SANDY BERGER: Wireless Reading Devices Bring More Change
Every now and then a revolutionary new product comes along at a time when it is most needed. So it is with the just released Kindle2 wireless reading device, fondly called an e-book reader.
Until now, electronic book readers have been very slow in taking off. Sony has had a book-reading device for several years. Last year, Amazon came out with the first version of the Kindle, which was impressive and fairly popular -- but it had a few drawbacks.
Now, however, the time for these devices may have finally come. At 8 by 5.3 inches, the Kindle2 is about the size of a paperback. At about a third of an inch thick, it is thin but strong.
In this second iteration, Amazon has corrected the design flaws of the original Kindle. It is now easy to use. The e-ink technology allows you to read the words on the Kindle just as you would read a book, with no eye strain or glare. You can adjust the size of the text to your liking.
To turn the page you simply press a button. The reader even lets you read several books at once, always returning you to just where you left off. You can look up any word with the built-in dictionary. You can underline words and add your own notes to the pages.
This Kindle will even read the text of most books to you. So if you are engrossed in a book on the Kindle and need to pick up the kids, you can take the Kindle along and have it read to you in the car.
The best part of the Kindle, however, is the reading material and how it is delivered. The Kindle2 can hold more than 1,500 books. You can choose from more than 240,000 books in the Kindle's Amazon store. Most of the books are priced at $9.99.
You can also subscribe to newspapers and magazines on the Kindle. The books, newspapers, and magazines are downloaded directly to the device over a free cellular network. I drove down a rural highway in North Carolina and downloaded a book and was reading it in less than five minutes. Better yet would be sitting on a beach and downloading a romance novel.
In any case, the Kindle is ultimately useable. The biggest drawback for the Kindle right now is the price. At $359, the Kindle is pretty expensive.
But if you are you ready to watch the e-book market explode, stick around for awhile. The Kindle2 has appeared on the horizon just as the economy is slumping.
There are many hard-hit business sectors, but the newspaper and magazine industry is already showing signs of cracking. CNN reports that many major newspapers are struggling, including The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Miami Herald. Certainly online versions of newspapers and magazines are an alternative, but up to this point very few newspapers or magazines have been able to support themselves with online subscriptions and/or advertising.
As the print industry is looking for ways to cut costs, e-book readers may be an answer. If there were no print costs, perhaps large newspapers would be able to provide e-book readers to subscribers as part of the subscription costs or at least at a highly reduced rate.
If the electronic device were done well enough, it could mimic the printed version and be filled with ads just like the print newspapers and magazines. Normally I would expect that this type of transition would take a few years, but the economic woes may put a rush on this type of move.
The Hearst Corp., one of the largest publishers, is already planning to launch its own wireless e-book reader. Most are speculating that this would be a device with a larger screen that would more closely imitate the newspaper and magazine reading experience.
Hearst, which is a mega-publisher, would be in a great position to create the liaisons needed to make this type of device and its content work. Fortune reports that the Hearst device will be available sometime this year.
There is no doubt that we live in a world that is changing because of technology, and this type of technology may be in your hands sooner than you think.
Sandy Berger welcomes all of your comments and questions on today's column. Please post them on the Compu-Kiss Message Board at www.compukiss.com/happycomputing.
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