Steven Levy has a Newsweek cover story on Amazon's ebook reader, Kindle, which will debut tomorrow (Monday). No Pakistan, Iraq or climate change leading Newsweek this week. Welcome to Book 2.0. It's enough to make Gutenberg stir in his grave and to make Steve Jobs envious. But then Jobs is more of a music man, and Bezos the book man.
More than just an ebook like Sony's Reader, Kindle is a service extension of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' digital bookstore for the planet dream. The $399 Kindle can store hundreds of books, change font sizes, search and it has a wireless broadband connection for downloading, managing preferences and recommendations from the Amazon engine and searching the Web.
Amazon has worked hard to get publishers to step up efforts to release digital versions of new books and backlists, and more than 88,000 will be on sale at the Kindle store on launch. (Though Bezos won't get terribly specific, Amazon itself is also involved in scanning books, many of which it captured as part of its groundbreaking Search Inside the Book program. But most are done by the publishers themselves, at a cost of about $200 for each book converted to digital. New titles routinely go through the process, but many backlist titles are still waiting. "It's a real chokepoint," says Penguin CEO David Shanks.) Amazon prices Kindle editions of New York Times best sellers and new releases in hardback at $9.99. The first chapter of almost any book is available as a free sample.
The Kindle is not just for books. Via the Amazon store, you can subscribe to newspapers (the Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Le Monde) and magazines (The Atlantic). When issues go to press, the virtual publications are automatically beamed into your Kindle. (It's much closer to a virtual newsboy tossing the publication on your doorstep than accessing the contents a piece at a time on the Web.) You can also subscribe to selected blogs, which cost either 99 cents or $1.99 a month per blog.
More to come tomorrow from the launch event...