Amazon's Jeff Bezos will be delighted with the press coverage that their e-reader Kindle received last week. At the BookExpo America a couple of weeks ago it was one of the main topics of conversation. It seems that everyone had something to say about it.
Unlike the Sony e-reader, Kindle uses the same technology that advanced cell phones use - you don't have to find a hotspot. Amazon pays for Kindle's wireless connectivity so you will never see a monthly wireless bill for shopping the Kindle Store. There is no wireless setup - you are ready to shop, purchase and read right out of the box. No computers, cables or syncing are required and top US and international newspapers can be downloaded immediately. The paper-like screen uses electronic ink technology which gives the appearance and readability of printed paper. Weighing only 10.3 oz Kindle is lighter than typical paperbacks. Lugging pounds of reading material while traveling will be a thing of the past. It holds over 200 books, newspapers or blogs - you just add a memory card to hold 100s more. War and Peace can be read on a single charge as the battery lasts for days. Free wireless access to Wikipedia is also included and a built in dictionary.
Not suprisingly Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon says that the Kindle is selling really well - they recently dropped the price by $50 to $359.
But some booksellers are concerned - according to the New York Times nearly all publishers who attended BookExpo America say their sales of electronic books are growing exponentially. Carolyn K. Reidy, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said its sales of electronic books will more than double this year compared to last year, after growing 40 percent in 2007 from 2006. David Shanks, the chief executive of Penguin Group USA, said his company sold more electronic books in the first four months of 2008 than in all of last year.
Neither Amazon nor Sony will say how many of their e-readers they have sold, making it impossible for bookstore owners to evaluate the threat, but what Bezos did say was that on the basis that 125,000 book titles are available for Kindle, if you look at that subset of titles and then look at Amazon's physical book sales of those same titles the Kindle unit sales are more than 6% of those total sales.
But Bezos believes that physical books will not completely go away and that anything that has stubbornly resisted improvement for 500 years is going to be hard to improve. "Just as horses haven't completely gone away," he says. "You can't ever outbook the book."
Amazon may boast the largest proprietary e-library with over 125,000 Kindle books listed on its Web site, but one of the complaints from e-readers who have purchased any dedicated device is not finding the e-books they want. Other complaints include not being able to loan or resell the books and the problem if you lose the device as it's not like losing just one paperback. Cost is also an issue because on top of the $10 for your e-books there is an outlay of $359 for the Reader. Unfortunately, although the Kindle has wireless technology, the user is only able to download and pay for text only material in grayscale versions from Amazon - some of which is available for free with WiFi - and in color.
But there is no doubt that many users are impressed by the device and it appears that the Kindle has kicked eBooks into the mainstream. It will only be a matter of time before the next generation Kindle becomes available and hopefully we will see world-wide availability - the Kindle is currently not available outside the US because of the exclusive partnership with Sprint. It only works to its full wireless potential within the U.S, and only where there is network cover thus alienating us would-be fans in other parts of the world. However, the press has recently reported that the decision has been made to launch it in Europe.