Gifting digital books


Gifting a digital book should be the start of a grand conversation.

Why gift? We gift because we’ve found something uniquely aligned with and yet unknown to the recipient. Something that will add value to their life. And there's a selfish motive — particularly with a book — that we really want to discuss the gift with that person. To gift is to initiate conversation.

The best gifts are often unexpected. That beautiful notebook appearing suddenly in your mailbox. The surprise bottle of whiskey. Just imagine how much fun it would be to quietly gift books onto your friends’ Kindles or iPads. How, if properly engineered, that gifting would first surprise, then delight, then connect.

An imagined ideal gifting flow

I have a book I want to gift to a friend. It’s a book I cherish and, gosh, I want this person to enjoy it. It’s on my iPad. I’ve highlighted my favorite passages, and I’ve even taken some notes.

Seamlessly,1 within Kindle or iBooks, I bring up a contextual menu and there’s the option: “gift this book.”

I select that option.

Three fields pop up.

  • A date for the book to be delivered.
  • A message to be included with the book.
  • A space to enter recipient details.

My friend turns on their Kindle the morning of the day I select for the book to arrive. Their Kindle syncs with the Kindle cloud and — oh, look! A gift! The book is automatically downloaded. My personalized message — long or short — is displayed and kept as a part of that book.

Furthermore, if I’ve opted to have my notes and highlights included with the book, those too, are downloaded. As my friend reads, they see the exact passages to which I want them to pay particular attention. They read my thoughts alongside the text. Our books are linked and their notes, too, appear in my copy. I get a summary of new notes and highlights every so often via email or pushed to my Kindle. There’s a web interface for me to respond immediately to those notes whether I’m on my computer, iPad or hardware Kindle.


I’ve watched friends give and receive books this holiday season. Mostly, they’re physical. Physical feels more gift-like than digital. But sometimes they’re digital and, well, digital books still don’t feel optimized for gift giving.

Digital gifting feels non-indigineous. Not quite optimized. There’s no seamless way to enable the gifting. Often an intermediary email is necessary. Amidst the convoluted transfer process, the gifted reveals herself. Acquiring the digital gift requires too many steps for the recipient; one step is one too many.2 A fundamental precept of gifting is that the person to whom I’m gifting should never have to do anything to get the gift.

Seamlessness is a core component of the above outlined gift flow. Seamlessness in receiving and giving revives some of that physical intimacy lost in digital. It enables the digital equivalent of lovingly slipping a book under a recipient's door in the night. Having the gift giver’s note appear and stay with the book furthers that intimacy. And peeking over the shoulder, so to speak, of the gift giver as you read the book — and respond inline — not only mimics receiving a well-worn copy, but it adds value above what's achievable in a physical exchange.

If the process was this spontaneous and simple, then we’d see a lot more gifted digital books. Someday soon — I’m sure, I hope — it will be just like this. Until then, friends, keep your eyes peeled for small packages in the mail.

Special thanks to Enrique Allen for brainstorming about the gifting process and inspiring me to write this up.

  1. Ideally, upon reading a passage that evokes the desire to gift, you should be able to do so immediately and seamlessly within your current reading interface. In fact, perhaps one of the best spots to initiate a gift is at the end of the book, where you want to share your journey with someone else.
    As an added bonus, you should be able to gift the book at a discount. It could be something as simple as a standard percentage, or it could be the equivalent amount you would have received as an affiliate. ↩︎
  2. I know, I know. We need these steps so that the recipient can properly send the gift to their device of choice. Or, perhaps, you don't know the email address which is associated with the recipient's Kindle. These aren't insurmountable technical challenges. Perhaps Kindles are linked to Facebook accounts (bear with me) and when we gift, we gift to known identities on Facebook. Or perhaps Amazon provides us with a smarter interface for making sure the person to whom we want the book delivered, is indeed that person. Regardless, this can be optimized. In fact, email addresses probably shouldn't play a part in the process. ↩︎

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