Why there’s no Kindle for Canada

Ian Andrew Bell is a Techvibes Guest Contributor and this post was published on his blog earlier today.

SANY2305Canadians want their Kindle.  The device, which Forrester predicts Amazon will sell 1.8 Million copies of during 2009, is becoming a force in the publishing industry — and may well be Amazon’s iPod.  As an example of its early impact, fully 5% of the early sales for Dan Brown’s latest book were Kindle-downloaded.  Of course, all of this is irrelevant if you live in Canada.

Conspicuously absent this week from Amazon’s announcement on the list of international markets where the Kindle would soon be sold in a host is a little backwater known as Canada.  Theories abound as to why this is:  some blame Heritage Canada, which I think is a bit of a lark.  For one thing, Heritage Canada is not a regulatory body in the sense that it enforces no laws, and has no specific jurisdiction over the publishing industry in our country apart from administration of the Copyright Act.

No, the politics involved in preventing the Kindle from reaching the grubby hands of Canadian consumers is probably the same old culprits we always pick on around here:  Canada’s wireless carriers.  This article reveals a bit of a crack in the story.  Amazon is not working with local wireless partners in each individual country… it’s done a single deal with AT&T Global Networks, which in turn has gone out and negotiated low-cost data roaming agreements with carrier partners all over the world.

The Kindle, you see, downloads books and connects via AT&T’s 3G Data Network.  But it is a unique proposition for the wireless carriers, because the Kindle subsumes the carrier’s network and buries it behind Amazon’s brand.  As a result the customer is completely unaware of which network the Kindle is running on, never receives a bill from AT&T, and never calls AT&T for support.  It is a complete inversion of the traditional wireless carrier model.

In Europe some carriers embraced this, as has AT&T Global, and pitched Amazon on providing the network capacity for the Kindle.  In Canada, however, the concept of becoming a bare pipeline has likely met with a far chillier reception from the omnipotent stewards of our wireless spectrum.  While AT&T may have negotiated decent wholesale rates for its customers roaming on Rogers in Canada enabling affordable world data roaming, Rogers may have (knowing their personality well) stipulated that this wholesale rate not be resold in any way apart from direct-to-consumer.

And just as Rogers resisted Apple’s will to gradually subsume them as a carrier, and is now paying the price by being the first iPhone operator in the world to officially lose iPhone exclusivity, Rogers likely isn’t enthusiastic about Amazon taking over the customer relationship.  The irony is they probably should be — their quality of service and customer support is so absurdly poor that they could do no better than by washing their hands of the customer relationship entirely.