Amazon’s Annotating & Letting Users Take Ownership Before Purchase

I love my Kindle.

I was skeptical of the Kindle at first. I was one of “those” people. I was on of those readers that love the smell of paper. The ones that judge a book and can love a book for its cover. I was one of those people until I read on my brother’s kindle.

I love in-app purchases.

Not sneaky consumable in-app purchases that make you purchase and repurchase. I appreciate IAP’S that let you experience nearly the entire app and convert to the full version in-app, without having to go back to the store.

I love samples on Kindle.

I love staying up late on a weekend night. I love losing myself between the bookshelves of the world’s largest store, while next to me Mayu sleeps between the sheets. I always end up with a basket full of book samples to skim through, and then sitting back in bed to skim. Samples that only take a quick “in-app purchase” to unlock.

Amazon samples aren’t those crumbs at the supermarket that are barely worth their toothpick. The kind of sample that you can hardly taste, kind of like the demo or lite version that only lets you in the door.

Amazon samples are Sam’s Club sample size and are big enough to dig your teeth into. They give you more than the introduction and enough to want to overcome the protagonist’s problem or the essential problem proposed by the business, design, or professional author. Amazon samples are big enough to sit down and have a conversation with.

It doesn’t make sense why Amazon wants to stop that conversation. Why when you go to start a conversation with a sample, and an overbearing chaperone butts in and reminds you “This is just a sample.”


It bothers me, because I just don’t get it. At that moment, I’m about to make the book mine. I’ve got my pen out and am about to write in the margin. I’ll *need* to buy the book once I mark it up. I’ll want to finish my conversation. But again, that’s the moment when the clerk abruptly stops me to say “No, no, no.”

Why not make the current roadblock into an actionable call to action?


Currently, their stopping me rarely makes me think, “I should buy this book right now!” I always take the rejection, being spurned, a little hard. Anyways, annotating on a Kindle is enough of a pain, and any barrier to it stops me in my tracks. I feel like seeing that notice even makes me less likely to purchase when the prompt comes up at the end of the sample. I guess it goes back to me not taking rejection well..

It’s too bad. Amazon is great at giving a big enough sample to get you hooked, but isn’t letting you fully bite into their sample.

We used to make this same mistake with Rough Draft. We gave 90% of the functionality, but then locked in the writer’s draft. We didn’t let them export even their rough draft, full of strikethroughs, without in-app purchase. Whenever a writer would build up enough momentum to really experience Rough Draft and get in the “flow state” we’d be there in the background reminding them, “Just remember you’ll have to purchase this if you want to unlock what you write.” After listening to writers and reflecting on my own experiences with Kindle samples, we decided to unlock Rough Draft 99% of the way. We unlocked rough exporting, it’s not perfect yet, but now purchase is only necessary to export an easier to revise strikethrough free draft.

Amazon’s great Kindle experience has many great lessons it can teach, and that I’ve done my best to implement in projects of my own. Lessons about giving more than just a sample. Giving customers enough to enjoy themselves. Getting people past an intro and building up enough momentum to jump across the chasm of making a purchase and hit the ground running when they purchase.

They also helped me to realize that you’ve got to trust readers, writers, and all users. You’ve got to get them to take ownership as soon as possible. You’ve got to make ownership take place without purchase. Ownership is not a chicken and the egg phenomenon. Ownership precedes purchase.

Do you have any favorite examples of in-app purchase done right? I’d love to take a look at them if you’ll share!

As you may have guessed, this draft started in Rough Draft. You can see how we designed our in-app purchase flow Rough Draft is free to download.
There’s always room to improve, so if you try it please critique it like I did here. I’ll share your suggestions with our team, like I hope someone on the Kindle team might do with this!
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