Amazon Kindle Hits China's Gray Market

The Amazon Kindle can now count itself among devices such as the iPhone being unofficially sold in bustling Chinese bazaars, marking the growing popularity of e-readers in China.

Amazon's Web site says it is currently unable to ship Kindles or offer Kindle content in China. But the devices are already being sold on Chinese Web sites and at least one stall in a Beijing electronics bazaar.

The Kindle 2 was on sale for 2,600 yuan (US$380) and the Kindle DX for 4,300 yuan ($630) at the Beijing bazaar. Both devices were loaded with an apparent software hack that their seller said enabled the display of scripts including Chinese so users can download content in those languages.

The price asked by the seller was a substantial markup from their normal price. Amazon sells its latest version of the Kindle DX for $489. The seller in the bazaar said he simply obtained his Kindles by mail from the U.S. Downstairs in the same bazaar, other vendors were selling iPhones, BlackBerry handsets and smartphones from Taiwan's HTC that were similarly carried into China informally.

Kindles are also being sold by users on China's Taobao.com, an auction site similar to eBay. A search for "Kindle" brings up several hundred results on the site.

A 3G wireless coverage map on Amazon's Web site includes certain Chinese cities, suggesting that the Kindle's 3G link would work through a Chinese carrier.

Kindles are still a rare sight in China. The seller in the Beijing bazaar said he sold just a few Kindles each week. But many Chinese companies, such as Hanvon Technology and Datang Telecom, are also making e-readers. Sales of e-readers could reach 3.5 million units in China this year, up severalfold from around 400,000 last year, Chinese consultancy Analysys International said this week.

Amazon did not reply to a request for comment.

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