Tech Talk: The plot thickens over giving ebooks as gifts

WHAT sort of world would this be if you couldn’t give books as Christmas or birthday presents? A wired world, that’s what sort.

Believe it or not, if your intended recipient has migrated from ink-and-paper books to the electronic variety, sending them as gifts is often simply not possible.

Amazon.co.uk lets you buy Kindle versions of thousands of titles for yourself, but not for anyone else. The best it can do is suggest you send them a gift voucher instead.

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This is in stark contrast to its American parent, Amazon.com, which has the facility to send any Kindle book as a gift to anyone with an email address. The book can then be retrieved from a computer, tablet or dedicated Kindle reader registered to the same account.

Amazon’s new range of Kindle hardware, especially its £159 Kindle Fire HD tablet, will fill many a stocking this Christmas, so it’s bizarre that Kindle books – without which the devices are pretty much useless – can’t be given alongside.

But there are a couple of workarounds: you can try bypassing Amazon UK by buying direct from the US site and sending your gifts to email addresses here in Britain. The official line from Amazon’s UK marketing people is that you need a credit card with an American billing address to do this, but I’ve had some success with my own card, registered here in Yorkshire. The process is very hit-and-miss, though.

The second method is to bypass Amazon completely and buy into the rival Kobo format, marketed here by WH Smith with the facility to send gifts freely. You can specify what date you want the book delivered and it will arrive with your choice of message and a “click to download” link. But the two systems are incompatible, so you you have to be sure that your recipient has a Kobo and not a Kindle.

You don’t need a dedicated Kindle or Kobo reader to access either format. Software versions can be downloaded freely to your PC, Macintosh, iPad, smartphone or Android tablet. What’s more, you can install Kindle and Kobo software in tandem on these devices, giving you the widest possible choice of formats. Apple and Google also run their own bookshops, which give you a third option – but again without the facility to send books as gifts.