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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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Amazon to Launch Kindle Store in Brazil, but No Other Services

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.

IPG Titles Return to the Kindle After 3 Months

It has been an interesting few months of discussion, debate, argument, and drama, but The Independent Publishers Group has finally arrived at terms with Amazon that will allow their titles to return to the Kindle Store.  This comes as welcome news to the many authors and publishers who rely on the IPG and is likely even more welcome to the many readers who have been unable to enjoy this content thanks to the ongoing conflict.

The terms that have been reached are as yet undisclosed.  The only way we know anything of this is thanks to a mass email informing IPG publishers that as of May 25th their titles are back on the digital shelves.  Anything that isn’t made it back into circulation should be restored “in the next day or two”.  It will be interesting to see what exactly comes out about this new agreement since IPG CEO Curt Matthews has been blogging at length throughout this about the many evils of editor/publisher disintermediation.

I don’t agree with many of Matthews’s arguments.  I think he is very persuasively trying to hold onto the past by ignoring a lot of important aspects of the eBook transition we have going on right now.  Whether or not you buy into his points, though, clearly he has no interest in giving up any ground to Amazon.  To hear him talk, Amazon is deliberately trying to destroy all publishing and the independent authors their self-publishing program enables are universally talentless amateurs.   Taken not terribly out of context, his opinion is pretty well conveyed by this passage from the IPG Blog:

“One of the most important functions of publishers, distributors, and booksellers (book agents and reviewers too) has always been to assure a certain level of quality, not necessarily as high a level as we might want, but at least a baseline far higher than the abysmal standard—in fact the non-existent standard—set by the new electronic vanity presses.”

Details are mostly unimportant to both customers and publishers at this point, however.  What matters is the fact that the books are available for the Kindle again.  In order to take some of the edge off of the months that publishers have had to endure with no Amazon sales, IPG has chosen to forgo their fee on everything sold from June 1st through August 31st of this year.  100% of all revenue will go directly to the publishers.

The best that can be said about this whole situation is that it draws attention to the problems that exist in the power balance between distributers and publishers, as well in the mechanisms of the publishing industry.  Publishers have a purpose and provide a great deal of value.  Perhaps not as much as they want people to believe, but it is obviously going to be in their best interest to make that case.

Amazon is doing an amazing job of maintaining their place as the primary distributer of digital reading material and, despite the fact that they are doing most of that by simply creating in the Kindle the best platform there is right now, they are using that position in ways that don’t necessarily serve customers.  It needed to come out, and hopefully things will be better as a result.

Amazon Opens Kindle en Español to US

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.

Amazon Suspends Adding New Kindle Newspapers Due To Overwhelming Demand?

The new rule for making a newspaper work seems to be maximizing its availability.  This means that not only does it need to be at the local supermarket and gas stations, you also need to have editions available for the Kindle, Nook, iPad, general Internet, and more.  Publishers are forced to jump through a lot of hoops to get this sort of availability built up and optimized for as broad a reader base as possible, but without that availability they tend to find themselves unable to compete in an age of increasingly all-digital, up-to-the-minute news sources.

Amazon has been doing a good job, up until now, of accommodating as many newspapers as were interested in joining the Kindle platform.  Second only to iPad in terms of its subscriber base, papers are under a lot of pressure to make sure that they can maintain a place.  So many have realized this that Amazon has been forced to temporarily suspend new publications until they can get things under control.

Multiple sources are now noting that newspaper publishers are being turned away.  The situation is reported to be “not permanent but may be long term”.  Amazon has responded by denying the existence of such a move, but then explained that they are running behind and can’t get to new things very quickly right now.  Their suggestion for distributing to Kindle customers is to ask publishers to build themselves an app and submit it to the Amazon Appstore for Android.

Naturally this won’t be a huge comfort for many publishers.  The Kindle eReader is by far the more widely distributed product at the moment, even if the Kindle Fire is quickly catching up, and that whole branch of the product line would be unreachable through Android perpetually.  Also a factor is that any number of newspapers has been working hard to get their product in compliance with Amazon’s Kindle Newspaper guidelines with the express intent of reading the eReader side of things.  To completely shift focus and abandon existing efforts in favor of an Android app seems less than ideal, when it would work at all.

The Kindle Store’s Newsstand currently stocks around 200 papers, with more being added all the time.  While we can’t know the underlying cause of Amazon’s sudden hold on expansion, there are some speculations that make sense.

Possibly it is a matter of volume, given that this is something that requires trained oversight from Amazon staff to ensure quality integration.  Also possible is the idea that this will force publishers to adopt KF8 and optimize for the Kindle Fire.  Regardless of whether either of these actually works, it is hard to imagine that this is a major profit-building area of Kindle Sales and so it is highly tempting imagine a tactical move taking place here.

For now, what publishers have been pushed off are trying to work with Amazon to figure out where their options are.  In the near future, we may find that only the biggest names in newspaper publication are available on the Kindle anymore.

Agency Model Set To Fall! Kindle Book Prices Will Follow Suit

Not much is known at this time about what options are being discussed by the publishers under attack by the Justice Department.  We do have good information that there are settlement options on the table and that the Agency Model pricing model currently to blame for high Kindle Edition eBook prices will be on the chopping block regardless.

Reports from unnamed informants close to the matter have indicated that there is reason to expect a settlement within the next several weeks.  Neither Apple nor the publishers have responded to any requests for comment at this time.  The Justice Dept declined to say anything.

Whether this is a sign of consensus among the defendants or merely that one or two are feeling the pressure and wanting to end what they see as a losing battle should not matter much in terms of the outcome.  In the event of one publisher involved in the price fixing scheme reaching a settlement, the terms would undoubtedly involve release of evidence necessary for ensuring a successful prosecution of the rest.

Basically, assuming the news is true, this means that the end of the Agency Model is at hand and that the Kindle has made it through possibly the most harmful barrier to eReader adoption without so far becoming irrelevant.  A return to the wholesale model, even temporarily, will mean more affordable reading material for Kindle owners.  This in turn should spur sales of the eReading line.  Amazon’s willingness to take a loss on bestsellers to promote their product line is what game them over 90% of the eReading market before the Agency Model was imposed and there is no reason to see this practice changing overly much if the Agency Model is destroyed.

The big question will be what comes next.  Settlement or unfavorable ruling aside, publishers are not going to give up on their position that readers have no right to expect inexpensive books.  It is incredibly unlikely that they will all pull out of Amazon in reaction to this, but they’re going to have to find some new way to prevent Kindle customers from being too happy with digital books.

The case at hand is all about how the defendants collaborated to impose the Agency Model on Amazon.  The means to achieve this goal is in question, not the model itself.  Depending on the terms of the settlement, publishers could be permitted to go back to it in time.  They could also turn to something even more unpleasant for potential customers.  It is hard to tell at the moment.

In the short term, the clear winners will be customers.  Prices on eBooks should drop abruptly, especially in the Kindle Store, following official announcement of the deal being made.  In reality, expectations may need to change with regard to how profitable a new bestseller should be per unit sold.  Big 6 publishers will be forced to come to terms with this.  Beyond the immediate benefits to Kindle customers there is little that can be asserted reliably about the effects of this situation.  It will be interesting to see how the situation evolves.  Any thoughts or predictions?

Release of Harry Potter for Kindle Magically Removes Buy Buttons From Kindle Store

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.

Already Impressive Kindle Singles Lands Vonnegut Exclusive

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

Arguing that Amazon’s Behavior Justifies Agency Model Price Fixing is Idiotic

Since the rise of the Agency Model that Apple made possible for publishers in a partnership surrounding the release of the iBooks application and store for the original iPad (a partnership now awaiting trial in an anti-trust case), there has been serious talk about how Amazon has set out on a crusade to utterly destroy traditional publishing with the Kindle.  This isn’t news, exactly, but it has become an important and popular topic after the recent contract dispute that the company had with the Independent Publishers Group that has resulted in the ongoing absence of IPG titles from the Kindle Store.

There can be no question that Amazon is acting like a bully in this dispute.  They want a lot and are in a position to demand rather than ask or negotiate.  What has risen up in response to this anti-Amazon sentiment has been shocking to say the least, however.  Scattered around popular blogs, we can now see any number of authors and publishers coming out against Amazon and claiming that publishers were somehow right to have engaged in price fixing and that even if it was technically illegal they should be allowed a pass because otherwise Amazon will win.

On the one hand, it is understandable sentiment.  Thanks to the Kindle, Amazon controls around 75% of the eBook market already.  Without their platform, the rise of eReading as we now know it would slow to a crawl.  Nobody else has the resources, or seemingly the interest in customer satisfaction, that Amazon is willing to put into keeping such a platform going.

On the other hand, this is insane.  Publishers were unhappy with how poorly the old business model applies to new media and so their potentially illegal activities should be excused.  It makes no sense to me, somehow.

This is made to seem like it is a one-sided arrangement.  I believe that to be a mischaracterization.  If publishers lacked power, they could not have compelled the adoption of the Agency Model in the first place.  They were just too concerned at the time with short term profits to be willing to take a stand and risk losing Amazon as a storefront.  It was a move that only made sense for every individual company if they knew that none of the competition would be capitalizing on their threatened withdrawal.

Amazon’s acting like a bully aside (because in the matter of the Agency Model and its potential legal implications that that does not apply) they have built the simplest and most usable way for readers everywhere to access eBooks.  Nobody else has come close, despite competing efforts from Barnes & Noble’s Nook line, the Kobo, and more.  This does not mean that anybody has been compelled to use it.

There would be no case against them if the Big 6 Publishers had come out with their own Kindle competitor and started offering all of their titles through it.  The Kindle would still be there attracting self publishers and generally making itself useful in various ways, but it wouldn’t have the content to be so important.

These publishers don’t want to have to deal with building new distribution channels, though.  They also don’t want to have to adapt when other people build them.  The fact that there is a power disparity is undeniable, but that doesn’t mean that these publishers were ever powerless.  Nobody compels them to use the Kindle platform.  To say that they should be able to get away with their own anti-competitive and manipulative actions because otherwise the Kindle line will make people start seeing books as more affordable and ruin their profits is just ridiculous.

Why Amazon & The Kindle Deserve To Be Dominating Bookselling

This is going to be a bit controversial, I’m sure, given how Amazon has gone about using their influence to beat down smaller publishers and other suppliers recently, but when it comes right down to it there can be no doubt that Amazon deserves to be on top of the market right now.  It isn’t a matter of overhead or business ethics or anything like that either.  They are just the only company selling books right now that seems to be good at giving customers what they want.

Let’s think this through a bit.  People like to read.  Even before the Kindle and Nook started their competition, both companies were selling books.  Amazon had the advantage, mostly because they could afford to cut prices more than a company like B&N that had to deal with maintaining a storefront.  When the Agency Model was imposed by Apple and the Big Six Publishers, then, surely B&N should have taken off again, right?

This is admittedly an oversimplification of a complex situation, but when you throw in the common and intense criticism that Amazon faces from all quarters these days you have to wonder why nobody else has been able to attract attention as a superior alternative.  The Nook Simple Touch eReader is possibly the best hardware out there, for example, so why is the Kindle dominating the space?

The answer is that they know how to give customers what they want.  Not just in terms of free shipping, discounts, and other such monetary inducements.  Shopping for book on Amazon, Kindle Editions or not, is simply a better experience than anybody else offers.  Barnes & Noble provides customers with a site that is comparatively hard to navigate and that seems to openly privilege business agreements over anything else in how it presents potential buyers with suggestions.

Shopping for Nook Books, you get long lists of Bestsellers, anticipated releases, and other such predictable content.  It is just like what one would see when walking into a book store.  Interesting in some ways, but far from an organic series of recommendations based on what people are really enjoying right now.

In the Kindle Store, Bestsellers and Editors’ Picks are categories that have to be clicked through to.  Customers have an extensive list of potential categories for book browsing presented to one side and a completely fluid list of top selling titles on the other.  The only product placement is for the Kindle eReader itself.  On top of this, once moving into one of the many categories, the first thing you see is a list of books generated based on your own reading habits.  All Barnes & Noble gives you is their Booksellers’ picks.

Is Barnes & Noble doing something bad here?  Not at all.  But they are trying to maintain the sort of model used in their physical stores.  They are trying to act as gatekeepers and mediators, telling customers what they should want rather than presenting customers with something they may want.  This, more than anything, is what gives the Kindle user the superior overall experience.  If somebody is able to provide a similar sort of service, helping their customers rather than advertising at them, it will be the biggest blow Amazon has taken in eReading since they stepped into the field.  So far, it doesn’t seem like anybody has caught on.

Kindle Store Coming To Seattle?

Sources have recently reported that Amazon may be about to open up a whole new direction for their Kindle marketing.  Before the end of this year we can expect to be seeing the first small store or stores arriving in Seattle.  This seems to be intended as a preliminary effort directed at determining the viability of such outlets as a real money maker, but there is some reason to think that this could be a big factor in the future of both the Kindle and Amazon’s new publishing imprints.

With Barnes & Noble’s recent decision to effectively ban all of Amazon’s new efforts in the field of publishing, the company is going to be needing new ways to showcase their products.  These boutique style stores would offer them the chance to make up for the lack, especially as it seems likely that their intention is to increase their involvement in publication rather than let it fall away under external pressures.

While it seems less likely, given that focus will probably be at least somewhat important, there is even the chance that this will be Amazon’s biggest move so far to show off their product lines in various other areas aside from books and eReaders.  Their AmazonBasics consumer electronics line has at least some connection to things like the Kindle Fire, even if their Strathwood furniture wouldn’t fit so well.  Hard to imagine that even a small store could be properly stocked using nothing but three Kindle eReaders, the Kindle Fire, some accessories, and whatever books they are able to get published before the end of the year.

Interestingly, this is not the first time that Amazon has been rumored to be working on building themselves a physical presence.  Unlike previous instances, though, the details do seem to add up here.  In addition to the fact that the proposed pilot store would be in Seattle, home of Amazon and a state where sales taxes are already being collected by the company, the initial report indicates that they have already contracted store design through a shell company.  It will be small rather than something intended to compete head to head in every area at once with other retail giants like Walmart, which also makes a good deal of sense for a company that derives a great deal of benefit from being highly distinct from such stores while still offering amazing savings.  Most importantly, unlike the 2009 rumors Amazon has not jumped in to quash this one before it takes hold.

While there are downsides to building a Brick & Mortar presence for the Kindle line, especially given the numerous partnerships that Amazon maintains with the likes of Best Buy and Target to keep their hardware available on the local level, being able to highlight something with as much investment behind it as the Kindle Fire and its anticipated successor might well be worth the risks.  Hopefully over the next few months we will learn more about how Amazon intends to show off the Kindle to their advantage.

Kindle Keyboard 3G On The Way Out

In the past several months, especially since the announcement of the Kindle Touch, I’ve mentioned regularly that I expected the Kindle Keyboard to be a thing of the past by early 2012.  While nothing concrete has happened just yet, there are beginning to be small indications that this is beginning to happen.

The most obvious early sign was the fact that the Kindle Touch’s 3G option did not include the same freedoms that we have come to expect in previous models.  Where up until now you could browse freely, albeit in a limited fashion due to the nature of the Kindle’s screen and experimental browser, now users are stuck with only Wikipedia and Amazon’s own store.  Given the size of the ongoing 3G bill that Amazon has to have been racking up over the past several years, this change should be no surprise.  Lifetime 3G for free is going to be hard to keep going without limitations.  What is surprising and makes this stand out is the fact that the Kindle Keyboard did not start having the same restrictions.  If this was really the direction that Amazon has chosen to go, the only easy explanation is that they were waiting to run out existing stock.

More recently, the Kindle Keyboard WiFi w/ Special Offers has silently disappeared from the Kindle Store.  You can still get the more expensive ad-free model, but somehow I doubt that is because Amazon has suddenly decided to drop their advertising subsidized eReader plans.  Not only is it gone, but the newer versions of the sales banner for the Kindle Family are now focused entirely on the newest devices and don’t display the Kindle Keyboard at all.

It would not be surprising to find that even more signs have been given that were just too subtle to be noticed at the time.  I seem to recall there being white versions of both WiFi and 3G Kindle 3 models, for example, but now that is only available for the 3G model.  Hard to say for certain at this point since the graphite frame was so appealing at launch that I didn’t bother picking up a white edition.

Will this be the end of eReaders with physical inputs?  Quite possibly!  The major competition has already moved to entirely touchscreen, though the Nook Simple Touch eReader still has some actual page turning buttons.  The virtual keyboard allows for a lighter, more compact device that is even less intrusive than previous Kindles.  I’m still dealing with mixed feelings regarding this move, having gotten used to my keyboard and not quite having had the same amount of exposure to the new design, but it does seem the way of the future.

If you are still interested in the Kindle Keyboard (formerly Kindle 3), now is really the time to buy.  Lefties will find it especially valuable since the Kindle Touch requires swiping if you want to flip a page forward with your left hand. It offers pretty much everything that the Kindle Touch does aside from X-Ray and the ease of use in highlighting and annotation, but you get the reassuring presence of buttons.  The option won’t be around much longer, I’m sure, but for now you can get either the normal Kindle Keyboard or the Kindle Keyboard 3G w/ Special Offers for just $139.

Chinese Kindle On The Way?

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.

Thoughts Regarding The Kindle’s Future Abroad

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 Kindle May Invade Japan By Year’s End

Continuing a trend of building their international presence, both in eBooks and beyond, Amazon appears to be making arrangements to bring their Kindle line to Japan as early as then end of this year.  While the company has been operating their Amazon.jp site for some time now, there have been complications in offering customers the Kindle until this point.  Hopefully that is soon to be a thing of the past.

Japanese publishers have shown themselves to be very hesitant to allow Amazon to acquire content, citing concerns about the online retail giant’s increasing level of control and influence in anglophile markets.  This, in addition to Amazon’s habitual price cuts led to them to question whether there was money to be made in Kindle Store content.

After Sony’s recent successful entry with the Reader PRS-650 at the beginning of this year, though, there has been reason to hope these companies are coming around. If nothing else, there is definite pressure from consumers who are quickly growing increasingly familiar with the potential of eBooks and eReaders and want to be able to take advantage of them.The solution to the publisher impasse seems to have taken the form of building a predefined framework for the timing and rate of discounts.  Publishers will, according to reports, be consulted before any such discounts were put in place.

Should Amazon manage to carve out a place for the Kindle in the Japanese eBook market, it could be a huge move.  Right now this space has been comparatively underexploited for a variety of reasons.  To make it work, however, they’ll need to do more than just set up a Kindle Store.

The first step will be getting the entire newest generation of Kindle eReaders out there.  The Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch, due to their virtual keyboards, both provide the ability to display Japanese characters in every part of the eReader’s function.  Just one advantage of doing away with the physical keyboard, I suppose.  Without the Kindle Touch, however, competing with even the Sony PRS-T1 would be difficult no matter the price of the Kindle 4.  Right now Amazon.uk is offering the Kindle 4 and the Kindle Keyboard without the touchscreen model, but that won’t do much good in an area where the English keyboard is less useful. These need to be available not just online but in retailers as well.  Exposure will be vital, and partnerships will need to be formed.

While the Kindle Fire is currently only available for pre-order in the US, it would make a great deal of sense for Amazon to push Japan as the first other market to get access to it.  Unfortunately, given that this would require a lot of effort to grab distribution rights in a wide variety of media forms it seems like a long shot.  An effort by Amazon to acquire these rights and expand its influence seems to be inevitable, but it won’t come quickly or easily and a half-hearted attempt would do more harm than good.

Amazon.fr Launches French Kindle Store and First French-Language Kindle

Amazon.fr launched the first ever French language version of the Kindle October 7th.  Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) customers in France will have access to 35,000 e-books in French.  This includes bestsellers, graphic novels, and classics.

In addition to the titles offered in French, customers will have access to the 800,000+ Amazon Kindle e-book collection in English and other languages.

Amazon.fr is taking pre-orders for the French language Kindle today at www.amazon.fr/kindle.

According to Amazon’s latest press release, there is a huge variety of books by bestselling French authors, as well as popular French magazines and newspapers.

“The French Kindle Store’s vast selection of content includes popular titles from best-selling authors such as Katherine Pancol, Delphine de Vigan, Harlan Coben, Stéphane Hessel, Haruki Murakami, Françoise Bourdin and Michel Houellebecq in a wide range of categories. Customers will also find the largest selection of popular graphic novels available for download including titles from The Largo Winch Series of Francq and Van Hamme, Julia and Roem from Bilal and Walking Dead. Customers can also find top French newspapers and magazines such as Le Monde, Les Echos, Le Figaro, Libération andAujourd’hui en France/Le Parisien available for single purchase or subscription. Independent authors and publishers can also now use Kindle Direct Publishing to make their books available in Amazon.fr’s Kindle Store.”

-Amazon French Kindle Store Press Release

Like it’s internationally bestselling English language counterpart, The French language version of the Kindle is lightweight, and super inexpensive at only 99€.  It has apps available on a variety of PC, tablet and smartphone platforms.  It also has built in Wi-Fi and lasts for up to one month on a single charge.  Not to mention the crisp, clear e-ink display and font size adjustments.

So, it looks like the Kindle is taking off in Europe with a presence in the UK, Spain, Germany, and now France.  What an exciting time for e-readers on the international front, and a giant step towards global literacy.

Waterstone’s To Be UK’s Next Kindle Competition

Everybody knows that Amazon doesn’t release the sales numbers for their Kindle eReader.  That being said, some analysts have estimated that the popular eReader will sell over 17 million units this year alone and that the platform as a whole now accounts for as much as 10% of Amazon’s overall revenue.  That doesn’t mean that the Kindle is unassailable, of course, but it is definitely difficult.  The Barnes & Noble Nook has proved both parts of that.  Now, in an effort to revive flagging sales numbers, British bookseller Waterstone’s is going to try to replicate the B&N success story.

James Daunt, the Waterstone’s managing director, said in a recent BBC 4 radio interview that he was inspired by the Nook’s success in the US market.  So far, Barnes & Noble has not decided to expand their eReader presence beyond the US in spite of the exceptionally favorable reviews of their most recent generation of devices, which leaves a gap in the market for somebody else to exploit. Lately, given the consistent downward trend of most of Barnes & Noble’s non-Nook numbers, this seems like a great model for an otherwise declining company to make a comeback with.

Right now, Waterstone’s does not have a hardware partner or much in the way of solid details in terms of their intended offering.  Daunt has claimed that the company is “well down the planning line” on the way to an early 2012 launch are somewhat encouraging, but there is a lot to get done for such an ambitious move.  This is a fairly late stage to be entering into eReading on short notice, given the high quality of the current generation of eReaders.  Even the Kindle is sometimes only considered second-best by comparison these days.  That’s a lot to measure up to for any newcomer.

Since the closing of Borders Books and Books Etc, Waterstones seems to be the only major brick and mortar book seller in the UK market.  At a glance this seems to be something of a last-ditch effort.  The Waterstone’s internet storefront, which has been selling eBooks for some time now, has failed to compete successfully against the Kindle’s UK store.  A hardware tie-in would guarantee some returning business, but only if customers can be persuaded to adopt the new platform in the long term.

One of the biggest considerations for people seeking to build their own eBook library is whether or not their purchases will eventually be rendered useless by the end of a format or the closing of their chosen retailer.  Whereas Amazon seems to be around for pretty much the foreseeable future, Waterstone’s will have to make a big impression to avoid losing customers to the fear of obsolescence.  Add into that the overwhelming probability that there will be a new and improved Kindle released even before the Waterstone’s eReader comes to market and it will be a much tougher sale to make.

As always, competition is the most important driving factor for product improvement and customers should welcome a new serious contender to the eReader marketplace, but so far there isn’t enough detail to get your hopes up for.

In Era Of Self-Promotion, Authors’ Obligations & Opportunities Increase Thanks To Kindle’s @author

Amazon’s new @author feature is a new addition to their Kindle-based social media effort.  Currently in a limited beta release, the feature promises to create an even closer author to reader connection by allowing readers to send along questions for their favorite authors right from the Kindle itself.  While it may turn out to be a mixed blessing for authors already being pulled in far more directions than ever before to get maximum exposure, many will undoubtedly welcome the opportunity.

In its ideal use case, the @author feature will be a source for frequent connections with curious readers that allows for one-on-one contact and gives readers a chance to resolve points of confusion by going directly to the source.  At the same time, since questions are visible from the author’s Amazon page and answerable by anybody, this should help to foster a sense of community among readers.  It seems a lot like Kindle authors are getting the best of both worlds.  There are promotional opportunities from the comfort of their own homes when they are building an audience and an open forum for discussion when that audience gets large enough and involved enough that people start answering each other’s questions.

Obviously the advantage for Amazon in all of this is that the Kindle‘s integration into the communication process will give it that much more pull on customers and potential Kindle Direct Publishing authors.  The user experience of the upcoming Kindle Tablet will also involve tighter connections than ever to the Amazon.com storefront, which makes this a further selling point for the new hardware, at least among readers, should they market it properly.

There are potential downsides with this, as with all new services.  Because it is still a limited beta release, we have no real way of knowing what kind of moderation the @author question/answer system will enjoy upon release.  As anybody who frequents the Amazon product forums can attest, open discussion on the site doesn’t always tend toward the most productive side of things.  There is also a new set of authorial duties that will take some getting used to.

Since the ride of eBooks began, many have expressed concern that the increased emphasis on self publishing would result in the best marketers rising to the top rather than the best writers.  In theory, after all, the role of the publishing house was to select the best of the best to bring readers only exactly what they want to read.  In some ways, it’s a very important concern.  Sure, you can now sell your own book without bothering to get an agent, editor, or publisher, but now you also have to complete every stage of development from the start with no large support structure.

Undoubtedly some amazing authors have fallen by the side of the road for exactly that reason.  Overall though, with the sheer number of increasingly successful Kindle authors, we’ve seen an increase in the number of great writers being read.  This will probably bring a little bit more hassle for some people, but it will also facilitate convenient conversation and have a net positive effect for any author smart enough to take advantage of it.

Amazon Bringing Kindle To Spain, Also Their Whole Store

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.

Kindle Editions w/ Multimedia: A Failed Experiment?

While eBook sales have been expanding across the board and the Kindle is flourishing with ever-increasing sales each year, very little has been heard about the Kindle Edition eBook / A/V hybrid that was once touted as a potential future for the eBook.  The explanations for this failure to thrive is fairly simple are understand, but do they mean that the format is dead?

Probably the main failing, in my eyes, was the lack of logical transition for the customer.  Books are familiar territory for most people.  Audio and video are separate concerns.  The only place that the average eBook customer is likely to encounter a combination of the two is while browsing the internet.  When the best comparison that a reader can draw is to something they already encounter for free on a daily basis, it would take some fairly strong marketing to increase the perceived value.

It didn’t help anything that the nature of the integration made it impossible to access on the Kindle eReader itself.  The whole platform, while offering a reading experience to anybody with a screen and internet access, is pretty much built around the eReader.  Having content that cannot be accessed through this doesn’t do as much good as one would prefer.

On top of that, you have no Android app access, meaning that the only customers who even have the option of reading their purchases away from the PC are Apple iOS users.  Soon even they won’t be a valid audience.  Given recent issues with the Apple App Store guideline enforcement, Amazon is clearly prodding iOS users in the direction of the new Kindle Cloud Reader which does not yet (and seems unlikely in the near future to) support A/V integration.

Price must also be considered a factor.  While it is true that the integration of extra-textual layers brings some added value to a book, it seems difficult to justify the additional cost for many of the available texts.  The experience is often similar to the special features on a DVD.  It might be worth a small about more than simply the main experience, but not enough to justify a noticeable jump in price.  Of course, without that price you have added investment beyond the core book that is not being compensated for.  A bit of a dilemma.

Does this mean the end of the project?  While it is clear that priorities have to be elsewhere right this minute, I can see this being something Amazon comes back to in the future.  The upcoming Kindle Tablet will have the hardware necessary to allow this sort of integration again and will hopefully be accessible to far more users, in terms of price, than the iPad was at launch.  Assuming that Amazon does not intend to break the Kindle completely away from the app marketplace in favor of browser-based applications, this would also finally result in a working Kindle for Android A/V presence which would further increase the value of the product line.  For now, not really a major factor in the Kindle‘s success.

The Many Advantages of Amazon’s Kindle Store Cleaning

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.

Amazon Cracks Down On Kindle Store Spam

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:

Hello,

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 protected].

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.

Class Action Lawsuit Seeks To Bring Value Back To Kindle eBooks

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.

German Kobo Launch Seems Aimed At International Kindle Presence

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.

Kindle Store Success May Indicate Percieved eBook Value Beyond Simple Savings

Something that most early adopters of the Kindle were eager to see was the impressive price drops that eBooks promised to bring.  Compared to the expense of creating, transporting, and retailing a paper book, how could the eBook not make large libraries an inexpensive pursuit?  To a certain extent, of course, we did see this for a while.  Even now, during the reign of the Agency Model of eBook pricing, there are still impressive discounts to be found.  That’s not even taking into consideration the impressive selection of indie authors who have sprung up thanks to the Kindle Store.  Something I think many people miss when talking about this topic is that the price rebound, even if it does involve artificial inflation from the “Big 6″, could not succeed without consumer cooperation.

The easy comparison when talking about eBooks is the print book.  It’s almost too obvious to be worth stating.  Something that people often forget when making that comparison, however, is that comparing and equating are two different things.  A Kindle is not meant to be a cheap substitute for print.  It provides benefits beyond any potential savings that have a chance to provide value equal to the paper copies for many people.  When you buy from the Kindle Store you get instant access to a selection greater than any single physical bookstore could offer in person, faster delivery than any online retailer of paper copies could hope to achieve, portability between all of your Kindle-equipped devices, and a number of other benefits.  The question tends to become what you value in your purchase.

For some people, it makes sense to shop for the lowest price available.  If the eBook is cheaper, as most people expect it to be, then there is little problem.  When the paperback is actually cheaper than the eBook, however, we see problems.  It is certainly true that the paper book provides certain benefits that the eBook doesn’t.  We’ve all been over them before.  It also has any number of shortcomings of its own.  I, personally, would rather have an eBook because my mass market paperbacks keep wearing out on me.  So far, nothing I’ve bought on the Kindle Store has fallen apart.

I am not trying to make the point that eBook prices are right where they should be.  I think everybody is still trying to figure out where things are going to settle with regard to that.  The fact is, though, that the eBook as a format brings more to the table than price drops.  If there weren’t people who would rather have their collections of bestsellers on a Kindle instead of a bookshelf, sales would drop off on those books to the point where even the most stubborn publishers would have to consider changing things around.  Perhaps, rather than talking solely about the sacrifices that are necessary when choosing an eBook over a paper book, it would be more useful to think about what it is that brings you to the eBook as a choice in the first place.  There is obviously something the average Kindle Store customer values beyond the savings.

Why We May Not See Any Changes To Kindle For iOS

As many of you may be aware, the deadline for app developers to comply with Apple’s new competition stifling rules is the end of this month.  So far, no changes are evident in either the Amazon Kindle for iOS app or even the Barnes & Noble Nook app.  While it would seem odd for this to be the case this close to the deadline, I’m thinking it might be a carefully made decision on Amazon’s part.

We know by now, or at least are overwhelmingly confident, that there will be a Kindle Tablet coming later this year.  By releasing something like that, Amazon sets themselves up for a far more justified version of the old Kindle vs iPad debate.  They need to set themselves apart as a device company.  The way I see it, Android isn’t enough at this point.  Too many other people are already working with it.  Even having their own on-site app store won’t necessarily wow anybody.  Some good publicity would help though.

Assume for a moment that the Kindle for iOS app doesn’t get changed in any way before the June 30th deadline.  Apple will then have two choices.  They can either follow through on threats to remove apps in violation of the new rules or they can publicly admit that they need what these developers bring to the table.  I think it’s likely that banning will occur.

Amazon’s response to this, if planned correctly, could be huge publicity.  I would expect something along the lines of a public statement explaining that the Kindle Store simply cannot productively operate under the restrictions that Apple is trying to place on it, but that as a service to their loyal customers the app will be chopped down to comply with the new rules enough so that existing customers can still read what they’ve bought while Amazon examines other solutions.  Then, a month or two down the line, a full roll-out of Kindle for the Web that completely bypasses the need for apps.

Yes, under the new rules Amazon could just raise prices of in-app purchases to make up the margin that Apple is demanding.  This would bring them nothing but ill will from the average Kindle for iOS user, though.  With the new line of Kindle Tablets pending, these are the same customers that Amazon has to be hoping to win away.  Probably not the smartest thing to pass on fees to them.

They could also choose to simply announce that all purchases must be done on the website and do away with the in-app purchasing links.  I think that’s probably what will happen with the post-banning reboot of the app, should my scenario prove true, but it would cause the loss of impulse buying opportunity for a large portion of the Kindle user base without also providing any sort of good PR.  I just don’t see that making sense right now.

We’ll know by the end of the month, of course, but right now there hasn’t been any intention to comply expressed by Amazon.  Most likely, they’ll just stand by and watch Apple shoot themselves in the foot while pointing out that the Kindle makes a great, affordable eReader alternative to putting up with that sort of ridiculousness.  The Kindle for iOS app doesn’t seem likely to be as profitable for the company under the new guidelines anyway, so they might as well get that preemptive jump on Apple in the public eye.