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Amazon’s Kindle reshapes the way we read

If you’ve been on Amazon.com lately, you’re probably familiar with its big marketing push for the Kindle Wireless Electronic Reader. For $399, the portable device created by Amazon allows instant access—whether you’re reading in bed or on a train—to more than 90,000 books, blogs, newspapers and magazines in less than a minute. People are calling it the iPod of the book world, and it’s a new force behind the once sleepy e-book market.

The Kindle’s electronic display provides a sharp, high-resolution screen. The device can be used to search for book titles and download them directly into the unit.

On average, most new books are $9.99, while newspapers can be delivered wirelessly for a subscription fee.

E-book inventory will never be a problem for Amazon since its files are digital, and the company will ultimately save costs on shipping. And luckily for Amazon, the Kindle seems to be selling.

“Kindle has the potential to be the most important thing Amazon.com has ever done because it has the potential to change the way people read,” Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener recently told me.

True, but the Kindle has received mixed reviews. It’s been called an expensive paperweight, and some said the experience is still rough around the edges. But others say there is potential.

“Yes, it lags when you turn the pages and visually, it’s only a black-and-white device when people are used to color,” said Michael Gartenberg, VP and research director of New York City-based Jupiter Research. “But what it could potentially do for the e-book world could be dynamic.”

The real issue is getting consumers away from reading paper. Are consumers ready to read lengthy novels on a portable device? Amazon thinks so.

But it’s not about replacing books, Gartenberg said. It’s about the ability to store and travel without paper.

“People will still want to have, hold and collect books,” he said. “However, it eliminates the burden of carrying the paper. As price points come down and more content is available, it will appeal to more people.”

The e-book concept is not entirely new. The Sony Reader has been on the market for more than a year, although it hasn’t stuck. Sony initially offered 20,000 downloadable books, while Amazon has 90,000 items available for the Kindle. Unlike its competitors, Amazon dropped the pricing structure, keeping hardcover title prices the same as paperbacks for its e-books.

“Amazon has already differentiated itself from other companies because it is a connected device. You don’t need a PC to install anything because it’s getting content directly off the site,” Gartenberg said. “It’s also the first to incorporate search to serve as a reference library.”

It’s critical to keep in mind that when the iPod initially hit stores, the digital-downloading market was small. Yet, iPod’s impact on consumption was ultimately significant.

How will Kindle evolve over time? “It’s too early to talk about that,” Herdener said. “Right now we’re listening to our shoppers, and will innovate accordingly in the future.”

Fair enough. It may be too early to get ahead of ourselves, but on that note, I won’t be making a Kindle purchase until it works out all of its early-generation kinks.