By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Gadget-makers usually like to boast that the latest version of their device is smaller than its predecessor.
Yesterday, Amazon made waves by doing the opposite, showing off a larger version of its Kindle e-reader in the hopes of luring college students and newspaper readers.
Newspapers have been an "absolute bestseller" on previous models, said Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos. His company is hoping that a larger 9.7-inch screen will make the Kindle that much more appealing to that audience.
"People love waking up in the morning to find that their New York Times, their Washington Post, their Wall Street Journal have been 'automagically' delivered overnight," Bezos said at a news conference in New York. "They like the fact that when they travel, their subscription follows them around."
Like its predecessor, the new Kindle DX will be able to wirelessly download books or periodicals from Amazon's online store and display its contents in shades of gray, not color. But the new generation of the wireless book reader will have a larger screen and cost quite a bit more, $489 compared to the current $360.
Amazon's ambitions for the new device are to shake up a few industries at once, as Apple's iPod did. Newspaper companies such as The Post, a partner with Amazon, are hoping to attract new, paying subscribers. Universities, meanwhile, are looking for ways to cut their paper expenses and free their students from having to lug around backpacks filled with heavy, expensive textbooks.
This summer, The Post plans to launch a trial program in an area of Baltimore where home delivery of the newspaper isn't available. The idea is that Kindle-using subscribers would pay a reduced price for the device in return for a commitment to a Post download subscription, said Stephen P. Hills, the paper's president and general manager.
"Our hope is to understand how people experience our brand on this relatively new type of device and how we might take advantage of the increased adoption of e-readers," he said. Many of the program's details are still in the works.
The Times and the Boston Globe, which was threatened with the prospect of bankruptcy this week, have also partnered with Amazon to offer a similar type of trial program.
Newspaper industry analyst John Morton said that such experiments may be "an encouraging development" for a struggling industry, but that the device is too expensive. "Even half that price would be a big barrier" to mainstream consumers, he said.
Tech industry analysts said that the new reader could be an early example of a wave of similar gadgets to come.
"This is an important experimental milestone for Amazon and the publishing and newspaper industry," said Tim Bajarin, a tech analyst with Creative Strategies. Still, he said, "it's way too early to tell how successful this will be."
Five universities will soon be trying out the device on their campuses in limited test runs. This fall, the University of Virginia will make the Kindle DX available to MBA students at its Darden School of Business, said Ken White, vice president of communication and marketing at the school.
Students typically have to use stacks of books and paper in their studies, he said, "and if we could eliminate all that paper, we would be extremely happy."
Princeton University's chief information officer, Serge Goldstein, said that as more academic material is available online, more students are hitting the "print" button because they still prefer reading long texts on paper, rather than on a computer screen. The school's paper costs totaled $5 million last year.
Princeton is still deciding which students and classes will be the beneficiaries of its upcoming Kindle test program, but it might not announce that information ahead of time. The school's administrators don't want to risk nudging students into taking a class just because they want the gadget.
"We want to reach students interested in the course, not students interested in the Kindle," said Goldstein.
Other universities taking part in the program are Arizona State, Case Western Reserve and Pace, where yesterday's news conference took place.