The Kindle Can Change South America

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Books are incredibly expensive in Chile.  I’m talking $50-$80 for a new hardcover and $30-60 for a new softcover.  Even used books can be $5-15.  It’s even more expensive for books in English.

It’s easily 2-5x more expensive here to buy a book, sometimes more. Textbooks are closer to US prices, but that’s still much more expensive when the GDP per capita is around $15,000 and the minimum wage is about $400 per month.  These extremely high prices put books out of range for Chile’s poor and even middle class.

I talked to a friend who works in a language school who told me that when she goes back to the US, the school asks her to bring books back because they are so much cheaper there.  Every Chilean I’ve talked to about book prices says “oh man, don’t get me started, it’s ridiculous.”  It’s a big problem.

Books are fast, simple ways to transmit large amounts of knowledge quickly.  They are the the most cost effective way for poor and middle class people to learn.  Those without access to the internet still read the printed word, and even those with internet access still buy one of the four published daily newspapers (primero, sengunda, tercera, cuarta) which come out at various times of the day.

I’ve talked to a few people and it seems that the reason they are so expensive is taxes.  The government has a tax that amounts to about $3-6, and sometimes more on each book.  Also, there seems to be a tax on publishing that gets baked into the cost somehow.  All of these costs add up to $80 hard cover books.  It makes no sense, when the government ran on a platform of education reform and educating the poor.

Which brings me to the Kindle.  The 3g enabled Kindle provides free access to the Amazon store from over 100 countries in the world, including Chile and Argentina.  You can be sitting in park, pull out your Kindle and browse for free and Amazon foots the bill.  They have made deals with all of the local cellular networks so that you can buy books from anywhere.  I can buy just about any book in English for between $1 for classics and $9 for brand new hard covers.  The vast majority are $6 and you have the entire Amazon store at your fingertips.  Books download in 30 seconds.

The new wifi enabled Kindle costs $139 and the 3g enabled Kindle costs $189 on Amazon.  When buying a Kindle costs less than 2 books, it just makes sense to buy, even for those without much money.  As the price of Kindles fall below $100, they will begin to be even more attractive to South American readers.  Unfortunately, you can only buy a two generation old 3g Kindle in Falabella for 199,000 pesos, or about $400, as the government slaps a tax on imported electronics.

The other problem is that there are hardly any books in Spanish available for purchase.  There are classics like The Count of Monte Cristo, Don Quijote and The Three Musketeers, trashy romance novels, a few different versions of the Kama Sutra and believe it or not, lots of books from the “church” of Scientology.  There are a few exceptions: you can find a few Isabelle Allende books and other very well known Spanish speaking authors, but there are not many.

As more books in Spanish get formatted for Kindle and Kindle’s price falls, Chileans will have a much greater access to books at a much lower price.  Kindles and other ereaders are poised to change Chile and other South American countries by providing cheap access to knowledge and circumventing the taxation and publishing industry prices.  It will be interesting to see if the government tries to extend it’s hand into ebooks, as they have with published books.