I wrote with careful enthusiasm about the rumor of a U.K. Kindle last week. But today Amazon's surprised everyone with the Kindle International edition...and it's time to be way less enthusiastic about the product. The pricing is a bit of a mess.
According to Amazon's own PR, the Kindle is the "most wished for, most gifted and #1 bestselling product" in Amazon's inventory, and that is obviously why it's taking the device overseas--to mine for more money. The International edition of the Kindle, with 3G global capabilities, costs $279 while the regular U.S.-only Kindle 2 has dropped to $259. The international roaming 3G is supplied by AT&T and its army of overseas partner cell-phone networks, which makes the device work in over 100 nations pretty much exactly as it would if you were using it in the States.
Content is delivered via Amazon's Kindle store, and there are over 85 U.S. and international newspapers and magazines now available--now including the Telegraph in the U.K., Spain's El Pais and Brazil's O Globo. That indicates that Amazon's been busy working behind the scenes to get the International media and publishing partnerships in place to give the Kindle global appeal.
All of this sounds very good. But Amazon may, in fact, be bungling the effort quite badly. Look at the U.K. example: As the rumors hinted, Brits can now purchase a Kindle...but not on their own terms. The International version costs $20 more than a regular edition, and since U.K. purchasers effectively have to import the device from an American vendor, and it's above the £145 duty limit, it'll cost an equivalent of nearly $320 in the U.K. Add in the fact that downloading books in the U.K. over the 3G network isn't free (as Whispernet is in the U.S., via Sprint) and costs a $1.99 premium on the price. With all that, those already-wary British literature fans will have grounds for calling "rip-off Britain" and the high prices may well make them balk at purchasing a Kindle.
Similar effects will impact potential purchasers in other nations, subject to different taxation conditions. But there's another couple of things, hidden in Amazon's small print: Newspaper subscriptions will cost an additional $4.99 per week for International subscribers. Transferring personal documents to the International Kindle using Amazon's Personal Document Service costs $.99 per megabyte (megabyte!). It also appears that browser and blog subscriptions will only work in Hong Kong, Japan, and Mexico. And you won't find Canada on the list of nations supported by Kindle International, at least at first.
In other words, the International Kindle comes with a long list of limitations, extra costs, and hidden obstructions that make it using it abroad a very different experience indeed to the U.S. version, and these issues will certainly impact on international take-up of the device.
How could Amazon have handled this differently? With a staged roll-out in different nations (via the localized Amazon online stores to avoid import tax issues) locally-negotiated deals with 3G networks--in other words, following the Apple model for the iPhone and regionalized iTunes stores. Maybe Amazon will adopt this model later, but this first effort risks souring the public towards an expensive American import--essentially a U.S. device with a badly patched-on global support--while there are local e-reader and e-bookstore alternatives.