Photo by Yutaka Tsutano.
Now ranked as Amazon’s best-selling product, the Kindle has been a remarkable success in the American marketplace, possibly signalling that e-book readers have reached a tipping point. The devices can download books wirelessly without being tethered to a computer, and text is displayed on a reflective electronic paper screen, which isn’t backlit and uses very little power. The Kindle has been available south of the border for two years, and in a press release late yesterday, Amazon announced the rollout of their iconic e-book reader in more than a hundred countries. While consumers in places like Botswana, Sri Lanka, and Mongolia are now able to order the thin white tablet, however, Canadians are—again—left twisting in the breeze.
Canada is notorious for being tardy to the technological party, for a variety of reasons ranging from convoluted broadcast contracts to patent issues to domestic business practices. Probably the most notorious example of this involves Apple’s lustfully coveted products: we were a year late for the iPhone and the iTunes Music Store, Skype was available on the iPhone in every country except ours (until last month), and we still can’t buy high-definition movies on iTunes. As for television, it’s taken decades of negotiation to finally get HBO and Nickelodeon channels in Canada, although the “Canadianized” versions are merely brand licences and don’t always include identical content to their American counterparts.
So: back to e-books. The Kindle boasts 60% of the American e-book market, with Sony bringing up most of the slack. The attractive Sony Reader is actually available in Canada right now (and finally became Mac-compatible last month), but they are unable to download e-books wirelessly. DRM-wrapped e-books downloaded from Sony’s service can also only be viewed on a Sony device, and vice-versa with Amazon.
Unlike Amazon, Sony didn’t graft on a clunky keyboard, but the screens are virtually identical. Photo by bfishadow.
For now, Amazon is remaining mum on why Canada has been shut out of the international launch. A message on Amazon’s Kindle page states, “We are currently unable to ship Kindles or offer Kindle content in Canada. We are working to make Kindle available to our Canadian customers as soon as possible.”
The delay could be due to publishing contracts, although that seems unlikely since e-books are already available domestically. Because the Kindle uses GSM networks to download its product internationally, Amazon could also still be in negotiations with Rogers. It’s not necessarily a matter of retail inventory either, since Kindles aren’t destined for the Best Buys of the world (international customers have to order directly from Amazon and have the e-readers shipped from the United States).
The lack of the device in the Canadian marketplace seems unusual since Sony, Indigo, and book publishers like Penguin and Random House have moved to fill the gap with their respective electronic offerings, despite a clear demand for the Kindle. Clearly, it’s a matter of “when” rather than “if,” but in the meantime, Amazon.ca at least helpfully sells some Kindle product: screen protectors and charging cables.
This article originally insinuated that the Sony Reader could only display content purchased from Sony’s e-book store. It has been clarified to explain that this only pertains to DRM-wrapped content. Both e-book readers can display a variety of text and image formats, but not each other’s protected product.