Amazon debuts digital book reader

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The new Amazon Kindle is an iPod-like, portable item that wirelessly downloads reading materials to a high-resolution electronic paper display. It is a product of the company's hope that the digital book may soon supplant mp3s as the next big product that consumers are looking for.

Available for $399, Kindle will display books which can only be read on Kindle devices and not shared across other formats. Consumers download books through Kindle's own wireless delivery system, the Amazon Whispernet, which uses the same nationwide high-speed data network as advanced cell phones.

Kindle customers can wirelessly shop at the Kindle Store, which includes more than 90,000 books, without any connectivity fees. Content on the device also includes newspapers such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post; Atlantic Monthly magazine; and blogs Slashdot, TechCrunch and BoingBoing. Kindle also has built-in access to The New Oxford American Dictionary and Wikipedia.

The shopping experience includes customer reviews, personalized recommendations and the ability to download and read the first chapter of most Kindle books for free.

 “The book today is a good experience, and we wouldn't outbook the book,” said Steve Kessel, SVP of worldwide digital media at Amazon.com. “But we wanted to offer something that the book can't offer, which is access to thousands of books at once through a free wireless connection.”

Kindle uses a high-resolution display technology, called electronic paper that reflects light like ordinary paper, eliminating the glares associated with other digital screens. The authors of the technology say that digital books have the potential to increase readership through word-of-mouth marketing and, in turn, lead to more book sales.

The digital revolution has been slow in publishing because of concerns about digital books hurting business; however, some authors, including Seth Godin, author of The Dip and Chris Andersen, author of The Long Tail and editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, contend that offering free books is the best way to market books.

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