Amazon opened the fourth Kindle Store in France this morning.
The Amazon.fr site, previously restricted to physical books, will now give French customers access to 35,000 local language e-books from local publishers, as well as 825,000 e-books in other languages, mostly English.
In addition, the store will be selling the new entry-level Kindle for 99 Euro (with free shipping).
The price discrepancy with the US is largely down to there being no ad-supported device available in France, for now at least.
The total selection of e-books is slightly lower than the US due to territorial restrictions, meaning that some publishers in the US don’t own the rights to sell certain titles in France. For self-publishers, if you own the rights to publish your work in France (which you will unless you have sold them), your work will already be on sale there as of this morning.
It also means that many French language titles will be available to French Canadian readers through the US store (where appropriate rights were retained by the French publishers).
But the biggest effect will be on the digital market in France. Up until today, French customers were redirected to the US store if they wished to purchase e-books or e-readers.
For purchasing a Kindle, this meant high shipping costs, expensive import duties, delayed order fulfillment, and, up until very recently, instructions and menus only in English. Today’s move will radically reduce the price of Amazon e-readers in France and should stimulate the local market (which is just behind Germany in terms of development).
On top of that, e-books will be a lot cheaper too. France, like most of the rest of the world, was one of the countries where Amazon levied a $2 surcharge on all e-books, before adding sales tax, which effectively added $2.30 onto the cost of most e-books for French readers.
That has now been abolished and French readers can enjoy a range of books at prices starting at less than 1 Euro ($1.35). In addition, they will also have access to a huge range of free e-books for the first time, as these also attracted the $2 Amazon surcharge.
As with the launch of the Spanish site for physical books, Amazon face operating restrictions here which will affect their competitiveness. France has long-standing legislation which allows publishers to fix the price of print books.
The law is even more restrictive than Spain’s as Amazon will only be allowed to discount all books (including e-books) by 5%. This law will allow publishers to keep e-book prices artificially high, in an effort to protect print sales.
There is no doubt that while this law is in place, it will slow the uptake of e-books. It means that we will probably see a similar path of growth to Germany, rather than the quicker digital changeover happening in the UK (where no such law exists).
That law, however, could be under threat. The European authorities have all sorts of regulations against price-fixing. While they have turned a blind eye to agreements relating to print books, they appear to be cracking down on similar arrangements for e-books, and raided the offices of several French publishers earlier this year, and the investigation has since widened to several EU countries (including Germany and Spain).
It should also be noted that this law only applies to local publishers, and Amazon are free to discount foreign language titles.
As with Spain, this presents an opportunity to self-publishers who translate their work as the local language competition will be priced very high. For those worried about translation costs (which are significant), see this radical solution proposed by Scott Nicholson, where he is sharing royalties with translators, rather than paying up-front fees.
I have reached an agreement with a French translator on that same basis to prepare Let’s Get Digital for release, en français. I will keep you updated with that as it progresses.
A lot of speculation will now center on where Amazon will open the next Kindle Store.
Spain and Italy seem the most likely, given that Amazon has already struck deals with local publishers in both countries, Spanish newspapers are reporting that the Kindle will launch their before the year is out, and they have been hiring for an Italian Kindle team.
Either way, I don’t think we will be waiting another six months for the next international expansion.
EDIT: Don’t forget to update your Amazon France Author Central page.