eBook price war: The impact on Australia


opinion News that there is a price drop for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook has done the rounds with the tech pundits and Twitterverse. But we Aussies need to ask, is the price war good for us?

First off the rank was a price drop with the B&N Nook. It was announced that a price cut would affect both the Wi-Fi and 3G version of the Nook, with the Wi-Fi version to go for US$149 and the 3G for US$199). This translates to Australian prices of $171.30 and $228.79 respectively.

The Nook is a hybrid machine, with a traditional e-ink display plus a LED touch screen. This allows a full QWERTY keyboard and a cover flow-like interface for book covers. The LED screen would also solve one of the flaws in e-ink technology — namely, slow refresh time.

However, the Barnes & Noble eBook store only operates in the US and Canada. There are ways around this — the obvious way is using a proxy or VPN to spoof the zone detection of the store. Obviously the 3G version would also be a problem for Australian customers as it is with AT&T (a company that tries to be as evil as Telstra but with worse coverage).

Next in line was Amazon announcing a drop of the Kindle to US$189 (. Now the Kindle can order books from any country, however, the range of titles is still restricted for Australian users compared to US customers. The 3G is global, with the cost of the service built into the price of each book; however, each region would need an AT&T agreement for the device to be used effectively.

However, the Kindle is also a platform, so reader software can be found for PCs, iPhones, iPads and Android phones. Consequently, ownership of a Kindle is not needed to use the Amazon eBook store.

Comparing the price of the two platforms with the locally available Kobo in Australian dollars, the Kobo (which must be connected by USB cable or Bluetooth) goes for AU$199, compared with equivalent prices of AU$218 for the 3G Kindle and AU$171.30 and Au$228.79 for the Wi-Fi and 3G versions of the Nook.

Both the Nook and Kindle are compelling eBook readers. The Kindle is only $18 more than the Kobo and has 3G (Amazon calls it Whispernet) built into the service, which delivers the ability to purchase books on the device (unlike the Kobo worldwide and the Nook in Australia). The Wi-Fi Nook is cheaper than the Kobo, but cannot be used to buy books without major network-fu of the user.

Techcrunch has suggested that the price drop in the US is to combat the currently available iPad and the pending release of other tablets using Android and possibly WebOS (from HP). Since the iTunes Book store has not been officially introduced in Australia and the eBook market in Australia is in an infant state compared with the US, it is hard to imagine such a price war occurring in the foreseeable future.

So, what is the benefit of the price war for Australians? Apart from cheaper prices of the hardware, there is no noticeable benefit for Australia.

If you have a collection of eBooks, and don’t need an online store, the Nook is hard to beat. If you want on-demand book ordering, the Kindle is the only device that will meet that demand at the moment. However, as weak as the Borders online store is, it is the only one that has a real presence in Australia, and hopefully with some new agreements, will have more content than Amazon and the impending iBookstore available for Australians.

Darryl Adams is a government worker and internet tragic. A former IT worker, he still pines for the days of IBM keyboards that go CRUNCH and the glow of green screens. He can be found on on Twitter or on Facebook. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of his employer, the ATO.

Image credit: Barnes & Noble


    • copypasta didn’t i see you trolling under the last ebook thread?

      I’ve had an eink ebook for over 2 years. As many others attested to in the other threads.

      Nook gets my vote, android hacking goodness.

  1. I doubt it. The Kobo would not have sold out in Australia in the first week if there was not a pent up demand for readers. And personally I do pay for my ebooks, including the Borders store.

    My gut feeling is that iPads will create a big demand for ebooks, and iBookstore will make or break the market here.

  2. I’m a little puzzled as to why Apple has released iBooks to Australians without providing books for them to buy. I only discovered this last night, after the seemingly endless, fingernail-consuming software update on my iPhone. Finally, I had iBooks! This turned out to mean that I had yet another ebook reader, but with the worst ebook range yet. We can access public-domain Project Gutenberg ebooks through many competent apps/readers, without all the hype associated with iBooks.

    As for Kindle books, I resent Amazon charging Australians $2-3 per ebook for “free wireless transfer” when we’re actually downloading the book through wired connections (e.g. to “Kindle for Mac” on my laptop via my ISP, or to “Kindle for iPhone” via the same path). So, if you find the book you want on Amazon, and you’re actually allowed to pay for it, remember to factor in that extra $2-3 on top of the currency conversion.

    I agree with Darryl: at the moment, Borders is our best bet. Frustrated as I was with their range at launch, and frustrated as I remain with their lame search and their tentative first steps into the electronic market, I think Borders has potential for Australian readers. Already, their range has improved markedly (it’s worth checking titles there when you’re considering buying at overseas sites) and their prices are becoming competitive, sometimes winning out conclusively over total prices at Amazon, or even over discounted club prices at Fictionwise (for those who bought memberships before Barnes and Noble killed off the Buywise club).

    As we Australian readers try to keep our balance on the rapidly shifting sands of the electronic book market, I think Borders AU may become a viable choice.

    • I suspected as much when I saw on the blogosphere that Apple was recruiting a iBook person to get the content locally for the store.

      The problem (as I have mentioned before) is that most of the content deals negotiated in America will mean nothing for Australia. I think a bellwether will be Canada, I don’t think they are tied into the UK book market like us, but they generally get stuff before we do, but not that much advanced.

      B&N have no real presence here (AFAIK), and Borders AU is actually Angus and Robertson, a long establish bookseller brand here. So Borders has the contacts already, while Apple will start from ground zero.

  3. There’s also readwithoutpaper.com which is run from Melbourne and has good connections within the publishing business — it’s owned by Central Book Services.

    It’s also worth considering display quality. The Kobo, as I understand it, only does 8 shades of grey. The Kindle does 16. How much difference that makes I couldn’t say as I don’t have a Kobo, but it’s probably worth comparing if you can.

  4. Renai I believe has both the Kindle DX and Kobo. He would be best placed to review

    My view on the Greyscale, Kobo does the job. It renders covers nicely, within its limitations. B/W maps come up a treat,

    Will look at readwithoutpaper.com. Thanks for the tip

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