Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Real Game Changer: Amazon's Kindle Now in Australia.

Amazon has just announced the launch of an international version of their ebook device, the Kindle. Thus Australians will finally be able to get access to over 250,000 ebooks (including the vast majority of the current New York Times bestsellers) at the hugely discounted prices available, up until now, only to Americans.

For around A$340, including shipping, Australians can buy the hardware and subsequently purchase a huge variety of frontlist and backlist ebooks from between $12-$20 at current exchange rates. Nearly all major publishers are coming to the party and making their titles available.

Amazon has done a deal with AT&T to exploit their global wireless reach, and that service won't cost users anything. Up until now Australia has been denied the Kindle, as has every other country outside the US because Sprint, their wireless provider, was a US-only operation.

So suddenly, a very serious game changer! This development will really put the cat amongst the pigeons. It will have wide, structural ramifications for the Australian book trade, because consumers will be able to bypass high Australian prices for imported printed titles, and exploit the far lower prices for ebooks that Amazon is offering when compared to the printed edition.

It will be interesting to see how territorial copyright deals play out in Australia, ie, whether we get access to all US versions, or whether, in their particular agreements with Amazon, publishers have restricted them from making a range of titles available in various territories. While Amazon, like any retailer or wholesaler, has no obligation under law to honor any territorial rights agreements publishers may have entered into, the publishers themselves may have given Amazon only restricted distribution rights.

We'll just have to wait and see.



Did the Productivity Commission know about the impending launch of the Kindle in Oz when they made their decision? Won't this start a whole new debate?

Peter Donoughue said...

No, no-one knew. Amazon surprised everybody with the global deal. The Brits were thinking only a UK Kindle would be released.
As for a new debate emerging, you're right. Abolishing the PIRs would put more pressure on publishers to compete with Amazon, but the Rudd government won't abolish them. It's too radical a step.
The real emerging issue is the absurdity of territoriality in the ebook world, and Amazon's craven subservience to the publishers (mostly British) in order to get their product. As the market matures, and ebooks become 20-30% of publishers' revenues, and Amazon can therefore wield a lot more weight, there'll be huge consumer pressure on Amazon to drop the territory restrictions. they'll be unsustainable. Even now the resistance is starting. Amazon have decided that if an Australian Kindle owner travels to the US he/she can't download a US edition, ie, the Australian restrictions will still apply! Absurd and manifestly unjust.

Steve Jones said...

It looks as though Australian consumers will be able to have simulations releases – be it expense of Australian publishers and Australian booksellers.

Only now, at the end, do you understand." - Emperor to Luke (Return of the Jedi)

Tim Coronel said...

Publishers (well, 'rightsholders', so quite probably authors/agents as well as publishers) are imposing geographic restrictions on ebooks even more so than with print books, and oddly enough the e-tailers are the ones doing the enforcing.

Amazon is offering some 288,000 titles to Australian Kindle customers, but thus far you'll find virtually no Australian-authored books and an odd smattering of mainstream titles from global authors (Steig Larsson but not Dan Brown; Stephenie Meyer but not Jodi Picoult, etc), depending on which titles have established Aust digital rights. You only have to go to number 6 or so in most of the Kindle categories before you start seeing out-of-copyright 'classics' and obscure micro/self-published titles.

It will be interesting to see how loud the consumer complaints have to be before we see the same range of maintream titles US Kindle users can choose from made available to Aust e-book readers ... (and of course there are already plenty of tips on how to get around the geo restrictions that are only a click away)

Understandably, many publishers are wary of Amazon's size and power (and it reportedly is asking 65% discount on Kindle editions, then setting the prince at US$11.99), but not making your titles available on the 'hot new device' in protest also seems like a pretty silly move.

Peter Donoughue said...

Well said Tim.
I was able to get Wolf Hall on my Kindle for half the price of the way-too-thick Australian printed edition, so that was something!
Can't get any Michael Connelly's at all. My Kindle's never heard of him.
If publishers priced their ebooks at 50% of the print price then they wouldn't have to give Amazon such a big discount. 30% would be reasonable.

Mick Smith said...

I'd be interested in any follow up you have. Wolf Hall is not available to Australian readers any more. The absurdity of the territoriality is extremely annoying - Amazon reportedly said it would not even allow foreign Kindlers to download US titles when they and their devices were IN America. It's a shame this wasn't out before the Rudd Government's squibbing of the parallel importing rules.

Peter Donoughue said...

Thanks Mick. This is really interesting. Wolf Hall was originally published by HarperCollins in the UK (and the Commonwealth!)and the US edition is published by Henry Holt. So I can only imagine that HC kicked up a fuss when they discovered the Kindle version of the US edition was being made available world wide, and pressured Amazon to restrict sales to the US only.

I had something to say about territoriality of ebooks in my speech to campus booksellers early November (you can see it on my blog). Here is the most relevant para:

'And now we get to the tough one – territoriality. I can think of nothing more absurd than there being a number of ebook editions on the market to accommodate territorial copyright restrictions. For instance Amazon won’t sell an Australian customer a Kindle edition of any original US title where Commonwealth rights have been sold to a British publisher. The Australian customer has to wait for the British or Australian publisher to amble up and publish their own version of the ebook. To add insult to injury, if the Australian customer travels to the US with her trusty Kindle, she can’t purchase any US edition there either, like she can the printed version.

I believe this is unsustainable. The better solution would be to have all publishing parties around the globe share revenues on the one ebook edition. It really shouldn’t be hard to administer this. Thus the ebook would be available from day one to all customers globally, just as the print book is now, and the original ebook publisher simply keeps track of customer locations and rights sales and disburses revenues accordingly. It is quite wrong, in my view, to harness retailers into supporting territorial rights deals between publishers, which is what publishers supplying ebooks to Amazon and others have done. Apart from alcohol and drugs, retailers should be able to sell whatever to whomever. To me that’s a fundamental commercial principle in a free society'.

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Fair Enough said...

I am traveling in the US currently for work, and was going to purchase a Kindle DX. As a quick check I set up Kindle for PC on my laptop, and the first two books I tried to purchase, I was blocked because I have an Australian account.

I am sold on e books, and suspect they are inevitably the form of choice for the future, but am now unlikely to buy a kindle.

I did get an IPad whilst here, so I may well use the IPAD as my reader in the interum until some sanity comes to the publishing market