Nathan Grigg

Amazon accounts, Kindle, and families

I’m back from a blogging hiatus for a quick complaint about the sorry state of Amazon’s account system, especially when it comes to households and minors.

Everything that follows is to the best of my knowledge, and only includes the features I actually use.

A regular Amazon account can be used for shopping, Kindle, and Prime Video (among other things). You can have a maximum of two regular Amazon accounts in a household, and they can share Prime shipping benefits and Kindle purchases, but not Prime Video. However, under the primary member’s Prime Video login, you can have sub-profiles to separate household members.

On a Kindle device, you can share ebook purchases with minors using Amazon Kids. This is not a true Amazon or Kindle account, but a sub-account within a regular Amazon account. That is, you sign into the Kindle with the parent’s account and then enter Kid Mode. All purchases (or library check-outs) must be made on the parent’s account and then copied over to the child’s library using a special Amazon dashboard.

Note that Amazon Kids+ is a different product: it is basically Kindle Unlimited for Amazon Kids accounts. I have used it and I think the selection is terrible. For example, they love to carry the first book of a series but not the remainder of the series. Also, when I last used it, there was no way to know which books are available through Amazon Kids+ short of searching for the book on a kid’s device.

There is a shopping feature called Amazon Teen. This is essentially a regular Amazon account, but it is linked to a parent’s account, and purchases are charged to the parent’s card, with the option to require purchase-by-purchase approval from the parent. This is a way to share Prime shipping features with a teenager, and the only way to share Prime shipping with more than a single person in your househould. Crucially, Amazon Teen accounts cannot purchase Kindle books, log into a Kindle device, or share Kindle purchases with the parent’s account.

Until now, I have mostly survived in the Amazon Kids world, despite the friction involved in getting a book onto a kid’s device. My kids have mostly adapted by ignoring their Kindles and reading books in Libby on their phones. This isn’t a good fit for my teen and tween, who need to read books at school. They are not allowed to use phones at school, but are allowed to use e-ink Kindles.

Everything came to a head this weekend, when I tried to make them both Amazon Teen accounts, which are useful in their own right. (The current practice is that they text me an Amazon link when they need something, and it will be nice for them to be a little be more self-sufficient.) This was before I knew that Amazon Teen accounts couldn’t buy Kindle books (why?), so I then attempted to create them each a second account, not linked to mine in any way, for Kindle purposes.

That is when things came to a screeching halt, but this is at least partially my fault. While I had been looking into this, I was downloading Kindle books to my computer using a Keyboard Maestro script that simulated the five clicks required for each download. I’m pretty sure that this triggered some robot-defensive behavior from Amazon, which made it impossible for me to create an account without a cell phone attached to the account. But all of our household phone numbers are already attached to other accounts, and attempting to remove them put me into an infinite loop of asking for passwords and asking for OTPs.

I eventually solved this problem in two different ways. One involved talking to a human at Amazon’s tech support, which I admit is better than many of the other tech companies at solving this kind of problem. The other involved a VPN, which seems to have freed me from bot-suspicion.

But in the end, I also put in an order for a Kobo. I’m told they can sync directly with Libby for library checkouts, unlike Amazon which requires a complex multi-click dance which might prevent my kids from using their Kindles even if I do get their accounts squared away. And these are the last major micro-USB devices in the house, so maybe the time has come to move on. Ironically, the only way I could find a Kobo that shipped in less than a week was to buy it from Amazon.