Amazon recently announced that they are now interested in developer submissions of Android apps for the international expansion of the Amazon Appstore for Android. Those who are interested can now submit via the Amazon Mobile App Distribution Portal in order to be ready for the expansion. This summer the Appstore is expanding to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Beyond that there are apparently plans for more, but even a handful of new markets should generate a big surge in popularity for the Appstore in general and the Kindle Fire in particular.
The Kindle Fire has to be what this is all about, of course. We are expecting the next iterations of the Kindle line, both tablet and eReader, before the summer is out. Although their first Android tablet has started to lose some of its initial popularity, it is clear that Amazon has a great deal invested in the idea of mobile devices integrated into their media distribution system.
Because of its integration, however, selling the Kindle Fire outside the US has seemed problematic at best. Amazon has a lot going for them, but media rights need to be established in any country the company chooses to support. That means not just books as with the Kindle eReaders but also movies, television, music, and apps.
Getting the apps will probably be the easiest part for this effort. By setting up a portal by which Android developers can submit their applications, they are actually setting up an interesting alternative to Google Play. Google has had a few incidents with regard to paying their international developers (mostly failing to pay them, actually) that makes an alternate major app store with a proven record huge news.
There are no estimates yet on exactly when the Kindle Fire will be offered outside the United States. It even makes some sense to question whether Amazon will bother marketing the existing model at all. With a newer high resolution model supposedly on the way, as well as a larger version set to follow soon after, waiting an extra month or two to make sure to put the best product forward might be the smart move.
The Appstore for Android has already proven itself able to provide better returns for developers than its Google counterpart. It’s true that many find the extra oversight and extended review process to be painful, occasionally to the point of refusal, but that has not stopped the store from growing rapidly over the past year. Customers seem to value the higher submission standards, if nothing else.
Will this be enough to revive interest in the Kindle Fire? That’s hard to say. With Windows 8 right around the corner and Apple surely waiting to one-up any competition as soon as they are able to justify it financially, it’s an unsettling time to be selling Android tablets. Because of Amazon’s break with Google’s standard interface and store, as well as the ecosystem integration, they stand somewhat apart from the Android crowd and might be able to survive even if interest in Android falls abruptly. The next Kindle Fire is going to have to be impressive to regain the kind of market share that it had at the end of 2011, though.
Recent reports via The Nikkei indicate that Amazon will finally be bringing their bestselling Kindle eReader line to Japan in April of this year with their newest model, the Kindle Touch 3G. It will carry a 20,000 yen price tag (~260USD), which seems a bit high compared to what the same model is going for elsewhere, but this will actually be rather competitive with existing 3G eReader options in Japan. Amazon has teamed up with Japanese cellular carrier NTT DoCoMo to offer 3G access which, as with all other Kindle 3G products, will require no data plan or monthly fee of any sort.
This will be a big step for Amazon in a number of ways. Not least of these is the fact that they are entering into an uphill battle against both established competing hardware providers and a whole new publishing industry that has demonstrated a tendency to be far more resistant to the eBook as a medium than their US counterparts. Sony and Panasonic are among the more recognizable names that already have a presence but this will also involve going up against Japan-based Rakuten, the company that recently acquired Kobo as a subsidiary and which has an impressive presence in the market already.
When dealing specifically with the issue of eBook supply, many have noticed that Japanese selections are pointedly missing from current Kindle Store offerings. This is not really a coincidence. Even localized Japanese eBook stores, such as that offered by Sony, reportedly tend to offer tens of thousands of titles compared to hundreds of thousands in other markets, and these don’t always even include bestsellers. Either there are some accommodations already planned for building relationships with Japan’s book publishers, or Amazon intends to rely even more heavily than usual on their ability to attracted talented self publishing authors to the Kindle Direct Publishing program.
While this will be a great thing for fans of eReading in Japan, there is unfortunately not yet any real reason to get hopes up regarding a Kindle Fire offering. Currently it is expected that the UK will be the first to have access to the Kindle Fire outside of the US and even that is taking an absurdly long time for many peoples’ tastes. The transition to Japan would require a far more extensive localization effort than even the Kindle Touch 3G will require as well as an impressively large amount of infrastructure development for Amazon. That says nothing about the complications of digitals video rights acquisition, which one would imagine to be a major concern in this case but which I lack the ability to offer any informed commentary about at this time.
Regardless of how much of the Kindle Family makes the trip, it is good to see Amazon expanding their efforts in non-Anglophone countries. While this tends to provide more complications at first, it’s worth it to get the Kindle out there. Hopefully this effort in particular will be more than just a passive offering of Kindle hardware and KDP, so as to draw more publisher attention to the potential for digital publishing in Japan.
One of the biggest obstacles that Amazon is going to have to overcome in order to continue expanding its Kindle line at a decent rate is the complicated international release process. That hasn’t stopped them so far, of course. Some analysts are anticipating, for example, that the Kindle Fire will control as much as 50% of the Android Tablet market in 2012. A great start, but it still doesn’t really make an impact against the market dominating iPad which is already around in over a dozen countries.
The first step in improving their new tablet’s presence is coming in January 2012 when according to supposed insider sources speaking to tech blog Know Your Mobile the UK will be the first country outside the United States to get the Kindle Fire. It isn’t exactly a surprise, given the history of Kindle releases and the ease of localization, but it is a step in the right direction. What’s important will be what comes next, which could end up being somewhat unpredictable given the peculiarities of the device.
Obviously the first instinct is to look to Anglophone countries that require minimal modification of the user interface. Amazon has spent a lot of effort on getting things working properly, after all, and the need for redesign may at times be significant when dealing with alternate languages. I would guess that this will not be the primary factor in determining who comes next, though. Given the Kindle Fire’s emphasis on consuming a variety of media (especially video) via data streaming, chances are good that they will go where the content rights are most easily acquired.
This will likely sync up somewhat with the Anglophone list, I’m sure, but there’s definitely the chance of unexpected choices given the increasing general wariness being expressed in many of Amazon’s more established markets over their huge influence. The one thing that Amazon has to know that they can’t do with the Kindle Fire is release it like the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. While the Netflix streaming is nice, as are most of the content apps that are currently available, the device itself is completely built around Amazon.com integration and would be crippled by the lack of their servers.
Regardless of the less immediate future, UK customers can look forward to a great experience. The Kindle Fire has become a hit in America for good reasons and will have had time in the interim to be polished even further. The video streaming is wonderful and likely to be tied to Amazon’s LOVEFiLM brand rather than the Amazon.co.uk Prime service. Music and cloud storage in general seem to work wonderfully for almost everybody, and indications are good that the vast majority of WiFi connectivity issues will have been addressed prior to this launch. Even the reading experience isn’t precisely bad, however much better the Kindle E INK eReaders might be. Expect official announcement early on as we enter 2012.
The Kindle Fire has made a big splash in the Tablet PC marketplace, driving prices down across the board and seemingly speeding along the release of direct competition from Amazon’s fellow eBook vendors. Sadly, at the moment the Kindle Fire is only available in the US. Chances are good, in fact, that there is going to be an extremely long wait before device is released anywhere else. It is simply too reliant on the integration with Amazon’s Cloud Servers, Video Streaming, Android Appstore, and other such things that have not been prepared for other markets yet.
That doesn’t mean that people outside the US will want to overlook the Kindle Fire, of course. Combine the $200 price tag with the almost complete lack of security measures to prevent Rooting of the device and you have a decent 7″ Android Tablet even if the quality of the custom OS is lost. It does the job, if you’re willing to put up with all of the related complications of buying, shipping, rooting, etc.
The Kindle Fire isn’t the only option in this price range, though. In fact the Kobo Vox, a similar competing tablet from an eBook vendor, is already available in the UK. Even if it had nothing else going for it, and it does, the Vox’s availability would be enough to make it a major player in the new $200 tablet niche. In addition to that, there is no need to root the device to get full functionality just about anywhere. It comes with full access to the Android Marketplace already enabled, unlike either its Kindle or Nook competitors.
Admittedly the hardware isn’t as nice as the competition. Neither the screen nor the processor is as nice as in the Kindle, which is itself criticized as lacking power by many. They have made next to no effort to make the Kobo specifically ready for anything aside from the reading, which will already have some shortcomings given the backlit screen. Since the primary competition will be rooted devices from the US, at least at first, this shouldn’t be too big a deal but it isn’t necessarily a recipe for long-term success.
As much as I’m a big fan of my Kindle Fire, neither option here thrills. The Fire is amazing in many ways, but a big part of that is the seamless integration with Amazon’s services. You lose that the second you take it out of the country. The Vox, on the other hand, has no really exciting features. When your tablet’s big claim to fame is extensive Facebook integration for a reading app, it is a stretch to see success in the future. Either way you’re getting a 7″ tablet that runs Android 2.3 for around $200 (depending on local taxes and the cost of importing) but not much else.
As such, it seems unlikely that the Kindle Fire has much to fear from the Vox at the moment. What will decide things is not where the two devices stand right this minute, but where they go from here on. If Kobo can come around and start offering some really impressive incentives to use their tablet before Amazon extends their web service line sufficiently, there will be some real problems. For now, the Kindle Fire wins ever so slightly based on narrowly superior hardware and nothing else. Firm footing this is not.
Let’s face it, Amazon has not been great up until now about making sure that customers outside of US markets get access to their products and services in a timely manner. The Kindle Fire will be a long time coming to other countries due to its strong ties to an infrastructure that hasn’t been built up anywhere else yet, Amazon Prime has yet to carry quite the same incentives for everybody, and many of the promotions that Amazon runs don’t quite make it to any of their sites besides Amazon.com. It’s always good news when this changes, though, even if only slightly.
Amazon has recently announced that their ongoing Kindle Daily Deal promotion will be extended to the UK’s Kindle Store. Amazon.co.uk customers will be able to enjoy specially discounted Kindle Edition eBooks on a daily basis. Each book will be available at this price for 24 hours before reverting to its normal number. In the US Kindle Store, it has not been unusual to see heavily discounted titles in a variety of genres and it is hopes that this trend will continue now that the offer is being expanded.
Sadly, while as I mentioned this is definitely a step in the right direction, it does little to address the ongoing problem. The newest Kindles have not yet been given much of a presence outside of US markets. While, for example, you can buy the new Kindle 4 in the UK you cannot order a Kindle Touch, or even a Kindle Keyboard without 3G. Prices are still noticeably higher due to a number of factors including the lack of Special Offers integration, and this has not been changing at the rate we might expect.
Clearly Amazon is responding to a number of pressures. I could reasonably see it being difficult to justify having a Kindle Keyboard WiFi if consumer demand in a particular country leaves them sitting on a shelf while orders come in for the 3G model. The Kindle Touch, due in particular to its much-touted X-Ray feature, requires access to Amazon technology still in its early stages. As such it might be worth working the bugs out before implementing it elsewhere. The Kindle Fire relies on all sorts of media streaming avenues that will require years of time and more money than anybody likes to think about to make happen in new markets. Each new market, in fact, will be the same headache all over again since global media rights are not exactly simple to secure. There is a lot that goes into getting something ready for international release on any large scale.
That said, all of this is insufficient to really justify the continuance of the problem or Amazon’s lack of comment on user demands. It is nice when they come up with something like the Kindle Daily Deal, but in the end it seems like audiences outside the US are almost an afterthought. If Amazon hopes to secure any significant presence beyond what it already has in hand, the only option is to start pushing for more equal treatment of these customer bases. Or so it would seem to me.
For some time now Amazon has been pushing their Amazon Prime service. For just $79 a year (less if you’re an active college student with a valid .edu email address) you can take advantage of unlimited free two day shipping on eligible items as well as enjoy the perk of a selection of streaming video titles free on demand to any supported device. While the former has been the major selling point for many so far, the latter is going to be an increasingly big deal with the coming of the Kindle Fire.
There is a reason that the Kindle Fire will be coming with a month worth of Amazon Prime membership. The device is designed to work as an ideal portable video streamer. The Amazon Instant Video library has been growing regularly since right around the time the first Kindle Tablet rumors started popping up, and it hasn’t stopped yet. A significant portion of that is free to Prime members.
Of course, as with any such program, there are issues. Most significantly is the fact that much of the benefit is restricted to the United States. Amazon’s other sites mostly have their own versions of Amazon Prime with similar benefits (such as Amazon.co.uk offering free 1 day shipping and evening or weekend delivery discounts in select areas) but as yet none of them seem to involve the video service. While there are obvious reasons for this, including the complications of international media rights acquisition and local content distribution laws, that doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t there. It is slightly strange that Amazon would choose to call their program basically the same thing in multiple countries while offering different benefits depending on location.
This is, incidentally, widely believed to relate directly to the Kindle Fire‘s lack of international presence. Before Amazon can hope to make any money off of such a device, they need to have the media services in place for it to tie into. No video streaming, no Kindle Fire.
Will this be changing in the future? I think it is safe to say that most people expect Amazon to be making a move to expand their digital media services internationally in the near future. The recent expansion of the Kindle eReaders into new markets could even be seen as a way of testing the waters, so to speak. I don’t think that this will happen soon enough to please most people, though. Given the time required for Amazon to build a significant library of video content, Prime members are likely to be left on the back burner as far as this goes for some months yet. More in countries whose Amazon presence is still quite new.
Still, watching for changes in how the Amazon Prime services are handled may be a good way to predict Amazon’s next moves in a given country. As closely tied into it as the Kindle Fire seems to be, a beefing up of related content seems to be a likely predictor of a local tablet release. As popular as their new tablet is, I can’t see Amazon stopping at just the US.
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.
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.
At the moment, and in spite of some admittedly impressive competition, the Kindle is pretty much the biggest thing in eReading. In a given review or opinion, another eReader might come out on top as the new Nook Simple Touch Reader has managed to do lately, but nothing else has managed the level of distribution and quality of content that Amazon has pulled off so far. The margin isn’t all that it used to be, though. In order to keep on top of things, they are going to have to do more than we have seen in the past couple months. While it would not be entirely out of line to assume that the current focus on the upcoming Kindle Tablet might be drawing attention away from the existing product line, I think there may be more to it than that.
The Kindle, as it stands right now in terms of both the physical eReader and the platform as a whole, is limited in a number of ways. The current level of control being exerted by publishers prevents any one-upsmanship in terms of pricing. Amazon has some of the smaller names experimenting with sale offerings, but we have to assume that even if companies start buying into the idea of discounted eBooks it will not be a platform specific thing. That avenue is closed for now. They’re doing a rather good job of getting a lot of self publishing authors into their stores, which helps, but assume that at the moment there is not much that can be done to fix up the store as we know it.
The device itself is also pretty much at the peak of what we can hope for. It has the best screen technology available, amazing battery life, whatever connectivity options you want, and a lot more. About the only thing left to complain about is the physical keyboard. I think this is the first place we can expect major change is here. We know that one of the new Kindle options we can expect in October will be a touchscreen eReader. Not only will this reduce the size of the Kindle without losing the functionality of the admittedly difficult to use keyboard and appease the crowd of people who really don’t like physical buttons anymore, it will allow true localization. Hard to really pull that off when every device you sell has a built-in English keyboard.
This also brings up what I believe will be the next big stage in Kindle expansion. Right now, while a hit in some places, the Kindle platform seems to only be dominating in the US. Amazon has the experience and resources to spread out a bit. I would anticipate, following the release of the Kindle Touch and the first generation of the Kindle Tablet (and, of course, the initial patching stage to iron out the bugs), a big effort to get the Kindle out to any market that Amazon thinks is large enough to be worth tackling. Possibly even before localized firmware is a reality, but with a promise of fully integrated language selection as a later option. There isn’t any reason to hold back now, and stagnation would lose them the edge. Amazon has to keep moving and this is the only way that really makes sense as far as eBooks go.
Kobo, the e-reader that Borders has partnered with, doesn’t have the successful reputation that the Kindle and Nook have, but it does have an advantage on the international scene. The e-reader has had a global focus from the beginning. This would be a great niche to excel in.
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has a library of about 25, 000 German titles, but Kobo has launched an e-book store that boasts a whopping 80,000 German titles. I was surprised to find that Germany has the 2nd largest e-book market in the world. The United States is the first.
This is a competition to watch because, in order to succeed on a global scale, an e-reader needs to have a robust collection of digital material available. Amazon is certainly able to do this. They just need to establish good relationships with foreign authors and publishers. Here is some healthy competition giving Amazon a wake up call at another angle.
In the past, I’ve noticed a lot of reviewers from other countries have been frustrated with the restrictions on various Kindle products because they’re not accessible. Downloading books outside of the US is pretty costly.
I’ve always associated Kobo with the Borders book chain. Borders is currently being threatened by liquidators and will most likely flop here soon. When I saw this, I wondered, well what about Kobo?
Turns out, Kobo is a completely separate entity than Borders and is a financially secure, Canadian based company. So, nothing will be lost if Borders does go down. Kobo’s newest e-reader, the Kobo Touch, along with the Nook Touch both have an edge that the Kindle doesn’t have…yet. But, that is about to change. Good to see these e-readers try to outrank each other and get better and better. The price drops certainly don’t hurt either!
What I’d really like to see is a global collaboration of sorts. Access to books shouldn’t be restricted by travel. That cuts down the portability of an e-reader. Technology has connected society on a global scale. It’d be cool if everyone could have access to a diverse collection of books from different languages.