Why Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite is a rip-off in India
Oh yes, I’m a bit raw right now. I’ve been sweating, swearing and seething. I have been suffering since the family decided to invest in a Kindle Paperwhite. Bought over by the ongoing “we are the readers” advertising blitz on Indian television, we took the bait and joined the bandwagon. We ordered the “all new” Kindle Paperwhite, which Amazon promptly delivered to our doorstep. But who knew that the product delivered to Indian clients is altogether different from the version available in the first world!! Turns out, Amazon has some bizarre double standards when it comes to India. While there’s no compromise on the prices, no deals, offers or discounts, the product itself is substandard. It is actually deficient in its features, lacking most of the advertised attributes, available in markets outside India. Although the User Guide on the device itself mentions the ‘Household’ and ‘Kindle for Kids’ features, neither of these are available in India. Having bought the e-reader specifically for my son, to encourage him to read, I feel cheated and shortchanged by Amazon. Nowhere, does the company warn that these basic features, which are standard in earlier Kindles are actually not available in devices bought in India. The Indian consumer is left to rudely discover that she/he has been palmed off a below par product, without explanation. What compounds my anger is that this is not a mistake caused by an oversight. Its deliberate. Amazon’s design seems to be to deliver a dumbed-down, degraded, dummy version of the real thing for Indians alone. By directing Indian buyers to the Amazon.in portal where only the tweaked, dumber version is sold, Amazon is playing some twisted double-game, which only the company can explain.
The Kindle for Kids feature is supposed to be a progression on ‘FreeTime’, available on previous versions of the Kindle e-reader. The feature basically lets you create profiles for kids so you can set reading goals for them. It tracks accomplishments, awards achievements, and generally encourages better reading habits. It also makes the Paperwhite kid-proof, locking out the Kindle Store, Goodreads, Wikipedia, and the rudimentary Web browser, so kids don’t get distracted or go shopping. Kindle for Kids is now an extension of an option to set up a Family Library of sorts, through a function called ‘Household’, on the Paperwhite. A ‘household’ can be shared by two adults, both of who can create reading lists and opt to share those. To this household, upto four independent children’s profiles can be added and loaded with reading material suitable for their age. But guess what, none of these features are available on the Kindle Paperwhite device bought in India!
If you saw their advertising, you’d think the Kindle was Amazon’s gift to readers awaiting enlightenment through the written word in digital India! That’s until you actually get one. And then, you want to throw it at someone, except you don’t know who. Because, you see, should you have a problem, with the Kindle, the only way to seek redressal is remotely, over the phone, where you deal with faceless voices, that could be sitting in some remote corner of the planet, well-insulated from your rage! Did you know that Kindle has no service centres anywhere in the world? So, should you be so unfortunate as to land a dummy product or have software/ hardware issues, all you get to do is call the Amazon helpline and let them talk you through likely solutions remotely, or perhaps not. You don’t get to see flesh-and-blood people or have anyone physically diagnose the problem or offer a prognosis. The company’s customer service is polite. They seem trained to handle irate customers. But their “thank you for calling, and have a nice day” doesn’t exactly fix your troubles. It certainly doesn’t help when they say, “I’m sorry to hear you’re facing this problem, but we can’t really help you. Thanks for the feedback.” Hello… What??
I really wonder why Amazon created a decent product with useful features serving an important segment like young readers and then unilaterally decided to switch off the function for buyers in India. Why, Jeff Bezos??! Is this some sort of weird racist thing?
I mean, imagine, paying real money in the real world, to get a real product and then having to discover a tech- apartheid that you didn’t quite account for. And of course I found out only incidentally, upon calling the customer care at Amazon.in. The man at the other end of the line said, “but ma’am we don’t have the features you’re looking for in India, I’m sorry. What I can do is arrange for you to speak to someone at amazon.com and if you can ‘migrate’, then it may be possible”. So, what do you think that means? That this is basically just a simple back-end thing that can be switched on and off like a tap, remotely. Yet, they insist on a digital divide. The first world gets the better deal. The Indian Kindle owner meanwhile, gets to, sweat, swear and seethe. Welcome to reality.
So, the supposed solution to my problem was that an Indian customer registered on the Amazon.in profile would have to migrate to amazon.com, to access the missing features on their Kindle Paperwhite. The representatives couldn’t explain the fact that they are actually heavily advertising the Kindle for Kids feature as being available in India, as is evident from this link to their user manual.
Eventually, someone from amazon.com called to address my issues. But then again I hit a wall, when a Filipino sounding customer representative calling from Egypt told me that I needed to have a US address to “migrate” to their dot com profile. Since I happen to reside in India, and cannot fake a US address, the matter couldn’t be resolved and I’m stuck with it.
I wonder if Amazon has heard of India’s ambitious plans to launch a digital revolution in its villages. The term ‘global-village’ may also not mean much to the company, given the disdain it is showing a market as large as India even after CEO Jeff Bezos met India’s Prime Minister not long ago, and was photographed looking rather gleeful. The trouble is, Indians armed with the colonial hand-me-down- English, can spread the word, as I hope to. Oddly, there appear to be many ‘satisfied’ customers, leaving comments about the Paperwhite on Amazon.in. None of them seem interested in the ‘young reader’ segment. But for those of us actually keen on that aspect, this is a huge let-down.
It might have helped if those who review the Paperwhite actually published honest assessments instead of perhaps rehashing others reviews or maybe copy/pasting from Amazon’s press releases. Instead of working with company supplied samples, it might help if tech-reporters actually experience the whole deal- from ordering online, to delivery, setup and an overall evaluation of the product as is, on the ground in India. An honest review from the ground, in place of flattering five-star ratings written from the comfort of an armchair someplace, might have helped potential buyers such as my family.
I think I’m angrier because I was naive enough to think, it was my fault for missing the instructions. At first, I thought my brothers hadn’t installed the device properly. So I reset it and started over. I read and re-read the user manual, but each time I tried to look for the promised features, the search was futile. The instructions said that once ‘Kindle for Kids’ was activated, “Access to the Kindle Store, the Experimental Web Browser, Goodreads and Wikipedia is automatically blocked. Children can only read books that you have added to their library.” I simply couldn’t locate the ‘Kindle for Kids’ item on the Home screen to get started. But I did find the restrictive parental controls. In desperation, I thought, that maybe if I activated the controls, the feature would show up too. But instead, what I was left with was a dummy device, that I as an adult was locked out of, because now the entire device was child-locked. So, there I was, making an SOS to Amazon to unlock my Kindle for me! Trust me, you can’t even start to imagine the fun of a telephonic conversation in our times of call-drops, especially when the participants speak in accents neither side can quite comprehend. Its like the blind leading the blind.
Those of you who’ve seen the Kindle Paperwhite TV commercials in assault mode these days will remember the images of the many children shown in them, poring over their e-readers. I suppose most of them have “migrated”, to qualify. Well, I guess you could argue that even without the said ‘Kindle for Kids’ feature, children can indeed use the device to read downloaded books, comics etc. Yes, they can, but there’s every chance that a curious child will bump into the rather interesting reading list on Amazon that includes some graphic covers like ‘Indian Pleasures’. The child-lock, which I’m now unable to activate to prevent being locked out of the device, leaves the access open. Because I don’t want my child to read adult fiction before he’s ready for it, I will now have to personally supervise his use of the device.
That’s why I think the Kindle paperwhite should’ve been renamed Kindle Paperweight in India.
I hope those of you, planning to invest in a Kindle Paperwhite, especially for young readers, benefit from my experience. I really should’ve known better. I remember that while working with Prahlad Kakar in Mumbai, we did the most unbelievable things while filming the ‘pack shots’- the most important part of an ad-film, which showcase the product being advertised. These would be shot at the end, and would often take upto two whole days in a studio. For the best ice-cream shots, we used mashed potatoes mixed with the right colours (not always food colours) because it retained the texture, wouldn’t melt and looked just like the real thing. The vapour rising from steaming puris for a cooking oil ad would come from a cigarette placed out of sight. The wafers in layered chocolates were actually porous sponge dipped in colouring. Shots of melted chocolate being poured was actually just paint and glue, in the right tone and shade. When we shot toothpaste commercials, the chosen models would be taken to the best dentists to get their teeth done, before we actually filmed them smiling. I, of all people shouldn’t have fallen for a set of make-believe TV commercials before investing in an e-reader.
But there has to be a price on wilful deception, don’t you think? In the case of the Kindle Paperwhite in India, they can’t even claim refuge in some hidden fine print. Amazon simply fails to deliver what they claim to offer.