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This article was published on October 14, 2009

Buyer Beware: Amazon Kindle’s international launch is a mess

Buyer Beware: Amazon Kindle’s international launch is a mess
Martin SFP Bryant
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Martin SFP Bryant


Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

Amazon KindleLooking to get your hands on an Amazon Kindle when it becomes available internationally next week? You might want to hold off for a while. You see, whoever is in charge of launching the device worldwide has messed up – big time.

Not only will many international customers pay significantly more for their books but the Kindle itself will be lacking much of the functionality that makes it such a hit in the US.

More expensive:

Despite Amazon’s initial claims that international customers would pay no more than their American counterparts it appears that’s not the case at all. As Bobbie Johnson wrote for The Guardian last week:

“An spokesman revealed that customers in the EU – including those in Britain – would be paying $13.99 (£8.75) for new releases and bestsellers, instead of the American price of $9.99 (£6.25). That amounts to a 40% premium for the same title. Prices in other countries will also vary.”

The reason for this is that international Kindles won’t be connected to local online stores for purchases. Instead they will be connected to AT&T’s US network and the US Kindle Store via roaming deals with local mobile network operators. 

[Update: As a comment below points out, part of the price increase on books is down to sales taxes but as The Guardian’s Bobbie Johnson points out in his own comment below, that far from explains the price hike in full.]

Missing features:

Because the Kindle is always connected to Amazon’s Whispernet system, US owners get blog subscriptions and a web browser thrown into their devices. These features add to the overall value of the device. While it only has a monochrome screen, there’s no doubting the convenience of having access to RSS feeds and web pages on an e-reader.

Outside the US these features are conspicuous by their absence. As Charlie Sorrel at Wired notes, this is once again down to the fact that international Kindles are connecting to AT&T via local networks, clocking up substantial roaming charges for Amazon:

“Hidden in the features section of the product page is this line: “Amazon pays for Kindle’s wireless connectivity so you won’t see a monthly wireless bill.” We suspect that AT&T is passing on some hefty roaming charges to Amazon, even for those people who will be living and using their Kindles in the same country they buy them in.

“It’s possible that Amazon will, once the Kindle is actually on sale internationally, start to negotiate with local cell providers, but that’s just a (wishful) guess.”

American devices, American plugs:

Believe it or not, wherever in the world you order your Kindle from it will be shipped from the USA – with a US plug. This isn’t an international launch so much as the chance to buy an American Kindle from anywhere in the world.

This will certainly reduce Amazon’s costs and allow for a ‘big bang’ roll-out but without attention to local details international customers could justifiably feel like second class citizens. Giving some of your customers a lame deal while others get the “first class” treatment is no way to inspire loyalty.

Will the situation get better?

As it stands, we’re looking at a mess of situation; books will be more expensive and features will be missing. Will we ever see international customers get a complete Kindle experience with locally-priced books?

This is likely to depend on whether Amazon can strike local connectivity deals. It’s certainly in Amazon’s interests to do this. Connecting to AT&T from all around the world is likely to cost Amazon a significant sum, while the bad press it is already receiving over missing features and overpriced books is likely to put some potential buyers off shelling out for a Kindle.

Throw in increasingly enticing competition from companies like Barnes & Noble, whose own e-reader is turning heads, and the importance of Amazon sorting out this mess as soon as possible becomes even more apparent.

The Kindle is a beautifully seamless e-reading experience in the USA. Until Amazon can match that across the rest of the world it might be worth avoiding it.

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