Kindle and Parochial Thinking.

A few days ago Amazon presented the new Kindle and started taking pre-orders for the device. On the frontpage of both amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of the company made the announcement in typical Amazon fashion.

I always liked the Kindle, but was — for a long time — convinced that the amount of money Amazon was asking was way too much. I also wanted the ability to load my own PDFs and other documents, so the early models were not particularly attractive; I always believed that the price of devices of this class would go down significantly as the world shifted to an e-book based economy (vs the old paper format). Indeed this happened, and the new Kindle seemed like a decent step forward for an already interesting device.

As a European, living in an EU country that doesn’t have its own ‘national’ Amazon store, I depend on Amazon.co.uk for most of my purchases; the reasons are twofold and pretty common sense: the shipping cost from the States is much higher and the Import Duty levied for any products shipped from countries outside of the EU makes any such purchase unattractive. This is currently the case for all customers in European countries; except for those having their own ‘national’ Amazon stores, namely Britain, France and Germany in which case they just order from their local stores.

With this in mind, I paid a visit to amazon.co.uk’s Kindle page looking for the pre-order button. And there is was, along with a sign telling international customers to visit the international page of Kindle at amazon.com.

And that’s the problem; I don’t want to use amazon.com to get my Kindle, but I really want to get one. It is available on amazon.co.uk, but that’s only open to customers ordering it from the UK. Which is a shame, as there’s several hundred million people in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Poland, Scandinavian countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the other EU27 countries that don’t have their own amazon stores that might want to get the Kindle but will not pay the premium cost (additional shipping from the US and import duty — sometimes as high as 20%) that ordering from the US mean.

On the same day I called Amazon (US) and talked to ‘Chad’ about this. He was very friendly and polite, he explained to me that this was a valid concern and that he understood it. He promised that he would take this up with whoever was responsible about Amazon’s policy regarding the sale of Kindle in the European market.

A few minutes after hanging up with Chad, I got an automated email from Amazon asking me whether Chad was helpful. Sadly such systems are more often than not totally incapable of reflecting the real issues with customer support. Chad was as helpful as he could’ve been; he was polite, friendly and competent. But no matter how nice and good he was he couldn’t help me, because that’s not his job. It’s the job of an executive that doesn’t get ‘rated’ by customers and whose parochial thinking in marketing the Kindle in Europe will probably cost the company a lot of money in the near future.

I hope Amazon realises this and allows Europeans to order Kindles from their EU stores. Sadly, while I am sure that Chad will forward my message and explain the situation to his supervisor, I seriously doubt whether those responsible will realise their mistake in time. Let’s see if they prove me wrong.

20 Responses to “Kindle and Parochial Thinking.”

  1. saperduper says:

    (Have you had a look at Barnes & Noble Nook? You might change your mind. Openness is the key word http://code.google.com/p/nookapps/ http://nookdevs.com/Main_Page)

  2. cosmix says:

    Yeah, but that’s not the point of the post. The nook is great, but it’s not good enough for someone living in Greece; the new Kindle has 3G Whispersync support globally, including Greece. The nook doesn’t, it only supports AT&T in the States.

  3. Titanas says:

    Greece + Denmark + Sweden + Poland + Finland + Portugal = 11,3 + 5,5 + 9,3 + 38,1 + 5,3 + 11,3 = 80,8M (source Wikipedia)

    Germany = 81,7M (source Wikipedia)

    Legal crap for running a business entity in the EU south = too much trouble and money. It will happen but not while US e-book market is tiny but growing like crazy

  4. cosmix says:

    @Titanas: Not quite. You forgot Spain (45M), Italy (60M) and many others, but on top of this you’re really missing the point of the post here:

    Amazon doesn’t need to do *anything* other than ship Kindles to European customers from the UK, Germany or France and not from the US. That’s no ‘trouble’ at all — Amazon already ships Kindles to the *whole world* from the US and it already ships Kindle to UK customers from the UK.

  5. saperduper says:

    @cosmix That’s why the parentheses are there. (Isn’t wifi enough? Even if it is not, personally i am willing to accept the trade-off and hopefully i will own one in a few weeks)

  6. cosmix says:

    @saper: (no, but — again — I don’t care about the alternatives; I’m pretty much aware of them. I am concerned about Amazon’s seeming incompetence in comprehending the European market and effectively marketing their products here. =) )

  7. antonio says:

    Even so, price is really competitive for WiFi model. 180$, around 136 € including shipping costs and import taxes.

    In my opinion, what is important here is to see if publishers in Europe will be making the same mistakes as with MP3. Main spanish publishers have joined to release a platform, Libranda, as a mere intermediary for the final vendors. This means replicating virtual and snail real life models. Add zero usability, similar prices to hard books, null search capability, and voila: they already can declare that Spanish people do not want to buy ebooks and that spanish people prefer piracy.

    What shocked me most was to find out that authors in Spain used to be ¿rewarded? with 3% to 5% of the final book price.

    By the way, 6 inches screens are not yet good enough for reading nor technical articles nor some novels. 7.5 or 8 should suffice.

  8. cosmix says:

    Antonio, where did you get the $180 figure that includes the import taxes? Did you get one? Is this for España, cause I’m certain that it could — potentially — go much higher around here.

  9. antonio says:

    That’s the price I read in spanish forums from people who had already preordered. I’m not registered in Amazon.com but I’ll do it and send you all different prices. May be Greek taxes are different or just because Greece is farther from the States than Spain ;)

  10. cosmix says:

    Ahh, I see (re: the price in spanish fora).

    I have an account at Amazon.com and I can see the prices there, but — obviously — they can’t tell you what the final price (incl. the import duty) is. Each country — and perhaps each officer — decides what the duty is I guess, especially for products that are not, otherwise, sold in the country. I don’t think distance has anything to do with it.

    In any case, Amazon should ship Kindles to Europe from Europe.

  11. antonio says:

    No. That’s what I thought but I was wrong. Neither each country nor each officer decides the duty to be paid. Those taxes are calculated by Amazon and Amazon gives you the final price. Reading comments from guys who purchased previous models, they only paid what Amazon told them. In some cases, UPS tried to make these guys to pay for taxes (you know, Spanish way), but Amazon always took care of these matters.

    Look at this, under country specific information:

    The Amazon Global Program offers customers a unique service: duty and tax estimation during checkout and customs clearance on your behalf for certain eligible countries. When products are shipped to the eligible countries using eligible ship options included in the Amazon Global Program, an Import Fees Deposit will be estimated and collected for the shipment. With your authorization, such funds will be used by the carrier or another agent to pay the Import Fees on behalf of you (or the recipient’s behalf) to the appropriate authorities of the destination country (See detail below).

    And the most important, the responsibility of the importer:

    The payment of import fees is the responsibility of the importer and is levied based on the laws of the country into which the products are being shipped.

    May be soon, Amazon ends shipping Kindles to Europe from Europe once the initial rush is ended.

  12. antonio says:

    This is the important part, forget last comment:

    Which products does the Import Fees Deposit apply to?

    Items sent to eligible countries via Priority International Shipping and in certain cases via Standard or Expedited International Shipping will have an estimated Import Fees Deposit applied to the order. The payment of import fees is the responsibility of the importer and is levied based on the laws of the country into which the products are being shipped.

    What if the actual Import Fees are less than the Import Fees Deposit I was charged?

    If the actual Import Fees (paid by carrier on behalf of the recipient to the customs and tax authorities of the destination country) are less than the Import Fees Deposit collected by us on your behalf, you will automatically be refunded the difference to the payment method you used for the order. You will receive a notification e-mail to confirm the amount of the refund. The process takes 60 days from the shipment date.

    What if the actual Import Fees are more than the Import Fees Deposit I was charged?

    For items sold by Amazon Export Sales, Inc., you will not be charged any additional fees if the actual Import Fees exceed the Import Fees Deposit we estimated. For items sold by Merchants, please check the applicable Merchant’s policies.

    How do you estimate the amount of the Import Fees Deposit?

    The Amazon Global Program uses software to determine the estimated duties, taxes, and fees associated with each item in the order for the destination country selected during the checkout process.

  13. Nikos Kouremenos says:

    Nook is the way to go as it supports wider range of formats and gets SD card. Nook is like the Nokia in the US (in the way that nobody talks about it, there is no hype like the Kindle hype)

  14. atma says:

    The custom in Greece is awkward as anything else. I know from our local custom partner that anything under 300 € does not have extra fees, just VAT. However DHL asks money if the custom personnel asks for money, for taxes and VAT.

    So it’s mostly a case of knowing/bribe the person who will tax the item. From my experience 95% of them are corrupted and they overcharge with their personal fees and if you don’t have a friend (of a friend) to do the job usually the price doubles. The bad thing is that you can’t do nothing about it.

  15. cosmix says:

    @atma, thanks for the info. I have never bribed anyone in my life and I would not be willing to start doing so now. I am concerned that Customs may charge an arbitrary amount, but as Antonio states in his comment, if Amazon is willing to provide a figure during purchase and guarantee that it’s going to pay any difference that may arise (see above), it may be worth getting the Kindle from the States after all, no matter what a ‘corrupt’/clueless/whatever Customs officer might charge.

  16. Rohan says:

    got the same problem. I live in Poland and i really want this new kindle. hope amazon.co.uk starts supplying kindle to Poland coz to get it from US is way too expensive.

  17. Charl Botha says:

    I broke down and ordered my DX from the US amazon site (I live in NL). The dollar price is $ 379. With all import duties, I paid just over EUR 370 for it.

    That’s point 1. The other little irritation is the following:
    Hawking’s “The Grand Design” (kindle edition) is 13.79 U.S. dollars = 10.572721 Euros when I access the amazon.com site but only 5.93 British pounds = 7.10208771 Euros when I access the co.uk site. However, I’m not allowed to buy this title from the UK site and so have to pay EUR 3.4 more to get this title.

    It’s of course completely natural that I’ll buy my ebooks from other sources, breaking DRM if necessary and converting to MOBI to read on my Kindle.

    Otherwise, this is a superb reading device!

  18. Marcin says:

    I moved to Poland in 2009. The biggest thing I miss about the USA is the fact that Apple and Amazon products (really just the Kindle) are much cheaper there. With all this talk about globalization and free markets, why are prices not universal?

  19. Tim says:

    I started to order a Kindle on the amazon.co.uk site to be sent to me in a province in Greece where even buying decent paper books is difficult, especially in foreign languages like English. The price was 120 pounds (with shipping and VAT). When I pressed the “purchase now” link the site warned me that it was switching me to the US site where the same product was $130 with shipping and tax. Which is less and made me happy. So I bought it.

    3 days later I got a call from the shipping company (DHL) that my package had arrived and that I could pick it up at customs in Peireus (the port of Athens). I told them that the shipping address and, consequently, I myself, was on an island in the Aegean and I was therefor unable to pick it up in person except at great expense and inconvenience.

    Long story short, I paid a fee to have a middleman (presumably an employee or buddy of the shipping company branch in Greece and probably a former or current customs agent) get it out of customs AND an additional shipping fee to have it sent to my place. Total final cost of the Kindle: 225 euros–more than twice the number on the site.

    While the corruption of public officials and private businesses in Greece is not news, both Amazon and DHL were accomplices in the rip off. I can’t help but feel that, as with many international corporations, they exploit the “idiosyncrasies” of import laws and local customs for their own benefit.

  20. cosmix says:

    Hello Tim and thanks for the comment. While you are right to complain about Amazon’s choice of US-based shipping for European destinations, I don’t think your experience with having to pay someone to cover the import duty and send it to you has anything to do with Amazon. If anything, Amazon didn’t seem to have profited from your additional cost; I think they most likely don’t know about it and don’t care, seeing as to how small the Greek market is for them. If
    I am not mistaken, the Amazon Global Programme has been available for Greece for a while now, meaning that the amount you paid to Amazon as part of your order should include both import duty and shipping to your actual destination; apparently this didn’t happen in your case. I am not sure how much blame lies with Amazon and how much with DHL, but I think the latter is responsible for your poor experience with importing and delivering the kindle to your location. If I were you I would send an email to Amazon with a detailed account of what happened, the issues you experienced with DHL’s service, the extra cost etc. In my experience with their customer support, they are usually pretty good about their customers complaining about their services.

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