Kindle reader to be sold worldwide

 

Online retailer Amazon.com is to makes its wireless electronic reader the Kindle available to purchase in over 100 countries, including China and most of Europe, intensifying a battle for the burgeoning digital book market.

The move, announced late yesterday, gives the world's largest online retailer the widest global reach among its competitors, including chief rival Sony.

The Kindle will sell for $279 globally (€189).

Amazon also announced it would cut prices for its US-only Kindle by 13 per cent to $259 from $299, bringing its cost closer to its rivals. The new price is $100 lower than it was a year ago.

Amazon - which regards the Kindle as a pivotal growth driver - said over 200,000 English-language books from a host of publishers as well as over 85 newspapers and magazines, including The Irish Times, would be available on the international device, which begins shipping on October 19th.

"Our vision for Kindle is every book ever printed, in print or out of print, in every language, all available within 60 seconds," said chief executive Jeff Bezos.

"That's a multi-decade vision," said Mr Bezos, visiting a Kindle office in the Silicon Valley city of Cupertino.

Analysts have pondered the likelihood of Amazon developing the Kindle into a tablet-like device for tasks like emailing, texting and surfing the internet, thus competing with devices reportedly being developed by Apple.

But Mr Bezos reiterated his intention to optimise the reading experience, saying the company rejects compromise, whether it be a touchscreen that affects legibility or computer displays that eat up too much power.

At the same time, Amazon is working on making Kindle digital books available on more devices. Besides the Kindle, those books can now be accessed on the iPhone or iPod Touch.

"We want you to read your Kindle books on laptops and smartphones, anything with an installed base," Bezos said. He said he was not "in principle" against making the works available on rival devices like Sony's, but was focused on platforms with "large installed bases," he said.

E-readers are expected by some to be the hottest gadget this holiday season and Mr Bezos said he had "a lot of confidence" that it would be a "great holiday quarter for Kindle."

Forrester Research estimated that three million e-reader devices would be sold in the United States in 2009, up from an earlier estimate of two million. That could double in 2010, bringing cumulative sales to 10 million by the end of 2010.

The research group predicts that Amazon will take 60 per cent market share in 2009, followed by Sony at 35 per cent.

In July, Credit Suisse estimated that revenues and gross profit from the Kindle could reach $420 million and $35 million, respectively, in 2009, representing some 8.4 per cent of Amazon's total revenue.

Amazon, which introduced the Kindle in 2007, has until now made it only available in the United States, where it sold a basic version for $299 and a larger one geared toward newspapers for $489. The Kindle is only sold on Amazon.com.

The international version includes technology allowing it to operate in each market, but is otherwise identical to the second iteration of the Kindle - which can store up to 1,500 books, has a text-to-speech feature, and can read PDF files and allow users to make annotations.

"There is a big demand for English language books all over the world," said Mr Bezos, adding that it would be available in every continent except Antarctica. "We apologise for that omission. We'll work on that."

Amazon has an agreement with AT&T wireless for the international version, under which the carrier handles global network relationships, Bezos said. The new device is designed to work with the globally popular 3G GSM standard.

Electronic readers, made by a growing number of companies including Sony, which was first to market the reading device, allow users to read content on a paper-book sized tablet that downloads content digitally.

Sony's Reader - whose newest $399 version is about to hit the market, with wireless and a touch screen - is available in North America, Britain and a handful of European countries.

Although Amazon does not release sales or profit figures for the Kindle, analysts believe it commands No. 1 market share in a growing market fueled by more online activity and a lingering slump in publishing and retail bookselling.

The devices have proven popular with readers and travelers who like the convenience of downloads and avoiding heavy books, but high prices have kept many potential users at bay.

Mr Bezos said that for every 100 customers who buy a book, some 48 buy it as an e-book - up from 35 five months ago.

Amazon shares closed at $90.91, up $2.24, or 2.5 per cent, on the Nasdaq last night.