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Monday, 26 October 2009 09:47

Santa's Kindle shoppers hedge on the $A

In less than three weeks the price Australians can expect to pay for a Kindle e-book has dropped from $314 to $280. If the $A achieves parity with the $US it could fall another $21 – leaving local Christmas shoppers literally hedging their bets about when to buy.

When Amazon first announced it would sell the device to Australians it priced the machine at $US279. Today that price fell to $US259, and in the meantime the value of the $A has risen from 88.9 US cents to 92.6 US cents at time of writing, leading to the $34 saving.

The combination of an international Kindle launch in 100 countries and falling prices, along with increased competition from the likes of Sony’s ebook and the just released Barnes & Noble Nook has led to analyst Forrester ramping up its US sales forecast for ebook readers to 3 million this year, with a surge in demand expected in November and December as Christmas looms.

While Forrester believes about 60 per cent of those sales will represent Kindles, Amazon isn’t saying anything. Laura Porco, director of Kindle Books who is in Australia to launch the device, declined to even give a ballpark figure for the number of Kindles that have been bought since launch two years ago.

However she did claim that for books which had a physical and a Kindle format Amazon typically now sold 100 physical copies of the book for every 48 Kindle versions, suggesting a healthy demand for the device. Australians who do purchase the product will have access to 280,000 Kindle titles from Amazon, slightly fewer than the 365,000 titles available to US users thanks to different publishing rights requirements according to Porco.

Weighing in at 289 grammes Kindles use EInk screen technologies, have a long battery life of two to four days (when connected wirelessly to the Amazon network) and two weeks when not connected to the network. They feature an on board 250,000 word dictionary and can carry up to 1500 books (although at this stage in English only – and without any colour illustrations or photographs which somewhat limits their use for many e-text books).

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The Kindle also features an experimental Read to Me facility which converts text to speech. Books can be downloaded wirelessly in less than 60 seconds according to Porco, and if a wireless connection cannot be achieved, books can be downloaded via an internet connected PC and USB.
Unlike their US peers who receive a power-cord, Australian Kindle users will receive a USB cord and have to charge up their machines using that.

Amazon’s global communications partner is AT&T which manages the wireless network (Whispernet) which allows Kindle users to wirelessly connect to Amazon’s Kindle shop to download or access their ebooks or ebook annotations and notes which are stored in the Amazon cloud. Porco refused to say which local 3G network was underpinning Amazon’s local offering, although she stressed that local users would not face any wireless contracts or charge to use the device.

Local users will be able to download ebook equivalents of hardcover books for around $US12.90, although Porco said there were 100,000 books on the Kindle list which cost $US5.99 or less. Although there are 85 newspapers and magazines available, there are as yet no Australian titles signed up for the Kindle.

A PC application expected to ship next month will allow Kindle users to sync their devices with their PCs. Porco declined to comment on speculation that Kindle content would shortly be made available on iPhones or iPods saying only; “It is our intention to make Kindle available on multiple platforms.”

She confirmed however that Amazon plans to release a slightly larger version of the device next year, the Kindle DX, which will have a larger screen and possibly be targeted as a device for use with e-textbooks.

Porco was dismissive of the threat posed by the recently released Barnes & Noble Nook which has a similar price point, is based on Android software, and has access to a library of 700,000 titles. “I don’t spend time thinking about competitors. I spend time thinking about the customer,” an approach which she believed had a better competitive outcome.

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