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Amazon Now Forcing Canadian Kindle Owners to Switch to Canadian Kindle Store

January 20th, 2013 by · 37 Comments · Amazon

canada kindle store NOAmazon is a company that usually treats their customers quite well, so today’s news of their recent boneheaded maneuver comes as a shock.

I have received multiple reports (here, here, here) today that Amazon is now refusing to allow their Canadian customers to buy Kindle ebooks from Amazon.com.

Amazon has been selling Kindle ebooks to Canadians since the Kindle Store went international in August 2009, and even though they did little to build up a market share Amazon has still managed to attract a number of Canadian ebook readers.

Over the past couple days several of those readers have reported that many Kindle titles are showing up on Amazon.com as not being available to Canadian customers even though the same titles will show up on Amazon.ca as being available.

For example, Cloud Atlas is listed in the Amazon.com Kindle Store but if you have your country code set to Canada you will see this:

cloud atlas Canada Kindle

That same title is available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.ca.

So far as I can tell, the only ebooks still available to Canadian Kindle owners are titles distributed via KDP, seriously limiting their ability to make use of their Kindles.

Update: I’ve just been told on Twitter that Amazon pulled this same trick on Brazilian Kindle owners. They’re not happy either.

I’m sure that some readers are thinking this isn’t a big deal; after all Kindle owners in the UK, Spain, Japan, and elsewhere are directed to buy Kindle ebooks from their local Amazon websites. It might not look like a big deal that Canadian Kindle owners are being forced to do the same but at least some of the customers would disagree.

Amazon is pushing their Canadian Kindle customers to transfer accounts from Amazon.com to Amazon.ca, but one source told me that he would lose access to a lot of content if he did so.

First, while Amazon claims that any purchased ebooks will be available* after a Canadian Kindle owner transfers their account that’s not completely true. The ebooks might be transferred, but I’m told that a customer’s purchase history is not transferred and the wish lists are also abandoned.  That’s going to make it a lot harder for some readers to keep track of what they own and what they want to buy.

Oh, and that claim about the Kindle content transferring isn’t exactly true. Amazon.ca doesn’t yet support subscriptions, nor does it offer Kindle Serials. That means this Kindle content will be lost in the transfer process along with any back issues that had been saved. What’s more, Amazon.ca doesn’t offer music and video so transferring an account will prevent customers from accessing media they’ve already purchased.

I can understand why Amazon might want to move Canadian customers to their local site, but it is also pretty damn clear that Amazon did not realize how this would hurt their customers. Some of these folks have been buying Kindle ebooks for the past three years – ever since the Kindle Store went international in 2009.

That’s over 3 years in which they built up a presence on Amazon.com, and now Amazon wants them to simply throw it away. Why would any customer do that? There’s nothing in it for the customer. Much would be lost in the transfer and nothing gained.

What’s particularly surprising about Amazon’s misstep is that it comes so soon after a similar blunder on the part of Barnes & Noble.

B&N Leads the Way

As you probably know, a couple months back B&N announced the imminent closure of Fictionwise. B&N wanted all ex-Fictionwise customers to transfer their accounts to the Nook Store, and in at least my case they were successful in transferring much if not all of the content.

But Fictionwise’s international customers did not have the same luck. They were basically told to go piss up a rope. B&N doesn’t sell ebooks outside of the US and UK, so rather than keep Fictiownise running and support the international customers they decided to not allow former Fictionwise customers to create accounts in the Nook Store (unless you have a US credit card and shipping address). Instead these customers will only be able to save the content they download before 31 January 2013.

B&N has engendered a degree of ill will with their blunder that far exceeds any damage Amazon might do, and it is a lesson Amazon should have learned from rather than making a similar mistake. But at least Amazon is going to be able to recover from their mistake; all they need to do is apologize and make it up to the customers who complain.

In writing off all the international customers, Barnes & Noble probably harmed their international expansion plans. They might not have pissed off a large number of people in absolute terms but when competing against a juggernaut like Amazon every little bit helps.

I am more than well aware of the issues of book and other content markets being divided based on national borders, and we all understand that you can’t buy everything everywhere. My acceptance of that situation ends when companies blithely start taking away legitimately purchased content just because they decide it doesn’t suit the way they’re organized their business.

That’s a different issue.

(Thanks, Stephen!)

 

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37 Comments so far ↓

  • ElizabethN

    Unfortunately it’s not just the international customers that have been mishandled by Barnes & Noble. I’ve been in contact weekly with B&N support for the fictionwise transfer of ebooks and the needed access code to complete that transfer. Since the end of November I’ve been told that my case would be moved to the next level and that I would get my access code sometime that week. During my phone call last week, I was informed that they’ve had to extend the closure of fictionwise to the end of April. I honestly have little faith that B&N will manage to get my 1500+ library transferred and I’m glad that I’ve downloaded & backed up as I purchased the ebooks.

    Barnes & Noble lost a lot of our family’s book money when they waited 2+ years to offer (paid!) club members any type of discount on the nook. They had another chance with this transfer to gain back some of our book spending money but have blown that opportunity as well.

    Unlike B&N customer service, I’ve always had good results with my interactions with amazon customer service. For the Canadian customers, hopefully contacting amazon customer service will result in some positive changes.

    (I apologize for the venting, you can tell that I’m a bit annoyed with Barnes & Noble.)

  • Sarah Ettritch

    The other issue with Amazon.com–>Amazon.ca is gift card balances. I used to ask for Amazon.com gift certificates and use them for my Kindle book purchases. I know others who did the same. Fortunately I only had a small balance remaining, and thanks to your heads up, I just spent it. But I’m sure some customers will be left with money in the pot that they can no longer spend on Kindle books.

  • fjtorres

    While moves like this (and B&N’s various international misteps over the years) may not impact a lot of users in actual numbers the damage to their brand and reputation is significant.
    Stories like this get recycled and revisited and the impact is magnified.
    Not a good thing.
    (I seem to remember quite a few folks around Mobileread have but Amazon.com and Amazon.uk accounts. Not sure how they’re swinging it or if the trick–if any–might work for canadians.)

  • Eric Welch

    Hi Nate:

    I wonder if you could explain or point me to an explanation of the legal restrictions that exist for purchasing (or not) digital content from another country. I remember years ago having an account at Blackwell’s and getting their catalogs from which I purchaser numerous books, all perfectly legal, I assume, even though they were in England and I was in the U.S. So why can’t I purchase some audible titles in England that have not been released in the U.S. Where do these rules come from? Publishers? Distributors? Are they enforceable?

    • Nate Hoffelder

      Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but I think it’s a contract issue, not a copyright issue.

      There used to be a time where the location of the seller of the ebook was important, not the location of the customer, and that situation was much like the paper book market. You could buy from any ebookstore in the world and it would be perfectly legal. But then it changed.

      As I understand it, a few years ago some UK based ebookstores noticed that they were losing customers to US ebookstores. The US stores didn’t have to pay VAT so they could offer a lower price. Since the UK ebookstores couldn’t compete, they started pressuring the publishers and/or distributors to do something about it. The publishers and/or distributors forced a reinterpretation of contracts under which the ebooks were distributed. All of a sudden ebook rights depended on where the customer was located, not the seller.

      That shift in the contract is pretty much the only reason why B&N is writing off all of Fictionwise’s international customers. They don’t have a choice, really. Well, they could just eave Fictionwise up and running but I guess they don’t want to bother.

    • Jayne

      http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/06/13/todays-interesting-bit-of-trivia/#comment-334883

      The above comment by a Tor editor is the best written explanation I have ever seen regarding why/why not for purchasing digital content across regions.

  • Juli Monroe

    I’m glad you got most of your books in the Fictionwise shut down. I got 11 out of more than 400. Thankfully I had already backed up everything I wanted.

  • Afrânio

    The same thing is happening here in Brazil. They’re trying to force Brazilian costumers to migrate their accounts to amazon.com.br.

  • Former Amazon Customer

    I am glad to see someone finally bringing light to this.

    On the Amazon forum discussions, Canadians have tried discussing the notices going up and the unannounced shutting down of the kindle store purchases but every time they try and see if others are experiencing the same, the usual defenders jump in and start spamming the boards with pro-Amazon diatribe.

    I don’t think they understand that many of us have been loyal and prolific purchasers of Amazon as it was our only choice and to pretend that we could choose either store was false.
    I found that out the other day when I tried to buy the latest Michael Connelly eBook and now it just shows paperbacks or hardcover.

    Our big option over at the .ca does not have the same features or prices. No transferring of subscriptions, no forums for help, no gifting books, limited choices, etc. and we are to believe it is the same?

    I have been monitoring the prices since the banner popped up about transferring accounts and a lot of the titles were cheaper and now some are over the $10 and $13 mark now that we can only buy from the one. Pathetic!

    Amazon is also treating letters to CS about it as “feedback” and not taking it seriously.
    I am using up the gift cards I purchased and I am done. This is unacceptable and I would rather pay more via iTunes or even Kobo, than support a company that thinks so little of us as consumers, especially when our dollar is at par.

    They have tried to say it’s the publishers but the disdain with which we were treated is all on Amazon this time.

  • KarlB

    There’s one Kindle book I know of (and that I would like to buy) that’s available in Amazon.uk but not the US Amazon (and US customers aren’t allowed to purchase it), so it works both ways, for whatever that’s worth.

  • DonnaBeeGood

    Also, I’d like to point out that Amazon also pulled this stunt on a weekend, when “Customer Service” is not that available to help. Also, if they feel that they must force Canadians to use the .ca store, shouldn’t they also be making their devices available to said customers?

  • Perogyo

    For what it’s worth, the same thing has happened in Japan. Until 2 or 3 days ago, we bought from Amazon.com on our region, just like Canadians. Now the books are unavailable on Kindle for purchase for those with the Japanese region, and you are supposed to change to the Japanese store, which has always had fewer English language books available for Kindle than Amazon.com. Very frustrating!

    Strange that they are doing it so soon after Kobo came to Japan via Rakuten. Many of us users in Japan are considering switching to Kobo now.

  • Alexander Inglis

    I’m not particularly fussed. Lots of amazon.com titles have not been available to Canadians in the past and some of those were available anyway … but as a different sku. Harper Collins titles, for example, might show up as a Harper Collins Canada or another HC imprint for the Canadian Kindle edition — which generates excatly the image you show in the blog post above.

    Nor have subscriptions, mp3 files, cloud services etc etc been sold to Canadian accounts (you had to lie and provide a US address) so nothing is “lost” in this transition. More hopefully, Amazon.ca will eventually offer all those services down the road. Amazon opened a west coast warehouse recently, added an Amazon.ca VISA card, and launched 2-day Prime Shipping … with ebooks FINALLY sold through the Amazon.ca website, more Kindle products and digital services are likely in the works.

  • Vanessa Williams

    I am one of those customers with a massive investment in amazon.com who woke up Saturday morning to discover that I can no longer purchase any content. No warning was given, no explanation, and there is no recourse. Customer Service either really has no idea what is happening, or has been instructed to plead ignorance.

    All magazine subscriptions are simply gone. No way to get them back. This is an epic customer service failure, and if it has been happening already in other countries, it means Amazon just doesn’t care about the damage caused to its customers.

    Trying to discuss this on Amazon is pointless. The discussion is instantly drowned by Americans who simply will not tolerate any criticism of their favorite company.

    I feel betrayed and very very angry. Anything I can do to avoid doing business with Amazon in the future, I will. This is the worst I’ve ever been treated by a company with whom I’ve done thousands of dollars of business over a period of several years. Even my bank isn’t quite this evil.

    • Ingo Lembcke

      > if it has been happening already in other countries
      As for Germany, the situation is different, as someone with a german creditcard and or bank-account you could order a few things like CD, DVD, Blu-ray and printed Books from Amazon.Com, but nothing else (at least not much). Downloads like Kindle ebooks, MP3, Videos where either not possible, or required a 2nd account and gift-cards for payment or a credit-card with a US-billing-address, and maybe faking your address by using a US-Street-Adress.
      Which is a rather grey area.
      If you did not want to do that, you just could not buy eBooks from Amazon.Com. The change at Amazon.Ca / Amazon.Com which affects you, is only possible, because Amazon allowed you to buy eBooks and other things at Amazon.Com. So this does not affect buyers of ebooks in say Sweden or France, they should not have been able (without trickery) to buy eBooks from Amazon.Com anyway.
      Which does not make it right.

    • Vanessa Williams

      I’m following up my own post to note that MOST books have been re-instated for Canadians on the amazon.com store. It began last night. There are still books missing, ones which I bought in the last week or two and are now forbidden. But as of this writing these are in the minority. Something changed last night. Whether it was Amazon bowing to massive volume of complaints or simply fixing an error. CS has not communicated anything about it. It remains to be seen whether the still missing titles will re-appear or not. If they don’t another round of screeching will be in order (hey, it’s not fun but it seemed to work the first time.) Good luck, everyone, and keep up the good fight.

  • Sick of ignorance being spewed across the internet

    Amazon did nothing. This is the publishers doing. It is the publishers who are pulling their books, not Amazon. Are customers getting shafted? Yes they are. But it’s high time people stop claiming that Amazon did this. The only way that you are going to get things changed back to the way they were is to aim your anger where it belongs. Otherwise you leave the real bad guys sitting pretty as the company they have hated since 2008 get slandered left and right. You do nothing but hurt your cause acting this way.

    Esp you bloggers. If you want people to consider you “journalists” then you should act like one. Don’t post ignorance and unsubstantiated claims as news. Do real research and stop considering the general public’s knee jerk emotion filled claims as facts. The contracts with pubs are ending and as they end they are pulling out of amazon.com, where they are losing the fight for the Agency Model, and moving to the specific regional based stores where the Agency Model is going strong.

    Amazon has always informed customers when it was them who were pulling ebooks. They informed customers when they pulled them in their fight with Macmillian. They informed them, 30 days in advance, when they were pulling all the old books and moving to mobi books back in 2006. They have a track record of informing customers of their actions of this magnitude. But when it’s the pubs who do it, such as when Penguin did it during the Agency Model fight, or when Canadian pubs pulled books from Amazon 2 years ago in preference to Kobo, it just happened with no warning. Just like this time. If a real “journalist” bothered to do some research they would have been able to tell who is most likely to blame for this based on history and the events of the past year over the Agency Model.

    • Nate Hoffelder

      No, it is not the publishers.

      There’s simply no way that all the publishers selling in the Kindle Store could decide to block Canadian sales on Amazon.com. The pulling of the content is simply too widespread for a concerted action. And it is frankly impossible for all those publishers to have decided this on the same weekend.

      No, this is Amazon.

      • Sick of ignorance being spewed across the internet

        It wasn’t all done at the same time. It’s been slowing happening for a couple of weeks now across multiple international versions of the store. Canada, France and Brazil being the ones most noted. Furthermore, when a contract is up it is up. If they don’t renew then all books under that contract are pulled all at once. Thus, the numbers of books pulled can be very large, upwards of thousands, depending on the contracts and the publishers.

        I would also note that the one most complained about in the past week, Canada, is the one who’s local Kindle store is most recent. It was opened barely 2 months ago so it has the fewest numbers of people who’ve already switched. It happens to also be the first country with large numbers of buyers as Canadians were buying and using the US only model right from the start in 2007. So they have a good sized and vocal customer base that seems to be drowning out the fact that this is happening to more than just Canada and has been happening for a couple of weeks.

        • Nate Hoffelder

          There are pissed off Kindle owners who have reported otherwise in this comment thread, so I’m not sure I believe you.

          • Sick of ignorance being spewed across the internet

            It doesn’t matter what you believe. What you believe (and what emotionally charged people say when they are angry) doesn’t change the facts. Facts that can be researched. Facts we have been discussing for years on the Kindle boards. Plus.. as was pointed out above the books are coming back. Just like when Penguin books “disappeared w/o warning” in 2010 when their contract ended and Amazon/Penguin were fighting over the Agency Model.. when they finally renewed the contract the books slowly “magically” came back.

      • MizzBee

        Mr. Nate, I probably know this and has performed this but I can not remember. How does one backup ebooks bought from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kobo or Sony?I have their apps on my computers and tablets and have downloaded all books to those, is that the backup? I think what throws me is when commenters use the term “backup” their bought ebooks from these sites.

  • Ingo Lembcke

    > No, this is Amazon
    Check the Sony-eBook-Store. They have for sometime now, I guess 4 months at least, a button-flag in the upper right corner, “US store, Canadian Users click here” (for me …).
    So, while the change may be sudden and the support bad, I do not believe that it is Amazon.Com who is doing this on their own, but rather under the pressure of the publishers.

    • Vanessa Williams

      You may be correct that the publishers instigated this. Nevertheless, a concerted campaign by angry Canadian customers has changed something. Since we have no leverage with publishers, but we do have leverage with Amazon, making Amazon aware of our displeasure seems to have got results. If Amazon dealt directly with the publishers on the issue, then good on them.

  • Bruce V.

    Sometimes one publisher may have US rights for a title and a different publisher has the Canadian rights for the same title. So if Random House had US rights and sold a title through the Kindle US store, but they did not have the rights to sell the same title in Canada (say Penguin had purchased Canadian rights for this title) then it would be up to the publisher with Canadian rights to make it available through the Kindle Canada store.

    The availability of a specific title in any given country is outside of Amazon’s control, unless Amazon was the publisher with rights to sell a title in a given country.

    • Nate Hoffelder

      Nope. Amazon is making arbitrary decisions on whether you can buy a title from one of their websites:

      Nothing irks me more than going to Amazon.co.uk, for example, and seeing “Kindle titles for your country are not available Amazon.co.uk.”
      Why the hell not? I have placed no geographic restrictions on the titles. They are available worldwide. Amazon should, indeed, have such a checkbox so that I can allow the book to be purchased via any Amazon Kindle store. Granted, as far as I’m concerned, there should be only one Amazon Kindle store. It would certainly make checking my sales quicker, what with having to flip through all the bloody stores in the dropdown box (of course, seeing as how the page is so wide it needs a scrollbar, certainly they could add one more column for the store the sale(s) came from?).

      There’s absolutely no reason for Amazon to choose to not sell a title when they have permission to do so.

  • njoy

    I’ve bought at least a thousand dollars worth of Kindle books from .com and now (contrary to Vanessa William’s posts, above) I am forcibly redirected to .ca where (in barely readable print) I’m told “Nope, not in your country. Go away.” about almost every Kindle book I want to buy. WTF is going on? Why does nobody seem to know?

    Amazon may or may not be solely responsible for this mess but they still have a responsibility to treat their customers with some respect. I’m sure the backlash on this debacle has cost them millions already and will cost billions unless they get it straightened out. They’ve already lost at least $ 100 in sales from me in the past month. Do they care? Clearly not.

  • Keith Sketchley

    I’m not surprised, administration of Amazon are stumblebums who can’t even grasp the principle behind their boss’s concern about usability of toy packaging.

    I know they lose much busines because they are so difficult to communicate with.

    Bill Gates predicts that every company will decline eventually, Amazon is on its way.

  • Nick

    Not sure if something has changed or if not all users are affected by this, but I’m still able to buy Kindle ebooks from .com. I bought two textbooks from .com the other day and Cloud Atlas is showing as being available for purchase with 1-Click.

    I get this message at the top of every Kindle page:
    “Great news! You can now shop for digital content at Amazon.ca in Canadian Dollars. Learn more about transferring to Amazon.ca”

    Purchases of the textbooks (“White Space is Not Your Enemy” and “The Non-Designer’s Design Book”) went through without any problems.

  • Ian

    I’m really surprised that nobody here seems to know, or that they (AMAZON) is not leveling with customers, but us Publishers do know exactly why this is happening! Canada has a LAW (outdated and just plain stupid now) called the HERITAGE CONTROL ACT which makes it ILLEGAL for Foreign bookstores to sell into the Canadian Marketplace. In other words, AMAZON.ca (considered Canadian) can sell and ship books to Canadians, but AMAZON.com (USA) cannot – legally. That has been the case for PHYSICAL books for some time now (though 3rd. party re-sellers often ignore this) and all of our Canadian customers cannot buy our books from AMAZON.com and have them shipped to Canada. I guess they thought they’d challenge the law with KINDLE books, but I’ll bet the Canadian booksellers complained and the government leaned on AMAZON, and now they are inconveniencing everyone.

  • ivan

    Amazon can help some of its customers by allowing US gift cards to be transferred to Canada.

  • PissedOff

    Whoever is responsible for this crappy way of doing things should realize that they are encouraging people to use torrents to get the things they want.

    I know a lot of people who use torrents not because they want to get their stuff for free, but because they simply can’t get the stuff they want otherwise! If I have to go through the assle of a fake US adress and / or proxy to get something, I’ll just get a VPN and get it at least for free for my trouble.

    I don’t mind paying if you make my life easier and I think artists should get compensated for their work. But if you actually make life harder for your customers than what they would face if they use torrents, don’t come after them bawling that they use pirated content.

  • Mary Smith

    I know its Dec. 2,2013 and your previous messages here ended quite a while ago, but I just noticed something when browswing on Amazon.com today. I live in Canada and was searching Amazon.com today as I do many times and was looking at Kindle Fire HSX -7″ prices. I looked at prices of Kindle of Amazon.com the U.S site and suddenly I was switched to Amazon.ca which has never happened before. When I went back to amazon.com again and looked at kindle area, the same thing happened. It has always been the case that there has been a big notice at the top of Amazon.com main page saying something like Are you shopping from Canada, go to Amazon.ca. Well thats a laugh to me as Amazon.ca is a lame site compared to Amazon.com and many things available on Amazon.com are not available on their Canada site. I have bought many DVD movies from Amazon.com which were not available on amazon.ca site or were much more expensive, but when buying dvd movies on Am azon.com they have never switched me to Amazon.ca without me clicking on amazon.ca. I think Amazon.com have a lot of nerve to do that to Canadians or anybody else. I have relatives in the U.S. and for all they know I could be buying something for a U.S. relative or telling a U.S. relative about a product they might be looking for on Amazon.com, but to just presume that I don’t want to look at Amazon.com and that I am only allowed to look at amazon.ca where they don’t mind me buying anything, but that I shouldn’t bother to look at Kindle products on Amazon.com. I think Amazon.com have got too big for their britches. Canada is next door to the U.S. and we drive over to the U.S. and buy products and are their main shoppers outside the U.S. because we are close by. so to me, Jeff Bezos or whoever, should take a look at amazon.com and stop making Canadians feel unwelcome by switching them to amazon.ca when we don’t want to go there. They will lose a lot of business if it wasn’t for Canadians buying from them. We are their biggest business partners. I am ticked.

  • Ghislaine

    Don’t transfer you account to amazon.ca. I just bought an ebook today (2013-12-06), when asked to transfer my account, i refused and continued with my purchase. Hope it stays like this.

    • Mary

      Ghislaine – I am a bit confused by your post. If your comment refers to my message above, I am not sure what your message means. I was not asked by Amazon.com to transfer my account to Amazon.ca. I was just switched to amazon.ca because I tried to browse in kindles on Amazon.com. I am in Canada, and would not need to transfer to Amazon.ca. I can buy DVD’s and some other products from Amazon.com without a problem, but when I recently tried just to browse on Kindle on Amazon.com, I was automatically switched several times to Amazon.ca by amazon.com. I just wanted to see what newer Kindle devices they have on amazon.com which they don’t have on amazon.ca. Only U.S. people can buy kindles from Amazon.com which I knew before I tried to browse. I wouldn’t be able to buy any kindles from amazon.com even if I wanted to. They would not allow me to go through the checkout without a U.S. address.
      If you live in the U.S. and registered on Amazon.com they would not ask you to transfer you to Amazon.ca. They probably switched me to amazon.ca because they detect I am in Canada and switched me to kindles area on amazon.ca or they don’t want me to even browse there for some reason.

  • Shari

    I am Canadian and can no longer shop on amazon.com where they are keeping $92.98 balance on my gift card. I can no longer access those funds as I am not allowed to shop on amazon.com anymore. I keep getting redirected to amazon.ca where I have to pay by credit card.
    They can give me no explanation as to how to get my money transferred to amazon.ca, or refunded. This is robbery! How can I get access to my gift card balance?

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