Friday, September 30, 2011

The New Kindles: Is It Me or Is It Hot In Here?

This week Amazon announced a new line of Kindle eReaders that will undoubtedly secure their dominance in the selling, marketing, and publishing of eBooks during the holiday season and beyond.

Throughout the entire press conference, the mostly silent crowd listened carefully as CEO Jeff Bezos introduced several devices with a range of price points, in essence making digital reading accessible to the masses.

Of course, all were there to learn about Amazon's highly anticipated tablet dubbed Kindle Fire and they were not disappointed. The 7" device is light, well designed, and fully optimized to consume Amazon's wealth of digital products such as eBooks, Music, Movies, Magazines, and much more. In order to make all these offerings seamlessly available on this Android driven tablet, Amazon also announced their own proprietary cloud browser called Silk, which seems to be the key to making everything come together in a smooth, integrated, and intuitive way. Personally, I'm not a fan of the smaller screen experience, and I doubt I'm alone with this point of view, which must be why there is much speculation that a 10" Kindle Fire will be released sometime early next year. Regardless, other than iPad2, the Kindle Fire will most likely be the "must-have" gadget this winter and should be popping up everywhere on December 26th.

That said, the Fire wasn't the Kindle I found most intriguing. For me, it was the $79 eInk Kindle with Special Offers that really caught my attention. At this price, practically anyone who's been waiting to buy a simple digital eReader that both looks and works great can now afford to own one. And once purchased, those on a tight budget will find enough free and public domain titles available in the Kindle store or from their local library to read for a lifetime (or at least until the next Kindles come out).

There were two additional versions of Kindles with 6" Pearl eInk touchscreens and slightly higher price-points that were also introduced, but this was unsurprising. After Barnes & Noble released their latest Nook, which had similar features, no one had any doubt that Amazon would do the same.

One new feature that Jeff Bezos demonstrated for the touch devices was something called X-Ray, which is meant to provide deeper information described as the "bones of the book." I imagine this development, along with the ability to look up word definitions, note taking, etc., will only add to the overall enhancements that distinguish reading on a Kindle vs. a print book and I look forward to giving it a try.

You can watch the entire press conference here.

Overall, what concerns me most is whether or not the likes of Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony can continue to compete with Amazon in the eReader market. Of these three I suppose Sony can continue to stay in the game from the sales of other products like TVs and Playstations, but what about the others? Will sales from non-book products such as plush toys and stationary be enough for B&N to lower the cost of a Nook or Nook Color in any meaningful way? Can Kobo afford to reduce the price of their device to $50 and still be profitable? Only time will tell, but as of now the future of eReading looks like it might boil down to just Amazon and Apple leaving authors and publishers with very few options when it comes to selling eBooks on a grand scale.

What do you think? Will the book industry be able to stand the heat?

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