Global Kindle Strengthens Amazon's E-Reader Lead, But For How Long?

decision to offer it internationally

Starting Monday, Amazon is shipping a specialty Kindle for both U.S. and international customers. Priced at $279, the international Kindle will be available in more than 100 countries and will have support from AT&T's wireless network. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at the time of the announcement earlier this month, "At home or abroad in over 100 countries, you can think of a book and download it wirelessly in less than 60 seconds."

The global Kindle move comes as many observers, however, are wondering if Amazon is reacting to its rapidly advancing e-reader competition too slowly. Its recent price cuts for the Kindle, for example -- an October drop to $259 following a previous drop from $359 to $299 in July -- bring it only within the middle range of e-reading competition from the likes of Sony and others. (Given Sony's presence abroad, where it is much better known than Amazon, maybe it's Amazon that's playing catch-up, as some have suggested.)

The price cut and the global push might be enough to keep Amazon far ahead of the e-reading pack -- if it was still February 2009, and Amazon's updated Kindle 2 was vacuuming up every e-reading headline with nothing to challenge it.

But a lot's changed since then. The market has seen slick new e-reading devices from Sony, iRex and others; received advance peeks at e-readers from Plastic Logic and Barnes & Noble; and watched as new e-reading competitors start to throw their weight around, such as Google with its Google Editions digital book ecosystem. The one thing all of those potential Kindle killers has in common is a support for multiple formats, with all having made mention of Amazon's "closed" proprietary Kindle format.

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Amazon may be out in front now; Forrester Research's recent e-reader sales report projects Amazon Kindle to close out the year with a 60 percent market share in e-reading devices. But the way the market's shifting, it can't rely on the present Kindle offerings alone to keep it on top of the e-reading heap for very long.

For more on the Kindle and the e-reading landscape, check out ChannelWeb's comparison of Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and the forthcoming e-reading device -- now known as Que -- from Plastic Logic, and also have a look at would-be Kindle killers from earlier this year.