Things are going better than expected at Amazon HQ. They recently released their third quarter financial results, and they were pleasantly positive. Even in a stagnant economy, the company reported an increase in cash flow of 98% over last year.
Leading the charge was none other than our deal old friend, the Kindle.
“Kindle has become the #1 bestselling item by both unit sales and dollars – not just in our electronics store but across all product categories on Amazon.com. It’s also the most wished for and the most gifted. We are grateful for and energized by this customer response,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. “Earlier this week we began shipping the latest generation Kindle. Its 3G wireless works in the U.S. and 100 countries, and we’ve just lowered its price to $259.”
While their success is no doubt impressive, Amazon would be remiss if they rested on their laurels. As we all well know, Barnes and Noble is releasing their own Nook to compete with the Kindle 2. Priced at $259, the Nook offers more features than the Kindle 2, including a touchscreen for navigation and the ability to lend books purchased through the Barnes and Noble store, for the same initial investment.
As if Amazon weren’t operating at a disadvantage already, Barnes and Noble revealed Tuesday that they would soon be reselling Plastic Logic’s QUE in their stores to compete directly with the Amazon Kindle DX. The QUE features a roughly 10″ diagonal screen, like the Kindle DX, and features native support for common business filetypes like Excel and Powerpoint.
The QUE was originally slated to release in 2009, but Plastic Logic pushed its debut until early next year. It was previously reported that the QUE’s store of online content was to be fueled by Barnes and Noble, but the agreement to actually sell the QUE in stores and on their website is a new one.
I harbor no inherent loyalty to Amazon, but it seems to me that the ball is in their court. Their biggest competitor will soon release a product with more features and at the same price point as their primary model, and next year even their market for premium e-Readers aimed at business users is compromised. The move to make the Kindle International the standard SKU at $259 was a step in the right direction, but it’s clear to even the casual observer that it’s not going to be enough.
They can ride their name recognition for the time being, but it’s going to take a big price drop or a major development in their product line before Amazon can consider themselves the leaders in the market again. And that, ladies and gentleman, is why competition, even in as small a market as e-Readers, is a brilliant thing.
Outside of the tactile feel and smell of books, one of the biggest mental barriers people have against picking up an e-Reader for the first time is the assumption that one’s brain simply doesn’t retain information attained via a screen as well as it does via the page. If you’re on the fence about getting an e-Reader yourself, or this issue comes up often when you try and sell your family and friends on the Kindle, there may finally be some science to back you up.
The first thing one has to understand is that reading is not a natural process for the human brain. Instead, it’s a technology that we’ve cobbled together because of our natural ability in the area of language, as well as our god-given visual acuity. While many skeptics of e-Reader technology insist that reading the printed page is as natural as breathing air, the fact of the matter is that humans have only really been reading in great numbers for the last 500 some-odd years since the printing press went into mainstream use. Whether consciously or not, we developed the technology to fit around the way our brains process information.
A French neurological study on the subject of the human brain and reading found that humans read best when the ventral visual system (the part of the brain responsible for building a representation of the world outside of the body), is stimulated by words displayed in a familiar format. If words are represented in an unfamiliar way, a different, slower pathway in the brain is activated that focuses on processing the information from each letter individually.
So what does that mean? It’s possible that, for certain people, the experience of reading on a computer screen is unfamiliar in the same way that seeing letters jumbled or rotated is unfamiliar. They’re forced to use that secondary ventral pathway to process the information they take in, which means that it not only takes longer for them to understand what they’re reading, but it can be more mentally taxing as well. Combine that with the very human predilection to be distracted by all the temptations of the Internet, and I think it’s easy to see why some people observe that their digital reading experiences aren’t quite up to the standard held by books.
That’s the rub. The very design of the e-Reader, the very intention of the e-Ink technology, is to replicate that paper experience as crisply as possible. There aren’t yet studies to support it, but for many people who grew up with the printed page, the clarity of e-Ink is enough to stimulate that primary ventral visual system, making reading as smooth as possible. And indeed, for younger folks already accustomed to reading on a screen, the e-Ink might not be necessary at all.
In my opinion, the biggest enemy of the eBook moving forward is companies like Apple, who are reportedly quite interested in getting into the e-Reader market. While I don’t doubt their ability to produce a quality product, Apple’s habit of trying to make do-it-all gadgets has me concerned that their version of an e-Reader is going to focus on all the bells and whistles instead of the literary experience. I fear that while I’m trying to read about how awesome Andrew Jackson was, it’ll be death by a million distractions, from Twitter updates, to instant messaging, to, heaven forbid, phone calls from Mom.
As long as e-Readers succeed at keeping the background noise to a minimum, there’s no reason eBooks can be just as immersive as the printed page. We’re likely never going to do away with books, for a variety of reasons, but it’s not because eBooks don’t work. It’s just a matter of whether we have the wherewithal to just sit down and pay attention.
Isn’t competition wonderful? On the heels of the nook announcement, Amazon has decided to do a bit of maneuvering to stay competitive. Until recently, the two “flavors” of the Kindle 2 were U.S. Wireless and International Wireless. Amazon has consolidated to just the International Wireless and dropped the price down to that magical $259 mark.
If you happen to have ordered the Kindle International at the higher price point, Amazon is going to take care of you. Word is that $20 rebates are being handed out to early adopters, so there’s no reason to send your Kindle back.
Things have really gotten interesting in the eReader world. I can’t wait to see what is in store for us over the next few months. Amazon has a good lead in the eReader race and you can be sure they want to keep it that way. B&N appears to have released a good runner, but I have a feeling that the finish line is miles and miles ahead.
As simple as it is to load up a Kindle with content and start reading right away, it’s the parting with the device at the end of its life cycle that actually remains the murkiest for avid e-Reader owners. Whether you’re selling your Kindle to pay the bills, upgrading to a Kindle DX, or making the move to competitors’ products (we hear good things about the Nook!), you can find your questions answered here.
Kindle to Kindle
Of course, one of the simplest transitions can be made when you’re leaving one Kindle behind to get a new model. Amazon gives you the option of registering multiple Kindles to the same account, allowing you to seamlessly reacquire all your old content on your new device. Simply click ‘My Account,’ hit ‘Manage Your Kindle,’ and deliver your library of content to either device. This works exceptionally well for those of us who want to hand our old devices down to spouses and partners, as long as you’re operating under the same account.
Do be aware however, that Amazon restricts the number of times that books can be downloaded to different devices. This isn’t something that comes up terribly often, since most people haven’t even had their first Kindle experience yet, but you can be locked out of content that you’ve purchased. Downloads can be limited to 5, 4, and sometimes even 3, depending on the stinginess of the publisher. This number is completely hidden and varies from title to title, so use discretion.
Kindle to e-Reader
The exception, of course, is anything you’ve downloaded from Project Gutenberg or any of the other sites out there that offer public domain or creative commons titles. As long as the files are in MOBI, PRC, or TXT file formats, they can be read across the board.
No, it’s cool. We understand. Sometimes it’s just difficult being a member of an elite and prestigious group like Kindle owners. The stress of it all can really get to your head. If you’re selling your Kindle off, separating it from your account is as simple as going to the ‘Manage Your Kindle’ page and hitting the “Deregister” link next to the device that you’re leaving behind. You can still re-download your content if you choose to get another Kindle down the road, and it remains accessible to your PC and registered iPhone for as long as you’re associated with the same account.
With the Nook just now exploring the lending angle of DRM-restricted content, I expect that the move to more platform-accessible file formats is in our future. Once publishers realize that it’s in their best interest to allow the flow of content from one device to another (with a layer of DRM to protect their bottom line, mind you), I expect that this process will become far simpler and more open.
Until then, choose your poison!
If the battle for e-Reader supremacy hadn’t started in earnest already, ladies and gentleman, it is so ON! Barnes and Noble has today released specs for their new hotly-anticipated entry into the e-Reader market – the nook. (And yes, that’s right, this device is so new and edgy it doesn’t even use capital letters!)
We already reported on many of the colorful and interesting new features of the device after it was scooped last week, but let’s rehash a bit, shall we?
- It sports a 6” E ink Vizplex screen, making the reading surface more or less the same size and quality of the Kindle 2.
- Navigation is handled by a 3.5 inch color touchscreen LCD below the main screen, which seems like it will operate in much the same way as the album browser on the iPhone. (Though from the kitschy video that they’ve released, it doesn’t look quite as smooth.)
- There is 2GB of internal memory, the same that can be found in the Kindle 2, but B&N has wisely decided to include a microSD slot as well, so you can expand your memory up to 16GB with an additional card purchase.
- AT&T is the 3G wireless carrier of choice, and their network is supplemented with the ability to access Wi-Fi networks. In fact, you’ll be able to access Wi-Fi for free at all Barnes and Noble retail locations. A noble gesture, to be sure, but who is going to a brick and mortar book store after buying an e-Reader? I digress…
- If I’m reading this correctly, it appears as though the nook also sports native PDF support, which is a big plus for people like me, who find themselves constantly sending things to their @free.kindle.com address to get them converted to accepted file formats.
- Here’s a feature I didn’t know I needed until now: personalized screensavers. Instead of the folksy pictures of birds or scowling countenance of James Joyce, you can now upload jpegs of your kids or whomever else to adorn the screen. A nice touch.
- There’s a replaceable battery which is reputed to last up to 10 days. Given that Amazon claims the Kindle 2 can last up to 14, I would peg a more realistic number around 3 days of moderate to heavy use. The big change though is the replaceable battery –when your Kindle battery dies, you have no recourse except to get a new one. The nook will have no such problems.
- The LendMe technology will allow you to share most eBooks with friends and family on their nooks, supported phone, or computer for up to 14 days at a time. This is a real game changer.
I don’t think there’s any question that the nook is the superior device to the Kindle 2. In fact, one could say that it was engineered specifically to one-up the Kindle in nearly every respect. (I’m shocked that they didn’t go as far as positioning it $10 less than the Kindle at $249, instead of the now-standard $259.) All the little quibbles that Kindle owners have had over the last couple years have been addressed – seamless PDF support, replaceable batteries, faster navigation, the ability to lend books, expandable memory, and even easier access to public domain titles through an agreement with Google.
In fact, the only areas in which the Kindle still appears to have an edge are in its experimental features – specifically the web browser and text-to-speech – and access to newspapers and magazines. I was a little surprised at the lack of periodicals in the B&N eBook store, but hopefully that’s something they shore up before it officially launches.
While hardly the revolutionary device it could have been, the nook is poised to dominate if they can release it in time for the holiday rush. I’ve noticed that peoples’ reflexive dislike of e-Readers disappears instantly the moment they hold one in their hands. As soon as Barnes and Noble starts positioning these in their stores nationwide, they could well become the new juggernaut in this burgeoning market.
There’s no firm release date just yet, but that should be coming sooner rather than later. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a hands-on impression before long, so keep your eyes peeled.
For those of you who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of your internationally-flavored Kindle, your wait is nearly at its end. Amazon has announced that the Kindle International is shipping out today. Also, it seems they have plenty on hand, so if you’d like pick up the international version for yourself or maybe for the upcoming holiday season, now’s the time to place your order.
This Kindle International version is an answer to many of those who either live or travel outside of the United States. Owners of the Kindle International version will be able to download new material while travelling abroad. Those of you who have been waiting for Amazon to begin shipping the Kindle to other countries will finally get to see what all the fuss is about!
The international version of the Kindle is essentially a Kindle 2 with a different wireless service. This is great news since the original Kindle 2 (if I can call it that without causing too much confusion) has been Amazon’s most popular Reader. So, you’ll be able to purchase, download, and store a library of books (over 1500) all with the same little device. You’ll get all the features that made the Kindle 2 a huge success with the international mobility so many have been asking for.
If you’re looking for the perfect traveler’s gift for this holiday season, give the Kindle International a look. But don’t wait too long… just like previous releases, it’s possible this version of the Kindle will sell out quickly, especially with Christmas being right around the corner!
The consumer gadget world has been abuzz for weeks about a series of press invitations sent out by the book giant Barnes & Noble. The invites were purposely vague, it would seem, simply referring to “a major event in the company’s history” to take place in New York City on October 20th.
While B&N seemed to at least make a half-hearted effort at keeping the subject of the event secret, the Wall Street Journal stole a bit of their thunder, publishing a story last Friday outlining their plan to release an e-Reader to compete with Amazon’s Kindle.
According to their report, which was confirmed Wednesday with photographs obtained by gadget blog Gizmodo, the new as-yet-unnamed device will feature a black and white 6-inch e-Ink display (the same size as the Kindle 2) as well as a small touch-screen color LCD display on the bottom which will serve to both show book covers in greater and richer detail than an e-Ink screen is capable of, but also allowing for a more intuitive touch-based navigation system and a virtual keyboard for typing.
For years, device-makers have struggled with the limitations of e-Ink technology. The dream has always been to allow for the color, richness, and touch-navigation of an LCD with the readability and power-savings of e-Ink. The Kindle opts to use e-Ink for everything, and its slow refresh rate makes for a second-rate content navigation system. Sony’s e-Readers utilize the touch-screen interface, but their device isn’t quite as readable thanks to the extra layers of material. B&N’s new reader would appear to circumvent these limitations by relegating the two technologies to their own separate screens.
While theirs is a clever solution to the puzzle of mixing the two technologies, the degree of convergence is probably not as thorough as most gadget geeks, a brotherhood of which I am a member, would like. Until they can truly blend the two technologies on one screen, they’ve only solved half the puzzle. But hey, it does look like the device has an easy-to-use book light for reading in dark places. There’s real innovation.
While these leaks have kind of taken away much of the surprise of the October 20th event, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered. With the hardware presenting only an incremental upgrade over the competition, the shape of Barnes and Nobles’ content delivery service may well determine their success. We’ll have to see whether the rumored Google Books accessibility will come to fruition, and the built-in social networking features hinted at by Gizmodo, which include the ability to lend books and utilize connectivity with Twitter and Facebook, could become the device’s biggest selling point.
However the event does shake down, I’m excited to see another legitimate contender on the market. In the mean time, we’ll be keeping our ears to the pavement for the latest rumors and developments.
Just weeks ago, Jeff Bezos, the founder, president, and CEO of Amazon.com, unveiled a new version of the Kindle 2 with International Wireless capabilities. On the surface, this announcement appeared to be the harbinger of a global consumer invasion, drawing those living and traveling abroad into the warm fold of Kindle ownership. As is the case with anything spanning international borders, however, things are not always quite as simple as they seem.
Despite assurances on Amazon’s page that most titles and New Releases are going to be pegged at the attractive $9.99 price point, subsequent interviews with The Guardian revealed that international customers will be paying as much as 40% more than their American counterparts, to the tune of $13.99 per title. When you also consider that the International Wireless version costs $20 more than its domestic counterpart, it’s easy to see why potential international users are wary. The Amazon spokesman interviewed by The Guardian cited factors like higher tax rates abroad for eBooks than print books, but that doesn’t explain the higher fees they want to charge in other places, like Australia.
It appears that the blame for the higher cost likely lies at the feet of the new partnership Amazon has with AT&T, who will be providing the wireless 3G service for international users. Existing Kindles in the United States currently utilize the Sprint network to connect to the Internet and deliver titles wirelessly to the device anytime and anywhere. But while Sprint has much lower operating costs for their wireless network than AT&T (which might help explain the recent price drop), AT&T’s strategic partnerships with foreign wireless carriers gives them an advantage in coverage area that other providers can’t match.
This higher price point might have been but one slight bump in the road to global success, but it’s hardly the only area of resistance. Amazon has also struggled to secure deals with the book industries in other countries. The 200,000+ titles currently available might suffice for American users, but users in Australia, for instance, might be reluctant to make the plunge knowing that the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) has resisted publishing anything through the Kindle.
That organization, which represents 3000 Australian authors, has expressed displeasure with Amazon’s price model. Jeremy Fisher, executive director of the ASA, explained their reasoning in a piece by The Age, remarking, “As I understand at this point in time, Amazon asks for a very, very big discount from publishers for their works to be included in Kindle so that the return coming back to the publisher is smaller and the return coming back to the author is smaller.”
With Australia’s two biggest newspaper companies also taking a very ‘wait and see’ attitude regarding the Kindle and its competitors, citing similar complaints about their cut of the take, the battle for international e-Reader dominance is wide open. While I’m more than willing to admit that I’m a total Kindle loyalist, having an open and competitive marketplace produces the best products at the best price for consumers, so I say let the battle begin!
There’s no denying the fact that when you first hold a Kindle, it feels as though you’ve got the future of mass market literature in your hands. That sense of being on the forefront of a new wave of technology is one of those intangible joys of being an early adopter.
According to a new report launched by Forrester Research, an independent research company, that sense of being among the few to enjoy the technology might not last much longer. The 2009 holiday season is forecasted to be the breakout year for e-Readers, which have so far outstripped their projected sales figures for this year by 50%. That’s actually small peanuts, because by the end of 2010, they project cumulative sales in the US to more than double to 10 million.
Among the many factors contributing to the future success of this market niche, the availability of a number of different e-Readers from well-known consumer electronics manufacturers, most of which we’ve profiled, is the principle one. Forrester Research predicts that the expansion of the market will be driven by a new generation of tablets that sport features like flexible displays, bigger screen sizes, color, and video.They’re also predicting that brick and mortar retailers are finally going to devise a way to properly sell e-Readers in their stores. Barnes & Noble will be at the forefront of this push, utilizing their ubiquitous retail presence and established relationship with book publishers to elbow their way into the market. Best Buy is another big player, as they’re in the processing of putting in “Gadget and eReader” sections in all of their stores and properly training their once-clueless staff about the technology.
Watching this whole process as an avid reader of eBooks should be interesting. Speaking personally, I think some of the newcomers to the marketplace are sabotaging their efforts before they start. Including new wrinkles like touch screens and the ability to play video are nice features, but they give the impression that one is buying a large handheld iPhone instead of a dedicated e-Reader.
Any new entrant that doesn’t feature e-ink for ease of viewing and wireless access to a robustly-stocked store of material is operating at an immediate disadvantage. Sexy new features will help them appeal to the mainstream, but the bread and butter of the e-Reader market is actually in selling books, and if a new device can’t do that well, no amount of flash is going to endear it to consumers.
Whatever your e-Reader of choice, it’s clear that the best times for eBooks are still in front of us. As fun as it is to get in early on an endearing new form of media, mainstream success this holiday season will bring more publishers to the table, drive prices down below their already reasonable levels, and introduce a greater variety of material for our viewing pleasure. It’s a good time to be an e-Reader enthusiast!
When you hop onto to the Amazon site this morning, you’ll be greeted with another familiar message from Jeff Bezos. There are not one, but two big announcements surrounding the Kindle 2!
First, the Kindle 2 is getting another price cut down to $259 (from $299). So if you’ve been on the fence about getting the most popular reader on the planet, you just got 40 more reasons to jump over to the Kindle side.
Second, a new (sort of) Kindle is being made available soon. You can now pre-order a Kindle 2 with International Wireless. As Jeff himself puts it:
“Until now, Kindles have only been available to U.S. customers. Starting today, international customers can now order Kindle with international wireless and get their English-language books in 60 seconds.”