That’s the somewhat surprising claim from Irish author David Gaughran, who’s annoyed that readers in other parts of the world sometimes have to pay an extra $2 surcharge for every Kindle ebook purchase, which pushes 99 cent titles to three times their list price.

Gaughran writes:

I was first made aware of the “Amazon Surcharge” by a reader in Hungary who wanted to know why my 4,000 word, 99c e-book was costing him $3.44. He also wanted to know whether I was receiving any of the extra money he was being charged.

I wasn’t, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. However, after a little investigation, I discovered that Amazon were applying a $2 surcharge on all e-books in most international countries.

If you live in USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or the “Amazon Germany” countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein), you escape this surcharge.

However, if you live anywhere else that Amazon sell e-books, you will get hit with this $2 surcharge. In fact, the surcharge used to be applied much more extensively.

In the absence of any answer from Amazon, Gaughran speculates that the retailer is using the $2 surcharge to fund the free wireless on 3G-capable Kindles. I’d extend that to say it may help cover the general cost of doing business in various countries, but regarding the 3G expense, Gaughran thinks it’s unfair to spread it to every Kindle customer—even the ones who only use Wi-Fi or who download and transfer books using a PC.

So how does this hurt ebook adoption rates in those countries? He suggests that by doing this, Amazon gives other booksellers an incentive to keep their own ebook prices higher in an attempt to discourage ebook adoption.

I don’t know if that’s true, and on a very basic level, it seems odd to lay the blame on the company most responsible for all the disruption of the past few years. But I think Gaughran’s position is that while it might not be deliberate, Amazon’s international surcharge solution is too broad and unsophisticated.

On the plus side (if you’re worried about Amazon becoming the Only Bookstore In Existence), he says he’s been pushing international readers to Smashwords and the iBookstore, and Smashwords in particular now accounts for nearly 10% of his sales.

Read the full post at David Gaughran’s blog.

Update: Paolo Amoroso writes that Gaughran’s post is being actively discussed at both kindleboards and MobileRead.


(Photo: Marco Martins-Costa)


  1. Amazon made the choice to make their ‘whispernet’ available world-wide when they started shipping international Kindles. They did this by using existing data roaming agreements through their US carrier. The data transferred using these agreements is very expensive. Thus the $2(+local taxes) surcharge. As Amazon have come to direct agreements with mobile data operators in other countries, they have dropped the surcharges in those countries. Hopefully, the list of countries with a surcharge will continue to expand over time, as Amazon makes more and more agreements around the world. As for not applying the surcharge for account holders with wifi-onlyi Kindles or Kindle for PC/MAC: Amazon could drop the surcharge. But then people in the same country would be seeing different prices, depending on what device they own. This might well be illegal in some countries. And the customer support angle would be terrible. And what happens when someone with a large Kindle library actually buys a Kindle with whispernet? Do they pay $150 for the Kindle, and then get hit with another $2*library size surcharge? While I hated the surcharge while it was applied in the UK, I can understand why Amazon did it, and why they still have it in other territories. It’s all about making the customer experience as simple as possible. If you’re a sophisticated ebook buyer, you can buy your books elsewhere, without the surcharge, and convert them reading on your Kindle.

  2. I would suggest that nonsense geographical restrictions are the greatest impediment. The total impossibility of downloading Kindle editions in German from outside of the EU, and comments I’ve been reading on the various discussion boards, indicate to me that there must be a certain amount of difficulty the other way around, as well. Note to publishers: For one who is fluent in the original language, a translation is not an equivalent to the original. In other words, if I can’t lay hands on the work of German authors *in German* — not only will I not *buy* the book; I won’t even make the effort to borrow a copy via interlibrary loan. I am not the only one who feels this way. Add to that the irony that I *can* order print copies of titles published outside the U.S., which impact the environment, incur shipping charges, and can get lost in transit, but the most obvious killer use of the electronic format is *closed* to me. Then add to that the fact that the number of German-speakers living outside of the EU approaches that of the German-speaking population of Switzerland. Don’t even get me started on French. Take all of this together, and describing the present international publishing and distribution situation requires a compound noun beginning with ‘cluster’.

  3. I’m the author of the blog post quoted above. If Amazon are levying this surcharge to offset Whispernet charges, then why does the list price specifically say “Including free international wireless delivery”. I have plenty of screenshots to back that up.

  4. I should also point out that there have been some interesting theories about why Amazon levies the surcharge. One commenter on my blog suggested that Amazon are keeping the respective markets “cool” until they are ready to go in full force, i.e. with an official Kindle store. That’s plausible, but I don’t think it’s a great strategy (if true). It leaves the market wide open for a competitor, AND alienates there customers (there are plenty of threads on the Amazon forum and people are MAD). Others have suggested they are being shut out by local publishers in Europe and are struggling to get local language content, hence the slow roll-out. I’m not sure if I buy that. Small publishers and self-publishers are routinely shut out of distribution channels by the larger European publishers. They would welcome Amazon with open arms. In addition, Amazon has the power to force their way into the market, if they choose. After all, US publishers don’t list with Amazon because they like them, the do it because Amazon control around 60% of the e-book market. Amazon need to wake up. Apple are making inroads in Europe. Kobo have started an ambitious roll out with a German store with three times as many local language titles than Amazon, and they have local-content stores planned for France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands this year. They already have stores in the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, and Australia, beating Amazon’ international reach. In addition, publishers in several European countries are creating their own e-retailers, and Telefonica have launched their own e-reader and e-store in the huge Spanish language market. Dave

  5. Some time ago I have reported that I see the surcharge dropped (here in my country in Europe) for the book Tag by Simon Royle and some other books. So I thought that Amazon has ended the practice of applying $2 surcharge here, perhaps because they made better arrangement with our local mobile carrier. The same thing was reported from several other countries, like Thailand. A little bit later Simon has discounted the book to $0.99 and I see $3.44 as the price again. So it seems that Amazon levies that $2 “wireless delivery surcharge” for some books, or perhaps for some price levels.

  6. The “surcharge” is the very reason why I’m not buying a Kindle (because it would most likely be the wifi version and I find the surcharge terribly unfair). So I’m sticking to other ebook stores and to BookDepository (free shipping). I would love to make the switch to buying only ebooks, but in the end I’ll buy the least expensive edition available… Amazon may have its reasons for the surcharge, but the surcharge is the reason why I’m staying away from them.

  7. Lol, I know I’m very late to the party, but at least now Amazon says it on any eBook:
    “Kindle Price: $x.xx includes VAT* & free international wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet”
    It doesn’t say how big is this tax is, but at least they acknowledge its existence.

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