Amazon took the Australian book industry a little by surprise yesterday when it announced it was making its e-book reader the Kindle available worldwide.
Anticipation was high in the UK that the device, which has previously been available only to those in the US, would be launched in the UK market, but Amazon went further, making the e-reader available for order worldwide for US$279 (A$313), with shipping due to start on 19 October.
But while the announcement has impatient so-called early adopters crying “about time” few in the Australian book industry are ready to call this the e-book’s “iPod moment”.
Kindle users face the same major problem (though not necessarily for the same reasons) that users of other locally available e-book readers, such as the recently launched ECO Reader and Dymocks’ Iliad have encountered: you can buy the device but you can’t necessarily buy the e-book you want to read on it.
Malcolm Neil CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association told Bookseller+Publisher Online that until the issue of content was dealt with, no single device was going to revolutionise the way we read. “If an e-reader user wants to experience all the frustrations that currently exist in the market for an Australian e-book provider they should buy a Kindle now,” he said.
Amazon is claiming that the Kindle will make around 200,000 English-language books available to its international customers but this claim comes with the caveat that catalogues will be tailored to the customer’s country. The company hasn’t confirmed yet whether Kindle users will be restricted to Australian territorially protected titles.
Under Australia’s current parallel importation legislation it doesn’t seem like customers should be restricted (any consumer can legally order an individual international physical book from Amazon and other overseas suppliers now, so e-books should be the same) but attempts to purchase Kindle books from the website indicate that, whatever the reason, Australian Kindle users aren’t allowed to purchase much, at least not yet.
For Australians using other e-reading devices (and hence without access to the Amazon Kindle catalogue) things aren’t necessarily much better. Some local publishers (Allen & Unwin, which makes its books available in electronic form at ebooks.com and Pan Macmillan which offers them through Dymocks’ e-book kiosk and its own website, both spring to mind) are already in the game, but for the past couple of years many publishers have appeared to be playing wait-and-see.
Bookseller+Publisher understands that there is movement behind the scenes, but as yet we don’t have any local e-book initiatives to rival New Zealand’s recently announced digital strategy to create local e-books.
It is the availability of content—and subsequent ability of local booksellers to sell e-books—that Neil hopes the Kindle announcement may help revolutionise. “When e-books do take off it’s still only going to be five percent of the market,’ he said. ‘But we can’t afford to lose five percent.”