Amazon Kindle’s Shaky UK Launch Proof Of Their Apple Tablet Fears
What with Christmas books like “Here’s My Annual Cash Cow” by Peter Kay and “Socialnomics: You’ll Buy This Because It Has ‘nomics’ In The Title” hitting the shelves over the last fortnight, Amazon’s moving awkwardly into position to try and stimulate some Kindle sales. It’s announced the launch of the Kindle 2 over here, just as it’s getting ready to start shipping it in the US; it’s also cut the price from $299 to $259, though the International Edition that allows us lot to download books costs $279.
Yes, 279 US dollars. Amazon have only sort of launched it here, because you still have to buy it from the States, though Amazon big cheese Jeff Bezos is promising a “UK-centric Kindle experience” in the future. One of the main problems with deploying the Kindle over here is that it used a bespoke network called Whispernet as the medium for downloading books – the Kindle 2 International Edition is going to use 3G, which unlike Whispernet, is floating through the British ether. Already that discounts vast chunks of the UK population from downloading books on the go given the sketchiness of 3G coverage (especially with O2 and Vodafone), but obviously those folk can download via USB. Though that’s half the fun and convenience already gone.
Another sign of the half-arsedness of this launch is the fact that the aforementioned O2 and Vodafone haven’t had any contact with Amazon about providing infrastructure for the device, but maybe that’s because their 3G networks are so ropey – you’d expect AT&T, the provider of the Kindle’s network, to partner with 3 if it’s purely a matter of coverage.
Bezos is promising “every book ever printed, in print or out of print”. Those in print will certainly make Amazon money, but those out of print? Amazon’s faffing around with 3G has meant that the likes of Google, coupled with the various reading apps for smartphones, have stolen the march on mobile reading of out-of-copyright material. Nevertheless, buying Kindle books is going to be like buying music off iTunes – it’s for people who don’t know how to get pirate copies and don’t particularly want to know, and who aren’t bothered about packaging, or the social prestige physical manifestations of culture bring. If you read blogs or tech writing, you’ll probably think that Amazon won’t be able to keep up with the Google – but the fact is most people will follow a strong brand and a simple product, and the Kindle is therefore a licence to print money. That’s even without the massive uptake that’s going to come from the academic, legal and medical markets when the endless hardback textbooks get cut down to size.
But it hasn’t got much time. It’s not just the Christmas market that Bezos is trying to nail by rushing this International Kindle out – it’s crucial to swallow up as much market share as possible before the Apple tablet drops. Apple, with the iPod, managed to create a new file type (AAC) that has become powerful enough for the likes of Sony to start equipping their flagship Walkman brand to allow their playback – will it attempt something similar with text files? Or has Amazon gained too much traction with their file type? For all of Steve Jobs’s “no-one reads any more” scent-destroying, Apple are clearly going to start selling books on their store, the question is in what form. The most likely scenario is that they adopt some fairly universal format like .epub, and consign Amazon to milking their existing Kindle users who are locked into their format. Therefore Bezos is desperate to get as many users on board as quickly as possible, hence this rather shaky-legged launch.
Photo: .LarryPage @ Flickr