Less than six months after the opening of the Kindle Store at Amazon.de, Amazon.fr at the end of last week began selling Kindle readers and ebooks to customers in France, Belgium, Monaco, Luxembourg and Switzerland. (Kindle Stores are expected at Amazon.es and Amazon.it in the months ahead.)
The new Kindle (priced in France at 99 euros [~ US $137]) has a polyglot interface (the user chooses whether to see menu options in French, German, English, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese; default dictionaries are also available in all six languages), and the French site offers some 35,000 French-language ebooks in Kindle format, including 4,000 free classics.
So far, ebooks play a smaller role in France than in the US or the UK. The French market seems to me to be about where the US market was four years ago, and French prices even for backlist titles might strike American readers as strangely high. Most French publishers still base an ebook's price on that of the original full-priced print edition, not on the rack-sized paperback edition (if any) with which the ebook might be considered to be competing. For example, the French translation of Stephen King's Christine costs 14.99 euros (~ US $20.70) as an ebook but only 6.00 euros (~ US $8.29) as a rack-sized paperback. These prices are of course set not by Amazon but by publishers. (French law prohibits any discounting of ebooks and severely limits discounting of print editions.) Competition (along with the growth of ebook readership) may in time lead more publishers to follow the model of Gallimard, which already bases ebook prices on prices for corresponding rack-sized paperbacks (in cases where these exist).
By the way, Amazon is far from being the sole player in the French ebook game. The largest French retail book chain, Fnac, has just announced a new partnership with the Canadian firm Kobo: Kobo reading devices and ebooks will be offered in Fnac stores and at the Fnac website. (This is only one of a series of similar international partnerships being established by Kobo.) Fnac and Kobo are both forces to be reckoned with.
One happy by-product of the opening of la Boutique Kindle is the beefing up of free French-language offerings at the US (and international) site Amazon.com, where French-language ebooks carry the words 'French edition' after their titles. The more impressive options include works by Diderot, Sade, Dumas and Balzac--four links from which to start surfing--and that's just confining myself to 'the 26'.
Of course, la Boutique Kindle wouldn't be complete without A Kiss Before You Leave Me and a James Hulbert Page Auteur (where you can even read my dernier tweet, if you've somehow missed it everywhere else).
Please join me in saluting the opening of la Boutique Kindle--and the new Fnac-Kobo partnership--as welcome developments in the ongoing internationalization of our shared experience of reading and writing. And let's keep looking for ways to do a better job of it--for one another, as well as for ourselves.