Cover to cover

Cover to cover

Jeffrey Preston Bezos knows that the world is not exactly clamouring for another way to read electronic books. “If you go back in time, the landscape is littered with the bodies of dead e-book readers," Bezos, chief executive of, said.

Bezos is hoping that Kindle, an ambitious $399 e-book device, will avoid that fate. Kindle, which Amazon spent three years developing, lets users wirelessly download best-sellers and it is designed to be simpler to use and more comfortable to hold than similar devices.

It is about the size of a slim trade paperback and uses electronic ink technology to mimic the look of the printed page on its black-and-white screen. It can hold more than 200 books and other publications downloaded directly to the device over a free wireless network.

The device has a high-speed data network called EVDO used on many cellphones, so customers will not need a computer or Wi-Fi connection. Most significantly, Amazon has made it easy to shop for and buy books through Kindle without using a computer. The device connects to a high-speed wireless data network from Sprint, and wireless delivery is included in the cost of books and other products. Downloading a book takes less than a minute. Bezos said Kindle is most likely to appeal to travellers and others who want to carry several books with them. “Anyone who is reading two, three or four books at the same time should have one of these," he said. Kindle can store 200 books at once.

Bezos added that he thought Kindle would be more comfortable for people to curl up with than previous reading devices. It weighs 10.3 ounces (293.2g) and uses so-called electronic ink technology licensed from the company E Ink, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kindle runs for more than a day of constant use on a rechargeable battery. It has a rubberized grip, a thumb-typing keyboard and large buttons around the screen for changing pages. To reduce power consumption and eye strain, the screen has no backlight.

The screen reflects light, making it easier to read in a bright room, and it uses less power and generates less heat, because there is no backlight to the display. While the device has many reading functions and a basic Web browser described as experimental, it is not a typical multifunction gadget and lacks features such as a phone or calendar. The Kindle can access a dictionary and the Wikipedia user-written online encyclopedia.

Kindle users can also adjust the text size for easier reading and put their own documents on the device using a dedicated email address for 10 cents each.

Kindle can also download and display newspapers, magazines and blogs. Among the newspapers available are The New York Times for $13.99 a month and The Wall Street Journal for $9.99 a month. Some 300 blogs are available for 99 cents or $1.99 a month. Amazon shares some of that fee with newspaper and blog publishers.

The device will only be available at Amazon. As digital technology has transformed everything from music and television to phone calls and postcards, the book has resisted change. Attempts to replace bound paper and ink with plastic and silicon have not caught on. “Can you improve on something as highly evolved and as well suited to its task as the book?" Bezos asked reporters at the launch on 19 November. He called books “the last bastion of analogue."

Bezos, after delivering a brief history of the written word going back to papyrus scrolls, said his company knew it could never “out-book the book". But, he said, after three years of work, Kindle delivers a pleasurable reading experience and many features that go beyond traditional books.

Kindle is different from previous e-book efforts, said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg. He said Kindle’s wireless connection, based on a Sprint Nextel Corp. high-speed cellular network, and download prices set at about $10 for new releases and New York Times’ best-sellers are a big plus. “This is exactly the type of device that could take this technology mainstream," Gartenberg said. “In order to do something like this, you really need a company the size and scale of Amazon to get behind it."

Amazon, which is one of the world’s largest booksellers, reached agreements with all the major publishers to sell their wares on Kindle. It has about 90,000 titles so far and 90% of current best-sellers.

©2007/The New York Times

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