I have a great interest in GUI (graphical user interface) design and am very sensitive to designs that cause me extra work.  As a matter of fact, after I retired from the law, one of my most interesting second careers was to help design the GUI for a GPS program (since I had been reviewing GPS equipment for years the company thought I’d have a pretty good idea about what worked, or didn’t work.)  Being exposed to programmers and designers hightened my interest in GUI design even more.

I decided that it would be fun for TeleRead to put up a free ebook pick at least once a week – and maybe even daily.  The ebook would have to be currently in print – not a Project Gutenberg-type book. Now, I have limited time to do this.  It takes a lot of time just to plow through hundreds of RSS feeds to get the news.  To do a free ebook pick I need to get in and out of the ebook site fast.  After looking at Amazon, Kobo and B&N, I came to the conclusion that Kobo and B&N used poorly designed sites that would simply take me too long to find a book and post it.  iBooks was even farther out of the running because, for them, I had to fire up a completely seperate program, iTunes, and plow through that.

To get a Kobo pick I had to do 4 clicks and I also had to remember the completely unintuitive structure of the site to get to the top 10 ebooks.  (The “free ebooks” link doesn’t take you there.) Lose!

To get a B&N pick there simply is now way to do it unless I want to do a search for books priced at $0.00 or remember a special url.  Thanks to our readers for pointing these two methods out.  Lose!

For Amazon I had to do 2 clicks and the info is right there.  Guess who wins.

In this I’m sure I am like a lot of consumers. I don’t want to wade through unintuitive websites to get the info I want.  Perhaps I go farther than most consumers in that I absolutely will not reward a company for designing a bad website.  One might think that, as a service to our readers, I should do the extra clicks and report on the other vendors.  I won’t do it, however.  Neither Kobo nor B&N should be rewarded with the publicity for doing things badly.  And I, as a user, shouldn’t be punished by having to waste my time.

So, until the others learn what a proper GUI is all about and make it easy for me, I’ll stick with Amazon picks.  I wonder how much of Amazon’s success is simply because they have the GUI down pat.


  1. The reason I use and buy more ebooks from Amazon than any other site is for this reason. Finding books, buying books and retrieving your books from Amazon is so simple. Kobo with their new app update is nothing short of a major PITA. The app downloads all my books instead of just the ones I want. Amazon allows me to send books to my devices on demand. Kindle is the gold standard all the rest should follow.
    If it wasn’t for Amazon and their Kindle system I would have thrown in the towel with Sony and Kobo a long time ago. And, gone back to reading paper books again. Why Apple doesn’t have a website like Amazon is beyond me. Why Apple doesn’t follow Amazon’s approach to content selling is also beyond my comprehension.
    Thank god for Amazon. They get my money most of the time. If not, it’s because the book I want is only available from someone else.

  2. *sigh* Articles like these are just silly. You want niche information that the companies have an active interest in downplaying, and then you generalize that these companies “don’t understand a good GUI”. Should I get frustrated with Best Buy because they don’t have a “loss leaders” link on their home page?

    B&N and Amazon have virtually indistinguishable layouts (with B&N admittedly having a worse search engine if you don’t know the exact title), but tends to be more functional and, to me, more aesthetically pleasing. Let’s try some side-by-side examples.

    Amazon: shows me accessories, Kindles, accessories, games, magazines, and then pre-orders. Books are not terribly important or emphasized. The search bar is downplayed (but everyone is used to Amazon’s layout so it doesn’t matter much).

    B&N: shows me books, big book covers and categories, followed by more books. The search bar is very obvious and not hidden in clutter or small in size.

    Amazon: I click on “Top 100 Free” and then “See all Best Sellers in All Kindle Content”. The page I see is not the top 100 free but a narrow two-column approach with paid and free. I don’t see any manner of sorting (although I did say top 100). There is no method of changing the number of items per page, and if I scroll just right I can barely see 5 free items at a time. I can select a genre, which is nice. Clicking “Free Collections” takes me to somewhere else entirely with a limited collection of free material.

    B&N: Search for “0.00” or “free” and get a list of free books. I can sort the list by a number of useful methods, choose the number of items to display, and even select a more dense display method allowing me to see 25 books at a time on my display.

    Finding the newest free books:

    Amazon: ???

    B&N: Search for 0.00 and sort newest to oldest. (Note that this is book release so an old book becoming free won’t magically pop to the top of the list.)

    Let’s look at how I would solve the problem of this article:

    Amazon: Find the free book list and bookmark it. (I assume the URL will continue to work, but it includes all sorts of crazy information.)

    B&N: Search for free books and bookmark it. (Even the sort order will be preserved.)

    1 click to get the information I need.

    And what is a real user more likely to do? Hunt around Amazon’s busy, and often not relevant, page for “Free books” (knowing to not click “Free Collections”)? Or type “free” into the search bar, something which works for both sites?

    I hope you read this, Paul, because I’d love to read the response.

  3. PS: My (admittedly limited) experience with the Kindle Touch would indicate that a side-by-side of the Nook Touch and the Kindle Touch would be similarly revealing. (The Kindle Fire interface, on the other hand, seemed appropriate for a touch screen, so I expect the Kindle Touch to catch up eventually.)

  4. In general, I agree that Amazon does a better job with usability (not necessarily design… the two aren’t synonymous concepts) then B&N. However, in this case I have to agree with Logan. On Amazon’s site where I’d expect to find links to free Kindle books is either in the header (unlikely, since free items are likely to be downplayed rather than being primary links) or in the left hand navigation area. Looky there, in the left hand column we do have Free Collections! Of course that takes you to a page that talks about resources for public domain books outside of Amazon. It’s not likely what the user was looking for was public domain classics. Even less likely is they’d want to be taken outside of the Amazon site. This is a massive fail in usability.

    Oh, but the Top 100 Free is easily found in the right hand column you say? Well, from a usability stand point, that’s in the wrong place. But it gets worse. That list is repeated multiple times in the right hand side. This is confusing to users. Even if you give a failing grade to B&N here, I don’t see how you can give Amazon any better than a D-.

    In the early days B&N did have a link to free books prominently displayed on their website. It was also in the right place ;). I’m not sure when the link was removed, or why, but most Nook users never used the link. The search for 0.00 just worked better. I don’t think that’s an excuse for removing the link, really, but I’m sure most Nook users are like me and aren’t even aware the link disappeared. There are far more important things to fix on the B&N site (even on the more usable Amazon site) than putting a link back on the page for freebies that make B&N no revenue.

  5. Agree with Logan and wekempf here: isn’t poorly design- they just want you to pay for things.

    But on the topic of GPS GUI- what would you think of GPS as an application for AR glasses?

    You put the glasses on, and they highlight the route you need to take in your field of view. That way, you can look at the road AND get directions at the same time.

  6. Uh, guys…
    It’s not just the free stuff that’s hard to find on B&N’s website.
    Even commercial books and audio books are hard to find.
    Apparently, their search tech doesn’t bother to aggregate author name variants, for one; thus it doesn’t recognize Lois MacMaster Bujold and oid Bujold as the same author. I had to do *both* searches to find all the Voorkosigan books on CD for a Christmas gift. Then I saw the price on A CIVIL CAMPAIGN and ended up gifting the Audible versions.
    ( yes, from Amazon. But I tried…)

  7. Felix, you are certainly correct that the search engine at B&N is not as forgiving as Amazon. That doesn’t reflect on their GUI skills, though…

    B&N also can’t be blamed for the insane pricing on CD audiobooks. B&N does, however, have the better price on A Civil Campaign:

    Amazon CD: $75.60
    B&N CD: $40.45

    Amazon DRM-encumbered Audible: $26.95
    B&N DRM-free(?) MP3: $26.51

    Of course, it is really hard to beat the $11 effective price of an Audible subscription… It’s like the early Kindle days over there; prices are so low, you wonder how they make money.

  8. The B&N site is like the weather: if you don’t like it, just wait a few weeks and it’ll change. Probably for the worse. has re-designed their web site probably 4 or 5 times over the past year. Each time they did, they dropped some features and broke others. I’ve heard that the latest “adjustment” has broken the new e-book gifting feature, such that every e-book you give now ends up in your own account instead of the recipient’s — and e-books can’t be moved from one B&N account to another.

    The “free e-book” link that was posted on the other article used to be prominent. B&N dropped it. Today, try and find the B&N forums. Trust me, as of this writing there *is* still a link to it — it’s just almost impossible to find.

    What about Advanced Search? Can you find that link? Okay, not quite so tricky if you use your browser’s search-in-page feature. Now use the Advanced Search to look for an e-book. Any e-book. Just select “Format: NOOK Book” and see what happens. Nothing found. Ever. You know why? Because the search page puts “fmt=ep” in the URL when the search engine wants “fmt=EP” (capitalized). I informed B&N about this on June 9th of last year and B&N acknowledged it the next day. It’s STILL b0rken. It is impossible to find ANY e-books on B&N’s site using Advanced Search, and has been for over nine months (they actually broke it back in early April).

    The good news is: the site managed to stay up and running this Christmas, after two years of multi-day outages when mass quantities of new NOOK owners tried to register their devices and buy e-books.

  9. I had to search for a dozen ebooks and couldn’t understand why Amazon doesn’t have a delete “X” in the search bar. B&N does. I had to keep deleting my old search queries on Amazon. Also, Amazon’s doesn’t offer “in kindle” in drop down suggestions.

    I think both sites can use improvements.

  10. @Fbone: ctrl-A or double-click. Just like Google and Firefox :p.

    I just tried the autocomplete on Possibly personalized, but I’m not actually logged in.,For “Alas”, I got “Alastair Reynolds” “Alastair Reynolds [in books]” [grey], and “Alastair Reynolds [in Kindle Store]”.

  11. @Logan: I looked and I looked (15 minutes) and nowhere did the B&N site offer up the MP3 file.
    *Which was why I went to them first.*
    Among the problems, it wouldn’t let me look just for audio ebooks; I had to scroll through a flat listing of every edition of all the books under that particular version of the author’s name, in *no particular order* (probably by its hidden sku).

    Call it what you will, GUI issues, usability issues, online storefront issues: their website design *still* gets in the way of making a sale.

    As to Audible pricing, can we please get over the “Amazon sells everything at a loss” thing?
    They don’t.
    And Audible, like Zappos, Woot, and all the other online Kingdoms in the Amazon Empire is independently run, mostly by the same people running it when Amazon bought them.
    The Audible subscriptions work because instead of making $50 on a single sale once a year, Audible makes $6 per sale on 12 sales a year. (Or something like that.)

  12. FTorres- I found the MP3 file on B&N within 10 seconds. It’s under audiobooks $26.51

    Alan: Yes, thank you. It’s still 3 clicks to delete and you have to time it accurately. It’s still easier and faster on B&N. And yes I would like to see in gray “in kindle store” but don’t know why it’s not there.

    The book covers are larger on B&N. Larger fonts too. Prices are easier to read. No Prime pricing to confuse you.

    However, Amazon’s website is much faster.

  13. @Felix: You are correct that they don’t emphasize specific types of books on their web site (except Nook Books, of course). You search for a book, and they show you all the editions, including MP3, available. I suspect that is how FBone found it.

    I’m not sure why the different editions of the book weren’t lumped together for you. They always have been for me (except when the item, or seller-provided, information was incorrect … I have the same issue with Amazon).

    Sorry to imply a loss; I am also bugged by the “sells at a loss” push. (I’m pretty sure the Fire “losses” were Amazon marketing to make it seem like you were getting a good deal. It seems as though manufacturers of game consoles use the same marketing firms.) I know that Audible makes money or they would have shut down a while ago (and forced my price to increase … I’m still under the old $19.95 pricing).

    However, if the publisher is selling the CDs for $107, the digital Audiobook is $70, and the Audible version for $9.95, then you have to wonder about the contracts involved. The entire process of selling eBooks was re-written (destroying a large number of sellers) because Amazon wanted to charge $9.99 instead of $12.99, but somehow this enormous disparity in audiobook pricing continues.

    11-22-63: eBook pricing $16.99, audiobook pricing $9.98 … all because I promised to purchase a second audiobook this month?

    I can’t be the only one that finds it interesting that audiobooks for new releases cost less than the same eBook…

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