Missed opportunity: non-English content for Kindle

Recently I’ve written a post on piracy, but there is another issue related to international availability of Kindle devices.

It’s a lack of non-English content at Kindle Store.

Currently there are 6 languages supported in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform: English, Spanish, German, French, Italian and Portuguese (it was 16 two months ago – the question is why the number was reduced). That means that it’s easy to publish a book in any of those languages and it’s extremely difficult, yet still possible, to publish in any other language.

There are 170 countries to which Kindle devices are officially shipped. International Kindle users want primarily books in their own language. In many cases, except countries speaking the 6 supported languages, they can’t find them in Kindle Store. This can lead to piracy. The ebooks sold by national ebookstores could be converted to mobi and DRMs removed. Some users would do it individually but many such files can be probably found at piracy sites.

You may say “It’s others who lose money, not Amazon”. I can say “We all lose, Amazon as well, or even – first of all”.

There is a huge gap between the oversupplied device and undersupplied content. This gap has to be filled. If it can’t be done the legal way, it will be done the illegal way. If it can’t be done the most convenient way (Kindle’s 1-Click), it will be done the less convenient way (cable). But it will be done. With or without Amazon.

One way is piracy. The other way is Amazon’s competitors.

International success of Kindle is based not only on the fact that it’s the most known ereader, but also because many users are not aware of format/DRM compatibility issues. They buy a Kindle assuming there must be an easy way to add a book from their national ebookstore. They learn it’s not easy at all and they start to look for alternatives.

Barnes&Noble¹ and Kobo have less famous devices, but are much more suited for international adoption. They are both supporting ePub and Adobe DRM. Majority of national ebook markets have chosen the ePub+Adobe model. For the reader it’s a very convenient situation. It means that I can buy books from both English and national ebookstores – if I only authorize my device with Adobe ID.

There are two possible patterns to choose from:
1. Buy an ereader from a national ebookstore – add natively a content from that ebookstore, but also English content from Kobo and/or Barnes&Noble.
2. Buy Kobo or Nook  – add natively from Kobo and/or B&N plus, as a third-party content, books bought from national ebookstores.

What’s also very important is that both Kobo and Barnes&Noble are open to proven content providers like Smashwords.

Smashwords is a top destination for self-publishers, also non-English ones, and is the most successful multi-channel ebook distributor. It delivers premium content to Kobo, Barnes&Noble, Sony, Diesel and iBooks Store.

What’s very interesting, Smashwords made a deal with Amazon as well, in a second half of 2009, but it hasn’t become effective yet. The current status shown in a Smashwords’ distribution panel is: “Smashwords and Amazon are working to complete technical integration.”

If Amazon doesn’t want to support more languages by themselves, why don’t they speed up integration with Smashwords. At least they would add to Kindle store what Kobo and B&N already have. There are a lot of non-English authors who wait with their books to be available directly for the most popular ereading device in the world.

You may say that smaller markets are not important. Let’s keep in mind that the situation is changing. The dynamics is probably much higher in other countries rather than US.

A year ago there was no more than 4,000 ebooks offered in Poland, most of them from a public domain. Now the biggest ebookstores claim to have over 12,000 titles, including new releases and bestsellers. The market is ePub-centric, the prices of both ereaders and ebooks are going down – although not that fast as in US.

Sure, in a smaller market no business can afford to offer an ereading device with a price tag such as $116, but being the cheapest ereader (Kindle still is) might just not be enough – if there is no content for it.

Users are learning. Old devices are replaced by newer models. For many non-English readers first Kindle they bought may be associated with a big disappointment. “Why there are no books for Kindle?” they ask, “Why is that so difficult to add a book?” Some of them will think twice before buying a next generation Kindle.

For now on it looks good for Amazon. There may be even 50,000 Kindles in Poland. But you can hardly find a Polish title in Kindle Store.

For a medium ebook market there is either a device with no content or content with no device.

It’s the content to be the main source of business in the near future. Prices of ereaders will go down. The profit Amazon makes from selling a single Kindle device to other countries will be smaller and smaller. I’m just curious what they are going to sell next – if not content. Six supported languages and a couple of local-level Kindle Stores are just not enough.

¹ Barnes&Noble is requiring an US billing address at registration.

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