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Tech Report – The evolution of the e-reader

By Michael Connolly

Electronic books and the electronic reading devices that support them continue to evolve at breathtaking speed. On Tuesday evening, Amazon announced that it was introducing a new version of its market-leading Kindle reader that can wirelessly download books in over 100 countries. Up to now, Kindle owners have only been able to download books while in the U.S.

The new Kindle will be physically identical to the current Kindle but will now use the 3G wireless networks of AT&T and its international roaming partners. The Sprint network utilized by the existing Kindle is incompatible with most international mobile networks. "Whether you're in Paris, Mumbai, or São Paulo, you can think of a book and be reading it in less than 60 seconds," said Jeffrey Bezos, Amazon's chief executive, in a prepared statement.

The new Kindle will begin shipping on October 19 at a cost of $279.

At the same time, Amazon announced a price cut of $40 for the existing Kindle, which will now sell for $259. The Kindle was originally launched in 2007 at $399 and the new price reflects the reality of increased competition.  Sony currently offers a "Pocket-edition" e-reader for $199 and a larger $299 touch-screen model. Companies like iRex, China Mobile, and maybe even Apple, could all join an increasingly crowded field within the next 12 months.

It's clear than the publishers and book distributers have placed a large bet on e-readers winning over a major slice of the book-buying public. Back in July, Barnes & Noble unveiled what they referred to as the "world's largest online bookstore" with over 700,000 titles, and yesterday Amazon announced that the Kindle Store has more than 350,000 books available, as well as hundreds of newspapers, magazines and blogs.

Forrester, the research firm, clearly supports the positive outlook for e-books and e-readers, predicting that 3 million e-reading devices will be sold in 2009, up 50 per cent from its previous estimate. But there are some dark clouds on the horizon. The increased competition from companies entering the market will put additional pressure on price.  Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps thinks that e-reader prices need to come down even more if the devices are going to become mainstream products. She suggests $99 as a price that would be more likely to lure consumers but one that would surely alarm the existing manufacturers.

And then there is Google. Despite its well-publicized and ongoing settlement negotiations with authors and publishers, the Silicon Valley giant seems determined to scan and make available online as many titles as it can. Its digital library could eventually run into the many millions. How these books are made available to the public and at what cost remains to be seen, but it's likely that at some point in the not-too-distant future every computer and handheld device with a wireless connection will effectively have become an e-reader.

Comment by Carrie T, posted 10/8/2009, 12:15 AM:

I would love to get one of these, but agree that the price needs to come down a lot!!! $99 seems like a reasonable price and that is a price that most people can afford. I also love that this is environmentally friendly, SAVE THE TREES!!!
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