Kindle goes international

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Taking a trip overseas anytime soon? One thing you don't want to pack is your Kindle – at least, not unless you're buying the brand new international version, due to hit stores next week on Oct. 16.

Up until now, Amazon.com's Kindle e-reader has worked only in the United States. As of next week, the new Kindle (at a cost of $279) will allow English-language readers in more than 100 countries to download books wirelessly. (Although the universe of books available to international Kindle users is a bit smaller than that accessible to US-only readers:  200,000 volumes now in the library for the global version compared with 350,000 volumes available to users of the US version.)

At the same time, Amazon is dropping the price on its entry-level US-only Kindle to $259. It's hard to imagine, however, that most US readers won't want to spend the extra $20 for the global version. Apart from the thought of the thrillers you can devour on trains and in hotel rooms, there's also the guide book universe to consider. Imagine having 3 or 4 guide books at your disposal – together weighing no more than several ounces. That will certainly be one of the joys of the international e-reader: no more bulky Lonely Planet books shoved in your bag up against the Michelin guides. Now all of these can be exchanged for a slim Kindle.

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Amazon, however, is not aiming just at US travelers. “We have always had customers in countries all over the world buying English-language books from us,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told the press. “Now those customers can get English-language books in 60 seconds wirelessly, instead of waiting two or three weeks.”

The new global Kindle should be good news for Amazon this holiday season. According to research cited in the Wall Street Journal, Amazon accounts for 60% of the US market for electronic readers. Sony, the nearest competitor, controls about 35 percent. The WSJ forecasts that three million e-book readers will be sold in the US in 2009 – with as many as 900,000 of them likely to sell during the coming holiday season.

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