Newsweek’s Steven Levy previews Amazon’s (AMZN) new $400 Kindle e-book in 4,757-word cover story. Amazon, he says, believes it has created the “iPod of reading.” (We’re also liveblogging the Kindle launch here).
We’ve gotten a cursory look at the Kindle (see our first impressions here), and we like it. But Amazon’s ambitions here are outsized: No matter how nifty a gadget Jeff Bezos’ company has created, it won’t have the same impact on publishing that Apple’s (AAPL) iPod had on the music business.
To understand why, take a look at the iPod you already own…
If you’re like most consumers, you’ve bought about two dozen songs from Apple’s iTunes. Where do the hundreds or thousands of other songs on your machine come from? They’re ripped from CDs you own, or those your friends have lent you, or from files you’ve “shared” on the Web. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the iPod improved the way you listened to music: It let you carry most or all of your music collection with you, without having to pay a penny to do it. And the Kindle can’t do that for books.
That’s because the books you own, the ones you borrow from the library, and every book you buy for the forseeable future, are stubbornly locked in paper format. If you want to read a book on your Kindle, you’ll have to buy a digital copy. Newsweek says Amazon will sell many best-sellers at $9.99 or less, a substantial discount to paper books’ list prices. That’s much better than earlier e-book efforts, but not enough to make the Kindle as instantly useful as the iPod was.
We’re a sucker for the notion of e-books, so we look forward to seeing the gizmo ourselves at Amazon’s unveiling tomorrow (Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but it’s at 9:30 am at the Union Square W!) We’re intrigued by the Kindle’s wireless features, by Steven’s insistence that the machine is great-looking, and by Jeff Bezos’ hints that he’s willing to lose lots of money subsidizing e-book titles in order to make his machine more appealing. But no matter how great the gizmo is, it can’t be an iPod.