A francophile friend is eagerly trying to buy French books and periodicals for her new Kindle DX. She splits her time between Seattle and France, and would love to consolidate her reading materials electronically for practical reasons. Fueled by optimism, she bought a third generation Kindle last Friday.
She loves Kindle’s promise, but disenchantment is already setting in… For reasons that aren’t clear, the usage scenario she has in mind is not well supported by the current market environment. She has spent hours searching www.amazon.fr, to no avail. No French books to speak of, and hardly any periodicals.
Her trial subscription to Le Monde has revealed a number of usability issues. There’s no teaser format that enables her to skip to the articles that most interest her. No images, text only.
Update: March 14, 2012 — Amazon has launched the French Kindle Store (at last!), and now offers over 4000 French classics at no charge. You can visit Amazon for more information on what’s available for French speakers. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the French publishing industry to agree to release current titles for enjoyment on a Kindle…
And now, back to my friend’s wish list — for the experience she wants on a Kindle…
En Français, S’il Vous Plait
Her dream: read French novels, newspapers and magazines on a conveniently portable device like the Kindle. Current releases, not just 19th century public domain books. Because she’s passionate about perfecting her French comprehension and pronunciation skills, she’d love to read while listening to a simultaneous playback via MP3 (or equivalent).
French is not her native language, so she wants to be able to select unfamiliar words on the Kindle, thereby launching a built-in dictionary whose entries explain their meaning. She’d also welcome the option of viewing French-to-English translations of unknown words and slang (a must-have for people whose French is less fluent than hers.)
She’s very interested in Kindle’s text-to-speech option, especially if it doesn’t sound like a robot. Needless to say, she expects the text-to-speech option for French content to produce words pronounced correctly in French, rather than listen to a techno-voice trying to pronounce French words as if they had been written in English.
Before ordering the Kindle, my friend did some research which revealed that Amazon had released a digital publishing platform for French language authors in January. That sparked her purchase of a Kindle. Surely, she thought, there’d be French ebooks in the marketplace by now, 6+ months since Amazon released its multi-language publishing platform.
Hélas! She’s learned there are few contemporary books in French for Kindle. And no linked dictionary for French content as there is for English language content.
Too Early, Or Too Unusual?
Her big question: is she just suffering early adopter pains, and if she waits patiently, will someday have the opportunity to read French books and magazines on a Kindle? Or is she an outlier, a member of a niche market of French readers who would welcome electronic books, but who are too few in number to motivate the French publishing industry to embrace the new digital formats?
And what about the French government’s continuing quest to promulgate the French language around the world? Will France succeed in ensuring a steady demand for French language publications beyond French borders? And if so, surely digital formats would make French publications more easily accessible to a broader global audience if booksellers could avoid the brick-and-mortar challenges of inventory forecasting, shipping costs and other import-related challenges.
The Wall Street Journal describes the role of the French government in protecting the rights of small independent booksellers, and speculates on what’s in store for electronic books (September 24, 2010 article). Will the same law that protects small booksellers against heavy discounting also apply to electronic books?