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Jeff Bezos, CEO of Inc., shows a Kindle in Cupertino, California, Oct. 6, 2009.

KIMBERLY WHITE/Kim White/Reuters

If you live in Zimbabwe, Myanmar or the Falkland Islands, rejoice - you can now buy Amazon's white-hot electronic book-reader, the Kindle.

Canada, however, is still off-limits. Inc. announced Wednesday it will begin selling the Kindle - which the company describes as the best-selling product among the millions it sells - in about 100 countries around the world.

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But customers in Canada are still unable to order the device, possibly because of a delay in an agreement being reached with carriers over the Kindle's use of wireless technology to download content.

"It seems very odd to me, and I was very surprised to hear that they're not distributing the International Kindle in Canada," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. "I would assume that they will launch this product in Canada as soon as they can."

For Canadian consumers, it's yet another in a long line of annoying delays and prohibitions - from smartphones that take years to go on sale to online gift cards that are bound by mysterious legal restrictions to Internet video that won't play once it recognizes the user isn't in a particular country.

Prospective customers who tried to order the Kindle on Amazon's website Wednesday instead received a message stating: "Unfortunately, we are currently unable to ship Kindles or offer Kindle content in Canada. We are working to make Kindle available to our Canadian customers as soon as possible."

The first half of the message is a standard one - the same note greets users trying to ship the device to Somalia, for example. However Amazon's promise to make shipping available as soon as possible appears unique to Canada.

Until that happens, Canadians will have to wait - or move to Burundi.

What is the Kindle?

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Amazon's bestseller is an e-book reader. It weighs less than the average paperback, but can hold 1,500 books, the company says. The first version of the device came out in 2007, selling out almost immediately. There are currently three versions of the device - the original Kindle, the improved Kindle 2, and the larger Kindle DX. The latter two are currently only available to U.S. customers. The Kindle uses 3G wireless technology to let users download and read magazines, books and newspapers.

Why is it so popular?

Although Amazon has yet to release specific sales data for the Kindle, company executives have repeatedly said the device is "the most wished for, the most gifted, and the #1 bestselling product across all the millions of items we sell on" Part of the Kindle's popularity lies in the massive number of titles Amazon has leveraged to create the Kindle store. There are now more than 350,000 titles available at the store.

Other e-reader manufacturers are also getting in on the game. Sony, for example, has a product currently available in Canada. However, the Kindle's combination of name recognition and huge title support have given it most of the headlines - akin to the iPod and iTunes store for Apple in the world of online music.

Although electronic books still represent a tiny fraction of overall book sales, their increasing popularity in recent years has exceeded many analysts' expectations. Ms. Epps expects e-readers to be a "breakout success" this holiday shopping season. She adds, however, that for the devices to truly go mainstream, prices have to drop to about $100 (U.S.) a unit - Amazon cut the price of the U.S. Kindle to $259 yesterday, and the international version is priced at $299; Sony's e-reader starts at $199.

Why isn't it available in Canada?

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Amazon typically has to overcome two major hurdles when introducing the Kindle to a marketplace: copyright and related issues with book publishers, and agreements with carriers for the device's wireless capabilities.

Canadian publishers say they're not the ones holding things up.

"As far as we know there's nothing related to copyright issues, but more an issue with the wireless networks," said Diana Barry, director of digital services for the Association of Canadian Publishers. "We're quite keen to work with Amazon to include our members' content in their services."

Responding to questions by e-mail, Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener would only say: "Kindle with US & International Wireless has wireless connectivity in Canada. We want to ship to Canada and we are working on it."

Asked by e-mail if there was anything he could say on precisely what the issue is holding up the Kindle's launch in Canada, Mr. Herdener simply did not respond.

A Bell spokeswoman said the company has not yet been approached by Amazon to offer the Kindle, but would certainly be open to discussing it. A Rogers representative did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. A Telus spokesman declined to comment on the issue.

Sources say the delay may be due to newly discovered competition. Until recently, the wireless technology used by the Kindle was available only through Rogers. This week, however, Bell and Telus announced a new next-generation network that will go live in November, giving Amazon more options to choose from for their device. The two carriers announced this week that they will use the new network to begin offering Apple's iPhone, previously only available through Rogers.

"You'd think that Bell and Telus would jump at the chance [to partner with Amazon]" said Iain Grant, of the telecom consultancy SeaBoard Group. "You'd think that Rogers, now that they're no longer exclusive on the iPhone, might jump on the chance too.

"This might be a very good time for Amazon to re-look at Canada."

There seems little doubt that Canadians will eventually get their hands on the Kindle, the only question is when. If Amazon does decide to partner up with Bell or Telus, then Canadian customers can expect the device as early as next month - only a few weeks after the Cook Islands.

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