According the the press release from Amazon, customers in Japan can now pre-order the Paperwhite for an extremely competitive 8,480 yen ($106), with the 3G version costing 12,980 yen ($163) – although neither will ship until November 19. US customers will notice that makes the Paperwhite marginally cheaper in Japan than America.
The Japanese Kindle Store will open tomorrow with over 50,000 local language e-books (including 15,000 manga titles) – an impressive number given Amazon’s reported difficulties in coming to agreements with publishers. That will be supplemented by over 1 million English language books, and a selection of titles in other languages.
Closing content deals wasn’t the only barrier Amazon faced in launching the Kindle in Japan. There had been issues rendering Japanese script on the devices, and it’s notable that the only devices available will be the Paperwhite and the Fire (something which probably contributed to the aggressive pricing).
Another factor in that, presumably, is the presence of Kobo, who launched the Touch at 7,980 yen ($100) in mid-July.
That launch, however, was plagued with difficulties and Kobo attracted criticism for removing negative customer reviews of the Touch (including some which stated customers were going to return the device and buy a Kindle instead).
Those missteps surprised many observers, given that Japan is the home market for e-commerce giant Rakuten - who purchased Kobo last year - and Amazon will certainly be hoping for a smoother start.
One thing in their favor is that this doesn’t appear to be a Kindle Store-lite, like we saw with the Indian launch in August. We will have to wait for tomorrow for confirmation (and I will update this post then), but given that there is a pre-existing Japanese site, it will likely have all the features missing from the Indian offering – including local bestseller lists and separate sales reports for self-publishers.
We will also have to wait to see if Amazon will be paying 70% on Japanese sales. When they launched the Indian Store, Amazon initially announced a 35% royalty rate. It subsequently increased that to 70%, but only for titles enrolled in KDP Select – a move that angered many in the self-publishing community, and caused some to wonder if this was a harbinger for all future royalties, or how Amazon would be approaching some foreign markets.
One thing should keep Amazon on their toes: competition. Despite Kobo’s unsteady start in Japan, Rakuten are determined to take advantage of a good deal of fear and skepticism among local publishers surrounding Amazon’s ambitions. And Japan isn’t the only market where Amazon faces a challenge.
Just last month, Kobo announced a move into Portugal – partnering again with FNAC, who have significant retail presence in the country. Two days ago, Apple announced the opening of iBookstores in New Zealand and 17 Latin American countries (although the latter are said to be a simple portal into the US store). But the laggards in the international sphere, as always, are Barnes & Noble – who can’t even keep to their own timetable for coming (very) late to the UK party.
The Nook UK launch – Barnes & Noble’s first attempt to expand beyond the US market – was earmarked for early October, formally announced for late October, then pushed back as the website was stuck in beta – with Barnes & Noble only informing their retail partners on the planned day of release.
The smart money is still on Amazon, however. While their rivals have been able to keep pace with their international roll-out and the technological arms-race in terms of the device wars (and, it must be said, nose in front of Amazon at times), none of those competitors come close to having a similar store experience.
Kobo’s search function is a subject of widespread mockery (and Barnes & Noble’s isn’t much better). The iBookstore is, quite frankly, awful. And, in all cases, many readers find the respective stores so frustrating to use that they often search for what they want on Amazon, then return to their retailer to make the purchase.
Given Amazon’s aggressive approach to both pricing, and locking down exclusive content, this is a dangerous game for the other retailers to be playing. While opening international stores or coming up with a cool new device features might make for a sexier headline, not throwing the same energy into the usability of their e-bookstores will lose them customers faster than anything else.
And if Amazon ever decide to start selling EPUBs, it will blow them out of the water.
UPDATE: You can now select separate pricing for Japan in the KDP interface, and there are separate sales reports in the dashboard. As feared, Amazon are only offering 35% on Japanese sales. It remains to be seen whether they roll out 70% to Select books, like they did with the Indian Kindle Store. Either way, it’s a negative development.