TORONTO - Canadians can finally discover for themselves whether Amazon's Kindle ebook reader is worth all the hype and the more than $300 it will cost to have one shipped north.
Amazon.com announced Tuesday that the popular device - which is lighter than the average paperback, less than a centimetre thick and has a 15-centimetre screen - is now available in Canada, about six weeks after it launched internationally in more than 100 other countries.
It has been available in the United States for two years.
Amazon remained tight-lipped about why the Kindle took so long to come to Canada but said it was happy to finally sell it to Canadians, who were very vocal about their desire to buy it.
"We've heard a lot from Canadian customers that they want a Kindle and they're excited about it," said Jay Marine, director of product management.
"We've obviously got a large Canadian business with passionate readers so we're really excited to make it available."
Amazon is selling the Kindle and its ebooks in U.S. dollars, which Marine said helped expedite the sale of the device in Canada. He wouldn't say if Amazon is moving toward selling the Kindle in Canadian funds.
But the high value of the loonie makes the US$259 price a good deal for Canadian shoppers, who have often complained about products being much more expensive in Canada compared to American stores.
A reader in Toronto considering a Kindle will pay about $330 after accounting for currency conversion, shipping, and an import fee of almost US$34, which includes taxes and duties.
Kindle's biggest competition in Canada is the Sony Reader Touch, which has the same screen size but a smaller hard drive. It sells for $300 in the United States and $400 in Canada, plus taxes.
There are more than 300,000 ebooks currently available to Canadians through Amazon, with each title downloading wirelessly in about a minute. Bestsellers will typically be available for US$11.99 or less, Amazon said.
The Kindle's two gigabytes of storage can hold up to 1,500 books and can also store and open other file formats including PDFs, Microsoft Word documents, MP3s and podcasts.
Kindle's ebook selection still has some glaring holes in it, but Marine said Amazon is working on adding more titles.
Scotiabank Giller Prize-winner Linden MacIntyre's "The Bishop's Man" and Kate Pullinger's "The Mistress of Nothing," the winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction, are not available to Kindle owners.
Some publishers also are choosing to delay the release of ebooks until after they come out in traditional format, which means Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue: An American Life" is still unavailable to Kindle users.
"Canadian customers should expect . . . the selection will continue to grow," Marine said. "Our vision is to have every book ever printed, in any language, all available in under 60 seconds."
In the case of some hugely popular books, such as the first title in the "Twilight" vampire series, the paperback may actually be cheaper than the ebook version; Amazon.com sells the paperback for US$4.50, while the ebook goes for US$6.50.
But for titles like Lawrence Hill's "The Book of Negroes," the Kindle ebook is about US$8 cheaper than the paperback. And ebook buyers also save on shipping fees.
A selection of more than 90 magazines and newspapers, including the Globe and Mail, also are available for the Kindle and periodicals can be purchased a la carte or by subscription.
A subscription to the Globe costs US$15.99 a month and is said to include most articles found in the newspaper. But images, tables, the crossword puzzle, box scores and classifieds are not transmitted to Kindle users, who can expect to receive the paper at around 6 a.m. ET.
Amazon is competing with Indigo Books & Music Inc.'s (TSX:IDG) Shortcovers.com, a Canadian ebook store that sells to customers around the world.
Shortcovers is working to be a leader in selling Canadian content and hopes to be the preferred online ebook store for users of all sorts of digital readers, including Kindles, said president Michael Serbinis.
"People can choose to use the device they already own, so you don't have to go out and buy an ereader to use our service, you can use your iPhone, or your Blackberry, or PC," Serbinis said.
"An open platform is what we're focused on, to bring that choice to people who want to read any time, anywhere on any device."
One very big selling feature of all digital readers is the ability to quickly build a massive free library of public domain books, which have expired copyrights.
It would take 20 Kindles to store all the titles hosted at sites such as Gutenberg.org, including literary classics like "Don Quixote," "Pride and Prejudice," "Wuthering Heights" "Great Expectations," "Crime and Punishment," "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Art of War."
The release of the Kindle in Canada comes just in time for the holiday shopping season but Amazon doesn't expect to run out of stock.
"We're hopeful we've stocked enough inventory, having said that, we've been surprised before," Marine said.
"But our plan and goal is to be in stock for customers."
Like some other international users, Canadians won't be able to use all the Kindle features based on its wireless connection.
Subscriptions to blogs and the Kindle web browser won't work in Canada, although access to Wikipedia will.