Amazon is bringing its bestselling Kindle device to the UK for the first time, in a move set to herald 2010 as "the year of the e-reader".
The internet retailer has announced that it is to bring the Kindle, its "most wished for, most gifted and number one bestselling product" to customers around the world.
The Kindle, which has only been available in the US since its launch two years ago, allows readers to download books, magazines and newspapers and "looks and reads like real paper".
Allen Weiner, research vice president at Gartner, said: "The e-reader market is fast growing and will really take off in 2010." He added: "Amazon has made the Kindle international as it was hearing the heavy footsteps of competition." Competitors include the Sony Reader, IRex, COOL-ER and possibly the rumoured Apple "tablet".
Amazon will start shipping the devices to 100 countries around the world from the US on 19 October. It will cost $279 (£175) in the UK. The Kindle Store has 200,000 English language books available from publishers including Bloomsbury and Penguin.
The device has proved staggeringly successful in the US. Amazon does not reveal the number of devices sold, but its chief executive Jeff Bezos said 48 per cent of books available in both formats were downloaded electronically. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales in the US were up 149 per cent for the year to June, and account for $14m in sales a month. John Makinson, chief executive of Penguin, said: "The publishing industry is experiencing explosive growth in digital book sales in the US, and we hope to stimulate digital buying elsewhere by making our content widely available on new devices."
Analysts are bullish over the industry's prospects. Three million e-readers will be sold in the US this year, with the Kindle taking a 60 per cent market share and the Sony Reader 35 per cent, according to Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester. "We expect sales in 2010 to double, bringing cumulative sales of e-readers to 10 million by year end," she said. Mr Weiner said 2010 would be "the year of the e-reader". Yet, he said the format still had issues. "The price will put some people off, and the war between the formats still has to be played out. It won't be a straight line to success."
Amazon is shipping the devices with wireless technology provided by AT&T, although it doesn't have an exclusive deal with a UK operator. Insiders expect the books to be slightly more expensive than in the US to cover download costs as a result. One telecoms insider said: "It is slightly messy that there is no carrier in place, but they probably wanted to rush it out in time for the Christmas market."
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The e-reader has been mooted as one of the potential saviours of the newspaper industry, whose revenues have slumped from the collapse of advertising revenue. Early movers have already signed e-reader deals. Amazon said yesterday it offers 85 global newspapers and magazines on a single purchase basis or subscription.
Titles include The Independent, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corporation, said earlier this year he was looking at e-readers and rumours have circulated that he may be in talks with electronics groups over potentially launching one of his own. Allen Weiner, analyst at Gartner, said: "The problem is newspapers do not work well on the e-reader, and it will probably a year before they do. Papers aren't like books; they aren't linear. They aren't great for a black and white device with limited search capabilities."
Yet with the growth of the e-paper market expected to rise to $9bn from $100m in less than a decade, according to DisplaySearch, newspapers will continue to look at the format. The technology is becoming bigger in the UK. Neil Jones, chief executive of Interead, which makes COOL-ER e-readers, said the arrival of the Kindle in the UK "will have a positive effect in increasing the general consumer awareness of the e-book technology".