Kindle 2 Launched By Amazon – The way forward for the e-reader? (Updated)

It seems the gathered publishing fraternity who turned up at the unveiling of Amazon’s new Kindle (Version 2) in the Morgan Library and Museum in New York city on Monday were more intrigued and quizzical, than necessarily bowled over by the new electronic edition to the Amazon family. Even host, Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, and author Stephen King—there to read his novella, Ur—did not cause any major earthquakes or even tremors.

I have not written too much here about ereaders, but more about the impact and future of ebooks in traditional and self publishing. While I believe ebooks will grow in popularity—and all publishers should be looking at developing strongly into this area—the fact remains that ebook sales still only represent, at best, around 1+% of all book sales, and I don’t see growth taking sales too far beyond the 3% mark over the next twelve months. I could of course be wrong and find myself eating every word of this article in a year’s time.

Before I take a full look at the specifics of the Kindle 2, one significant thing did come out of this grand unveiling in New York. The new version features audible voice facilities (text direct to speech) allowing a user to listen to their latest ebook read back to them in a male or female voice while painting the ceiling or doing the washing. Last year Amazon bought the company, Audible, an audiobook vendor, and one wonders how Amazon feel the success of the Kindle has actually been. Jeff Bezos boasted about the fact that Kindle format ebooks now available have risen from an initial 90,000 to 230,000 titles. Are Amazon perhaps hedging their bets in the ebook market with the Kindle reader? Will they cast it aside once we have some form of combined electronic, handheld and portable gadget capable of downloading the most sophisticated graphics and photographic laden books, not to mention the multitude of music formatting, using built-in camera picture facilities, and, of course, phoning Aunt maple. With the availability of downloadable ebooks by mobile phone, the mass popularity of the ipod and phone; things are beginning to merge for better or worse.

The Kindle 2 itself is thinner, more rounded and streamlined, (I think they call it improved ergonomics). Some annoyances with Kindle 1 have been ironed out, like extended battery life; now up to two weeks. There is a massive 1.4gb storage memory (about 1500 average sized books), improved page-turn speed, and better button functionality. The kindle 1 suffered from users accidentally hitting the page-turn button when holding the device. The improved button functionality seems to have resolved this. The Kindle 2 also features a USB port and cable, allowing full PC connectivity. The screen visibility has been improved by increasing the range of greyscale, but the device still struggles with readability in dim light. You still have to go online to convert your own documents and transfer them via the USB connection to view in the reader. The screen is much the same, and as with all readers, text is basic enough.

Overall, the Kindle 2 is a moderate improvement on the first version, but ultimately, not enough for someone to fork out another $350 in the space of 15 months. It can be ordered now, but only starts to ship on February 24th.

Let’s not beat up the Kindle 2, or indeed Sony’s ereader, and other models on the market; the ereaders are limited by their own technology itself. Until these devices can take any kind of published book of artwork, graphics, tables, graphs, etc (and publishers make at least 50% of all titles available), the devices will always remain of limited use and appeal, and only to the ardent techno reader on the move, rather than the reading masses. The challenge is not with the technology—that will be met one day soon. The real challenge lies with the publishers who filled Morgan Library on Monday.
UPDATED TODAY 5pm
As an interesting aside on the Kindle ereader, Plastic Logic has announced its own ereader device due for release in 2010. They will be partnering with the Ingram Group for ebook distribution. As Lightning Source printers is owned by the Ingram Group, that could be good news for self published authors. It also seems anothor salvo fired off in the Amazon/Ingram wars!

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