Will Amazon pull Kindle out of China?

Recently, Kindle (Amazon’s E-book device and service) is rumoured to be withdrawing from the Chinese market, as some of its signature product models are out of stock. In addition, people have also noticed that Kindle’s flagship store on T-mall shut down quietly last October, further adding to the notion Amazon are either downscaling or pulling out of China altogether with this product line.

On 4 January, Amazon responded to the rumour, “we are committed to our customers in China, who can continue to purchase Kindle e-readers from offline and third-party online retailers.” Nevertheless, no explanation is given in terms of the flagship closedown and with the statement only mentioning third party purchasing it leaves consumers in the dark as to whether Amazon will offer the services themselves within the country.

An industry insider said other countries have also experienced a short supply of e-reader products due to a global chip shortage. But the rumour of Kindle leaving China reveals a future in limbo. In China, Kindle is sarcastically called by many people “the best cup noodle lid”, as it is more often used for making instant noodles than for reading.

It is not keeping up with the expectations from the readers and as such its performance within the market has been poor. Although Kindle is still the number one e-reader brand in China, its users base is rather small, and it seems to have reached a growth ceiling.

According to a national reading survey, 43.4% of adults prefer to read printed books, 33.4% on mobile phones and only 8.6% on e-readers. Reading on phones is a popular option for its convenience and versatility, with it having the same ability as an e-book but with a smaller screen.

E-books originally just competed with the paper product, but with technological advancement they are now fighting a battle on two fronts; something they have been unable to win. As applications on mobile devices allow people to make good use of their scattered time and read anytime and anywhere. 

Product competitiveness seems to be the key to future success. Many domestic e-reader companies have begun to turn their single-purpose reading hardware into a multi-function study and work tool, making the product far more appealing to a larger consumer base. For example, they integrate notetaking, transcription, email and other functions into the reading device. Will Amazon try similar strategies to retain its Chinese readers or sit by and accept its instant noodle title?

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