Would you like to supersize that for a dollar extra?

The sign behind which your MP3s might be located.
How many more roadblocks can these companies throw between them and their customers' money?

Back in the 90s, a friend was the engineer at Amazon who built One Click Ordering. It was a pretty nice time-saving innovation (though in no way deserving of patent protection). He tells me that internally they referred to it as "The Money Vacuum", and joked about the day, soon, when all US currency would be replaced with Amazon gift certificates.

So if you're buying a physical object from Amazon, and you're already logged in, here's how that works, even today:

  1. Click "Buy".

No complaints there.

Oh, but if you want to buy a digital album, a whopping 100 MB spread across 10 files? Here's how that goes:

  1. Over on the right where it used to say "Buy", now it says "Go Unlimited". I imagine some people find that self-explanatory, but I don't know what it means and I don't care. Click the small text link at the bottom that says "More options".
  2. Click the button that says "Buy MP3 Album".
  3. A dialog box pops up: "We are processing your order, please wait out this artifical 10 second delay."
  4. A new dialog box replaces it: Click the button that says "Download your music now".
  5. Another dialog box! On this one, ignore the buttons and click the microscopic text at the bottom that says "No thanks, just download music files directly".
  6. Dialog box number four! "Your download will start automatically -- please sit here and stare at this screen for another artificial 10 second delay."


  1. Except that 30% of the time it will instead say, "There was a problem with your download." When that happens: Aimlessly wander around the screen for a while until you can figure out how to get into the music archive thingy. Maybe it's under "Departments → Amazon Music → Amazon Music Unlimited"? Nope, that's not it, that's an ad.
  2. Maybe it's "Departments → Amazon Music → Prime Music"? Nope, another ad.
  3. Maybe it's "Departments → Amazon Music → Open Web Player"? Which spawns a new browser window. Yeah, that's it.
  4. Now click "Recents → Added".
  5. Now multi-select each track of the album that you just bought.
  6. Now click the "Download" button.


They should totally patent "Seven to Twelve Click Purchasing". It's the next big thing, I'm telling you.

And hey, let's contrast that with the insane up-sell that you have to sit through every time you upgrade iOS:

  1. Settings → General → Software Update.
  2. "Install".
  3. "Yes, I am sure".
  4. "Yes, I accept the license that I have not and will never read".
  5. Wait, like, an hour.
  6. Unlock your device.
  7. Click "Continue".
  8. Decline to type in your Apple ID password, because this step is completely unnecessary -- the password is still saved on the phone!
  9. Click "Yes I am sure."
  10. Click "Turn off iCloud Drive". Note that this is a lie because it was never turned on in the first place.
  11. Do I click "Cancel" or "Continue"? Which one means "fuck off"? I think it is "Continue".
  12. Click "Don't share analytics".
  13. Click "Get started!" Hey, you know what would have been a better way for me to get started than clicking on "Get started!"? I'd say, not clicking on "Get started!"

What did the computer say in that Black Mirror episode? "Your eyes must be open while viewing this commercial, or penalties will apply".

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53 Responses:

  1. UX is an art that is rarely utilized by large companies and I sure as Fuck don't understand why.

    • gnh says:

      Companies like to hire the clueless kids that have a BTEC in powerpoint

    • Amazon is aggressively disdainful of it. Their front page has been an over-cluttered disaster since day one, and in C.E. 2017 it still doesn't put keyboard focus into the search box.

      Thankfully chrome lets you bypass the whole mess: type "amazon.com" into the search/address bar and hit tab.

      • NT says:

        Maybe their page design is optimized according to metrics instead of smug UX experts?
        For example, it might turn out that they sell more stuff to people who get distracted by impulse purchases on their way to clicking the search box, or maybe it's worth it long term to show people ads for the Amazon ecosystem before they buy the thing they came there for.
        Or, maybe you know how to sell stuff better than Amazon does.

        • jwz says:

          The problem with most conspiracy theorists, I'm talking about the "moon landing was faked" kind of people, is that their world-view requires belief in massive organizational competence: Their model assumes that someone who is very smart and has a plan is not only in control, but is able to mobilize thousands of other people, who are also competent, and are all inexplicably capable of keeping a secret.

          This flies in the face of everything we know about large organizations. It's an essentially religious belief. It's the hope and fear that there is an Invisible Sky Daddy.

          I think of these "moon landing was faked" people every time someone issues an apologetic like yours for the observably shitty behavior of some corporation, whether that shitty behavior is as small as a terrible user interface, or as large as repulsive business practices or some other tragedy of the commons.

          Point out some company doing something awful, and without fail, somebody will show up and say, "Well they make a lot of money, so I assume that whatever it is that they are doing, they have a good reason for it."

          You know what is even more likely? That they made a lot of money, and they don't know what they're doing. You can be rich and also incompetent.

          Sometimes that even gets you elected President.

          • Karellen says:

            It's the hope and fear that there is an Invisible Sky Daddy.

            Partly, but I think that it, and the Sky Daddy feelings, are essentially a hope that somehow everything is under control.

            If the world is terrible, but that's because it's due to the nefarious plans of super-villains, then there's hope that we can find the super-villains and stop them, and put better plans in place. If the world seems terrible, but that's because it's due to the unfathomable plan of an ineffable Sky Daddy who actually has our best interests at heart, then there's hope that it will all work out in the end.

            However, if the world is terrible because things are chaotic and uncontrollable and there's no master plan that guarantees it'll all work out in the end, that's what's terrifying.

            Some people want everything to be under control, even if that control is brutal and malevolent, because they find the alternative even scarier.

            • jwz says:
              Methodically panoptic
              sheep stay sleeping, peep it
              MK ULTRA vulture circles
              Kool-Aid Acid, electric pulses
              A Bay full of Pigs and a sky of Vulcans
              Marilyn Monroe swinging with the Sultans

              Black Helicopters, Knights of Malta
              Illuminati partners, Tower Topplers
              Vatican Tax and the Texas Mafia
              Pentagon pacts with Lockheed Martin
              NAFTA, GATT, contact with Martians
              spark plug jacks with Hitler's offspring
              Dick Cheney on smack for a busted O-ring
              Everything is Under Control

            • Dan McAnulty says:

              There was an article published last year about roanoke truthers that had a phrase that captured it so well for me, "conspiracy theorists are the last believers in an ordered universe":

              "“Conspiracy theorists are, I submit, some of the last believers in an ordered universe,” Pitzer College philosophy professor Brian Keeley wrote in Of Conspiracy Theories. “By supposing that current events are under the control of nefarious agents, conspiracy theories entail that such events are capable of being controlled.”
              In other words, if nothing’s an accident and there are no lone wolf attacks or gunfights over petty grievances, then there is no gun problem. There is no mental health problem, either. For those who believe in crisis class theory, there are just big, theatrical attacks put on by the real problem: whoever is in charge."

              The rest of the article's really depressing so I won't post the link to imply that people should read it, but you can easily google it if you're interested. The bit that struck me though was the perfect explanation of why certain minds are so comforted by conspiratorial style thinking. I hadn't quite understood it that way before this article. Now somebody else will have to write a good article about just what it is that makes me feel like such a smug asshole when I read things like that.

        • jwz says:

          maybe it's worth it long term to show people ads for the Amazon ecosystem before they buy the thing they came there for

          Allow me to rephrase:

          Me: This user interface is terrible at letting me get from point A to point B.

          You: I'm sure the rich corporation has decided that bombarding you with ads and up-sells is more important to them than letting you accomplish the thing you are trying to accomplish.

          Me: Did I fucking stutter?

          • NT says:

            I'm mocking the human experts above, not apologizing for a corporation. It's obvious from your comments about small print and so forth that you understand what Amazon is optimizing for.

            As far as conspiracy theories go, you are out of touch. A/B experiments are standard practice if you are doing that kind of volume - it's like believing that they use source code control.

            • jwz says:

              A/B experiments are standard practice

              You say this like you think it in any way contradicts what I said.

            • James says:

              This question boils down to the extent to which customer satisfaction (specifically, the value placed on the customer's time) is considered superior to corporate profits. I am willing to forgive Amazon because Bezos didn't Murdochize WaPo and is building a billion dollars worth of rocket companies per year.

              • nooj says:

                No, this question boils down to the extent to which jwz pointing out "this thing is bullshit" has a positive effect on the world by reducing that bullshit thing.

                Also, why do people--people not looking at corporate profit sheets--keep going back to their fantasies of what other people told them about corporate profits? Improving UI is independent of corporate profits. Much of his complaint above is about the clicks which are superfluous: clicking each track individually instead of selecting the whole album, clicking "Get Started!", all the extra clicks because he had to see "There was a problem with your download."

              • MattyJ says:

                That sounds like "But, Stalin made the trains run on time."

        • Joanna watch says:

          It started with obidos.exe, a huge many-megabyte c++ cgi. Then I heard they reimplemented in perl. I'd guess an audiobook project got rodeo'd into service for music digital non-shipping assets.
          Go see a medieval castle that's had many additions, extensions, towers and wings added, during/after wars, cannon, treason etc for make glorious comprehension for greatest america

  2. Gabriel says:

    MP3? What's that? I only listen to spotify playlists created by my favorite brands and by people who visit the coolest coffee shops and copy down their in-store soundtracks.

  3. gryazi says:

    It's 2017, why are we still devoting all these resources to money?

  4. mspong says:

    You're forgetting that, back in the 90s, if you were using the internet, it meant you'd passed a mild but critical intelligence test and you could be trusted to understand what you were doing as you bought something online, let alone and intangible item like downloadable music. If my granny bought music online and somehow managed to save it to her local filesystem, it's vanished into thin air and they tried to cheat her!

    • jwz says:

      There's basically nothing about this paragraph that is true.

      • Winston says:

        Me, I was born in 1954. I like the fact that a clueless moron will talk about "back in the 90s" as if that was was a long time ago.

        • Jon says:

          Well, enlighten us: how did the internet work for you in the 1970s?

          On a side note: why do people tend to think offending speak like "clueless moron" will strengthen their argument in any way? Get out of your cave!

          • Chris says:

            Probably for the same reason you tacked "Get out of your cave!" on the end of your comment.

          • Winston says:

            It worked pretty well, although we called it Arpanet back then. I wasn't aware I was making an argument, and I like it in my cave, thank you very much.

            • Jon says:

              I probably chose the wrong word – sorry, I'm no native speaker. Think of "argument" as "making a point" or so. Of course there was no argument in your post. Your were offending without anything valueable backing that up.

              • Winston says:

                Indeed. But, it seems to me, offense is in the eye of the beholder. Me, as an old man, I found mspong's post really ridiculously annoying, indeed potentially offensive to old people, with its casual assumption of superiority, its half-witted assertions about what happened "back in the 90s". And, "if you were using the internet, it meant you'd passed a mild but critical intelligence test and you could be trusted to understand what you were doing as you bought something online". Give me a fucking break! The kids these days!!

  5. Glaurung says:

    This endless hoop jumping in order to just fucking download the file I just bought to is one of several reasons why I avoid Amazon's store and buy my ebooks on Kobo, which appears to be the only North American ebook store that continues to support a simple and straightforward "download the books you bought" page on their site.

    It's also why, given the choice, I buy a physical CD over a digital MP3 download. Because I'd rather wait the extra week and then be able to painlessly add the music directly to itunes than go through all the hoop jumping to just download some songs.

    • phuzz says:

      Although Kobo do shunt you to a page after you finish buying that contains no links to your book. You have to go back to the main page, then your library then you can find your book and download it.

      • Glaurung says:

        Yes, but it's not hidden, and it doesn't require you to download an app to dl the book. Which makes it somewhat more user friendly for those who want to own their digital purchases than the amazon or nook stores.

        • radarskiy says:

          Unless they send you an acsm file, in which case you DO need to download an app to download the book which is in a different file.

    • nightbird says:

      My experience with Kindle ebooks is that it very easy for me to purchase a new ebook using the Android Kindle app. One click to purchase, and another to download. When I used to buy MP3 albums from them, only once did I have to buy the tracks individually as jwz described.

      Perhaps the experience in iOS is different because Amazon is avoiding the 30% Apple tax?

      • jwz says:

        I am talking about using the Amazon web site from a desktop computer, not iOS.

      • Glaurung says:

        If you don't mind not having an archive of your books that you control, then sure, you can buy books in the app on your reading device. I prefer the old school method of having our library in a folder on a hard drive, synched to dropbox so it's a few taps away on any of our devices.

    • Elusis says:

      Ironically buying books for my Kindle is a one-click process. Go to book page, note that "send to Elusis' Kindle" is still the default as it should be (instead of my phone, my iPad, my partner's Kindle, etc.), click "Buy." Start reading book on my Kindle before I even get the "thank you for your purchase" email.

      (jwz, I'm so glad it isn't just me who's driven batshit by trying to actually GET THE MUSIC FILES I JUST PAID FOR at Amazon.)

  6. I believe the more relevant quote is, as always, from Max Headroom:

    "An off switch! She'll get years for that..."

    • Dan McAnulty says:

      Oh, that's so good, thanks for the memories! I really need to watch that hour long pilot again, the two thugs with their van were my favorite characters, out for a clumsy murder and reciting shakespeare:

      'Tis now the very witching time of night,
      When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
      Contagion to this world.

  7. margaret says:

    this has all been highly entertaining. what the world needs now is a macro (who the fuck remembers what a macro is? not me.) which plays a very quiet "fuck.", or "fuck!fuck!fuck!", on each mouse click while browsing within https://amazon.com

  8. jwz says:

    Every time I go through the up-sell in the iOS upgrade, I think of Hertzfeld's story about Jobs from 1983:

    "Well, let's say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and thats 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that's probably dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you've saved a dozen lives. That's really worth it, don't you think?"

  9. TreeSpeaker says:

    The UI requires clicking on each "purchased" album and then the "..." button then "Download" to download it, but does the Amazon music downloader app help? https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=2658409011

  10. MattyJ says:

    This comment thread is one of the higher ranking 'herp derp' checkbox threads I've seen in a long time.

    Maybe it was a fever dream, but I feel like I ignored the iOS upgrade nag for long enough this past week where it just went ahead and installed itself.

    Can we talk about Apple's implementation of two-factor authentication that repeatedly asks for a code that it doesn't send to my phone, but displays on the same web page I'm logging into, and I can, you know, just memorize it for 3 seconds and type it in? Is that doing anything useful?

  11. Nate Olson says:

    I have a hazy memory of buying music off of cdbaby.com (it seems like more than a decade ago) and it being
    1. Put in credit card number
    2. Receive mp3s

    I can barely fathom the shit show that is online music purchases now. Everyone seems dead set on making you put your music on their platform, wherever (or whatever) the hell that is. Just give me the files, assholes.

  12. Dan McAnulty says:

    Oh god, it's so true

  13. hirofake says:

    that's why I pirate and support artists directly through donations, merch and going to shows.
    everybody wins.


  14. Andrew Klossner says:

    Yeah, Amazon used to let you download a ZIP file full of MP3s, but they recently removed that ability. I find I have to run the Amazon Music app on my Windows PC, search for the album I just bought, then drag it to the "drag here to download".

    Then, of course, you want to scrub the identification comments out of the MP3 metadata so Amazon can't chide you if any of those files escape into the wild.

    • jwz says:

      No, this is exactly backwards. It used to be that you had to install the "Amazon Music Downloader" application (which was actually a browser plugin) in order to download anything at all, but these days they just feed you a zip if you jump through the hoops I described. Even the "multi-select and click download" dance above results in a zip file of MP3s being delivered eventually.

      • Alex says:

        Is that so? I might actually start using it! I bought some music there when they started selling MP3s and I was so disappointed when a weird proprietary thing showed up and wanted to install software that I never used it again.

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