On June 21, Barnes & Noble made an aggressive pricing move, announcing a new version of their hot-selling Nook. This was a stripped down version of the Nook as we know it, without the 3G connectivity that lets users download books from anywhere in the continental United States. At just $149 though, users should be quite happy to do with just Wi-Fi. Even better, they lowered the price of their 3G-capable Nook to just $199, lowering the prices across the board.
Naturally, Amazon couldn’t just stand by and let Barnes & Noble get the better of them. They wasted no time and that very same day announced that the price for the Amazon Kindle 2 had been lowered to $189. It was an interesting strategy, undercutting the Nook model most similar to the Kindle 2 by $10, while not offering their own 3G-neutered Kindle for the particularly budget-conscious. The price of the infrequently mentioned Kindle DX remains at $489.00.
Let’s be realistic here though, neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble are getting into the business of undercutting each other just for fun. The overnight success of Apple’s iPad, which sold three million units in its first 80 days of sales and is projected to sell as many as 29 million by 2012, has created downward pressure on the pricing structure of standalone eReaders.
According to the consumer electronics analysts, mainstream consumers were having a hard time justifying the cost of a straight-forward eReader when there was a relatively cheap and much sexier alternative on the market that could draw not just from one content provider, but all of them at once. Operating margins for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are about to get much thinner, as both companies race to the bottom in price. They can afford to sell their hardware as a loss leader, much like game consoles do, as long as they’re able to make back the money on their cut of all books sold through their bookstore.
With iBooks having firmly established itself in the retail space and Borders jumping into the fray with their own Kobo readers and book offerings, the market is about to get a lot more competitive and thus, consumer-friendly. Those on platform-agnostic hardware like the iPad should be mindful of where they purchase content – it could very well tip the scales one way or the other!
Father’s Day is right on our doorstep and for many, that means a mad scramble to find gifts for Dad. Finding gifts for the old man can be difficult, because after a couple years, he’s probably got more neckties and grill covers than he’ll ever need in an entire lifetime. If your father happens to be a Kindle owner though, you might be in luck. We’ve taken a look at four accessories that could be game-changers for that erstwhile Kindle owner in your life.
M-Edge Guardian Case
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
- Takes your Kindle underwater
- Only case of its kind
- Heavy-duty construction
- On the expensive side
- Heavier than most cases
- No access to power button
The newest case from the folks at m-Edge does something that no other Kindle case on the market can boast – it both floats on water and keeps your Kindle bone dry even after being submerged completely in water. I know what you’re thinking: as cool as it would be to be able to bring your Kindle with you on that inflatable raft in the middle of your pool, is it really worth potentially sacrificing your $259 piece of consumer electronics just for the novelty?
That’s where I come in. I’ve spent about a week with the m-Edge Guardian, giving it the full run-around in my community pool. As nervous as I was about submerging the Kindle the first time, I’m not entirely sure how I ever lived without it just a week later. It sports heavy-duty construction that keeps out water up to a depth of a meter, and contains special air reservoirs that allow it to float. Reading in the pool is pretty much as relaxing as things get, and since the Kindle is basically the king of reading devices, it’s a match made in heaven for the aquatic-oriented Dad.
It might not look like it, but you can actually navigate using all the normal buttons. There is softer plastic over those parts of the case. The only button you can’t access is the power button, so you’ll have to make sure not to get too relaxed out by the pool and let the thing go idle, because you’ll have to crack it open to turn it on again. My only other real complaints with the case are that it’s heavy and on the expensive side. Realistically though, both of those sins are forgivable, since you need top-quality construction if you’re going to go submersing electronics in water. If you’ve got a father in your life who loves to read and loves to swim, this is the perfect novelty.
OCTOVO Solis Reading Light
Rating: 5/5 stars
- Compact size makes for easy traveling
- Effortless, button-less design
- Naturally tilted at an angle to reduce glare
- Doesn’t match the Kindle motif
- On the expensive side for a light
One of the necessary concessions that Amazon had to make in creating the Kindle’s e-Ink screen was in the area of backlighting. In order to give that full paper-like experience without having to worry about eye fatigue and battery life, the Kindle is often at the mercy of the ambient light you have around you. I’ve tried a number of Kindle book lights in my day, but the long-term problem I’ve had with many of them is that they add needlessly to the bulk when carrying around the Kindle.
Octovo has devised a rather brilliant solution to that with their Solis book light. Rather than attach the light to the case itself, the Solis clips on to the top of the Kindle (at an angle that prevents glare no less – they really though this through!), and you can turn it on simply by swinging the sleek aluminum arm out. The light is an LED, which means it’s fairly efficient in terms of battery life, gobbling up one AA battery in about 25 hours. It’s more expensive than most Kindle-centric reading lights, but it’s also probably the best I’ve tried so far.
OCTOVO Weave Leather Cover
Rating: 4/5 stars
- Features Amazon’s Kindle hinge system
- Really trendy-looking woven leather design
- Has that wonderful leather smell
- Way more expensive than comparable cases
When buying a third party Kindle cover, one of the unfortunate side effects is that most of them don’t make use of Amazon’s hinge mechanism. While all the covers I’ve trade to date have done a good job substituting for this with straps that hold the Kindle in by its corners, sometimes it feels like something’s missing with that hinge mechanism of the original case not being used.
The OCTOVO Weave Leather Cover is the first third-party case I’ve tried that actually utilizes Amazon’s hinge system. Like the official case from Amazon, it securely locks in your Kindle using the proprietary locking mechanism on the left side of your Kindle. It also appears to have the same microfiber interior that prevents scratching. Where it differs from the official cover is the outside. The woven leather exterior completely blows the official Kindle cover away in terms of a classy finish, as it well should for double the price of the official cover.
m-Edge Latitude Jacket
Rating: 4/5 stars
- Light-weight design
- Trendy camouflage pattern
- Zippers for full enclosure and protection
- Microfiber interior seems to attract dirt
The m-Edge latitude jacket is pretty straight forward as far as Kindle cases go. It is light-weight, sports a zipper for complete protection, comes in trendy camo colors, and even features an exterior zipper pocket so you can bring your charger cable along with you. While the Latitude is a solid case for your dollar, that’s not why I wanted to mention it.
The camo Latitude jacket is the flagship product to help promote the E-Books for Troops non-profit. This organization has undertaken the noble task of raising money to purchase eReaders for the servicemen and women risking their lives overseas. Whatever your feelings on the wars in which the military is engaged today, it’s hard to imagine a better way to contribute to their continued comfort and sanity than near-unlimited access to books, newspapers, and magazines via eReaders. Compared to hauling books around, a Kindle takes up almost no space.
M-Edge has promised to donate a Latitude Jacket and e-Luminator2 booklight for every Kindle purchased by E-Books for the Troops, but it’s up to us as eReader fanatics to donate the money that will put these eReaders in their hands. So maybe after purchasing dad’s Father’s Day gift, consider donating some money to E-Books for the Troops in his name. It’s a great cause.
The bid for your eReader dollar continues to get more and more competitive. The latest salvo was recently fired by Barnes & Noble, who emailed customers last week to inform them of a new promotion where the purchase of a Barnes & Noble Nook nets new owners a $50 B&N gift card that they can then turn around and use to start their eBook library. (It’s also available on their website.) At the typical Barnes & Noble price for a new best seller, it’s like getting four free books! The site does claim it’s a limited time offer, so if you’re in the market, don’t hesitate.
Since it’s a fair bet Nook owners were going to buy $50 in books at some point anyway, this is an effective $50 price cut. With Father’s Day right around the corner, it’s an aggressive move from the minds at the book mega-retailer, who are all quite familiar with the annual surge in “dad books” that are sold around the third week of June.
While I’m delighted to see some folks finally getting a price break, this deal only further deepens the question as to when we can expect a real round of price cuts from the major eReader manufacturers. With the much more feature-rich iPad starting at $499 and the market for early-adopters long since dried up, both B&N and Amazon need to start thinking about value and bargain positioning. Just last week, Amazon left us speculating whether the Kindle 3 would be a low-cost complement to the rumored Kindle Touch. A price drop on the existing stock certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
In fact, there are a number of things that both Barnes & Noble and Amazon could do to add value without even lowering the price:
- Include a case – It continues to baffle me why both companies pretend that something as basic as a case isn’t standard equipment for an expensive piece of consumer electronics. Instead, both opt to nickel and dime customers for another $30. These should be standard issue, with fancier versions available for those that want to spend extra.
- More free titles – There are literally millions of public domain titles out there, but neither company seems to do a lot to emphasize that fact, probably because it would hurt their bottom line to have people picking up free titles over paid ones. Would it really hurt to include more classics? (For the record, you can fairly easily get them on your own if you’re proactive enough.)
- More sharing – One of the great joys of book ownership is being able to easily and seamlessly share new works with friends and family. Amazon still lacks a lending option altogether and B&N’s is limited to one lend per book. Encouraging more sharing encourages community around their devices, and they’re not doing enough of that.
Rest assured, when there’s actually a proper price cut, we’ll be on top of it.
With the overnight success of Apple’s iPad, which endears itself to customers largely with its bright, colorful display and intuitive touch interface, there’s been a certain expectation that Amazon’s next entry into the eReader marketplace would be a direct feature-for-feature challenger. According to a recent report by Bloomberg, however, that may not be the case.
Citing sources with an intimate connection to the project, Bloomberg claims that Amazon’s next version of the Kindle will not be an iPad-killing touch-based tablet per the expectations, but a more incremental upgrade on the already-existing Kindle line. It will sport a more responsive screen with a sharper picture, and will be even thinner than the Kindle 2’s already trim 0.36 inches. So think Kindle 3 instead of the Kindle Touch.
If the Kindle Touch isn’t almost on our doorstep as we had hoped, then what was Amazon intended purchasing a touch-screen company a few months ago? That was the source of many of our raised expectations for the next Kindle device. At the recent shareholders meeting, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said of the in-progress color screen, “I’ve seen some stuff in the laboratory, but it’s not quite ready for prime-time production.” OK…
It pleases me that Amazon isn’t immediately abandoning its legitimate eReaders in the rush to put out a full-fledged multimedia device, but I’m not sure I understand their intentions. Has anybody ever really looked at a Kindle 2 and decided not to purchase the thing because it’s too fat at a third of an inch thick? Even somebody with severe body image issues would have to concede that it is pretty skinny. And has anybody ever bought a paperback over an eBook because the images you almost never see when reading are less than crisp than ideal? I shouldn’t think so. Faster page turn speed is nice, but is that supposed to move the thing by itself?
This is going to be a public relations headache for Amazon, who is already portrayed in the mainstream media as the eBook company stuck behind the times due to the fact that the Kindle doesn’t have all the bells and whistles needed to convince non-readers to buy the device. If they just push another version of the Kindle without acknowledging the change in the marketplace, they’re going to look out of touch (pun not intended).
This is not to say that this Kindle 3 could not be successful. The Kindle 3 could be their first low-cost entrant into the market, made thinner by removing the 3G technology whose cost is largely responsible for the device still retailing for a couple hundred dollars. Or slightly more practically, they could position the Kindle 3 as their flagship eReader product for the rest of the year while keeping the Kindle 2 available to consumers at a heavily-discounted price. I still think the market for a cheaper eReader remains largely untapped.
We’ll find out soon enough.