Amazon to debut Kindle e-book reader Monday

After rumors and delays, the online retailer is set to break into the hardware business with a high-profile launch that its CEO wants to be just perfect.

Amazon is betting that e-books aren't a total e-bust.

On Monday, the online retail giant will unveil its Kindle e-book reader at a high-profile event in New York, an industry source told CNET News.com Thursday. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos is expected to be present for the announcement, to be held at the chic W Hotel in Union Square.

The Kindle is equipped with a Wi-Fi connection that taps into an Amazon e-book store, which users can access to purchase new electronic books--and Amazon has reportedly signed onto a deal with Sprint for EVDO access. Additionally, the device comes with a headphone jack for audiobooks, as well as an e-mail address.

But the source said the Kindle apparently won't bear many other BlackBerry-like features such as a calendar or address book. The Kindle may also lack a backlight. Instead, it comes with a small reading light attached to an adjustable arm.

"They have a huge repository and huge track record of selling content. They also have customers who keep coming back to them."
--Richard Shim, analyst, IDC

From its inception, the Kindle has been geared toward "road warriors" and business travelers. The source told News.com that the device includes a feature to download digital editions of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal each morning.

The company was also said to be considering a deal with the W Hotel chain to offer Kindle devices to guests, who would be able to check them out like library books.

The final price of the Kindle is expected to be $399, which is consistent with rumors and earlier reports. The industry source also added that Amazon had been looking to ink a deal for the launch so a hot book title could be bundled with the e-book reader.

This marks a major launch for Amazon. According to the source, Bezos has held this project very close, delaying it for more than a year to perfect the details. The company reportedly even studied the launch tactics Apple used for the iPod. In particular, the source said, Amazon's team liked the videotaped celebrity testimonials that accompanied the iPod's launch, and suggested that the Kindle launch may feature something similar.

Amazon did not immediately return calls for comment.

The Kindle device has been anticipated for quite some time, with specifications and early photographs surfacing more than a year ago. Earlier reports had claimed the e-book reader would be unveiled last month.

The industry source said Amazon experienced setbacks in the process, but attributed them in part to natural difficulties that a retailer would experience when expanding into the hardware business. One of the foremost challenges, the source added, was battery power.

But an even bigger problem was reportedly getting publishers onboard. Amazon wanted to have the biggest e-book catalog of any reader available, the source explained, to give it an advantage over other e-book readers and services that are already on the market.

The company is also said to have forged agreements with somewhere between 50 and 100 newspaper publishers, in addition to the daily New York Times and Wall Street Journal features. Kindle owners are expected to be able to select from a long list of publications for automatic download.

"The hardware isn't necessarily what's important," said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC. "It's the delivery mechanism for the content. That's where Amazon has a major advantage. They have a huge repository and huge track record of selling content. They also have customers who keep coming back to them. One of the things that companies have neglected in the past is developing an e-book store where you can get the content and use the leverage to get the publishers to get content into a digital format."

In preparation for the launch, the source said, Amazon stopped selling e-book formats other than the Mobipocket about a year ago.

But electronic books have failed to catch on the way some predicted they would. Likewise, e-book readers haven't been a huge draw.

Sony unveiled the second edition of its Sony Reader device in October. The original Reader, released in September 2006, proved to be a bust. For the Reader's Version 2.0, Sony maintained the Reader's $300 price tag, the storage capacity (160 "typical" books), and the battery life (7,500 "page turns"), but improved the device's speed and navigation features and slimmed the hardware down.

Indeed, delays on the Kindle resulted in Sony's Reader hitting the market first. But the source told News.com that Bezos was ultimately unfazed, and told people he wanted the Kindle to have the kinks ironed out before it was offered to consumers.

 

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