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Amazon will sell you a cheaper Kindle -- if you accept ads with your ebooks

Amazon has announced a 'Kindle with Special Offers' version of its ebook reader. It will cost less than the standard version but feature adverts and sponsored screensavers.

Amazon has announced a 'Kindle with Special Offers' version of its ebook reader. It will be cheaper than the current offering, as it will be partly funded by advertising and sponsored screensavers.

For now, the Kindle with Special Offers will only be available in the US, although we'd expect it to come to the UK if the idea takes off. Over the pond, the new model will cost $114 (£70) -- $25 (£15) less than the standard Kindle. It can be pre-ordered now, and will ship to customers from 3 May.

Ads in ebooks? It sounds like a strange idea -- it's not as if you expect to turn a page in War and Peace only to find the Coco Pops monkey singing out at you, although, on second thoughts, that might make the novel easier going. Anyway, Amazon isn't quite doing that. 

Instead, special offers will appear at the bottom of the device's home screen, and there'll also be sponsored screensavers from companies including Buick, Olay and Visa. Offers will be focused on Amazon's services -- for example, touting albums in its MP3 Store, gift cards and gadgets.

"We're working hard to make sure that anyone who wants a Kindle can afford one," said Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. "Kindle with Special Offers is the same #1 bestselling Kindle -- and it's only $114. Kindle is the best deal in consumer electronics anywhere in the world."

Well, perhaps. There'll be a tie-in Kindle app and website called AdMash, where owners of the new device will be able to preview sponsored screensavers and vote for the ones they find least annoying. Those that get the most votes will become available for the device. You'll also get to set some preferences on the kind of screensavers you'd like to see, from themes including landscapes and scenery, architecture, travel, photography and illustrations.

It's an interesting idea, but we wonder if this is just Amazon dipping its toes in the water to see how well ads work on a Kindle. Could its ultimate aim be to give the ebook reader away for free, and then make money from ebook sales and advertising? That's one to ponder.