Far From the Madding Crowd? Far from Frictionless!

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You remember Jeff Bezos’s stated mission to make reading “frictionless”? Well, in some macro sense, circa 2009, he has accomplished his mission. But this is 2013, people, and when I want to load a copy of a public domain title onto my Kindle to read for free the experience should be, well, frictionless.

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So, when I go to open “Books” on my Kindle Fire, and search for “Far From the Madding Crowd,” the free version doesn’t even make the first page of results. The first free option on that page is Tess of the D’Urbervilles (to be fair, they both have the word “the” in their respective titles); the second is Return of the Native (there is the pesky, search-engine-confounding “the” again!). When I decided to embrace the friction of sorting the results by price from low to high to find the book I wanted, the thing I was searching for made the first page, preceded by–wait for it–that darned Tess again.

Methinks Jeff Bezos is secretly interested in creating friction, but of a particular kind. It’s the kind of friction that tempers the absolute wonderfulness of Amazon’s service and its signal contribution to the history of books by popularizing e-reading with the Kindle in the first place. The kind of friction that Jeff Bezos loves is the kind that makes you abandon your search for texts that are free and accept an alternative that costs cold hard cash. (Honestly, the results of my search for the free edition of Hardy’s book, where free copies of related titles ranked higher than the free copy of the title itself, did cause a smidgen on cognitive dissonance for me. It made me wonder if, for some inexplicable reason, no free version of Far was available through Amazon. Maybe the $0.99 is worth the convenience of just getting the title I want! Ka-ching!)

So, I grabbed the iPad Mini, opened iBooks, searched for the title, and BOOM!: three free copies of the book at the top of the list. Guess what device I am reading the book on now?

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