Kindle 2 Released Today

The Kindle 2 was released today to some fanfare and one very major problem: it costs the same as the first generation kindle – $359.  Last week, it was rumored to go down by $100.  Though the Kindle has made significant improvements on the first generation Kindle, the main criticism of the device is its cost.  And because Kindle books can now be accessed on other devices, such as the iPhone, this will likely not signify a new revolution in e-books.

It is a case of two steps forward, one step back.  While the Kindle is an attractive device, it is likely that the majority will not shell out a large sum merely to see if they enjoy e-books. The price will likely have to drop to $99, like the iPhone, before mass marketing of the Kindle is possible, especially during a time of such economic uncertainty.

Here’s what the Kindle offers – its release was live-blogged at the New York Times today:

  • Thinner and lighter.
  • Turns pages more quickly (a major criticism of the first Kindle, as users had to wait for a page to turn).
  • Battery life is 25% longer – another big criticism of the former Kindle.
  • Text to speech to convert ebooks into pod-books.  Stephen King recommends: “The text-to-speech option is terrific. If you’re in a car you can put on earphones.”  Amusing advice, given that’s illegal.
  • Easier interface with a joystick controller.
  • Keep track of where you left off in a book if you transfer the book to another device (Really useful?  If you have the ability and desire to read on another device, why buy a Kindle, unless you can really afford it?)
  • People on the waiting list for Kindle 1 will be automatically upgraded to Kindle 2.

All told, a step forward, but for ebooks to really take hold on public consciousness it needs to be widely available.  Not only is there a waiting list for buying the Kindle, but it’s expensive.  The argument can be made that the Kindle pays for itself, as ebooks are cheaper than printed books, but as a large number of people are unsure if they’ll like the experience of reading an ebook and the Kindle is so inaccessible to try out, it is a tall order to shell out a large sum for an untested product.

This may be a dour response to the release of the Kindle, but the fact that Amazon is pouring major resources into the Kindle at all is great news for ebooks and self-publishers, as the time will come when the price of the Kindle and similar devices goes down and e-readers are more commonplace.