Updated: Where Amazon Will Expand the Kindle Store Next

I claim this land in the name of Jeff Bezos, Amazon, and their stockholders
I claim this land in the name of Jeff Bezos, Amazon, and their stockholders

Amazon has gotten a lot of criticism over the past year as a result of the limited language support in the Kindle Store and they've taken it to heart.

I've just learned that Amazon has quietly added new languages to the supported languages list. They haven't added every language nor the most widely read ones, but Amazon has added numerous languages spoken in some of the Kindle Store's core markets as well as ones spoken in markets where Amazon could be planning to expand.

For example, the Kindle Store is going to better support the UK with the addition of Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, and Irish. No, Ireland largely isn't part of the UK but I would think that this language is read in Northern Ireland. Also, support for Irish might be a sign of Amazon's expansion plans.

France is also going to be better supported by the addition of Breton, Corsican, and Provencal, while Germany benefits from the addition of Alsatian as well as Frisian, Northern Frisian, and Eastern Frisian (unless this refers to the language spoken in Scotland). And of course the Kindle Store already supported Basque, Catalan, and Galician, 3 languages spoken in Spain.

Amazon has also taken the opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in the Kindle Store's support for European languages. The Kindle Store now supports Luxembourgish, Danish, and Romansh. This last is one of Switzerland's 4 official languages, which just goes to show that it is not as dead as everyone says.

Amazon has also added support for Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, and both Nynorsk Norwegian and Bokmål Norwegian. And moving beyond Europe, Amazon has also added support for Icelandic and Afrikaans (spoken in South Africa).

All in all, this is rather spotty coverage that leaves out Italy, eastern Europe, and large swaths of Asia, Africa, and South America. But for an unannounced expansion it is still a good first step.

Adding support for more languages is more difficult than simply flipping a switch, and that's part of the reason why I would have sided with Amazon when they were criticized earlier this year. Before the Kindle Store can sell an ebook in a language, Amazon has to first guarantee that the Kindle platform will display it properly. Amazon also has to set up a procedure for verifying customer complaints about formatting and other content issues. The technical issues can be resolved, but it takes more than waving a wand.

And when we accept that Amazon had to make an effort to add more language support it brings up a related question: Why these languages in particular?

I think Amazon may have tipped us to their expansion plans. The last time Amazon added support for new languages was with the Kindle Paperwhite in 2012, which was shortly followed by the launch of the Kindle Store in China and Japan. And in 2011 the addition of Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish presaged the launch of Kindle Stores in Italy, Brazil, and Spain.

I think the new support for Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic, and Norwegian is an indication that Amazon sees growth potential in the related countries. The addition of Afrikaans only reinforces that impression. It's not clear that Amazon will launch local Kindle Stores in those countries, but I do think that Amazon sees growth potential that no one else has noticed yet.

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Update: A reader called me on that last sentence and inspired me to go look at where Amazon's competition is already selling ebooks. There's an interesting correlation between the list of languages below and where Kobo and Google Play Books already have local ebookstores.

For example, Kobo is the only international ebookstore to have a presence in South Africa, where Afrikaans is spoken. Kobo has a Dutch ebookstore, and Google Play Books is available in Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. (It's available in quite a few more countries but I am only looking at the ones that Amazon now supports via a local language.)

Just about the only countries on this list where Amazon doesn't already have a local competitor are Iceland and Norway, and I think those 2 were added so Amazon could make a clean sweep of Nordic countries.

I am now convinced that the new supported language list in KDP tell us where Amazon plans to launch local Kindle Stores that will sell ebooks in local currency. While that might sound crazy, I think Amazon will launch local Kindle Stores in all of those countries for the same reason they launched in Brazil, India, and Mexico: because a competitor was either already present or about to launch.

Amazon launched in Mexico about 5 months after Google Play Books. Amazon, Kobo, and Google all launched in Brazil on the same day. And in India Amazon launched a local Kindle Store in Amazon.in about 4 months after Google Play Books launched in India.

I will not make a claim that Amazon is copying or that its smaller competition is launching in anticipation of a local Kindle Store; I think both possibilities are true in one case or another. But I do think all of these countries will get local Kindle Stores.

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P.S. According to the IA's Wayback Machine, the list of supported languages was updated some time in the past month. Here's the complete list:

• Afrikaans
• Alsatian
• Basque
• Bokmål Norwegian
• Breton
• Catalan
• Cornish
• Corsican
• Danish
• Dutch
• Eastern Frisian
• English
• Finnish
• French
• Frisian
• Galician
• German
• Icelandic
• Irish
• Italian
• Japanese
• Luxembourgish
• Manx
• Northern Frisian
• Norwegian
• Nynorsk Norwegian
• Portuguese
• Provençal
• Romansh
• Scots
• Scottish Gaelic
• Spanish
• Swedish
• Welsh

30 thoughts on “Updated: Where Amazon Will Expand the Kindle Store Next

  1. You wrote that Amazon has also added support for Dutch (but not Flemish)
    As a Dutch speaking person I can Inform you,
    that the whole Flemish community reads and speaks Dutch, ( ” Nederlands” )
    in Flanders speak with a slight accent.
    But it’s the same language !!

    1. Thanks for the clarification. Part of the reason why I noted this was that it’s not explicitly named, but Norwegian is mentioned 3 times. I figured Amazon thought there was enough of a difference that the distinction deserved a mention.

      1. What is strange actually is that they would list Norwegian along with the two forms of official Norwegian. It is a long and complicated history but basically the result of language reform efforts over the centuries. One would expect a listing of Norwegian alone, or a list of specific forms. As to Flemish, basically it is to Dutch as American English is to British English.

  2. The issue of supported languages also reflects the needs of KDP and Select; the kindles need to support the languages before KDP can even think of supporting authors working in those languages.

      1. The issue isn’t just the text. There’s the dictionaries, X-ray, annotations, etc.
        KDP also seems insistent on being able to vet the content in case of issues–at least that was their excuse for refusing a polish ebook, if I remember correctly.

  3. “It’s not clear that Amazon will launch local Kindle Stores in those countries, but I do think that Amazon sees growth potential that no one else has noticed yet.”

    That will be the growth potential not noticed by Kobo, GooglePlay, ‘txtr and the other forward-looking international players, who actually either have, or will soon have, ebook stores in most of the places mentioned. Ireland, for example. Or the Netherlands. And of course these retailers aren’t ignoring eastern Europe.

  4. With Amazon busily surcharging readers in the Netherlands, the appeal of Apple, GooglePlay, Kobo and ‘txtr, not to mention local retailers like Bol, must be significant. These stores are offering ebooks in the local currency with local language sites. The same for many non-Kindle countries. And I’m not too sure Belgians and Austrians are that happy about being sent to Amazon France or Amazon Germany just because they speak the same language. Even Sony has its own Austria store.

    Txtr may be small in market share terms, but then, who knows what market share Amazon has outside the key Kindle countries? Txtr are definitely one to watch. ‘Txtr’s deal with Smashwords means they will open up a lot of cheap indie titles alongside their current range. And the pending ‘txtr self-pub portal will make these stores very appealing to indie authors across Europe. And then of course there’s ‘txtr’s US ambitions…

    Likewise GooglePlay may be small in market share now, but these are nascent markets. Google is a trusted brand. The roll-out of stores across Europe this summer, from Finland to Greece, shows they are forward thinking and treat small countries with respect. That’s important.

    As we see in Australia, Amazon’s decision not to open a Kindle store there continues to alienate readers. Market share down from 90%+ to 65% as Australians increasingly choose not to pay in a foreign currency to a company that pays no Australian taxes, and instead support the many local stores and the many international stores that do have a local base.

    Any international expansion by Amazon is to be welcomed, but outside the US, UK and a few key countries Amazon are not a major player on the world ebook scene.

  5. I suddenly noticed something when I looked at the list throughly. I think we’re seeing the first countries where Amazon will not even consider a local language store any time soon.

    That’s because the added new areas are ONLY the Nordic countries/languages and Dutch/Netherlands & Flanders. Those countries also happen to be the ones where the general adaptability of English is the highest in the world (outside the “natives”, of course). They/we are also one of the heaviest reading nations.

    I now even remember advising Amazon a couple of times about this possibility. “Advise” as in contacting the nameless, faceless people in Luxemburg via their forms. :)

    All the other added languages are relatives and dialects of languages that already have a Kindle Shop.

    So I’m predicting that Amazon let these languages “in”, because 1) they believe those nationalities can easily cope with English when shopping 2) they are small population-wise, so localizing the Kindle Store would be relatively expensive.

    Of course they have all the data from Nordic and Dutch customers to back up that decision. And they will KEEP us using English for a longish time. Elsewhere, they will continue taking on the biggest countries with localized shops.

    One thing still missing, and I hope they have it coming (because I don’t want to use their forms again…) is a “sub-store” and/or category for books in the languages concerned. Search is not enough.

        1. I updated the post with an explanation.

          Let me explain Afrikaans: Amazon added support for that language because Kobo is already in South Africa. Amazon is going to follow them there and launch a local Kindle store.

          1. Nate, you say Kobo is the only international ebook retailer in South Africa. ‘Txtr may be small, but with seventeen stores worldwide they definitely count as international, and they definitely have store in South Africa – http://za.txtr.com/

            Text’ are pouring serious money into their expansion programme and are looking to partner with local stores in much the same way as Kobo has been doing. They may be small-fry compared to GooglePlay and co, but shouldn’t be underestimated.

            The longer the big players like Amazon leave it, the more difficult it will be to gain traction. We’ve just seen evidence of a single sale in Amazon Brazil rank in the top 1000 in store, which suggests Amazon has made very little impact so far in Brazil. One reason is that “local”, or at least Latin American, retailers have been there much longer, selling both ebooks and devices. Local competition should not be underestimated either.

            Both Iceland and Norway have local ebook stores (as does South Africa, in Kalahari), and while they might not have the range of Amazon that is easily remedied through a deal with the wholesale distributors as demand for ebooks increase and justifies the outlay.

            Kindle in the US and UK gained dominance because Amazon had an open goal. Despite which market share is falling rapidly as competition grows. They’ll never duplicate that dominance elsewhere.

          2. Not to nitpick but my point was that Amazon was responding to their competition. I don’t think they see txtr as serious competition just yet. And I don’t think Amazon is responding to the local small fry either.

            But based on your recommendation I will add them to the watch and wait list along with Samsung and Sony.

          3. My guess is that afrikaans was added as an accepted language, only because Kindle already has lots of customers in South Africa.

            They can do their shopping in English (which is SA’s lingua franca) with a credit card, and now buy books in their preferred language. According to Wikipedia, zulu and xhosa are bigger languages there, but have less literature. I dare not go further as a foreigner.

            So the addition would be similar to all the other additions in this latest “upgrade”, according to “my theory”. No new stores, just books available in new languages.

            Anyone want to bet on this? ;-) I honestly have no inside information at all.

          4. I’ll take that bet.

            I would agree with you if not for the local stores in mexico and India. One could have been supported via English on Amazon.com and the other supported in Spanish, but instead Amazon opened local stores in each country.

            Also, Amazon opened in India but doesn’t support most of the official languages in India (just English). Similarly I expect them to support English and Afrikaans in SA.

          5. I think you’re closer to winning the bet now. I hadn’t been inside KDP before, and when adding our first ebook in Finnish I ran into some things I didn’t know.

            Like that a Kindle can be connected to only ONE Kindle Store. I’d guess 99 percent of current Finnish Kindle owners are set up to the U.S. store. This in turn leads to the annoying addition of $3.42 for international delivery, so a $3.90 ebook costs $7.32. And I still don’t understand why this is only added to some books.

            As English is the first-learned foreign language here, I doubt many will set up their Kindles to the German of French Kindle Store (where the price would be correct i.e. €3.90).

            Secondly, although Finnish and the other Nordic languages are allowed, they do NOT qualify for the 70 percent royalty option, only 35 percent is possible.

            All this is stupid and the people at Amazon are not, so I now believe it’s more likely they will set up local stores, one day.

            I just went to see the positions available in Luxembourg, the European HQ. No Nordic jobs BUT this: “Principal Content Acquisition – Kindle Russia”. So that’s where they’re heading next in this part of the world.

  6. I’d agree with that, Nate. It doesn’t look like Amazon monitor the local players at all outside the US and UK.

    A possible indicator of Amazon’s view on competitors is their price-matching strategy. They chose to lose many millions with the crazy price-matching of Sony UK’s 20p sale over 2012-13, and are pretty much guaranteed to price-match Apple and B&N. That said they do seem very relaxed about Kobo at this stage.

    As an aside, Nate, on ones to watch, in the UK Tesco is definitely one to keep an eye on. With the Tesco tablet now confirmed, and BlinkBox Books imminent, we could see the UK ebook landscape transformed over the coming twelve months.

    Ebooks are still a niche / novelty concept for most people at the moment. In the UK Sainsbury and Tesco are bringing ebook awareness to people who might never otherwise take an interest. As digital reading becomes mainstream we’ll see the enormous power of the supermarkets wielded over print sales exerted over ebooks. And not just in the UK.

  7. Jussi,

    Much as we’d love Nate to be right on Kindle expansion we just don’t see it happening. The Russia store may well be imminent, but Amazon have been supposedly about to launch a Chile store for over a year now and nothing came of the rumours. The fact that Amazon is exploring possibilities in a country does not mean a Kindle store will follow.

    I cannot se Amazon launching individual sites for the Nordic nations, and as you all use different currencies and different languages an umbrella Nordic/Scandinavia site is not an option. Amazon took this route lumping Germany and Austria together, and throwing Belgium and other francophone nations into the French Kindle pot, but not so easy in your part of the world.

    I’m not sure anyway that Belgians, Austrians, etc, take kindly to being sent to a store of a neighbouring country. In Australia the backlash against Amazon selling to Australians while paying no taxes, creating no local employment, giving no specific support to Australian authors, etc, etc, continues to see their market share diminish. The same will happen elsewhere.

    In countries like Finland, where Amazon imposes these extortionate surcharges (of which the author sees absolutely nothing, and as you say only gets a 35% royalty) this just sends more and more digital readers to other platforms.

    Amazon’s early dominance in the US and UK seems to have left them complacent and indifferent to the world beyond.

    Statistics we are seeing from author sales related to chart position show the overseas Kindle sites are performing pretty poorly. No surprise when they alienate readers with surcharges and limited availability of devices. Kindle e-readers are hard to come by in many parts of the world and KindleFires are advertised with fancy extras like film and TV which of course are not available outside key countries.

    Apple seems likewise far too complacent about its iBooks stores, leaving an open goal for the up and coming international players like GooglePlay and ‘txtr (and of course home-grown platforms) to soar ahead in the global markets.

    Time was we would have included Kobo in that latter paragraph, but so far the India launch has been a big disappointment, and the problems with partner stores extend way beyond the “porn” scandal that saw the W H Smith site close and the Whitcoulls site still closed as of today.

    Whitcoulls, PaperPlus, Angus & Robertson, Collins and Bookworld are a mire of Kobo supplied ebook titles showing as “Not In Stock”, that significantly pre-dates the UK porn mess and has nothing to do with erotica titles.

    When we ask Kobo why titles are showing out of stock in the partner stores (it may be just one, or all) they tell us this is the retailer’s decision. When we ask the retailers they say the problem is at Kobo’s end.

    Meanwhile authors lose potential sale and readers get frustrated being told an ebook is out of stock and go elsewhere. It’s a lose-lose situation for all concerned.

  8. Google has rolled out thirty six stores in far less time than Amazon has managed the few it has now.

    Amazon is an American company that is struggling to get to grips with the world beyond.

    Google is an international company that happens to be American.

    In a single day Google can (and has, twice – Europe, early summer, SE Asia late summer) -roll out as many new ebook stores as Amazon has in total.

    Google has huge international brand recognition Amazon cannot begin to match. Anyone anywhere who has used the net knows Google. To most of the world Amazon is a river, and to ebook buyers outside the Kindle countries Amazon is the pariah that charges for free ebooks,

    Google makes huge profits while Amazon turn in loss after loss, year after year. Amazon cannot afford to match Google store for store even if it were so inclined. Its shareholders have shown remarkable patience so far, but some time soon that patience will wear thin

    Amazon has had two success stories with Kindle so far, in terms of sales, at least. Of course no-one knows if they are actually making a profit yet even in the US, let alone the UK. But a safe bet they are still incurring huge losses in the other satellite sites.

    Even in Canada, which we might expect to be doing best after the UK, we are seeing a paltry 35 sales over several weeks get you into the top 500 in store in the sales rankings, despite Amazon forcing Canadians to buy from the Canada site rather than AmCom.

    With Kobo having dropped the ball now would be the perfect time for Amazon to announce a new international party trick, but all they’ve managed recently is Brazil and Mexico. Russia may or may not come to fruition. The Dutch and Chilean stores seem to have fallen by the wayside.

    What chance Amazon can keep up with Google when it cannot even match ‘txtr, and is in danger of being outplayed by Sony? And what if Apple started taking iBooks seriously? In iTunes it already has the international infrastructure in place to compete and keep ahead of Google

    We’d love you to be right , and to see Kindle stores expand across the globe, but Amazon has enough problems to contend with defending market share in the US and UK as the bricks and clicks brigade make their move.

    Like Google, the supermarkets and other high-street retail giants can invest heavily and still make serious profits, something Amazon has yet to manage.

    In the UK Sainsbury is already making Amazon sweat, and Tesco Blinkbox has still yet to launch.

    Easy to dismiss a provincial British supermarket when faced with the might of Amazon. But Tesco is no corner-shop retailer. Tesco is an international player , but Tesco UK alone has higher revenue than Amazon’s entire international operation. While Amazon reports losses in millions Tesco shareholders get distressed when profits slide to only 2 billion.

    Market fragmentation is going to accelerate as more and more retailers jump on the digital bandwagon. Not least Walmart and Carrefour.

  9. This from Publisher’s Lunch: “Larry Kirshbaum, 69, will leave his position as publisher of Amazon’s US trade publishing imprints on January 17, roughly two and a half years after joining the company…

    (Additional elements of their unsourced story) — “the most ambitious part of Amazon’s publishing operations will be scaled back. Already several editorial people have left or been let go” — are less clear. A few editors have left Amazon’s various imprints during 2013, with the departures of Tim Ditlow, Eleni Caminis (for Samsung) David Moldawer (for an education company), and Liz Egan (for Glamour Magazine) all previously reported, and editorial director of Amazon Publishing in New York Julia Cheiffetz is currently out on maternity leave. But Amazon Publishing’s website still lists 27 editors from across the company’s sprawl of imprints.”

    As with Amazon publishing so with Amazon Kindle stores. Scaling back is the order of the day, not expansion.We may see a handful of stores materialize that are already in advanced stages – Russia perhaps among them – but the idea that Kindle stores will match GooglePlay, or even ‘txtr, is a non-runner.

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