Amazon to pull Kindle e-readers and bookstore from China

Poor sales may be to blame, not censorship.

Xing Yun/Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Chinese readers are about to lose some choice in e-books. Reuters reports Amazon is pulling Kindle products from China over the course of the next two years. The company will stop offering Kindle e-readers to local retailers as of today, and plans to shutter its digital bookstore in the country on June 30th, 2023. The Kindle app will leave Chinese online stores on June 30th, 2024, and customers will have until then to download any books they've already purchased.

Amazon will still provide warranty service and other help for Kindle e-readers, and will accept returns for "non-quality issues" for any device bought after January 1st, 2022. Hardware, apps and books will still be usable after the 2024 cutoff.

In its notice, Amazon stressed that this didn't represent a withdrawal from China. The company had a "long-term commitment" that included online shopping and smart home devices. Amazon also told Reuters that this wasn't due to censorship or other government pressure, and that it occasionally "make[s] adjustments" following reviews.

Poor sales might play a role. While Amazon is a frontrunner in the e-reader and e-book markets for numerous countries, it has struggled in China as of late. The country was once the Kindle's largest market, with internal data (obtained by Reuters) showing that it represented over 40 percent of e-reader sales in 2017. The rise of Chinese competitors like Xiaomi andTikTok parent ByteDance eroded Amazon's share, however, and iiMedia Research analyst Zhang Yi told Nikkei that the Kindle brand is now "relatively niche" in the region. The Chinese are more likely to read with their phones, and domestic e-book services like Tencent's China Literature dominate where the Kindle app isn't even in the top 10.

Amazon isn't the only American company scaling back its Chinese presence. Airbnb, LinkedIn and Yahoo (Engadget's parent company) have either limited services or withdrawn entirely. Amazon's exit from e-reading is one of the more prominent examples, though, and illustrates how difficult it can be for US firms to court Chinese audiences.

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