Amazon figured out a way to make its Kindle software compatible with just about any Internet-ready platform: Shuttle the software to the Web.
That's part of the idea behind Amazon's "Kindle for the Web" project, which was released in beta form this morning. It's incredibly easy to use, just click the "Read first chapter FREE" button on selected eBooks and you'll receive a sample directly in your browser without having to download or install anything.
Bloggers and website owners can also embed samples of Kindle books on their sites and earn referral fees whenever someone clicks through and completes a purchase.
"With Kindle for the Web, it's easier than ever for customers to sample Kindle books - there's no downloading or installation required," said Dorothy Nicholls, Director, Amazon Kindle. "Kindle for the Web is also a great way for bloggers and authors to promote books on their websites by letting visitors read a chapter without leaving their site."
By now you've heard that Apple has come out with this little device called the iPad, and one of its magical features is to serve double-duty as an eBook reader. Surely this will mark the end of the dedicated eReader market, right?
Back the boat, Gilligan, because Amazon has something to say on the matter. In a new ad promoting Amazon's refreshed Kindle, the e-tailer points out the benefits of an E-ink display over that of an LCD screen when trying to read in sunlit areas.
The ad shows an iPad user trying, in vain, to read content on his iPad while chillaxing by the pool. He then asks a Kindle user laying a few feet away how she's able to read her device sitting out in sun, to which she simply replies, "It's a Kindle. A hundred and thirty nine dollars. I actually paid more for these sunglasses."
There are a few things to take away from this ad. First, she paid too much for her sunglasses. Second, unlike the many Mac vs PC commercials we were force fed the past couple of years, Amazon makes a valid point here. And third, speaking of all those commercials, Apples comeuppance just keeps coming.
Despite the tablet hype, the ebook reader market is very much alive and well, at least in Amazon's camp. The online retailer today announced that more next-gen Kindles were ordered in the first four weeks of availability than any previous Kindle launch in the same time frame.
"Kindle is the best selling product on Amazon.com for two years running and our new generation Kindles are continuing that momentum," said Steven Kessel, senior vice president, Amazon Kindle. "Readers are excited about all that the new Kindle has to offer -- 50 percent better contrast, 20 percent faster page turns, 15 percent lighter, up to one month of battery life -- and a new price of only $139."
It's that last bit that's probably most responsible for the Kindle's wildly successful launch. Prior to the recent price war among ebook readers, a Kindle would run nearly twice as much. At $140, it's far easier to justify a dedicated ebook reader, even without all the purported improvements to the underlying design.
Anyone order, or plan to order, one of the new Kindles? Or are you holding out for a low-cost tablet?
Back in early June, Steve Jobs went on stage and made a bold claim about the iPad. According to Jobs, "in the first 65 days, users have downloaded over 5 million books," equating to about two and a half books per iPad. By his numbers, that put the iBooks market share of ebooks from five or six major publishers to 22 percent in just 8 weeks time, an impressive feat, if it was true.
Jobs may very well be right, but if he is, not all authors are seeing those same kind of numbers. Mystery author J.A. Konrath, for example, is one of the few authors who publishes numbers on ebook sales, and according to his most recent blog post, Apple's iBooks platform doesn't hold a candle to Kindle.
"Publishers might be looking at enriched or enhanced ebooks as their new big-ticket items to replace hardcovers," Konrath writes. "But the major ebook retailer, Amazon, isn't set up for video. Kindle isn't even able to do color yet. That leaves Apple, and according to my numbers, Apple is a very small part of the ebook market. I sell 200 ebooks a day on Kindle. On iPad, I sell 100 a month."
That adds up to 6,000 ebooks through Kindle per month, versus 100 for the iBooks platform, or a 60-to-1 ratio. If his numbers are any indication of across the board performance, Jobs may need to invest in a new magical calculator.
Barnes & Noble this week announced it has gone back to the drawing board and come up with a completely new, next-generation Nook app for the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and PC. This latest release adds a handful of customer requested features, like in-app content rating.
"We are committed to offering and easy-to-use, comfortable, and fun Nook eReading experience across multiple platforms. Nook for iPhone users can shop Barnes & Noble's vast catalog of eBooks, while enjoying new, customization features and sharing their favorite eBooks with friends for free," said Douglas Gottlieb, Vice President, Digital Products for B&N.
Many of the improvements are aimed at iPhone users, who can now "create completely personalized or utilize professionally designed themes," optimize content for daytime or nighttime reading, utilize a one-tap option, and have the ability to preview changes before saving them.
Following the launch of Apple's iPad, there was some question as to the future of dedicated eBook readers. After all, the iPad does a serviceable job of flipping through eBooks, and with a spate of competing tablets en route to a retail store near you by the end of 2010, where does that leave standalone readers?
In a very good position, according to Scott Liu, chairman of EPD (electrophoretic display) maker E-Ink Holding. As Liu sees it, eBook reader shipments are in position to be two to three times higher in the second half of 2010 thanks to recent price cuts by the industry's heavy hitting trio.
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Sony all recently slashed eBook reader pricing, and with some of the newer models checking in at just $140, dedicated readers are suddenly a lot more compelling. This isn't just a theory, either. As Liu points out, shipments for Amazon's 9.7-inch Kindle DX increased threefold when Amazon cut the price from $489 to $379.
According to Liu, demand for Amazon's newest Kindle models has been strong, forcing E-Ink to ramp up its production efforts to keep up with client's orders. And if the market continues this way, Liu sees reader pricing dropping to sub-$100 levels in the not-too-distant future.
In the wake of rising competition and a recent price war sparked by Barnes and Noble, Plastic Logic announced it is abandoning plans to release an eBook reader of its own.
"We recognize the market has dramatically changed, and with the product delays we have experienced, it no longer makes sense for us to move forward with our first-generation electronic reading product," Rich Archuleta, chief executive officer, said in a statement. "This was a hard decision, but is the best one for our company, our investors, and our customers."
Archuleta added that his company would shift its focus away from the Que and begin building a second generation ProReader product, taking whatever time is necessary to "re-enter the market as we refocus, redesign, and retool" the Que's successor.
It's unclear exactly why Plastic Logic chose to dump it's first-gen reader, but it likely had to do with the sudden price cuts from the industry's two major players, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Coupled with the fact that Plastic Logic initially intended to sell its black-and-white Que for $650 when it was first shown off at CES earlier this year (before the iPad debuted), this cancellation was probably inevitable.
Everybody by now has heard of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, and if a nonprofit organization called Worldleader is successful in its latest efforts, the One Kindle Per Child initiative will become equally well known.
A series of trials have already begun in Ghana, which involves giving students Amazon.com Kindles to read in school and at home. Worldreader, which is spearheading the project, was co-founded by David Risher, Amazon's former Senior VP who played a huge role in growing Amazon's operations beyond just books. Risher left Amazon before the Kindle came out, but sees huge potential in the device's ability to bring eBooks to students in parts of the world where getting them regular books can take months and months.
"There's a huge difference between able to read from a selection of the 10 books that you happen to have -- or that somebody donated -- versus being able to get your hands on a book that you are really interested in," says Risher. "When you combine that with very, very low distribution costs for additional books and falling technology prices, these are ingredients for doing something really special."
According to Risher, eReaders are particularly well suited to developing nations because of their low power consumption and use of the GSM network.
"Computers play a great role, but eReaders really sole the reading problem in a much more direct and simple way," Risher added.
Users can no longer accuse Amazon's Kindle of being nothing more than a stuffy eBook reader too good for gaming. The Kindle Development Kit (KDK) launched earlier this year ensured it was only a matter of time before we saw some other apps for the Kindle. like the two games that have just been released.
Both titles are simple word puzzles (you weren't really expecting Quake, were you?), starting with Every Word, a world scramble game. Users are shown six or seven scrambled letters and are challenged to come up with as many words as possible. Think of it as Scrabble Lite.
The other game is Shuffled Row, which tasks users will seeing how many words they can make from 60 lettered tiles. Tiles are added to your row one at a time, giving you a constant pool of fresh letters to work with. You can think of this one as, um, Scrabble Lite as well.
Simple? Sure, and they're also both free. It's also the just the beginning of more to come, and we suspect at some point we'll see some paid games show up, as developers get a 70 percent cut of the revenue.
Hopefully all of you who were enticed by Amazon's new, smaller Kindle didn't sit on the fence before hitting the 'submit order' button. If you did, you may have to wait until September to get your paws on the new eBook reader.
"Due to strong customer demand, Kindle is temporarily sold out. Order now to reserve your place in line. Orders are prioritized on a first come, first served basis. Orders placed today are expected to ship on or before September 4th.," Amazon wrote on the Kindle's product page.
That's a delay of just over a week from the original August 27 launch date, but if the new prices prove popular enough, that date could get pushed back even further. Amazon released two new models, a Wi-Fi only version for $139, and a Wi-Fi + 3G unit for $189. Both devices are 21 percent smaller than the last-gen Kindle, but sport the same 6-inch reading area.