Assessing Kindle Vella

It’s been a month now for Kindle Vella- a long, sloggy month. I am not in a great place right now and I wonder if having my hopes for Vella dashed is a part of it. At any rate, I’m here to perform a post-mor…er, analysis of Kindle Vella as it stands currently based on my observations. I am no one, and not exactly handy with the marketing, so keep that in mind.

Lack of Common Features of Serialization Platforms

Vella is meant to compete with other, very popular, very profitable serialized platforms like Wattpad and Royal Road and others. Often, these platforms have an extensive tag system as well as a basic rating system similar to games and movies. There’s a filter/search bar on the side that allows you to include or exclude tags however you’d like. It makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. You can also click on a tag to show all stories with that tag. Recently updated stories are knocked to the top of a list unless you filter by something different. This means it’s easy for readers to find new content. Also, if you subscribe to a story, you get an email when there is an update.

Vella does none of this at all. I don’t expect the ‘Zon to condone a Wild West of tagging, but what is allowed is only seven tags and readers don’t have a lot of luck searching by them, apparently. There’s no set of filters you can use to include or exclude certain things, or if there is, it’s not easy to find. There isn’t even a rating system besides mature/not mature which does not currently seem accurate or defined. You do not get any email update when a story you’re subscribed to updates; you need to check your Kindle app for it.

Worst of all, recently updated stories don’t top any list. It appears stories are sorted by one of Amazon’s mystery algorithms. While it would be simple and even likely that people could game a system where recent updates get eyeballs first, Amazon has dealt with this sort of thing in Kindle Unlimited with increasing success.

Oh, and there is no support for Kindle with Vella, only Kindle apps and the Amazon website. I don’t know why.

That’s thing about Vella. There’s a lot of it I don’t know why it is the way it is. The blueprints have been right there all along. The current big serialization fanfiction site, AO3, is run on donations- Vella is the project of one of the biggest companies in the world.

Where Was the Marketing?

The only people in my life who know about Vella know because I told them. I have seen no ads in any format. The only emails I ever received about Vella were directed toward authors, not readers. A perusal of the Amazon forums tells me that Amazon did no marketing for this platform to readers. It banked on writers doing the legwork. I’m not sure this is working at all.

Why did this happen? I figure there are three options: this was an unspoken soft-launch, lack of commitment from Amazon, or a culture of writers doing their own marketing.

The soft nature of the Vella launch has received a lot of commentary from the writer angle on the Amazon forums, but the issue is that we still don’t know if it is one. Soft launches are essentially open beta tests, used to try things out and find issues before investing in a full launch. You want some publicity for participation but not too much because the product is still in a rough state. But Amazon has not yet stated, at the time of this writing, that the Vella roll-out was a soft launch. It’s only a guess by disgruntled writers.

It’s possible Amazon is not particularly committed to this effort. Vella as it stands has the feeling of a half-baked idea, an attempt to muscle in on some profitable territory Amazon hasn’t touched yet. A couple Korean companies just paid quite a bit for Wattpad and Radish, two serialization platforms. Amazon wants to get in on that. But Vella feels like a good idea fairy, because there is no sense of dedication to the actual attempt.

There has been for some years a growing culture of writers doing their own marketing. With self-publishing, it’s a necessity, but even the big publishing houses do it. It’s a hard, hard thing to do for most of us and requires a whole new skill set and not a little bit of dumb luck. It could be hat Amazon simply decided that it make good financial sense to have the writers do their marketing for Vella for free, because they would.

Amazon is No Longer Innovative?

The fact of the matter may simply be that the king of tech giants is no longer the innovator it once was. Success, especially runaway success, can cause that to happen. The king of the hill is no longer clawing for the top, after all. Amazon may not be up for innovating the user experience anymore and is only reacting to market trends like a mattress store reacting to its rival across the street. Vella’s not particularly great rollout may be a sign of things to come. Or not. If I knew the future, I’d be rich, which I am not.

So where does this leave Gray Eye? I need to email Amazon support to pull it from Vella. It takes a few months for them to do that, for whatever reason. Vella is a bust for me. I am not in a great place right now with the future of my writing and every stat I could find has exacerbated that. I could see finishing Gray Eye as a novelette for Kindle Unlimited, where it might actually make money. There is no word of changes and improvements to the Vella platform and frankly I have no hope for any. I expect it to die a quiet, unremarked death within a year.

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