International Kindle encourages piracy

This post is not about illegal content being published in Kindle Store. It’s about why international availability of Kindle devices is pushing their users to the edge of piracy.

Kindle is the most known ereader in the world. For many people it’s the synonym of the ereader. When Amazon’s device became available internationally in October 2009, many readers interested in ebooks immediately added it to a list of devices to consider.

In many countries Kindle is the cheapest ereader – cheaper than devices officially distributed by national ebookstores. In Poland, for instance, the price you pay for the $139 Kindle bought directly from Amazon US, including shipping, is $160. At the today’s currency rate (2.89 PLN to 1 USD) it’s 462 PLN. The most popular ereader sold by Empik, the largest and best known Polish ebookstore, is iRiver Story HD. It costs 699 PLN ($242 – compare it to US price).

Many people make decisions mostly on the basis of prices and specifications of compared devices. I bet not all of them check availability of ebooks in their own language. The most popular post in my Polish blog is a list of sources with Polish language books for Kindle. People buy the device and then try to find content – that’s how it often happens.

And this is the essence of the problem. There are thousands of Kindle owners in Poland (it’s the best-selling ereader brand in our country), have access to 700,000 publications, but can hardly find any book in Polish. The same problem is experienced in most of the countries the international Kindle devices are officially distributed.

What do Kindle owners do? They look for the content elsewhere. Sooner or later they may land at sites with illegal content. Why? Because they realize that ebooks bought at national ebookstores can’t be read on Kindle. They have different format (probably ePub) and different DRM (probably Adobe).

From that point they are forced to try two solutions:

1. Find sites with ebooks with unprotected mobi format – it’s not that popular, maybe some public domain books are like that, but national ebook markets are on the ePub tracks and nothing is going to change it.

2. Find conversion tools – this is extremely devastating as users were not expecting to do that. People want to buy cheaper books in a convenient way and digital format seems to meet the expectations. Instead of the famous 60-second download you have to make a conversion and connect your Kindle to computer via cable – how convenient is that? Moreover, some of the tools can remove DRM. Should I continue?

Amazon doesn’t seem to be interested in adding international content to its ebookstore. When it opened Kindle Store for non-US authors at the beginning of 2010, there were 16 supported languages. I was hoping this list would quickly become longer, but no, just the opposite. Recently the list has been limited to six languages: English, Spanish, German, French, Italian and Portuguese. It’s still possible to publish a book in an unsupported language, but it’s tricky and extremely difficult.

Reading and buying ebooks is intended to be seamless and enjoyable experience. And it is – if you use the official source of content. But how many users from Russia or Netherlands would like to download only English books to their Kindles? International Kindle users want to buy and read ebooks primarily in their own language.

There are three things Amazon could do to solve the problem:

1. Extend the list of supported languages
I realize that it’s not only technical issues which stop Amazon from doing it. It’s the fear of adding pirated content in other languages – the languages that can’t be controlled as easily as English. Amazon want to prevent piracy, sure, but this article is designed to state, that it doesn’t work. It’s not a Kindle Store piracy, but it’s still piracy.

2. Encourage national authors and publishers to publish their content via Kindle Store
When new languages are supported, it’s good to tell legacy authors and publishers they can add a new and effective channel to their distribution list. It doesn’t mean that suddenly all national bestsellers will land in Kindle Store – it surely won’t happen. It just means that if Kindle owners will check Kindle Store for books in their own language, they’ll find enough titles to keep Kindle as one of the sources of ebooks.

3. Add ePub support
A different format is what’s most harmful. Some national ebookstores offer promotional books without DRM. There are public domain books available in unprotected ePub files. Why shouldn’t they be easily added to Kindle? Why should people use conversion tools for every single title they want to read? The best way to fight with piracy is convenience.

• • •

Having an ereader with either no content or pirated content is just not good. I realize that this problem is not directly affecting Amazon’s reputation. They can’t be responsible for every single user’s decisions, but the piracy-encouraging pattern is there and something must be done about it.

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