Today, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the Kindle DX, a larger version of the company’s flagship e-reader, with dimensions better suited to reading textbooks, newspapers, and PDF documents.
The Kindle DX was launched on the campus of Pace University, in New York City, just three months after Amazon announced the Kindle 2–an improved version of the original device. While experts agree that the Kindle DX, which comes with a 25-centimeter screen, is well designed and promising, some still question how successfully it will replace paper and ink.
To coincide with the launch of the Kindle DX, Amazon announced partnerships with several universities and newspapers. The newspapers involved are no doubt hoping to see electronic readers help revive their business models, which have been weakened by falling circulation figures, lower online advertising rates, and increased competition from the Web. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe will start pilot marketing programs in the summer, offering readers a cheaper device for a subscription commitment.
At the event, Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times, said that the Kindle DX now provides an e-reader experience that is as satisfying as that of reading print. But Sulzberger said that the New York Times and the Boston Globe would only offer reduced subscription rates for DX readers in areas where home delivery is not available.
Six higher-learning institutions will also start Kindle pilot programs this fall: Arizona State University, Case Western University, Pace University, Princeton University, Reed College, and the University of Virginia. Barbara Snyder, president of Case Western, says that her university plans to select a group of 40 students to use the Kindle DX and will compare their performance with that of students in the same classes who don’t use the Kindle. “If it helps learning, we’re certainly interested in going forward,” Snyder says.
At today’s launch event, Bezos said that Amazon’s newest Kindle is meant to maintain the momentum built up by the previous two devices. For titles that come in Kindle format, he said that Kindle sales now make up 35 percent of Amazon’s total for each–up from 13 percent in February, when the Kindle 2 was announced.
The company now hopes to attract more users by delivering a device that can be used to read larger books and documents. “We print more paper now than ever before,” Bezos said, suggesting that users aren’t satisfied with reading digitally when large, complex pages are squeezed onto a small screen. But customers will have to pay a hefty price for the larger screen: the DX will cost $489 ($130 more than its smaller relative, the Kindle 2) when it starts shipping this summer.
Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC, says that the price of the new Kindle could look affordable to students when compared with the high cost of a semester’s worth of textbooks. “This may be significant for democratizing the Kindle,” he says.
Students may also enjoy the convenience of carrying all of their books in one light device, Shim says, but he suspects that only textbooks that lack color will work well on the product. Although English and history books probably won’t suffer, he says, textbooks that gain significant value from full-color diagrams are likely to look less good in the format.
As for the new Kindle’s impact on newspapers, Shim says that the device could help restore the concept of reading a publication as a whole, instead of scanning single articles on the Internet. Perhaps best of all for periodicals, Shim says, is that Kindle users pay for their content. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for newspapers to reengage with readers,” he says.
David Weir, a media consultant with a daily blog on the media industry at Bnet, says that mobile devices such as the Kindle are more suited to preserving a periodical’s brand than the Internet is, but he’s skeptical about the DX’s larger size. “The Kindle may be headed in the exact wrong direction,” Weir says, noting that mobile devices have generally succeeded best when made smaller.
Although Amazon’s sales of the Kindle have been strong, Weir argues that the device has yet to click with a mainstream audience, and he has doubts about its staying power. “If I were advising any media company,” Weir says, “I would say, Don’t ever get too romantically involved with a platform. Just when you love them, they leave you.”