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Amazon Takes Kindle Global, Cuts Price in U.S.

In an effort to keep pace with the rapidly expanding digital book market, Amazon today introduced a new member to its e-reader family -- Kindle with U.S. & International Wireless.

Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) new e-reader will allow users to wirelessly download content in 100 countries and is available for pre-order today for $279. The Kindle with U.S. & International Wireless goes on sale Oct. 19.

The online retail giant also reports that it will cut the price of its older Kindle 2 model to $259 from $299.

"Kindle is the most-wished-for, the most-gifted, and the No. 1 bestselling product across the millions of items we sell on Amazon, and we're excited to be able to lower the price," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, in a statement. "We're also excited to announce a new addition to the Kindle family with global wireless. At home or abroad in over 100 countries, you can think of a book and download it wirelessly in less than 60 seconds."

The U.S. Kindle Store now has more than 350,000 books, which are typically $9.99 or less, according to Amazon, which also said that more than 75,000 books have been added to the U.S. Kindle Store in the last five months.

Amazon's news of extending the reach of Kindle overseas comes at a time when the nascent e-reader market is slated to explode and is becoming increasingly competitive -- several companies have devices slated to launch soon, many of which include support for global wireless connectivity.

The emerging popularity of e-readers isn't going to slow down anytime soon, said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, who just revised her projections for e-reader sales in her report issued today titled "Forrester's E-Reader Holiday Outlook: 2009."

"This holiday season, e-readers will be one category that's a breakout success. Lower prices, more content, better distribution and lots of media hype are contributing to faster-than-expected adoption of e-reader devices in 2009. Based on consumer data and reports from vendors and retailers, Forrester is revising the projections we published earlier this year.

"We now anticipate sell-through in 2009 of 3 million units -- up from our previous estimate of 2 million units -- with 900,000 units selling during the holiday season, which Forrester defines as November and December. Based on a number of factors, we expect sales in 2010 to double, bringing cumulative sales of e-readers to 10 million by year-end 2010. If the category expands beyond E Ink-based displays in a substantial way, 2010 sales can easily surpass this projection," says the report.

So how will Amazon's Kindle fare with the price cut and overseas expansion? Epps said it's not a slam-dunk, but it's a prudent move.

Dropping the price of the Kindle will help Amazon harness this momentum and keep the Kindle competitive with less expensive e-readers like the $199 Sony Pocket Reader," Epps told InternetNews.com.

She sees the new model as bridging the gap in Amazon's roadmap, for now. "We expect a lot of innovation from Amazon in 2010 on the device front, but until they're ready to release a totally new device, this is a way for Amazon to extend the appeal of the Kindle to U.S. consumers, by making it cheaper, and to international consumers, by making it available to them," said Epps.

She said the move, however, won't ensure global dominance just yet. "International markets for e-readers are very fragmented -- for example, China has its own e-reader brands, like the leading Hanwong, which sells its device for $249 and it comes with 6,000 free e-books." But even though Amazon is selling in 100 countries, that won't include China but it does include India, Brazil, and Russia, as well as Cambodia, Vietnam and even Myanmar."

Meanwhile, a slew of new e-readers are getting ready to take on Amazon's front-runner.

The iRex DR800SG, due out next month, sports several features that will compete directly with the popular Amazon Kindle: an 8.1-inch touchscreen, the capability to connect to the Internet overseas and support for open digital book formats. The manufacturer, iRex Technologies, already sells a popular e-reader in European markets.

Sony (NYSE:SNE) is also beefing up its presence in the sector and recently unveiled the Reader Daily Edition, with a 7-inch screen that, like the iRex, costs $399, includes a touchscreen and supports EPUB.

The Reader Daily Edition is Sony's first e-reader to have wireless 3G connectivity and is set to go on sale in time for the holiday season, which means it will beat out Plastic Logic's device, also being synced up with the B&N e-bookstore, that's due out in early 2010.

Taiwan-based PC hardware maker Asus is also prepping a budget-priced e-reader for release later this year, with the potential to take on more expensive devices from Amazon, Sony, Plastic Logic, and now perhaps, iRex Technologies.

Asus, most recently known for pioneering and helping to popularize the low-cost netbook PC category, is set to release its e-reader dubbed Eee Reader for about $160 -- a price tag that recent research indicates as the sweet spot for enticing new buyers.

Sony also recently introduced two lower-budget e-reader models without 3G support: the Touch Edition, with a 6-inch screen and a suggested retail price of $299, and the Pocket Edition, with a 5-inch screen, and a suggested price tag of $199.