Friday, August 6, 2010

Amazon's Kindle Lowers the Price, Raises the Heat

I was out of the country on vacation for most of July and decided to take a break from blogging thinking it was the middle of summer and hey, things would be fairly quiet in the book world, right?

Boy was I wrong!

For starters, Copia, a new company launching a "social" e-reading experience and web based community, has announced they are releasing a $99 e-Reader with a color touch screen sometime in the fall. This is a complete new strategy from the one I had learned about and reported here back in March. It's still unclear whether or not this ambitious and relatively unknown company can make e-waves with consumers, but I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Barnes & Noble is coming on strong with plans to introduce huge installations within their stores to promote the Nook e-Reader. It's a bold and necessary move that demonstrates their commitment to the growing demand for e-Books, but its success will be riding on the execution of this strategy. Will enthusiastic employees significantly help sell devices to curious shoppers? My guess is yes, but I still say improvements to the Nook itself would go a long way to increase its popularity.

If I'm correct about the need for a better Nook, then B&N will need to do it soon 'cos Amazon just announced two new Kindles that are sleeker, faster, lighter, and most importantly, less expensive. These latest versions seem to be taking a page from the Sony Reader by reducing the amount of the casing that surrounds the 6" screen. Plus they're now available in both white and graphite, which is interesting because in the past Jeff Bezos had consistently said that the decision to make the Kindle white was because it made the device virtually disappear in the reader's hands, allowing the eye to focus on the written word. He was right, for I've experienced that effect myself, so the introduction of what's essentially a black Kindle was probably made to simply attract more male customers. I'm convinced this is why you can now purchase the Kindle DX in graphite as well. It just looks cooler and let's face it, guys like that. I still marvel at how amazing my sleek, black 80GB iPod Classic looks and feels in my hand. If only all electronic makers could create objects of such beauty .

And for me that includes the design of these new Kindles, which yes, look nicer, but surprisingly still include a physical keyboard and toggle for navigation. What would be great is if Amazon could create a dual screen Kindle, sort of like the Nook and Alex, with an E-Ink screen at the top and a touch screen for navigation located below it (color or not), but with a non-raised body to give it a "full screen" look, as with the iPad and Zune, and with nothing more than a thin flat line separating the two screens. Basically a flat tablet with an E-Ink screen that you can read in sunlight. Wishful thinking I guess, but in the slick universe of Apple and Android products, these Kindles still look a bit archaic to me. But I suppose most people aren't nearly as fussy about this as I am since Amazon has reported they've already sold out of the new devices and they won't be back in stock until September.

Clearly the main attraction for Amazon's customers has been price. The Wi-Fi/3G model remains $189 but the new Wi-Fi only model is a very affordable $139. It's not hard to foresee these price-points decreasing even further as we head into the holiday season, which will not be great news for Sony, B&N, Borders, Copia, or Kobo, unless they too can afford to lower the cost of their e-Readers, but either way all of this means one thing: A whole lot of e-Books will be purchased during December and the result will be a noticeable shift in consumer behavior affecting the publishing industry and bookselling community in profound ways throughout 2011.

How do you think this will all play out?

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