ALTHOUGH Amazon's Kindle e-reader has become the first major hit in its category - and the best-selling product in Amazon's entire store this year - it does have its drawbacks. One of the biggest is that its wireless connection to the Kindle store works only in the United States.
That changes next Monday, when Amazon begins shipping a new version of the Kindle that can be used to purchase and download books in over 100 countries.
The new version, with the snappy name of "Kindle with US and International Wireless", will sell for US$280 (S$390) and can be pre-ordered now.
However, Kindle fans in Singapore, China and Indonesia will be disappointed as Amazon will not be shipping to these countries.
Those living in Australia, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Cambodia will be able to get the Kindle as Amazon will ship there.
With an international Kindle, Amazon's chief executive Jeff Bezos (inset) said that America-based users will be able to download their favourite newspapers and magazines while overseas, at the same prices they pay at home.
It makes the Kindle a travel guide too: If you want the lowdown on a Kyoto temple or are wondering where to get the best fries in Amsterdam, you can download a relevant guide on the spot.
And for the first time, the Lonely Planet series will be sold on Kindle, along with the previously available travel books from Frommer, Rick Steves and Michelin.
The international Kindle is not just for Americans travelling abroad. Jeff said that Amazon's sales patterns show a sizeable demand for English language books in countries that speak other languages.
Until now, readers in those countries have found such books to be expensive and hard to find, not to mention slow to arrive after being ordered.
The global Kindle will make the process cheap and instant.
Amazon staved off copyright problems by negotiating an arrangement with English language publishers that pays royalties depending on the territory of purchase.
Still, the rights clearances are not yet comprehensive; of the 350,000 books in the Kindle store, only around 200,000 will be available in some countries.
Some publishers are adhering to launching new titles in hard covers, withholding a lower-cost Kindle versions for a few months to boost physical sales.
However, it is clear that Kindle has changed reading habits. Earlier this year, of books available on both Kindle and paper versions, 35 per cent of copies sold by Amazon were Kindle versions.
Amazon will not reveal the number of Kindles sold.
Now, Jeff said, the number is up to 48 per cent.
This means that many people have bought Kindles and that Kindle owners buy a lot of books.
Going forward, Jeff has not missed the buzz about upcoming digital tablets.
Amazon is hard at work making software apps (like the one already available for the iPhone), he said, that will extend the Kindle system to other devices.
He is also still open in principle to rival e-reader manufacturers who wish to use the Kindle store to provide content. However, he felt that while people may read on phones and Web-surfing tablets, the dedicated e-reading device will keep improving.
"We want Kindle to be the best way to read," Jeff said.
This story was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life.
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