Our online purchases and subscriptions and services are associated with accounts linked to an email address. Be careful when you set up accounts and make purchases! These are turning into long-term relationships that need to be right.

A concrete example: buy Kindle ebooks from Amazon using the email address of the person who will read them.

I didn’t understand the consequences of that when I bought a Kindle for my wife a couple of years ago. Here’s the way the Amazon world works. Follow along and you’ll understand my wife’s Amazing Vanishing Library trick.

  • Amazon is setting up an ecosystem built around your purchases of books, ebooks, music, movies, and all the other things it sells. Your Amazon purchases are associated with your email address. Amazon has set up a “Media Library” where you can review all of the purchases you’ve made over the years.
  • Each person in your family can have a separate Amazon account. They can be linked together to share an Amazon Prime subscription, but each person can separately keep a shopping cart, a wish list, etc.
  • A Kindle is associated with an Amazon account. You can switch the Kindle from one account to another readily, at any time, either from the Kindle or from the Amazon page set up to manage your Kindle. Look for “Register” and “Deregister.”
  • The books that you purchase for your Kindle are locked to your Amazon account – your email address. You can transfer a Kindle to someone else any time, but you cannot transfer your books.

I bought a Kindle for my wife – a loving, thoughtful gift that she deeply appreciated, so much that it quickly became her preferred way to read books. In a couple of years, she accumulated a collection of Kindle books that brought her laughter and tears and created memories that came back every time she opened the Kindle and looked down the list of titles – exactly the same feeling that a book lover feels staring at books lined up on a shelf.

This was what my wife saw in her mind when she opened her Kindle every day.


I set up my wife’s Kindle on my account, our only Amazon account at that time, the one linked to my email address. Why not? It was convenient.

Later she set up her own Amazon account so she could shop and see “Recommendations” and books that are “Inspired by your browsing history” without seeing my choices, which tend to involve spaceships shooting a lot of really big guns at each other. But we kept buying Kindle books on my account because, hey, that’s the way the Kindle was registered.

In the last few months I’ve started occasionally buying Kindle books and reading them on my computer and phone. It seems likely that I’ll have my own Kindle eventually.

My books started showing up on my wife’s Kindle like unwanted intruders. Without knowing it, we had set up a single bookshelf when we really needed two.

I did some research and spoke to Amazon representatives to confirm what I suspected.

  • The Kindle could be transferred to her account. It took seconds. Everything she buys from this day forward is hers and hers alone, and only her books will show on her Kindle. They’ll be there on her next Kindle and her computer and her phone, too – remember, we’re thinking long-term about what it means to create an entire library over a period of years and decades.
  • When we transferred the Kindle to her, it arrived empty. The books that she bought and read and loved until now – they’re mine. They’re still mine. They’ll always be mine. I will always be the owner of The Help. Which is a lovely book, I’m told! It just diverges from my tastes in, roughly, every conceivable way.

We still own the books, she can still read them. Amazon will soon announce a way to loan Kindle books for short periods, so she’ll be able to read them on her Kindle instead of having to borrow mine. This isn’t a crisis.

bookshelfemptyAt the moment, though, when my wife looks at her Kindle, this is how it looks. Over time, it will fill up and be even more personal. Right now it seems sad.

This will assume more significance now that Amazon allows Kindle books to be given as a gift. A Kindle book can be sent to anyone with an email address. If you send a Kindle book as a gift to a Kindle user, they’ll only get it on their Kindle if you send it to the email address associated with their library! Send it to the wrong address and it won’t reach the Kindle.

Think about the accounts that you set up with our online friends! You may be living with them for a long time to come.

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