It’s not surprising Amazon’s UK Kindle users are reacting badly to news that the retailer has agreed to sell ebooks from three publishers on agency terms – a move which has the appearance of raising prices as it prevents Amazon from discounting titles.
Amazon targeted customers with a combination of aggressive discounting and loud boasts of offering the “lowest prices” in the UK ebook marketplace. Such a strategy inevitably attracts acutely price sensitive customers who are unlikely to welcome even modest price shifts.
There’s nothing wrong with customers liking a deal but retailers always need to be wary of relying too much on bargain hunters for their trade. As soon as the bargains disappear, so does the frustrated bargain seeker’s custom.
On Amazon’s user forums, alongside threats of boycotting all formats from the publishers concerned, there’s also talk from a minority of stopping buying any ebooks for their Kindles.
While it’s unlikely enough customers will make good on this threat to cause Amazon any financial distress, it does show that the retailer needs to position the Kindle as far more than the home of cheap books.
Quite how it does that is unclear, the Kindle’s hardware platform is largely unremarkable in an age of web-enabled smartphones and full-colour tablets.
Just how outdated does the Kindle’s blog subscription service look when compared with the web browsing experience offered by even the lowest-spec tablet? Why pay to subscribe to a subset of sites when rival devices allow you to read any you choose without charge?
As the number of cheap tablets available grows these questions will become increasingly important.
Amazon needs either to drop the Kindle’s hardware platform and concentrate on making fantastic apps for devices which do the other things users want to do, or it needs to radically overhaul the device and beef up its features.
What it can’t expect to do is to continue growing the platform by merely offering books for less than the cost of a coffee.
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