Kindle: Only in the U.S.A.

If you’ve visited the home page of Amazon.com anytime in the past several months, it’s hard not to notice its big house ad for the Kindle (and now the Kindle 2). And I don’t blame them. Amazon is an amazing company that could probably sell just about anything. (As a writer, I am grateful they started out with books.) With the Kindle, not only does Amazon have the opportunity to sell something of its own creation, which means bigger profit margins; but it also pushes customers to keep coming back for more — books in electronic form — from which Amazon again can take a cut.

If you admire business models like the computer-printer model (cheap printer reliant on expensive cartridge refills) or the cartridge razor (cheap or even free razors reliant on expensive cartridge refills), you’ve got to like the Kindle. It costs $359 upfront, with limitless refills. And, although Amazon is famously quiet about releasing sales figures, the consensus is that the Kindle has been a big success, at least as far as electronic readers go.

So I was surprised to see that the Kindle isn’t available on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.ca. Wouldn’t British and Canadian readers be as eager for the Kindle as Americans?

On a per capita basis, our book has sold better in the U.K. than in the U.S., which is pretty remarkable considering that it’s an American book and that we’ve had far, far less media exposure in the U.K. than in the U.S. This one tiny data point is an indication of the larger truth that there are more readers per capita in general in the U.K. than here; and they like their electronic gadgets, too.

We contacted Amazon to ask why the Kindle hasn’t been exported, but haven’t heard anything back yet. In the meantime, I found the following explanation on Askville.com, which is an Amazon company:

Sorry, no, the Kindle is only sold in the US, and is only able to be used, as far as downloading new reading material, in the U.S. It’s is [sic] based on wireless telephone technology and the signals aren’t transmitted outside the U.S. You can use/read the Kindle anywhere in the world, of course, but getting new material and the initial purchase would not be possible.

That may be an explanation but, from a business standpoint, perhaps not a compelling reason. So, paging all our British and Canadian readers: how keen would you be to buy the Kindle if it were offered?


Rusty Shackleford

I would buy one at the drop of a hat. The idea of being able to always have books/magazines with me without carrying around the "dead-tree" version is very appealing.

Mike

I wouldn't be surprised if there is some rights issue with publishers about selling the Kindle E-Books outside of the US. While amazon probably makes money off of the actual device, they might not want to sell it in a market where they can't also sell the books at the same time.

mave

I'm a Canadian who's wanted a Kindle since day 1. I find it extremely annoying and frustrating that they aren't made available here. Not much else to say about it, really, except that I'm impatient for e-reader technology/culture to catch up to digital music in terms of ubiquity and ease of use.

Bobby G

You are referring to Freebie Marketing also known as the razor and blades business model. At the top of your post, you bring up a fantastic point about private-label products: not only do they generate instant-impact higher margins (in house production AND retailing), but they also have a long term brand-loyalty generating factor, which in turn generates loyalty to the company. Amazon, being an almost exclusively retail company, understands this well and I'm sure will be able to structure private-label business models well, including the Kindle.

In regards to why it is not sold internationally, I'm sure it has something to do with international laws being different for electronic transmissions for intellectual property. One can see an example of this on iTunes; UK iTunes Music Store has a different library of songs than the US Music Store. Assuming that it is all stored in the same place (an Apple-owned server, for example), it seems odd that US customers cannot buy UK songs. Likely it has something to do with distribution rights as well as publishing rights. I imagine the same issue crops up for digital books as well.

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PolyWogg

As a Cdn reader, I would love to get a copy, but I can't fault Amazon for the problem. It isn't a business model problem, at least not one of their creation. A Kindle hits the business world in a double-edged sweet-spot -- half computer technology, and half-wireless.

Wireless companies in the U.S. are not licensed to operate in Canada, and vica versa. They have affiliation agreements, share roaming networks, etc., but are distinct entities -- something the Cdn govt enforces to ensure we are not subsumed by foreign companies. Most govts do the same, we just happen to be the one where it stands out as our domestic industry is generally less robust than our American cousins.

For the content, it's a giant landmine. Under "Canadian content" rules of the telecommunications regulators, we cannot simply get an American satellite for instance -- we have to get Cdn ones. Lots of cross-border shoppers do it illegally anyway, but not easily (need an American p.o. box, etc.). I can't watch videos from NBC.COM or ABC.COM or even AMAZON.COM...that would be the same as broadcasting into Canada without a license, and the regulators say "No! we have to protect our Canadian culture".

Apparently that culture is generally one that requires protectionist measures, inferior Cdn actors and small-scale budgets, and blocking of more competitive prodcuts.

The Kindle has wireless tied to a single U.S. network -- I'm not convinced it wouldn't work in Canada, I think you would just end up "roaming" (unlike EU networks, Cdn networks are the same technology -- all cellphones work in both Cdn and US markets for example, without modification usually). And it has content that is downloadable, which would send the CRTC (the regulator) into conniptions.

I'm sure Amazon would like to crack our market, but it means a separate business started within the Amazon Canada centre, separate agreements on cellphones (our networks are usually more expensive with less competition).

Definitely doable, but a lot of red tape in the way. Some people are buying them in the U.S. anwyay and downloading via their PC rather than wirelessly...

PW

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Dennis Rice

As a Canadian (NL), I'm very keen on getting a reader (not necessarily a Kindle), but not until the price point comes down substantially. With increased competition (eg. Sony) I hope to see decent readers drop below $150 (CAD) within a year or two.

MikeA

As a New Zealand reader I would be keen, but Amazon needs to sort their pricing out. I can buy a real book and once I have finished gift it or swap it with a friend. The DRM on these ebooks stops this practice and reduces their value for me, I would be prepared to pay a fair bit for a kindle library subscription, but it would need to be comprehensive; like a library eh? E-books need to be much cheaper, as just like DRM music right now you are paying a premium for a product that's much cheaper for providers to supply.

Carolyn

I'm a Canadian, and I recently bought the Sony reader. I would be hesitant to buy the Kindle if I couldn't put .pdf files onto it myself like I can with the Sony. I need to read a lot of research papers and putting them onto the Sony Reader saves me a lot of printing.

Shelli Johnson

I'm an avid Amazon customer, reader, books lover and Kindle user.
I'm in Wyoming. I can't use the signal to buy titles seamlessly and yet it didn't stop me from being one of the first Kindle buyers and users. I LOVE the Kindle even though I have to connect my kindle to drag the purchased ebooks over, which takes less than 1 minute to transfer 5 books...

It's a huge lost opportunity, for both readers in the UK and for Amazon.

Trust me, and take it from this Wyoming (out on the frontier Kindle lover)!
Shelli
twitter: yellowstoneshel

Randal

I'm in Canada and would love the ability to purchase and use the Kindle. It's exactly the platform I'd make the jump to reading electronic books for. If they came out with a version in Canada that didn't even use the Cellular networks but you loaded books/newspapers etc via USB connection I'd be all over it. But yes it would be even better if I could connect remotely via wireless or cell service and get live blog or news updates.

Aryeh

Why only Brittish and Canadian readers? I live in Israel. A friend and I were just discussing the other day that we would love to purchase a Kindle if only we'd be able to download new material locally. I assume (hope!) that that will come soon.

boomka

there are much better book readers out there IMHO.
I would never buy Kindle with all its limitations.

Robt

How keen would I be to buy the Kindle? As keen as Americans probably would be to buy a BlackBerry if that was only sold in Canada (where it was invented). But that won't make it happen.

I would also be keen to have Tivo, Target, and Chicago deep dish pizza in Toronto but the Canadian market is either ignored or restricted by American companies. Tivo took years before it was officially offered for sale in Canada, and once they did offer it they did not include an HD version (which raises another question -- why would Tivo develop its HD model to only work with "cable cards" which are only available in the U.S.?)

As a transplanted American living in Canada, it is a bit hard to understand why so many of the consumer products available in the U.S. take so long to cross the border (the iPhone, satellite radio, Tivo, and now the Kindle are some prominent examples). The common explanation has to do with Canada being a bilingual nation and making the products in question compatible in both official language, but I have my doubts about that.

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Valpey

Um, and their factories can only produce so many Kindles at a time so as long as they can sell as many as they can produce they don't have an immediate need to solve the logistical problems of an international Kindle launch... yet.

Don't worry though. They will. If anything is certain it is that where there is demand, supply will go to meet it. I'm sure they are working out a device with the correct wireless hardware and deals with international wireless providers so that the Kindle will be brought to market soon enough.

Erik

My money is on the book distribution rights being most of the problem. The publishing industry is stuck in the stone age when it comes to digital distribution:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2009/02/the-once-and-future-e-book.ars

Every other ebook retailer is selling at the publisher's prices (mostly the same price as the dead tree version for new books) so, odds are, amazon is selling those $9.99 new-release ebooks at a loss.

Take away whispernet and instant, 24-7, access to any book amazon sells and the kindle becomes indistinguishable from (if not worse than) every other e-ink gadget out there.

Shawn

As a Canadian I have long awaited a Kindle available in Canada. Amazon claims that it can't work here because of the wireless technology that it uses. That makes sense, but why not offer a kindle that connects to your home wireless network with WiFi that would then allow you to purchase books from amazon online? I don't see why the kindle has to use its own proprietary Whispernet technology when any internet connection would do.

OMW

LIke Bobby G said, I think a large part of it has to do with rights. iTunes is a good example. Not only is the selection poorer but it's also more expensive. It wouldn't surprise me if a version of kindle released here would suffer the same fate.

I would certainly like the opportunity to buy a Kindle, and I know that such a device would undoubtedly prove popular with urban commuters, and also to those who don't like the 'dead tree' aspect of books.

Personally I like second hand books....

Martin

I live in Germany and would welcome a kindle equivalent reader.

I have asked myself the same question when I first heard about its features and found the following answers (sry, no exact quotes, its been a while):

- there have been talks by amazon with mobile carriers and publishers
- these have failed or are not finished yet due to the high charges the mobile carriers have been asking for access to their nets
- and the high prices publishers are asking for eBooks (mostly higher than the hardcover prices, sometimes equal to softcover)

These demands, which, at for publishers are backed by regulations prohibiting book-sales below a fixed and preset price, would have made the Kindle an equal failure (in Germany) as every reader introduced to this marked before.

So unless publishers give up or are forced to give up their price monopoly, or see reason regarding eBook prices, the Kindle will not be available, with or without a mobile connection over here.

Regards,
Martin

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LD

When will college text books end up on kindle?

Trevor L

A bit off topic:

While I admire the Kindle (though have not bought one), I do not understand why Amazon does not allow you to rent books. I understand that the books on the Kindle are a bit cheaper; however, the, what I like to call, "shelf value" is zero. A main, if not the only, upside to purchasing a book (as opposed to taking it out from the library or borrowing it from a friend) is that it can always be proudly displayed on a shelf or night table. Having a book on a Kindle limits the book to its readability by the holder of the Kindle. Therefore, why doesn't Amazon have an option to rent books?