Amazon today unveiled its much-anticipated e-book reader device, thus heading deep into a market that is still looking for momentum.
The e-commerce giant is betting that the simplicity of the Kindle and its wireless capabilities will help it succeed in the fledgling e-book industry where other reading devices have historically fallen short of expectations.
“Products in the past didn’t nail the device,” Charlie Tritschler, Amazon’s director of Kindle, told InternetNews.com. “At a high level, two things have changed,” he added: usability and content.
Amazon is promoting the Kindle device as the first of its kind that successfully simulates the experience of reading a book in print.
The six-inch screen has no backlight, and it displays ink particles with an electronic paper technology designed to overcome the glare and eye strain that users complain about with conventional electronic screens.
Amazon has also forged partnerships with all the major publishers to make a large repository of titles available for rapid download, Tritschler said, addressing what he cites as the other principal shortcoming of previous devices.
From Amazon’s Kindle Store, users can shop from more than 90,000 titles, which will download in less than a minute using Whispernet, the Kindle’s built-in wireless delivery system.
Amazon has partnered with Sprint’s EVDO high-speed data network to make Whispernet available to mobile users without having to find a Wi-Fi hot spot. Tritschler would not comment on Amazon’s talks with other wireless carriers.
Whispernet delivers magazines, newspapers and blogs to subscribers automatically, and Tritschler said that Amazon will continue looking to add new content to the service.
Amazon is offering the Kindle’s wireless connectivity at no charge, so customers who plunk down the $399 for a the device then pay only for the content they download. Books from Amazon’s Kindle Store cost $9.99; monthly newspaper subscriptions range from $5.99 to $14.99; and magazines cost $1.25 to $3.49 per month.
Another avenue through which Amazon is courting content for the Kindle is the digital text platform, where users can make their own content available for download on Amazon’s site, Tritschler said. It is like a form self-publishing, where a writer can upload content to Amazon’s site and then name a price for purchase by Kindle users. Tritschler declined to explain how revenue would be shared through the digital text platform.
Amazon’s Kindle has been under development for three years. “We wanted to go beyond the physical book,” CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. “Kindle is wireless, so whether you’re lying in bed or riding on a train, you can think of a book, and have it in less than 60 seconds.”
That wireless access is the chief innovation of the Kindle, according to Forrester analyst James McQuivey. But, he added, Amazon is running into the same obstacle that has muted the impact of previous e-book devices: The Kindle is trying to revolutionize an industry whose core consumers aren’t eager to see change.
“The problem is people who love to read books at Amazon are people who love to read books, not screens,” McQuivey wrote in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.
“So although it will have some cool factor, until a device makes reading an e-book easier that reading a [paper book], there will be little reason to shift to it, even if it makes the acquisition of book material easier. It is the consumption that matters most when it comes to books.”