Amazon has been selling Kindle ebooks to Canadians since the Kindle Store went international in August 2009, and even though they did little to build up a market share Amazon has still managed to attract a number of Canadian ebook readers.
Over the past couple days several of those readers have reported that many Kindle titles are showing up on Amazon.com as not being available to Canadian customers even though the same titles will show up on Amazon.ca as being available.
For example, Cloud Atlas is listed in the Amazon.com Kindle Store but if you have your country code set to Canada you will see this:
That same title is available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.ca.
So far as I can tell, the only ebooks still available to Canadian Kindle owners are titles distributed via KDP, seriously limiting their ability to make use of their Kindles.
Update: I've just been told on Twitter that Amazon pulled this same trick on Brazilian Kindle owners. They're not happy either.
I'm sure that some readers are thinking this isn't a big deal; after all Kindle owners in the UK, Spain, Japan, and elsewhere are directed to buy Kindle ebooks from their local Amazon websites. It might not look like a big deal that Canadian Kindle owners are being forced to do the same but at least some of the customers would disagree.
Amazon is pushing their Canadian Kindle customers to transfer accounts from Amazon.com to Amazon.ca, but one source told me that he would lose access to a lot of content if he did so.
First, while Amazon claims that any purchased ebooks will be available* after a Canadian Kindle owner transfers their account that's not completely true. The ebooks might be transferred, but I'm told that a customer's purchase history is not transferred and the wish lists are also abandoned. That's going to make it a lot harder for some readers to keep track of what they own and what they want to buy.
Oh, and that claim about the Kindle content transferring isn't exactly true. Amazon.ca doesn't yet support subscriptions, nor does it offer Kindle Serials. That means this Kindle content will be lost in the transfer process along with any back issues that had been saved. What's more, Amazon.ca doesn't offer music and video so transferring an account will prevent customers from accessing media they've already purchased.
I can understand why Amazon might want to move Canadian customers to their local site, but it is also pretty damn clear that Amazon did not realize how this would hurt their customers. Some of these folks have been buying Kindle ebooks for the past three years - ever since the Kindle Store went international in 2009.
That's over 3 years in which they built up a presence on Amazon.com, and now Amazon wants them to simply throw it away. Why would any customer do that? There's nothing in it for the customer. Much would be lost in the transfer and nothing gained.
What's particularly surprising about Amazon's misstep is that it comes so soon after a similar blunder on the part of Barnes & Noble.
B&N Leads the Way
As you probably know, a couple months back B&N announced the imminent closure of Fictionwise. B&N wanted all ex-Fictionwise customers to transfer their accounts to the Nook Store, and in at least my case they were successful in transferring much if not all of the content.
But Fictionwise's international customers did not have the same luck. They were basically told to go piss up a rope. B&N doesn't sell ebooks outside of the US and UK, so rather than keep Fictiownise running and support the international customers they decided to not allow former Fictionwise customers to create accounts in the Nook Store (unless you have a US credit card and shipping address). Instead these customers will only be able to save the content they download before 31 January 2013.
B&N has engendered a degree of ill will with their blunder that far exceeds any damage Amazon might do, and it is a lesson Amazon should have learned from rather than making a similar mistake. But at least Amazon is going to be able to recover from their mistake; all they need to do is apologize and make it up to the customers who complain.
In writing off all the international customers, Barnes & Noble probably harmed their international expansion plans. They might not have pissed off a large number of people in absolute terms but when competing against a juggernaut like Amazon every little bit helps.
I am more than well aware of the issues of book and other content markets being divided based on national borders, and we all understand that you can't buy everything everywhere. My acceptance of that situation ends when companies blithely start taking away legitimately purchased content just because they decide it doesn't suit the way they're organized their business.
That's a different issue.