Monday, May 04, 2009

Amazon to introduce larger Kindle this week?

Rumors have been circulating for a while that Amazon has a larger form factor Kindle in the works--and we may get a first look at it as soon as this week, according to sources who spoke with The New York Times.

Initially, a lot of the chatter around a new jumbo Kindle was focused on the textbook market. But in recent months, as more newspapers and magazines have become threatened with extinction, these larger e-readers--which also include models from Plastic Logic and News Corp.--have increasingly been pitched as digital saviors for old-media companies looking for what the Times calls "electronic life preservers."

The Times didn't specifically refer to itself as one of the companies requiring such a preserver, but it is expected to be featured in the introduction of the new Amazon device along with other major newspapers and magazines that are already available on the Kindle e-readers for a monthly fee.

Clearly, it's that ability to charge a fee and the potential cost savings of a paperless platform that makes digital readers so attractive to newspapers and magazines. As the Times and other have pointed out, publishers could "save millions on the cost of printing and distributing their publications, at precisely a time when their businesses are under historic levels of pressure."

But there are some inherent problems with shifting paper readers over to e-readers. First, some people just like paper. It's light, disposable, and you don't have to worry about spilling your coffee on it and destroying it. Second, this Kindle is likely to be just as expensive as the Kindle 2, and probably more expensive--unless Amazon and its publishing partners have plans in place to subsidize the device (i.e., pay for a two-year subscription, get a discount on the e-reader). And finally, it's hard to compete with free online versions of the same publications that are quite readable on devices like the iPhone (and would be even more readable on the alleged media pad Apple may be prepping).

Personally, I like the idea of reading a paper on a jumbo Kindle or Paper Logic e-reader--but I don't really want to have to carry it around with me, even if it's thin and relatively lightweight. And I don't want to pay $13.99 a month for a Kindle New York Times subscription (half that, maybe). However, I can see how this type of device would be very appealing to college students, who could carry around all their textbooks (and regular books for that matter) on one device.

In other words, a larger form factor Kindle may sound good on paper, but it may not be as viable as some old-media companies might hope. Yes, it's a potential lifeboat, but if Apple comes along with a tablet-style device that does more--and doesn't cost all that much more--it could sink.

What do you guys think? How much would you pay for a larger e-reader and digital subscriptions to your favorite papers? And will Apple blow away a jumbo monochrome Kindle out of the water with a new media pad that has color and a real Internet browser?

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