Bottom line: Kindle Vella probably isn't right for all readers, but that doesn't mean that many won't enjoy it. The app is easy to use, and it already has an impressive content library. And nine months after launch, it's finally available on Android and Fire OS.
- Quick and easy to get started
- Fluid, user-friendly interface
- Lower barrier to entry; less commitment
- Not all genres are a good fit or are offered
- IAP model is open to abuse
A few months back, we spoke with several independent authors to learn what they thought about a new service from Amazon called Kindle Vella. If this is the first time you're hearing about Kindle Vella, or if you don't remember what exactly it is, let me offer you a quick refresher.
Kindle Vella is a new way for Amazon customers to read bite-sized, serialized works of fiction on their mobile devices. The idea is that you read a chapter at a time — which Amazon refers to as "episodes" — and you are notified when new episodes become available. You can follow specific authors or stories, or you can search by genre or topic. The first few episodes of a new story are free, and then you can purchase tokens, which grant you the ability to unlock new episodes in that or other stories. These tokens are available in bundles for bulk purchasing (more on this below). In addition, you can "fave" episodes, which adds a social component, and there are ways to interact with authors and other fans alike.
Kindle Vella borrows features like in-app purchases (IAPs) as we see in the best Android mobile games, the concept of upvoting from sites like Reddit, and enthusiastic customer reviews from Amazon to deliver a more immersive reading experience to Kindle readers. It's not the first example of serialized stories, but with the power of Amazon behind it, it might end up being the most successful.
Now that the service is finally available to consumers, we thought it the perfect time to try it out for ourselves and write an Amazon Kindle Vella review. Spoiler alert — it's actually a pretty interesting service, though it likely won't appeal to everyone at first.
Amazon Kindle Vella: Price and availability
Kindle Vella launched in mid-July 2021. To start, only U.S.-based authors writing in English are able to upload new content, but if the service succeeds, we expect that to expand to other countries and languages. The service is free to start — readers can access the first few episodes of a story for free before they are required to purchase tokens to unlock additional episodes. Token packs are available at launch, with prices ranging from $1.99 for 200 tokens up to $14.99 for 1700 tokens. Each episode requires a certain amount of tokens to be unlocked, and this may vary slightly between authors and stories based on episode length.
In January 2022, the service finally became available to Android and Amazon Fire tablet users via the Amazon Kindle app.
Amazon Kindle Vella: What's good
I love to read. I've got shelves and shelves of physical books and hundreds of virtual books in my Kindle library. The problem is, life gets busy, and no matter how well-intentioned I am to sit down, relax, and read one of my novels or biographies, I can't seem to carve out enough time to really get into a book these days. So, I spend much of my "reading" time on my phone, scrolling through Google News, Feedly, the Washington Post, and my respective reading lists from those apps. So as much as I hate to admit it, the snackable format of Kindle Vella stories really appeals to me.
In my opinion, Amazon's Kindle app was already pretty good, if busy. But once you got into a book, the reading experience was pretty seamless. That is how I feel about the Kindle Vella experience. Perhaps I should back up a bit to clarify that Kindle Vella content lives in the existing Kindle app, not in a separate app. Currently, the easiest way to jump into the Kindle Vella content library is by tapping on the Discover tab at the bottom of the app and then tapping on Kindle Vella.
Once you find a story you like, the experience of scrolling through the text is quite pleasant. It's smooth, there are no distractions, and if you ever lose your place, simply tapping on the screen will pull up a scrollable nav bar on the right side. In addition, when you get to the end of an episode, you have the ability to unlock more content by purchasing and cashing in your tokens.
As mentioned above, tokens can be purchased in bundles from 200 up to 1700, with prices ranging from $1.99 to $14.99. Episode prices depend on length, but generally speaking, you can get 4-6 or so episodes for every 200 tokens (the story that I'm currently reading is charging about 35 tokens per episode on average).
The content selection at launch appears to be fairly robust and compares favorably to that offered on competing services. Whether on the web or in the app, Amazon lets you search by title, author, genre, or tag.
Available genres include action and adventure, children's stories, dystopian, fantasy, historical fiction (my personal favorite), humor, LGBT fiction, mystery, non-fiction, paranormal, romance, science fiction, teen and young adult, thriller, and erotica. You can also search Kindle Vella titles by audience tags, such as romance, fantasy, adventure, magic, horror, action, family, vampires, detective, and many, many more.
I'll admit that I didn't contribute much to the social aspects of the platform — other than giving the author whose story I read a thumbs up after each episode and lending my "fave" to them — but I do appreciate the crowdsourcing component to the service. I also like the idea of interacting directly with authors and creators on the platform and am curious to see how that plays out. In case you're wondering, I started reading My Three-Year-Old is a Barbarian and Other Parenting Problems by Aaron Frale. It's goofy and a lot of fun, and it's made me want to explore even further down the Kindle Vella rabbit hole.
Finally, I do appreciate that the serialized, tokenized system of content consumption allows you to just stop paying if you're not enjoying the content. Amazon has also always allowed you to return books (and even return Kindle books) if you didn't like them. And just like other Kindle books, you can return Kindle Vella episodes for a refund if you want.
Amazon Kindle Vella: What's not good
Even though the concept behind it isn't new, Kindle Vella is a new service for Amazon, and thus it still has some kinks to be worked out. For starters, the most glaring downside to the service was the fact that it launched without an Android app. Yep, we Android lovers were once again the victim of iOS-first development. But it's not just that Vella wasn't available on Android phones; it wasn't available on Amazon's first-party devices either! That's right, at launch there was no Kindle Vella on Kindle e-readers or Fire tablets. Thankfully this situation has been rectified, as Amazon added Kindle Vella support through the Kindle app on Android and Fire OS in January 2022.
Just a quick note on the web version — it's not great. At least the Kindle web reader tried to reproduce the experience of reading an e-book in your browser. Technically, the web version of Kindle Vella does try to reproduce the experience of reading episodes on your phone, but that doesn't translate well in this format. It looks and feels like a bad Android tablet app port rather than a native or natural experience. But at least it's available, I guess.
While there is a large selection of fiction categories, not all literary genres are a good fit for this format. For example, history books, biographies, recipes — anything long-form, really. So if that's what you're looking for, you'll likely be disappointed here. That being said, there are are short-form non-fiction titles covering topics like social issues and observations, spirituality, and everyday life, but this is probably one of the smallest categories in the Vella content catalog, at least at launch.
Much has already been said about the relative pros and cons of in-app purchases, both for creators and consumers. It is certainly easy to ring up the charges for additional tokens as you blaze your way through episodes and stories. If you're someone who struggles with impulse control around spending, you might want to approach the Kindle Vella model with a degree of caution.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up the creator compensation angle. In my initial Kindle Vella explainer, I mentioned how some authors were initially a bit leery about whether or not the serialized format and token compensation were worth their time compared to more traditional publishing methods. But, of course, that calculation is up to each creator to figure out. Still, if you care about directly supporting creators, you should be aware there are other ways to do so that may be more advantageous to those creators, such as personal websites, Patreon, small book shops, etc.
Amazon Kindle Vella: Competition
While there are many different platforms and services competing for your reading attention, including Amazon's own Kindle store and Kindle Unlimited subscription services, there aren't really that many competing serialized fiction sites or apps. The ones there are, though, have been around for a long time and have established fanbases and author ecosystems.
One of the most well-known services is the Canadian-based Wattpad. Wattpad has a huge catalog of fiction works, and its stories are available on the web and through its apps for Android, iOS, and even Huawei's AppGallery. Plus, you can purchase physical books from Wattpad if that's more your jam.
Radish is another service that features serialized, "bingeable" fiction stories to readers through its apps on iOS and Android. It's been around for about six years now and has a large catalog of romance, mystery, thriller, and fantasy fiction stories.
Aside from these competitors, Kindle Vella will have to pry readers away from other short-form reading options like Apple News+, the WSJ, and its own Comixology, not to mention the ever-expanding libraries of podcasts and mobile gaming content.
Amazon Kindle Vella: Should you try it?
You should try it if ...
- You enjoy reading on your phone
- You are a fan of short fiction
- You don't like reading traditional books
You shouldn't try it if...
- You prefer to read longer books on a tablet or in physical form
- You have impulse control when it comes to microtransactions and in-app purchases
3.5 out of 5
Amazon's Kindle Vella platform is a new reading experience that offers bite-sized stories for busy people on the go or those with short attention spans. Of course, it's not for everybody, but it's an interesting idea that aims to compete with podcasts and mobile gaming for our precious and dwindling attention spans.
If you're someone who prefers experiencing your entertainment in shorter bursts, or if you just don't have the time to sit down to read a more lengthy tome, then you just might enjoy Kindle Vella.
Amazon Kindle Vella
Bottom line: Amazon Kindle Vella is a convenient way to enjoy serialized content while at home or on the go. It delivers bite-sized books for the busiest of bodies.
Review Changelog, February 2022
This article was originally published in July 2021.
It was updated in February 2022 with the following changes.
- Updated notes about Android and Fire OS availability.
Jeramy is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.
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