The Joy of Kindle Samples

September 23, 2017

Like Costco Wholesale and smoked chicken sausages, Amazon lets you sample Kindle books before purchasing. This might not sound that exciting, but samples are actually the most underrated and overlooked feature of Kindle. They will take your reading practice to the next level, saving you money, eliminating clutter, maintaining your reading list, and — best of all — helping you to read more.

Here's how it works. On each and every Kindle book page, there is a button entitled "Send a free sample" underneath "Buy now". When you click this button, a "sample" version of the ebook (the first five to ten percent of the book) will be delivered to all your Kindle devices and apps. There it will wait until you decide to give the title a try, at which time you'll be able to purchase the full book, if you want.

Send a Free Sample

If you're a bibliomaniac like me, you probably glossed over this button. Instead, you might impulsively purchase any title that catches your eye, just like I used to do, accruing a massive library of intriguing but unread books. There is nothing wrong with a little tsundoko or building an antilibrary — indeed, I can say many good things about each. But the smart use of Kindle samples offers the best of both worlds: You can feed the impulse to acquire an interesting title, putting it on your digital shelf for later, while also eliminating the financial waste, guilt, and clutter, that comes with an unread book.

The smart use of Kindle is the best of both worlds: Experience the thrill of the purchase while eliminating the waste of unread books.

As a neophyte minimalist, these were my original motives. However, I discovered two additional unexpected benefits.

First, my library of samples acts as a de facto reading list. No longer do I need to maintain a spreadsheet or running note in my phone. Instead, whenever I encounter a book I'm interested in, I simply send the sample to my Kindle account. When it's time to choose a new book, I browse my vast collection for a title that catches my eye. Over time, I've even developed the habit of sending myself samples I know I already have, catapulting them to the front of the queue, increasing the probability that I'll read them when it's time to choose a new book.

All this being said, the best unexpected benefit Kindle samples — and the reason you should experiment with the practice yourself — is that you read more books. Let's face it: reading often feels like a chore. It's an activity most of us feel like we should be doing — like working out, eating healthy, or meditating — but we really don't feel like it. From time to time, however, reading becomes completely effortless. Euphoric even. Have you ever had the magical experience of picking up a book you couldn't put it down? If reading were always so engaging and pleasurable, wouldn't it be easy to fill your brain with fifty books a year?

Have you ever had the magical experience of picking up a book you couldn't put it down?

I was pleasantly surprised to notice that my use of Kindle samples significantly increased these transcendent reading experiences: what I like to call finding "the right book at the right time". The reason reading often feels like a chore is because we sometimes commit ourselves to reading books that aren't right — either not right for that moment or not right forever. We make these commitments because of the sunk cost fallacy: by purchasing a book, we subconsciously "invest" in the act of following through. When we discover that the book is not right, the best use of our time going forward would be to pick up a different book, but most of us don't make decisions this way.

With samples, there is no such subconscious investment. I only commit to a book if the sample whisks me away to the end, leaving me wanting more. If the sample is terrible, I delete it from my account, never to see it again. If the sample strikes me as decent, but not presently captivating, it remains in my library. (It's not uncommon for a sample that wasn't right before to become the right book at the right time later.) The process results in me landing upon far more right books at the right time and thus I read more books: the best benefit of the strategic use of Kindle samples.

Give it a try and let me know how it works out.

Next Up

I'll write about my Kindle-enabled vocabulary building system.