June 19th, 2011

Amazon, Globalization, Kindle

I was thinking something like, is the kindle setting sail for overseas adventures? But I decided I just didn't feel like massaging that into something that both made sense and was humorous.

R. tells me that a compiler list he reads had info about an Amazon job fair (perhaps he'll clarify precisely what was going to happen at the Hyatt). We spent a good chunk of the trip down to the Boston Children's Museum speculating about whether this was just giant-maw-sucking-in-talent or if they really were shopping for compiler engineers. We decided that giant-maw is boring as a theory, and went with, what do they have that might require a compiler engineer? Because compiler folk are not cheap, prevalent or all that easy to get along with (I am pretty sure I'm allowed to say that because I used to be one). R. proposed all kinds of possibilities, but when he said "internationalization" I went nearly completely nonverbal, because that's got to be what's going on.

And sure enough, a little googling turns up internet want ads like this:

http://seattle.olx.com/kindle-apps-internationalization-program-manager-amazon-seattle-iid-196025077

The oldest of these that turned up (I did not look hard) was from January of this year; this one looks like it's from last month. And that's not an ad for junior hires, either; one would assume this would be the person to build the team.

We spent the rest of the drive down speculating about how we might be able to confirm the following theory:

the next 1-2 years will involve frequent announcements of the kindle being available in new-language-group-x, with n amount of content already in the store and growing rapidly.

We think this will happen _after_ a kindle rolls out with a virtual keyboard (e-ink display with touch, like the Nook and Kobo now are), because it's way easier to internationalize a virtual keyboard then a physical one.

While there are lots of ereaders and epublishers in lots of other countries serving lots of other languages, none of them are offering an ecosystem like the kindle ecosystem. Further, internationalizing will enable Amazon to better serve US customers whose native language (or whose language of reading choice) is not English.

I'd like to be super clear here: neither of us works for Amazon (R. never has and I left in 1998) and we didn't get this information from any internal source. We made this theory up out of our fertile imagination and some want-to-hire postings. Next step: is there any leaking from cellular services lined up to provide downloads overseas?

ETA: Looking around jibe.com, it seems clear that they are building a really big localization/internationalization team, soup to nuts, or, managers to QA, I guess. I wonder when this wave will hit? My theory is that they'll get the touch+e-ink hardware out first, and then roll language updates and software upgrades. Kindles are forced to sync far more often than the Apple universe of devices is, so that's a viable strategy.

R. says there is a cell-phone chip that "does everything", which would make sense to include as part of a hypothetical kindle 4 (along with touch and e-ink).

These people have been paying a whole lot more attention to the international strategy to date than I have.

http://blogkindle.com/category/kindle-international/

This, in particular, is sort of interesting.

http://blogkindle.com/kindle-international-coverage-map/

ETAYA:

I did a little looking around in the kindle store, to try to understand how many books there are in languages other than English. As a fraction of the total entries in the kindle catalog, it's small; as an absolute number, it is respectable. For example, if you search on "(Spanish Edition)" in the kindle catalog, over 10K items are listed. If you sort by bestseller, Garcia Marquez, Allende and Borges show up in the top few -- but then, so is a translation of Austen's _Pride and Prejudice_. Top entries for German (about 17K) include a newspaper, Luther's bible and _Sieben Leben_, which apparently "business humor", whatever that might mean. I haven't spotted any other languages with as many. There _are_ "Simplified Chinese" kindle books (a lot of them Harlequin Comics, which sort of make me giggle in a way that is Very Respectful of HQN's approach to business) and Korean as well.

I think it is telling that _La Isla Bajo el Mar_ (honestly, pretty much everything by Allende in Spanish other than her first book) is _not_ available for the kindle, at least not as far as I can tell. Leer-e seems to be the publisher? for a lot of the not-translations/not self-pubbed/not learn Spanish books.

Here's a description of a trade panel on Spanish ebooks:

http://tocfrankfurt.com/program/the-state-of-spanish-language-digital-publishing

Hey, it's in English.

This is a relatively recent article about selling Spanish language books in the US market, not precisely where I would expect Spanish language kindle books to be selling. I can certainly attest to the difficulty of finding any kind of recent fiction in Spanish on the shelves. University Books in Seattle usually had a little, but I don't recall finding any other Seattle source (I was trying to find a present for my cousin; I ultimately ordered her a different then-new Allende, _Zorro_, wow, that was back in 2005).

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/31/136590187/spanish-language-books-woo-untapped-u-s-market

I'm not even going to get into any other language right now. I'll note that one of my neighbors, who is from Russia, told me she got a Skytex ereader (I think it is this: http://www.skytex.com/e-readers/primer) and gets Russian language ebooks online for free (I don't know where, perhaps here: http://multilingualbooks.com/ebooks-russian.html). Nate Hoffelder gave Skytex' reader a good review:

http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2010/11/01/review-skytex-primer/

I have to believe there's a market for doing a good job supporting at least a dozen languages well as ebooks, if you can convince the publishers in those languages to supply content. Wading through the choices that are out there now is, um, not for the fainthearted.