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Published 13 November 2013 09:58, Updated 04 February 2014 00:07
Australian booksellers are appealing to customers to buy locally this Christmas as the Amazon juggernaut rolls into town with a local Kindle offering.
Amazon’s Australian Kindle store went live on Wednesday morning and several new Kindle tablets went on sale at Big W and Dick Smith. Rival local online book retailer, Booktopia’s Tony Nash, branded Big W “fools” for stocking Amazon’s Kindle, saying it will hurt sales of conventional books.
The new Australian Kindle store offers more than 2 million e-books with a wide range of Australian authors, such as Tim Winton, Colleen McCullough, Sally Morgan and Germaine Greer.
The range will include more than 26,000 free books, 700,000 books priced $3.99 or less and more than 1.4 million priced $9.99 or less.
Australian customers could already buy from the US Kindle store but not in Australian dollars and not with such a large range of local authors.
Amazon Kindle vice president Neil Lindsay says Australia is an important market for Kindle.
“Millions of Australians are already Kindle customers, and we’re delighted to make it even easier for them to enjoy the Kindle experience,” Lindsay says.
Amazon’s self-publishing scheme, the Kindle Direct Publishing program, is now available locally as well.
Australian authors were already able to access this program, which gives 70 per cent royalties back to writers, but they can now choose to be paid in Australian dollars.
Kindle Fire range
The new Kindle Fire HD is available at Big W and Dick Smith from Wednesday at a recommended retail price of $189, compared with $US154 in America.
The 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX is available from $329 RRP compared with $US244.
The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX will be available starting December 10 at $479 RRP, compared with $US394.
Kindle Fires were already available at offline retailers in Australia, but not the Kindle Fire HD or HDX.
Amazon has already released its e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite, in Australia at a $159 RRP, compared with $US119 from Amazon.com.
An Amazon Kindle spokeswoman says the aim was to make the prices as comparable as possible allowing for costs.
Amazon does not make much profit on the hardware, but aims to make up for it by selling e-books.
Buying a Kindle virtually locks customers into using the Kindle bookstore because the devices cannot display e-books in the industry standard of ePub without conversion.
Books sold from the Kindle store can be read on Kindles or on Kindle apps for iPad and Android tablets, but not on other e-readers such as Sony or Kobo.
Booktopia’s Nash predicts some customers will “struggle” with that. “Who among us has the same phone as 10 years ago? But most of us keep our books for that long.”
Bookworld CEO James Webber
Bookworld chief executive James Webber says there are now credible alternatives such as the Kobo e-reader his business sells.
“Amazon is a closed system and you don’t want to be trapped in their jungle,” Webber says.
“People are wise to that but the issue is whether you have an alternative. For a while we didn’t but we do now – Kobo is probably the best e-reader in the market and the challenge is getting that heard through the noise of Amazon.”
The e-book market in Australia is still relatively small but it is a rapidly growing business for local players, such as Booktopia, Bookworld and Dymocks.
Amazon’s competitors all sell books in ePub or PDF that can be read on any device.
Booktopia’s Nash estimates e-books account for 20-25 per cent of all books sold in the US, but only about 3 per cent in Australia. Webber says it could be as high as 5 per cent, accounting for Australians who buy e-books from Amazon.com but those figures were not readily available.
Nash says Amazon’s presence could grow the e-book market and Booktopia would benefit as “the legitimate alternative” for customers who want to support Australian businesses.
“Amazon is just trying to move into an area where they can continue to take money offshore and pay a pitiful amount in local tax,” Nash says.
“Australians are quite parochial and they care that Booktopia donates to literacy programs, sponsors writers’ festivals, and so on.”
Nash says Booktopia is about a quarter the size of Amazon in the Australian market. Webber says this is about right and Bookworld is slightly behind Booktopia but growing faster.
One of the Bookworld ads running online, outdoors and in print.
Webber also believes patriotism is a drawcard. Bookworld has launched a major advertising campaign across outdoor, print and digital with the tagline “The Great Australian Story” urging customers to buy locally this Christmas, for all books not just the electronic kind.
The execution includes free pop-up bookshelves in bus shelters in Sydney and Melbourne and ad copy with phrases such as “Mates Rates”, “For We Are Young and Free Delivery”, and “Our Great Dividing Range”.
Penguin Australia bought the e-commerce business of Angus & Robertson and Borders in 2010 and rebranded to Bookworld last year.
While Penguin is not Australian-owned, Webber points out it has operated here a long time, employs Australians, supports local writers and pays tax here.
Amazon’s Lindsay says whether the patriotism argument holds water is a matter for consumers.
“We don’t decide these things – customers decide,” Lindsay says. “Our job is to invent on behalf of the customer, make the experience of buying books and enjoying books better, and then let customers decide.”
He adds there is nothing to announce on Amazon coming to Australia.
Webber says there are reasons for and against Amazon opening a full-blown retail outlet in Australia, but businesses such as Bookworld need to assume it will happen.
“We need a point of difference,” Webber says. “Our speed of delivery is faster, we have the most number of books under one roof and we have a price guarantee that we will match Amazon prices. There’s not much we can do other than be bigger and cheaper than Amazon.”
Booktopia founder Tony Nash in his Lane Cove warehouse.Louise Kennerley
Nash does not expect Amazon to open a physical online store in Australia either but he says even the launch of the e-book store is bad news for independent booksellers. He predicts a spate of closures of bricks-and-mortar bookstores after Christmas.
Nash also questions the business wisdom of a store such as Big W selling Kindles.
“That’s because they’re fools,” Nash says of the Big W decision. “They selling a single device to someone then they’ll never walk in to buy a book ever again. Big W is one of the biggest booksellers in Australia and the amount of money you’ll make off selling an e-reader is bugger-all.”
BRW has contacted Woolworths, owner of Big W, for comment but it has not responded.
Republished with updated information about which Kindles were already available in Australia.