The move away from physical keyboards gave Amazon an easy route into any number of non-Anglophone markets for the first time. They’ve made good use of that since the Kindle Touch was first released. In addition to being able to find a Kindle practically anywhere in the world, localized versions of the popular eReader can now be found for a number of language options. Now, for the first time, Amazon is pushing their efforts into Asia with the first ever Japanese Kindle.
Amazon.co.jp will now have its own Kindle Store and will be offering the Kindle Paperwhite for sale. Preordering is now open for both the WiFi and 3G versions of the device. The prices are currently ￥8,480 and ￥12,980 respectively. They will begin shipping on November 19th.
Japan has proven a hard market for Amazon to move the Kindle into so far. Their site has been operating successfully there for twelve years now, but it has been reported that they had trouble getting Japanese publishers interested in doing business with them after all of the conflict between Amazon and the Big 6 publishing houses in US markets. It seems that terms have now been reached that are considered satisfactory. The press release for this announcement indicates that over 50,000 Japanese-language titles will be available at launch and that these will include the largest selection of Oricon best sellers anywhere.
Naturally all of these titles will be accessible through Amazon’s various distribution channels. Kindle Paperwhite owners will be able to make use of the new store, but so will Kindle Fire owners, Kindle app users, and anybody with a web browser.
Introducing the Kindle line to Japan is a particularly important move for Amazon if they want to keep expanding the customer base. While geographically small, Japan is home to one of the most literate cultures in the world. It also enjoys the widest newspaper circulation anywhere and may prove a useful place to renew interest in digitally distributed newspapers and magazines.
There is also a large market for graphic literature to be exploited. This launch will include over 15,000 manga selections. Kindle Format 8’s Panel View will come in handy for this and the high contrast Kindle Paperwhite display could prove an ideal medium for these books.
The Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD are also now available in Japan and should be shipping on December 19th, one month after the Paperwhite goes out. While this caters to a different market, having options is never a bad idea. The Kindle Fire HD might not be quite as good for reading as its single-purpose eReader counterpart, but it does provide a greater versatility and convenience for the money.
The Brazilian market has not seen an entry from Amazon so far, but that looks like it is about to change. It seems that the Kindle will be launched in Brazil by the holiday season, along with a store that they hope to full with at least 10,000 titles. Oddly, in what I believe is the only instance of such a thing happening so far, there will be no other Amazon services entering the market at the same time. That means that for the time being the eBook store will have to stand on its own.
While a full retail store is definitely in plans for Brazil, at the moment there are apparently too many potential dangers in the notoriously complex commercial markets there. By going entirely digital, many of the shortcomings in infrastructure and tax codes can be somewhat sidestepped. It’s interesting timing given the fact that Brazil’s consumer growth seems to be trailing off after a decade of impressive growth, but Amazon is far from the only company interested in cashing in on Latin America’s most prosperous economy.
The motivation behind this move is Amazon’s expectation that the Kindle could quickly come to dominate the eBook market. Apparently some research has indicated that a fairly large number of Brazilian readers already own imported eReaders, including the Kindle, and go out of their way to purchase and download books through stores that are not technically open to the country at this time. By moving the Kindle Store in, Amazon expects to immediately grab as much as 90% of the country’s eBook sales. The same source that released this information also mentioned that Amazon is hoping to expand eBook sales from 0.5% of the Brazilian publishing market to 15% within the first year of operations.
We can expect the basic Kindle model to be the first thing released through the new store. It will likely be selling for approximately 500 reais, equivalent to $239, which is obviously higher than many other markets are seeing but still cheaper than the competition currently available in Brazil. Naturally prices will drop as competition strengthens, but there has been some indication that even this high price is being subsidized by Amazon thanks to the added expense of doing business in this area.
There are already contracts in place with around 30 publishers as Amazon gets ready for the release. There is also word that there are still ongoing talks with several that are not included in that list. One publisher said that the current plan is to offer titles at 70% of their paperback price, allowing for a profit margin of 40-50%. That would not translate to much revenue for the wholesalers, in this case publishers, but they are still interested in signing up for the platform as a means to expand interest in their books.
This will probably end up being the slowest expansion that Amazon has undertaken to date. Entering into the Brazilian economy will be rather unpleasant for them and clearly they are aware of that. By leading with the Kindle not only will they avoid some of the headaches associated with local shipping and distribution of assorted retail products, they will also be putting the best foot forward by providing interested customers with one of the best products in production today for reading. It seems to be a smart choice.
Amazon’s Appstore for Android is not exclusively available for the Kindle Fire, but at this point that is the device that matters. The relatively new media tablet already holds the majority share of the Android tablet market and has proven more or less untouchable by comparably priced hardware competition so far. The secret, if it can really be said to be one, is in the content. Amazon has just about anything one might want to consume through the Fire ready to go at a moment’s notice with the push of a button. Nobody else can come close for the price.
When some major shortcoming is addressed in the design of their ecosystem, it is therefore worth taking note of. Like the recent announcement that developers now having access to the option of in-app purchasing, completely changing the potential for ongoing revenue from Kindle Fire owners. This is a long-time staple of iOS app market that is well overdue here.
Until this point, Amazon affiliated app creators have earned a reported $0.89 for every $1.00 they earn selling the same offering through the iTunes App Store. That is despite the lack of ongoing microtransactions supported by Amazon. For comparison, the same app being sold through Google Play will earn an average of $0.23 for every dollar its creator catches via iTunes.
Opening up more possibilities for developers to make money through Android will put Amazon in a better position to build the best app selection available. Currently, in sheer numbers, they are lagging behind both Apple and Google significantly. By allowing options that don’t involve advertisements or unpopular third party tools, Amazon is making the Kindle Fire an even more attractive option.
This does open up some potential drama for Kindle Fire owners, of course. The biggest draw of Amazon’s 1-Click purchasing system is that it is so easy you almost don’t notice you’re spending money. Combine this with apps that are designed to offer quick and easy purchases and you may well have a recipe for personal financial disaster.
Many will recall an incident in the earlier days of the iPad when an eight year old girl made news buying Smurfberries to speed up her in-app play. The bad publicity from this and similar events is what brought about the iPad’s detailed array of Parental Controls.
Amazon hopes to avoid similar efforts by having fewer loopholes in their existing restrictions. Kindle Fire users have the ability to block in-app purchasing entirely, password protect the process using their Amazon account password, or create a PIN to unlock purchasing. Between these choices, there should be little room for complaint about accidental shopping unless users simply don’t know how to access the controls.
For reference, you can manipulate Kindle Fire In-App Purchasing settings by going to the Apps tab from the Home screen, clicking on the Store, and opening the Settings menu. Since all purchasing appears to be routed through this store app, it makes sense to find these settings here.
The coming of the fourth generation of Kindle readers brought us a keyboard-free design. This promised to, and has proven able to, allow for the expansion of Kindle availability into non-Anglophone markets around the world. What many might night have predicted is that it would allow for the opening of language-specific Kindle Stores right here in the US.
Amazon has now made available a Spanish Language Kindle Store. More precisely, looking at the organization of the store page, they have created a category that amounts to such a store. Clicking on “eBooks Kindle en Español” under the Kindle Store’s main page category listing will take you to the new selection.
Featuring more than 30,000 eBooks already, this store page should open up whole new markets for Amazon. There are more than 45 million people in the United States who speak Spanish as a first or second language, a significant portion of which have only moderate English comprehension, according to census reports. Spanish is also by far the most widely taught second language in the country. There couldn’t be a better way to start expanding the Kindle’s offerings.
Highlights from the Amazon Press Release Include:
• All of the Spanish-language Nielsen best sellers available as eBooks in the United States, and 65 of the top 100 Spanish-language print best sellers from Amazon.com
• The largest representation of Mexican authors, including Jose Emilio Pacheco, Carlos Monsivais and Sergio Pitol
• Kindle Singles in Spanish, including Singles by best-selling authors Kurt Vonnegut and Susan Orlean
• An exclusive selection of Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go books in Spanish
• Compilations of articles from “El Pais,” including exclusive pieces from Mexican journalists writing about Mexican current affairs
• Subscriptions to 14 leading Latin American newspapers such as El Universal and La Nacion
• Popular English-language books translated into Spanish, such as the Hunger Games series, the Twilight series, “Steve Jobs,” “The Help,” and books by authors Stephen King, Nora Roberts and Joel Osteen
The new store will allow KDP self-publishers to create books specifically for this audience by selecting Spanish in their language options when submitting. Kindle Owners are able to set their interface to Spanish by changing the language preference option at the Manage Your Kindle screen on Amazon.com. This last step is not necessary to purchase from this section of the store, but it may be particularly appealing for new potential Kindle buyers.
We can’t say for sure that this will extend to more language-specific subsections for eBooks. Spanish has a special prominence here in the US in numbers that equal those of the next several most popular languages put together. Should it prove popular, however, there is not any reason for Amazon not to offer such a store. They have the systems basically in place, and it is hard to imagine that the ability to purchase Gombrowicz’s work in the original Polish would result in a sufficiently large rush to destroy the servers.
Now that J.K. Rowling’s last major addition to the Harry Potter experience, the Pottermore site, is about to go live, people are starting to get excited about the series all over again. The Pottermore Beta is ongoing, but things have advanced to the point where the eBooks are finally available and launch is expected some time in April. Kindle owners can now pick up the series right through the Kindle Store’s product listing, or by going directly to the Pottermore shop.
Oddly enough, the way Rowling has insisted on keeping control of her work entirely in the hands of her own site has caused Amazon some issues already. They have clearly made an effort to accommodate in order to get Kindle customers easy access to the collection, to the point of linking potential customers off-site to the Pottermore store, but launch did not go as smoothly as anticipated. For the first several hours after Harry Potter came to the Kindle, any number of popular selections were completely unavailable for purchase.
Anybody looking to get their own copy of the newer children’s book series, The Hunger Games, on Tuesday morning was presented with a large green button claiming that “This title is not available for customers from: United States” where the Buy button would normally have been. Presumably this only affected US readers, but I was unable to confirm either way before the problem was resolved early that afternoon.
There is always some chance of error when attempting to integrate services between different major projects like this. That is especially true in the case of something as complex as Amazon.com and the Kindle Store. It is strange to think of Amazon having trouble with anything as trivial as accommodating the number of Harry Potter fans who wanted to read their favorite books on the Kindle for the first time, but sometimes the problem is a bit more complex than dealing with heavy loads.
For the future, this has a few implications. If more major authors follow in Rowling’s footsteps, which seems unlikely but will always be an option, the staff at Amazon now have slightly more experience with integration and a good idea of some of the likely bugs that go along with it. This means that such business relationships will almost certainly go a bit more smoothly.
It also might emphasize for people how important it is to always have multiple sales avenues. While Amazon’s service is second to none when it comes to self-publishers and readers, there is always a chance for error when dealing with a single source. Some authors choose, quite profitably, to go with the KDP Select option and increase their earnings through book lending. For those who aren’t going that way, it might be useful to maintain a secondary personal store just in case a glitch like this occurs.
There are a lot of Kindle owners out there, many of whom would be willing to check author sites if the Kindle Store was offline. A lost sale is a lost sale, even if you’re talking about just a few hours of outage.
What began as seemingly little more than an experiment to test whether or not there was a market for intermediate length written works, Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, has succeeded beyond all expectations. To highlight this fact, they have made a rare exception to the usual policy of never releasing sales numbers to reveal that the 2-millionth sale of a Kindle Single had been made. Estimates put the company’s revenue from the program at over $1,200,000 in the 14 months since the program launched.
Unlike the larger Kindle Direct Publishing program, Kindle Singles are highly selective and can be extremely difficult to create. If accepted, however, they tend to be almost guaranteed successes. Those millions of sales were divided up among fewer than 200 short works. Considering that this is a form that had completely gone out of fashion and that many felt was at best of marginal interest, it is an amazing accomplishment for Amazon to have come so far with them.
Now things are getting even better, thanks to an exclusive deal with Rosetta Books. They have arranged for the Kindle Singles program to have exclusive access to a never before published piece by Kurt Vonnegut. Written in the 1940s, Basic Training is about 20,000 words and was intended to be published under the pseudonym Mark Harvey. It is a very early work by the author and while likely rejected for a reason at the time it was submitted, hence the never before published status, will be quite interesting for any Vonnegut fan.
In a way this demonstrates how effective it is to have quality control factors involved in determining available selections. The average title in the Singles program is obviously doing better than the average KDP eBook. Potential readers know in advance that the whole library of Singles has been screened and approved, which removes some of the uncertainty that has plagued the eBook publishing scene for a while now. Nobody runs the risk of picking up what looks to be a good book and turns out to be nothing but a five page advertisement for questionable internet pharmaceutical sales sites.
On the other hand, because this is such a narrowly defined category of books, the Kindle Singles do hold a certain special place that might make their example a poor one in terms of wider applicability. Much of Amazon’s success in the realm of digital publishing is coming as a result of offering any aspiring author to get their work out there in hopes that it can stand on its own merits even without the endorsement of a major publisher. If they were to seriously undertake gate keeping duties for the Kindle, it would undermine that aspect of the business.
No matter how you personally view the situation, it is safe to say that this is positive information for those who find the quicker, more concise offerings of the Kindle Singles shop enjoyable. Sometimes it is just nice to be able to read this sort of work without unnecessary cutting or padding to fit more familiar forms.
Check out Basic Training now for $1.99, only at Amazon
Amazon’s controversial Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has proven to be a hit among readers and an appealing option for many self-publishers, but there still remains some question as to how successful it can hope to be as an ongoing project. The basic organization is simple. Authors who are willing to make their work available exclusively through the Kindle Store will find themselves with the option to allow lending through the library. When included, they get a certain share of the money pool being filled in each month by Amazon to keep the service going. The more popular a book is among borrowers, the larger the share of that pool that goes to the contributing author. For many self publishers who find they make the majority of their income through the Kindle anyway, going exclusive is not really a big deal in terms of income alteration. The worst that can happen is that nobody borrows the book, and even then it doesn’t cost anything significant.
Leaving aside the philosophical issues in choosing to contribute to Amazon’s ever-growing list of exclusive content, which is an interesting and complex subject for debate that will probably come up again at greater length in its own post to better do it justice, as the number of participating authors grows we may see a drop in interest among new potential contributors. The restrictions regarding access to the library play a fairly large part in this. Each borrower must own a Kindle eReader or Kindle Fire, be an active Amazon Prime member, and remember to make use of their one monthly rental each time around if an author is to get anything.
This is a very specific audience to be targeting with your marketing and may prove to be somewhat hard to pin down. Add into this the fact that, while the number of Kindle Editions now available through the library has grown past 100,000 titles, the amount of money being competed over has not been increased in any ongoing way and you have a complicated decision presented to self publishers. A highly limited number of readers needs to be enticed to choose your book from an increasingly large pool of options in an environment where the reward for each individual choice is likely to count for less due to the pre-determined maximum award size and ever-increasing number of Kindle owners.
Can Amazon hope to keep the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library growing at a decent pace? Chances are good that they can. Will it continue to be a persuasive reason for new authors to agree to exclusivity? That might be harder to keep up. As numbers come out and we learn at least enough about the big success stories to determine how little of the cash pool was available for other authors to divvy up, we should be able to get a clearer picture of how well somebody can expect to do through this program, After all, even if you were only making $1 per book sold on each of your hypothetical 30 annual sales through Barnes & Noble, that’s better than getting nothing at all from a lending library for Kindle owners. A clearer picture should emerge as more time passes, but without a new source of big name titles or an increase in funding, Amazon’s Kindle Edition lending effort seems like it might have a limited shelf life.
It’s safe to say that the Kindle Fire has made an impression. Tablet prices are dropping across the board, some major hardware developers seem to be reconsidering their desire to enter the fray, and Amazon has increased their expected sales numbers on the order of millions of units beyond what was originally planned for the 2011 holiday season. Not only does this spell good news for Amazon’s first non-eReader (or maybe post-eReader? Hard to say precisely where to draw the line since it technically can show you books), it means that the hardware line is sure to continue and expand as time goes on.
There is some contention at the moment about exactly which Kindle Fire followup we can expect to see next. Some are certain that it will end up being a 10.1″ direct competitor for the iPad while a newer contingent citing supposedly inside information from the production chain has started indicating somewhere around 9″ as the next step. Regardless of where you would place your bet, one frequent point of speculation is the potential for a Kindle Phone.
There has been speculation before that Amazon was interested in entering into cellular devices, but until recently that seemed doomed to be nothing but a rumor. This past week, though, Citigroup analyst Mark Mahoney noted that certain checks they have done indicate that development for an Amazon Phone is already underway with delivery expected in 4th quarter 2012.
To be honest, it is hard to know what to expect moving forward. While this seems to be fairly detailed information, it feels like there is little in it for Amazon in the end. The tablet makes sense since Amazon is able to completely control the data end of things and sell at near cost, undercutting the competition. In a cellular market closely controlled by carriers, there might well be less room for such tactics. When consumers are already used to getting hardware for less than half of its suggested retail cost, budget options aren’t as shocking.
What I could definitely envision, however, is a Kindle Fire-like device with a smaller screen and optional 3G coverage along the lines of what is available for the iPad. It would work marketed as an iPod Touch competitor but still have the hardware necessary to function as a communication device should the desire arise. Even without the 3G, relying on WiFi availability, such a thing would make a big splash at the right price.
As much as it might be a difficult thing to enter into the smartphone marketplace at this time, would Amazon be willing to pass up a chance to grab hold of what is only going to continue to be an expanding market? The Kindle Fire has demonstrated for them the potential of Android devices and the fact that they already have an Android fork fully developed and customized to fully integrate into their sales systems means that much of the work is already done. Maybe it’s just optimism, but I think the Kindle Phone is definitely on its way.
Let’s face it, Amazon has not been great up until now about making sure that customers outside of US markets get access to their products and services in a timely manner. The Kindle Fire will be a long time coming to other countries due to its strong ties to an infrastructure that hasn’t been built up anywhere else yet, Amazon Prime has yet to carry quite the same incentives for everybody, and many of the promotions that Amazon runs don’t quite make it to any of their sites besides Amazon.com. It’s always good news when this changes, though, even if only slightly.
Amazon has recently announced that their ongoing Kindle Daily Deal promotion will be extended to the UK’s Kindle Store. Amazon.co.uk customers will be able to enjoy specially discounted Kindle Edition eBooks on a daily basis. Each book will be available at this price for 24 hours before reverting to its normal number. In the US Kindle Store, it has not been unusual to see heavily discounted titles in a variety of genres and it is hopes that this trend will continue now that the offer is being expanded.
Sadly, while as I mentioned this is definitely a step in the right direction, it does little to address the ongoing problem. The newest Kindles have not yet been given much of a presence outside of US markets. While, for example, you can buy the new Kindle 4 in the UK you cannot order a Kindle Touch, or even a Kindle Keyboard without 3G. Prices are still noticeably higher due to a number of factors including the lack of Special Offers integration, and this has not been changing at the rate we might expect.
Clearly Amazon is responding to a number of pressures. I could reasonably see it being difficult to justify having a Kindle Keyboard WiFi if consumer demand in a particular country leaves them sitting on a shelf while orders come in for the 3G model. The Kindle Touch, due in particular to its much-touted X-Ray feature, requires access to Amazon technology still in its early stages. As such it might be worth working the bugs out before implementing it elsewhere. The Kindle Fire relies on all sorts of media streaming avenues that will require years of time and more money than anybody likes to think about to make happen in new markets. Each new market, in fact, will be the same headache all over again since global media rights are not exactly simple to secure. There is a lot that goes into getting something ready for international release on any large scale.
That said, all of this is insufficient to really justify the continuance of the problem or Amazon’s lack of comment on user demands. It is nice when they come up with something like the Kindle Daily Deal, but in the end it seems like audiences outside the US are almost an afterthought. If Amazon hopes to secure any significant presence beyond what it already has in hand, the only option is to start pushing for more equal treatment of these customer bases. Or so it would seem to me.
I’ve mentioned before that Amazon is expanding their international presence significantly lately, especially with regard to the Kindle line. No longer must an avid reader live in an anglophone country to take advantage of the best selling eReader to date. The biggest untapped market for anybody looking to sell digital content, however, is probably China. So far Amazon has been slowly seeping into the country in general and now there are indications that the addition of a Kindle Store may be on the way.
There are a few things that stand in the way of making this work. The most important of these is government intervention. Marc Onetto, Senior VP of Amazon’s Worldwide Operations, is said to have been in active negotiations with Chinese officials over how this would work. While no word has been released by Amazon about where they stand at the moment, the Chinese Government has a tendency to take an active part in censoring information that could make things complicated. It is already often problematic to obtain rights to sell digital content globally even without this sort of oversight, but Amazon clearly has plans.
China has proven to be one of the, if not the, fastest growing market for Amazon in the past year, with revenue up over 80 percent. They have already got ten distribution hubs set up and warehouse space adding up to about a third of what their Unites States enterprises boast. All that despite only recently rebranding the site from “Joyo Amazon”, inherited from the company Amazon bought to gain traction in the first place, to Amazon.cn.
Chances are good that these numbers will continue going up for some time, especially if Kindles do start shipping. There is no word just yet on whether Amazon will be creating relationships with local retailers or just selling the devices online, but either way enthusiasm for the product is likely to be high.
If they get this up and running along when seems to be the intended schedule, this would be the first Asian country to have their own localized Kindle and Kindle Content. It seems inevitable that it would be a somewhat crippled version of the Kindle Store, though. If nothing else, China’s censorship policies would make it difficult to truly enable the Kindle Direct Publishing platform that gives Amazon a unique edge over the competition in other markets. On top of this, Onetto did say that they had no intention of forming any sort of connection to existing content providers in this market, indicating that there is going to be some problem with stocking the electronic shelves, so to speak. How they will get around these difficulties is anybody’s guess.
If the Kindle gets government approval, it is likely to make a big splash. There is a lot of demand out there for such a product. Don’t expect to be seeing something like the Kindle Fire any time soon, but now that the Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch have opened the door to localized interfaces this will be a big step moving forward.
I don’t think anybody can really doubt at this point that Amazon wants to take their eReading success in the US and replicate it globally. Amazon in general is an always expanding entity, of course, but specifically the Kindle line has been growing rapidly for some time now and is finally showing up in non-English dominated countries. Even if nothing else had pointed in that direction, simply the removal of the physical keyboard from the Kindle, a long-standing and almost iconic part of the popular eReader, would have given some hints as to aspirations outside of US markets. If we take that as a given, though, does Amazon have a chance to make the same sort of impression elsewhere that it has in the United States?
Probably the number one thing that Amazon has going for it when it comes to getting the Kindle Store out there is the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. This has allowed authors to bring out work that might never have seen the light of day otherwise. In some cases there was a good reason for that, of course, but the number of success stories from KDP authors is growing all the time and it is becoming increasingly common for new works to be self-published digitally without ever even being offered to major publishers. There is every reason to believe that this will be a popular service no matter where Amazon makes it available and that as a result they can hope to keep their selection original and diverse in any market.
Self publishers will not be driving an entire eBook industry any time soon, though. Customers want access to the big names and best selling titles. Here is where Amazon will be running into some trouble. Despite, or perhaps because of, the roadblocks that the company has hit from Agency Model price fixing, nobody can compete with the Kindle and publishing houses aren’t prospering in the new market the way they would like to. While those two facts don’t necessarily have a direct connection, publishers are clearly unhappy with how things are going now that the Kindle and eBooks in general have taken off. That will have an effect on how publishers who have not as of yet dealt with Amazon will approach forming a new relationship.
On top of this, there is the incredibly complex task of managing rights issues across multitudes of jurisdictions. Amazon can’t just form a deal to sell a book, they have to make deals to sell every book in every individual country it needs to be sold in. As any Kindle owners in Canada can attest to, that results in problems with unequal selections.
Will Amazon push through and make the attempt in spite of the complications? Of course. They’re already doing it. I would guess that after this first major push to hit what they perceive to be the best potential markets, though, we see a couple years of consolidation. When it comes to the Kindle, Amazon has proven they have a desire to deliver quality over quantity and that can’t always be rushed.
Amazon is all set to launch their new Amazon.es site in Spain on September 15th, according to sources in several Spanish newspapers. While the service will cover only physical goods at the time the store opens, it will expand to digital content including a Spanish Kindle Store before the end of the year. This will be a big step in eCommerce for a country that has reportedly been somewhat late to the game so far, as well as expanding the Amazon empire even more.
The lack of a local Amazon presence hasn’t stopped the company from developing a substantial Spanish following over the years. It is reportedly quite common for people to order through extra-national Amazon sites in order to ensure fair prices, reliable delivery, and good customer service in a way that hasn’t been directly available in the Spanish marketplace. Some even associate the slow adoption of online retail in Spain to the fact that the country has lacked an Amazon presence up until now, so this will spur things for the better in a number of ways.
One place where Amazon will not necessarily have an automatic lead over the competition will, surprisingly, be in the field of eReading. The Amazon.es site is slated to have a Kindle Store open late this year, while the Kobo release is expected any time now, if earlier promises to have their store open by the end of the summer can be believed. Kobo has managed to outdo Kindle on the international front so far in a number of ways, so this is just another front in an ongoing conflict.
On top of the lack of status as the first people on the scene, the Kindle Store in question will not be able to set prices in an advantageous way. There are means in place in Spain to fix eBook prices across the market at about 30% below the cost of their print equivalent. As in the US following the introduction of Agency Model pricing, Amazon will have to find other ways to add value to their platform aside from low prices. If nothing else, at least it’s an effort that they have practice making.
Amazon currently maintains a presence beyond the United States in France, Germany, China, Italy, Canada, Japan, and the UK. Their Kindle line has made it to the UK and Germany so far, with further international expansion said to be a priority.
Many have conjectured that there will be a large push with localized devices is loosely planned for after the introduction of a Kindle without a hardware keyboard, which would obviously help with pressing adoption in countries where English is not the primary language. Time will tell if this manifests, but with many expecting a new Kindle with a touchscreen as early as October there would seem to be very little to prevent it. The speculated-upon move to an Android OS for the Kindle eReader in addition to the Kindle Tablet might make localization more problematic, but until an implementation is actually seen it is hard to do more than speculate.
While the focus of Amazon’s new content duplication policy for the Kindle Store is clearly an effort to eliminate the Kindle spam that has become an ongoing problem for customers, it has a couple less obvious effects that work to the advantage of both the company and the customers. Much of the speculation regarding how the Kindle Store could be cleared of worthlessly repetitive content revolved around the most efficient and advantageous methods that they might have available and clearly an interesting one was found.
The most obvious change, though not entirely new, is to the out of copyright publication. Perhaps the biggest problem that these have posed many consumers is their variety. Now, normally variety is always a good thing. When you know that the content you are acquiring is going to be the same no matter where you get it, however, having ten, twenty, or even fifty versions of the same thing to choose from is simply not helpful. The in-text annotation and added content that one expects with the many different print editions available to choose from do not translate well to the Kindle experience just yet. Amazon has done quite well in the past few months at reducing the clutter among these titles, but with the apparent automation of the duplicate-checking that they now have in place it will be that much easier and more reliable.
They have also done a great job of ensuring the most up to date content library available for Kindle customers. While it would be illegal and quite definitely against all policy to post a stolen work to the Kindle Store, it has not been an unknown occurrence. Since I started publishing through them, I have personally had three books stolen and attributed to other authors and I know that I am far from the worst affected. Now, so long as I am the first one to upload my work, there is no need to worry about it. Not only does this do an excellent job of protecting authors and simplifying the review process for Amazon, since they no longer have to worry about nearly as many theft complaints, it gives further incentive for all self-publishing authors to head to the Kindle Direct Publishing first.
If only to save on the headache of dealing with verifications and lost sales due to delays, authors will likely now feel that much more inclined to give the Kindle priority. After all, once it is up on the Kindle Store, nobody else should be able to post that content unless the original posting is removed first. Why risk having to go through the trouble of eliminating an illegal copy made by somebody who downloaded the work elsewhere?
Overall, while I can see specific situations where taking the review process out of human hands could result in over-enforcement, this will do a lot to improve the shopping experience for Kindle owners. It will do even more to protect authors. When you take those two groups and keep them happy, it makes life easier for Amazon and makes it even more likely that people new to publishing will choose the KDP. This would seem to be wins all around.
After a few weeks of rather vocal complaints regarding the state of the Kindle Store and the increasing difficulty in finding worthwhile content, Amazon has come up with a response. Despite the potential for it to cause discomfort for a certain number of Kindle Direct Publishing users, it looks like significant measures are underway to address the problems. The days when searching for a Kindle Edition would bring up hundreds of nearly worthless, nearly identical eBooks are coming to an end.
The origin of the problem stems from the nature of these spam offerings. While in the main they are useless and nothing anybody would want to buy, very few of them are deliberately malicious aside from their failing to provide value to customers. You can’t risk cracking down on authors who are just not good at their job. The deliberately malign options are, of course, policed rather strongly. Somewhat legitimate titles, built using content from Private Label Rights authors who sell their work to others for a small fee can be harder to track down. These are titles that the purchaser can pay once for and have legal use of, including author credit and editing privileges. Some of these works have the potential to be at least somewhat useful, and there is nothing illegal about the process, but once the idea caught on with internet marketing enthusiasts it was bound to result in exploitation.
Amazon’s solution is to remove titles that are filled with “undifferentiated or barely differentiated” content. Since the whole point of PLR is to sell the same thing to many people and make your money off of the bulk, only allowing a single person to make use of the work effectively removes it from circulation. Those “publishers” who have chosen to exploit the system are receiving email warnings that inform them of the removal of their less than useful Kindle eBooks and the consequences of continuing the practice:
We’re contacting you regarding books you recently submitted via Kindle Direct Publishing.
Certain of these books are either undifferentiated or barely differentiated from an existing title in the Kindle store. We remove such duplicate (or near duplicate) versions of the same book because they diminish the experience for customers. We notify you each time a book is removed, along with the specific book(s) and reason for removal.
In addition to removing duplicate books from the Kindle store, please note that if you attempt to sell multiple copies or undifferentiated versions of the same book from your account, we may terminate your account.
If you have any questions regarding the review process, you can write to email@example.com.
To be fair, you have to give a great deal of credit to the community involved in this practice for their reaction. While there have been a few people recommending the move from Kindle to Nook platforms as a short-term solution, overall it seems that the end of PLR exploitation was anticipated. There will probably be no major outcry regarding this policy change, even among the people most affected by it. They knew they were exploiting a loophole that would eventually be closed.
For those who have been paying attention, it doesn’t come as much of a shock to hear that people are unhappy about the rise in price of Kindle eBooks caused by the Agency Model pricing forced on Amazon by the largest publishing houses in the business. Apple came out with iBooks as a means of adding value to the iPad’s initial launch, and in doing so arranged things to prevent Amazon from having an advantage. They went to the publishers, worked out an industry-wide deal, and ended the era of the affordably priced eBook. Now, finally, somebody is calling them on it.
The basis for the suit is a number of early indications that Apple knew ahead of time that all of the major publishers would be turning on Amazon at the same time. A much publicized Wall Street Journal article from early 2010 had Steve Jobs clearly aware of the impending changes and certain not only of his company’s ability to price match but of the publishers’ willingness to boycott Amazon in order to change the state of the market. While Amazon did make every attempt to keep the Kindle Store free of such manipulation and price hiking, in the end each publisher is the controller of its own works and they were forced to concede defeat in order to keep the content available to Kindle readers.
The suit charges Apple and the five largest publishing companies with antitrust violations, among other things, and would seek to represent anybody who has purchased an eBook since the prices jumped over 30% practically overnight last year. If successful, the Agency Model would be completely overturned, as would the arrangements currently in place preventing price discrepancies between retailers.
There is every reason to believe that this has at least a chance of success. It is not even the first legal obstacle that publishers have faced since they turned on the Kindle. In 2010 both Amazon and Apple were brought to talks with the Attorney General of Connecticut, who had concerns that the abrupt change would lead to a situation where competition between companies would be impossible. Such anti-competitive behavior would of course be a dangerous thing to be involved in, but the companies being looked at at the time were clearly not colluding. This time, looking at Apple and the publishers, it might not pass quite so easily.
Though it will be months, at best, before there is even an indication of which way this is likely to turn out, it is possible that there will be some change in the meantime. eBooks are the only area where the publishing industry seems to be growing lately, and the Kindle platform is the driving force behind eBook sales in the US. Anything that publishers can do to improve sales will be to their advantage, and they have shown at least some small interest in the potential from reduced pricing. Will it be enough to change the face of eBook publishing without legal intervention? Time will tell. It seems inevitable that publishers will come to their senses eventually and drive their numbers up any way that works, though, and the success of the lawsuit is still just speculation.
Earlier this year, in April, Amazon launched a localized German Kindle Store with over 650,000 titles and around 25,000 German language offerings. Overall, at least for the time, a strong offering. In addition to this, Amazon opened up Kindle Direct Publishing for the Amazon.de site, and made sure that Direct Publishing submissions to the original Kindle Store would already be in the German store, assuming rights were available to make this possible. Now, three months later, competition is becoming a bit more heated and this might not be enough to stay appealing to the broader audience on its own.
The Canada based Kobo eBook store will now be available to the German audience. At launch, they have managed a reported 2.4 million eBooks and over 80,000 German language titles. That’s a lot of books. Along with the store launch, there are also German language Kobo eReader apps for the iPhone, iPad, basically anything with an ‘i’ in front of it, and Android. A Playbook app is on the way. There will even be a German version of the Kobo eReader itself released in August. Now, the Kobo business model has always been aimed at a broad international presence. They emphasize open systems, EPUB distribution, and the primacy of the reading experience. Even the Kobo eReader seemed tacked on as almost an afterthought. So far, however, they haven’t really hit the big time.
The main problem that they are running into, I think, is their lack of hardware emphasis. Not as a means of profit, of course, but as a way to provide a physical presence to their customers. We know that Amazon isn’t exactly making loads off of individual Kindle sales, but by providing something better than a PC or cell phone for their customers to read on, they gain customer loyalty. If you’re stuck using a phone for your eBooks anyway, it doesn’t matter in practice who you buy from since the apps are all free anyway.
The new Kobo eReader suffered something of a setback when its otherwise impressive upgrades from the original Kobo were completely overshadowed by the superior experience and competitive pricing of the new Nook Simple Touch eReader. By comparison, it’s just a better product. So Kobo is given that much more incentive to push their international pursuits since the Kindle presence is limited and the Nook is non-existent. In untouched or underrepresented eBook markets, the Kobo store can stand on its own merits and try to build up a hardware independent following, at least in theory.
The one obstacle I see, at least right this minute, is the lack of eReader offering at store launch. If you’re going to have a localized device, great! It sets you that much further apart from the Kindle. Don’t expect to launch the store now and have people stay excited about it for a month while they wait for the gadget. If they can keep the buzz going, great, but it’s going to be a difficult task.
As for the future of the Kobo? They are currently planning similar store launches in Spain, France, Italy, and Holland, to name a few. While I might personally prefer other offerings available in America, possibly because I speak English primarily and don’t have to pay fees to import things that don’t always even work in my country, there is little wrong with the Kobo and anything that builds up the worldwide eBook marketplace will just help things along for everybody.
Among the many advantages to owning a Kindle is the fact that there are thousands of books available cheaply or for free. Even that is an understatement. No matter what your tastes, chances are good that there is something in the Kindle Store that you will enjoy for $2.99 or less. The only question is how to find it. Especially in light of the recently publicized issues with increasing Kindle Store Spam, the question of proper filters becomes important.
Right now, it is easy to find the top selling Kindle Editions, whether they be paid content or free. The algorithm might be a bit odd, but the results are right there on the front page of the Kindle Store. We also get the occasional special promotion and a list of some of the most popular selections from some category in the store. Pretty much what you might expect. Nowhere do we have a list of Kindle Deals or anything similar. I think we need one.
I’m not talking about just a category that lists all of the cheap or free Kindle eBooks, of course. Not only would the sheer size of such a list make it almost as unmanageable as looking through a complete listing of the Store’s content, but it would include the sort of things that we need to filter out. A deal isn’t really a deal unless you’re getting good value for your money. That excludes the spam, plagiarism, and any number of other things that are inherently hard to automatically sort through. So, how does one define a “deals” category?
At the very least, breaking it free from anything in the way of human interaction, it should be simple enough to set it to filter for a set maximum price, minimum number of sales/reviews, and possibly include some method of prioritizing recent price drops. In the end, I don’t think this is the answer, though. What is needed is an actual person, or persons, to make the judgment call. There is a good chance that the Kindle Sunshine Deals experiment was meant in part to test the waters for this very concept. It works because you’ve got affordably priced eBooks that have made it through at least some degree of scrutiny before being included. In the case of Sunshine Deals, they’d passed through the hands of a publisher, but that doesn’t need to be the only channel available for something like this.
Probably, talking about this will turn out to be a moot point. I anticipate at least some shift in perception among publishers once the results of the Kindle Sunshine Deals promotion have been more thoroughly reviewed. More affordably priced eBooks, yes, but also better publicizing of those eBooks that are priced low enough to be noteworthy. It isn’t enough to just throw up a book and price it at $2.99, as many authors new to self-publishing for the Kindle have found. You have to get word out there and make sure that customers know that there are deals to be had and value to be found.