the world is turning so negative anymore – it’s a shame! I have an ipad2 which I love and bought the Fire when it was first announced. I decided that with Amazon’s great return policy, if I wasn’t impressed, I’d just return it. Personally, I like the Fire and have used it to watch Prime movies (which I can’t do on my iPad). My S/O watches sports, and I watch whatever I want sitting next to him! The size is great for on the go. And it’s also saved me money as I don’t feel the need for a smart phone anymore. Drop the data plan and save $30/mo. I think you have to appreciate each device for what it can do and not compare so much! I am in awe of Amazon and their CS and am so happy for their continued success! And I love Apple too and think there’s enough love to go around for all!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Pam!

      I agree! Some people seem to presume that because this blog is called “I Love My Kindle”, I must dislike other products, and that’s simply not true. I’m impressed with the NOOK (although I don’t like the Customer Service experiences I’ve had online with Barnes & Noble, and I haven’t liked some of the statements they’ve made). I think Apple products are amazing and even world-changing. I didn’t like their role in the Agency Model, but outside of that, it’s largely laudable.

  7. Andrea Says:

    This is a great, and helpful, article. I was wondering about those percentages…do I not understand them correctly? I am not sure I do. When I add the percentages up, they come to 120%??

    Really, MOST of the reviews are 4-5 stars. I’d say that is pretty positive. I have not reviewed the Fire on the Amazon site, but I love mine, even with its quirks.


    They break down this way:

    5-star: 2,665 (48.2%)
    4-star: 1,059 (39.7%)
    3-star: 647 (11.7%)
    2-star: 479 (8.6%)
    1-star 676 (12.2%)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Andrea!

      Sorry I didn’t see your comment before I corrected it! The blog post is up to date now..I made an error on the 4-star…that one should be 19.2%. The numbers I reported were correct, but that percentage wasn’t.

  8. Nicole Says:

    I love my Kindle Fire. It does exactly what I want it to do and it exceeded my expectations. I can read for long periods of time using a sideloaded screen filter app. I can quickly check my email and get back to my book. I can watch a movie or T.V. show. It’s super portable… I could go on and on. It’s not going to be for everyone, but for me, it’s perfect. 🙂

  9. Kathy Says:

    Hey Bufo: I happened to follow the NYT’s link for David Streitfeld’s pieces (see http://nyti.ms/uEb9DP ). Very enlightening. He seems to have a real anti- Amazon streak going. Surprising for a Times reporter.

    Look, I think Amazon has a lot of good and a lot of bad. I would much rather have my $ go to a bricks and mortar, locally owned store of any type than Amazon. And I doubt the Fire stands up to the ipad (not that it was meant to do so on a full use by use basis) but I am really surprised by the tone of his coverage. Kathy

  10. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I read the NYT article you cited — I did find some useful perspective in it. I have, however, become inured to journalists of all stripes taking less than positive attitudes whenever they can — I think that’s partially due to their training to be “unbiased arbiters”, and partially due to the exigencies of “selling” their journalistic “product” (negative sells more than positive).

    I found your analysis of the product reviews interesting as well — I found the 3.8% 1-star’s for the kindle to be particularly impressive. It got me to thinking about what biases there might be in looking at voluntary reviews. Are reviewers as a whole likely to be more positive or negative? I don’t know. I tend to focus on the 1&2 stars because those having truly awful experiences (especially with manufacturing quality issues) are IMO more likely to do a review — hence the impressiveness of the low 1-star rate for the kindle. When it come to quality and performance consistency, I think the kindle has it down.

    As for the KF I agree with all your suggested improvements. I would especially highlight the need for collections. A tip for the power button problem is to use the KF turned upside down. With its 360 degree gravitometer, the KF works just fine in this orientation, and there’s little possibility of accidentally hitting the power button.

    My main knock on the KF is its inconsistent performance. When it works as it is supposed to, it’s great, but sometimes it hesitates or freezes, or just doesn’t perform correctly (I find this in email, PDF reading, and silk). Its touch is too responsive IMO. I have found that using 3rd party PDF readers and email clients greatly improves the KF consistency. Silk will improve (I’m sure) with time — the approach they are taking there will require a lot of tweaking.

    I came across this more “balanced” review of the KF (actually a comparison with the Nook tablet — the only comparison IMO that really matters):


    I pass it along FWIW.

  11. Aimee Says:

    NYT’s article is quite spiteful. Until NYT online became pay as you go, I went there for news, recipes, book reviews, etc. One thing I’ve noticed is that they love Apple products in their technology reviews. The Fire is perceived by some as an attack on the iPad, so it stands to reason that they’d attack the Fire.

    At least with an obvious bias, you know what you’re reading!

  12. Pineapple Says:

    Bufo- Great rebuttal in the Huffington Post today reported by MJ in the Kindle Forum.


  13. Joe Says:

    Here is an article that talks about the NYT spin:


  14. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I know that NYT doesn’t have much respect for its Kindle blog subscribers. When they went to the pay for articles plan, I wrote to ask my subscribers to the Kindle NYT blog weren’t getting any extra artcles per month. I didn’t expect to get total access like subscribers to the print edition, but I think it would have good business sense to at least give us a few more free articles per month than the person who doesn’t give them any money at all for their news. When I wrote to suggest that they give us some consideration, they sent me back a brush off letter.

  15. Tom Semple Says:

    I have not spent enough hours with my KF to review it comprehensively, but I would rank it no lower than 4 stars. I love the form factor and the ‘boring’ design.

    For the most part, it has more than fulfilled my expectations (e.g. discovering there is a way to input audio, and that TTS is there), and I’m quite pleased to have it in my device collection.

    Hardware wise, I would have liked more onboard storage, though the existing spec fulfills my current requirements. I don’t plan to store any video for off-line viewing, for example.

    In terms of software, the reading app needs to add TTS, better PDF support, Xray. I hope the PDF support will also improve, though there are 3rd party apps that fulfill more specialized requirements. I’m looking forward to some KF8 titles with nice typography (more than just comic books and childrens books).

    I also wish there were more disclosure as to why some apps in the Appstore are not available for the Fire, when Fire appears to fulfill the hardware requirements (and as successful side-loading demonstrates). Side-loading is an inconvenience I’d like to do without, except when a given app is not in Appstore. The way it is now, it very much looks like they are arbitrarily restricting Fire’s access to some Appstore apps, rather than just hardware certification, banning links to Android Market (which is reasonable), etc.

    Looks like they will be improving Carousel. I would probably hide it if I could, but since that’s not possible I’ll just wait to see what improvements arrive.

  16. Dave Says:

    Just FYI – your percentages on the break down of Fire reviews add up to a total of 120.6 %

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Dave!

      Hmm…obviously, rounding wouldn’t account for that. I wouldn’t think that that many more reviews came in while I was totaling them. I might have transposed something…I’ll take a better look at it…thanks!

  17. Tom Semple Says:

    BTW I subscribe to Amazon job listings. A couple of days ago the listing contained something like a couple of dozen jobs with the word ‘Silk’ in the title. So at the very least it is not a gimmick, and is something they’re willing to invest heavily in.

  18. Francesco Says:

    Remember when the articles were about ebrs failing because they did not smell right ? Or ipads failing because they had no keyboard ? Journalists have an intrest in undermining electronic reading devices for as long as possible, their employers have not yet found a way of making money in the electonic world. this article is just more of the same.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Francesco!

      I remember when people thought Apple was crazy not to include a disk drive in the iMac. 🙂

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