Why Kindle Vella Isn’t Popular

An Amazon service with “Kindle” in the name doesn’t work on all Kindles.

I’ve been serializing my first novel, Coordinated Universal Time Travel, on Kindle Vella since July 2022. Vella is a useful way to help files on my hard drive evolve from ideas to real stories. Earning my first few readers and dollars was extremely exciting, no matter how small the amounts are. It’s been an interesting experience overall, but I can’t help but find that Kindle Vella is a missed opportunity on Amazon’s part. Over one year since launch, it’s still an overly cautious afterthought.

The Pricing Doesn’t Make Sense for Long Stories

One reason I’m ending serialization there is that CUTT is a long story. There are approximately 50-60K words between where serialization ends and where the final eBook edition will end. If I publish that on Vella, it could cost a reader as much as $5 in tokens.

To counter this, I’m going to release CUTT in one large novel for ~$5 in November or December. For the price you’d pay for the last ~1/3rd of the story on Vella, you’ll get the whole story (serialized portion plus finale) in a format that works on all Kindle devices. That last point is big enough to be a standalone complaint, but I’ll pair it with other platform complaints.

This isn’t an isolated complaint. The top-ranked story as of October 2022 has huge audience interaction, but the customer reviews are abysmal. Readers love the story, but hate the payment mechanism. I have to agree. The token system doesn’t present significant savings for purchasing in bulk and Vella doesn’t give an upfront option for “Buy All Episodes”. Readers have no idea what they’re in for and it’s harder for them to estimate total cost.

Why not let readers buy all episodes in a story at a discount?

How about discounts for readers that read 50%+ of a story?

It Feels Like an Unfinished Product

I’ve been ready to call the serialization complete on CUTT for almost a week, but Vella has locked up one of my episodes in “Publishing” status. Repeated emails to customer support have yield nothing but form letters in response. Now, email-based customer service tends to be surprisingly poor for many online businesses, but it’s particularly frustrating when it prevents you from releasing a product.

Chapter 54 has been stuck for 11 days. It’s blocking the last 8 chapters.

I don’t know what’s behind this bug, though I do know that multiple other authors have encountered it in the last few weeks.

You Can’t Read Kindle Vella Stories on e-ink Kindles

This is such a major shortcoming. I can use browsers, phones, tablets, but not my dedicated e-reader. However, Kindle Vella stories don’t have images or complex formatting inside them.

Blocking e-ink Kindles instantly cuts off a huge swath of the market.

Kindle Vella Favorites Should Be Ranked Per Major Genre

Discoverability is the core challenge of any creative endeavor these days. Vella ranks the top 250 stories across all genres, which brings visibility to top-performers. I briefly stumbled onto the bottom rungs of that ladder once and got the best organic visibility I’ve ever had on Vella. It’s a cool concept that theoretically rewards ongoing current reads to keep the top favorites fresh each month.

Still, why not have a top 250 for each major genre?

If I’m only looking for Science Fiction stories, I’d prefer to see just the top ranked within that category. I don’t think it’s a huge assumption that many readers would likely prefer that breakdown as well. That would give a better experience for the customer and give authors, audiences, and Amazon exactly what they want. I know enough about web-dev to not assume this would be a 2-minute fix, but it is a major shortcoming.

On a Somewhat Positive Note

Kindle Vella hasn’t cost me anything and has helped me get my first handful of paying readers. Selfishly as both a reader and writer, I hope the service makes drastic improvements.

Kindle Vella would be best positioned as a new-audience builder for new authors. I really can’t see any better long-term future for Vella. It could be great as a low-stakes, easy-entry to self-publishing. Instead bugs, technical, and design shortcomings limit its potential. The service still has potential, given all the seemingly low-hanging fruit, but it remains to be seen if Amazon will aggressively pursue improvements.