A bigger Kindle e-book reader – some thoughts

Last night I was following the launch of Amazon new e-book reader on the Internet through Twitter and Engadget’s live blog. The new e-book reader was named Kindle DX and is much bigger than the original Kindle. It seems to be especially designed to read newspapers and magazines on it.

As regular readers know I have been using e-book readers for several years already (I used to have a Sony e-book reader and am already using my second iLiad), and I am a big fan of this product. From the first time I used them I believed they would be the future of publishing, but I also realized it would take years to convince people how good e-paper really is. Amazon made a big difference for the industry when it launched the Kindle in 2007, and now it make another big splash by introducing a big screen version of its e-book reader.

My first impression of the new gadget: pretty good. The design is a lot better than the original Kindle (which was plain ugly) and the Kindle 2 (a little better), but is not up to what Apple would have approved had they designed it. There is still a keyboard below the screen for example, which looks a bit awkward. The screen size is a lot better than the original Kindle, which I felt was way too small, but is 9.7 inches big enough for the average consumer to read a normal paper or magazine on? That’s what Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is betting on, together with a whole bunch of newspapers that will be available for this e-book reader. For all of you in Shanghai, the Shanghai Daily is one of them.

I have been using an iLiad reader for over a year now to read the Dutch NRC newspaper (not available on the Kindle by the way, shame on NRC!), and for me the 8 inch screen is big enough to read the paper as long as it is properly reformatted. Note that it took NRC almost a year to get that right, although there are still articles that are messed up. If you want to read the original formatted paper, such as on PressDisplay, you need a bigger screen. And in that case i think the Kindle DX is not big enough. I assume, however, that all newspapers do their own formatting, so then that problem should be resolved.

iLiad manufacturer iRex already has a product that has an even bigger screen than the Kindle DX, the iRex Digital Reader 1000. The screen is 10.2 inches and the device is a lot better looking than the Kindle. It has been offering 800+ newspapers on it through PressDisplay since late last year, but for some reason the product did not break through. The reason: the high price and very bad marketing. The Digital Reader costs EUR 587, which is just too much for the average reader. The Kindle is not cheap either at USD 489, but at least they got the marketing right. Just compare the iRex website with the Kindle site on Amazon: iRex is only looking at the product and its technical specifications, not at trying to sell it to consumers. You need to show customers what you can do with it and what content is available. iRex was the first to offer tons of newspapers on its device, but it’s not using it to market its product. Now Amazon plays the game right and markets its product as a breakthrough for the newspaper industry. Smart move and a huge missed opportunity for iRex.

I think the Kindle could be a big success despite its high price tag and despite the fact that it is lacking both a touch screen (which means you cannot underline things or write notes in books) and wifi. Amazon is getting pretty good at hyping its products and creating a buzz. Despite having a better product iRex won’t be able to be beat Amazon with its current marketing strategy. The only real threat for Amazon would be if Apple would come up with its own e-reader, but so far there are no signs of that. I am still hoping that will happen one day!

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  1. I think this kind of readers might do well for a while in the current transition period of print media to real online media, but I expect they have no great future.
    The way a newspaper is organized has everything to do with the old production methods: making a mall with a surface of leaden letters. Whole generations have been conditioned to read a newspaper like that, to pick the important news from the headline and the first paragraphs of the paper, because there was limited space at the printed paper.
    That is changing fundamentally and it is key to find out how information is picked up in other ways. The electronic version of the printed paper might save in trees and logistics, but will not save the traditional media.

  2. I encourage any attempt to further develop and enhance these kind of devices. It will only accelerate the transition-period in the newspaper-industry. Make these kind of screens flexible or rollable, which already is technically feasible, improve the design, add a bit of colour maybe and these devices ultimately could transform the way we read our news.

    But Marc, I totally agree with you, it all depends on good marketing.

  3. Next to the missing touchscreen functionality there’s another shortcoming: it’s a closed system: only Amazon books, only Amazon prices, only Amazon… Something publishers do not like. But new competition is on its way 😉

  4. @Fons I agree that the current readers are for a limited transition period only. Eventually we will see full-color flexible screen devices and the current readers will look ancient. However, I think newspapers and magazine could still have a new future because of these devices. I regularly read newspapers on an e-book reader and after you get used to it there is not much of a difference between reading a real paper or e-paper. I do not read it for breaking news of course (that’s what I have RSS and Twitter for) but for the background stories that I miss online or that just read easier from e-paper than from a laptop screen. Maybe the newspaper industry should get away from short news articles to only in-depth background stories? It’s something I am willing to pay for (but less than for a current paper).

    @Bert Once screens are rollable (they exist already) the sky is the limit. A mobile phone or pen with a roll-out screen? I would love to have one and use it to read news/books wherever I am. One problem with the Kindle DX is that it’s getting too big to always carry with you.

    @Jeroen Openness always wins (well, except when your company name is Apple), and I look forward to more competition in this field. Are you working on something?

  5. Yes we are. But the e-reading market is becoming more competitive by the day. So we have to get moving!