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The Kindle goes global

11 October 2009

This was the week when, in the middle of an unsurprising Booker and an unremarkable Nobel Prize for Literature, Amazon launched its much-heralded Kindle 2 international edition.

Clearly the Internet giant has found it impossible to knot together wireless availability in the territories where it runs Internet bookshops and has opted instead - for the moment anyway - for an international version supplied by A T & T. It is two years since the device was launched in the US and during that time the e-reader scene has changed hugely, so Amazon must have begun to worry that it would lose its first mover advantage.

The Kindle 2 will be available from 19 October in 100 countries at a cost of $279. The 200,000 e-books available for purchase directly from's Kindle Store using the wireless connection will be supplied from the States at an extra cost of $1.99 each. Most publishers have agreed to this, with Random House a slightly surprising holdout, so the e-books will be supplied according to existing territorial rights agreements.

Amazon said a safeguard has been put in place to respect territorial rights: 'When a customer first buys Kindle content, they identify their region or country. In order to simplify their browsing experience, we then display the appropriate catalogue for the customer. When they travel, the content available to a customer is determined by their home country, not by the country they are travelling in.'

The website says: 'New York Times® Best Sellers and New Releases are $11.99 to $13.99 (prices include VAT), unless marked otherwise. You'll also find many books for less - over 70,000 titles are priced under $5.99.' Readers can use the wireless connection to buy from the Kindle Store, download books in less than 60 seconds, automatically receive newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and receive personal documents.

Jeff Bezos now claims that for books available in both print and ebook form, Kindle comprises 48 percent of Amazon's sale on average, an astonishing figure which indicates that the demand for e-books has grown very much faster in the US than anyone other than the biggest e-book enthusiasts might have foretold.

So what is the competition for the Kindle 2? The Sony Reader is clearly currently the strongest and the most established in a number of markets, including the UK. Consumers who opt for one of its devices will be able to buy e-books from anywhere they like. The iRex is one of a number of other contenders but there's also a rumoured launch from Apple of a new revolutionary device which might change the whole scene.

The Kindle's whole business model is predicated on what is known as a "walled garden"; to buy e-books from its website, you need a Kindle and to read e-books on the Kindle, you need to buy them from its site. But Sony, which will next year bring out an updated version of its own e-reader, is doing away with its proprietary model and adopting the more common ePub format. Consumers who opt for one of its devices will be able to buy e-books from anywhere they like.

Publishers prefer the ePub option, because it means they just have to convert books into one universal electronic format, instead of kowtowing to the demands of individual booksellers. It also means that sales are likely to be higher, while giving publishers more control over pricing. Most important of all, it enables them to avoid being caught up in the monopolistic growth of Amazon, which has already shown repeatedly that it is ready to flex its muscles when publishers don't toe the line.

For everyone in the book business, there's a lot riding on the new Kindle.

Kindle 2