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Amazon Unveils Kindle 2

This morning, Amazon unveiled the Kindle 2, the successor to the electronic-book reader it debuted in December of 2007. The Seattle online retailer says this wireless-connected tablet -- selling for $359, shipping on Feb. 24 - -features a wide variety of upgrades over the first Kindle:


* The Kindle 2 is thinner, at .36 inches thick -- about a pencil's width.

* Its screen displays 16 shades of gray and, Amazon says, flips from page to page 20 percent faster (which would address one of my biggest complaints about the first model).

* The Kindle 2's battery should last 25 percent longer.

* It offers far more storage, with 1.4 gigabytes available versus just 180 megabytes on the first Kindle.

* It includes a five-way controller that directly selects items on the screen (on the first Kindle, you have to roll a jog-dial switch to move an indicator up or down in a thermometer-like column to the right of the screen). Better yet: "The page-turn buttons now flex inward to prevent any accidental page turns when picking up or handling Kindle."

* A text-to-speech feature can read a book aloud to you (though you can also buy Audible audiobooks, which feature human readers who will sound far better than the obviously synthesized voice you hear in Amazon's video demo).

* The Kindle 2 provides wireless access to Wikipedia, something you could once only get by playing around with an experimental Web-access feature.

Amazon now carries more than 230,000 titles for the Kindle (up from 90,000 at this device's debut), most selling at $9.99 each. It also stocks a far smaller inventory of newspapers (just 31 -- but have I mentioned what a great deal The Washington Post is at just $9.99 a month?) and magazines (a mere 22). You can also, of course, read any of the 27,000 pubic-domain books collected by the Gutenberg Project after converting them to the Kindle's proprietary format.

Those last two words constitute my biggest hangup with the whole e-book concept. The original Kindle already had substantial advantages over competing e-book readers from Sony and others -- most importantly, its ability to download titles on the go in a minute or so using Sprint's wireless-data service, included in the Kindle's price -- but all of those titles come wrapped up in "digital rights management" software that keeps you from treating a Kindle e-book like a physical book.

That, among other things, means that you can't loan a Kindle title to a friend, donate it to a charity or sell it at a used-book store. You can't even read it on anything but a Kindle (though Amazon's press release vaguely promises that "Kindle 2 will also sync with a range of mobile devices in the future"). How am I supposed to think that I "own" this e-book when so many of my traditional property rights have been deleted by this extra layer of software?

As I wrote when the first Kindle launched, those limits need not be a huge problem with some kinds of printed work -- textbooks foremost among them. But when Amazon has taken such a leading role in selling music as MP3 files without any DRM attached, it's unsettling to see this company push such a restrictive form of DRM in electronic books.

Are you willing to live with those limits for the convenience the Kindle 2 seems to offer? Or are there some titles you're willing to buy under these controls, while others are worth buying in print? Let's discuss this in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 9, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Gadgets  
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Most of the books I don't already have, that I want, are on Gutenberg. So DRM isn't much of an issue.

Baen books sells DRM free e-books in mobi format.

So what if I'm already a WaPo subscriber? Is there any way to get a discount if I also get a Kindle subscription? Or convert the dead tree version to Kindle? Does it have the comics section?

I read last week, on some blog, that the NY Times would save money if it gave every paper subscriber a Kindle and then went all digital.

Posted by: wiredog | February 9, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Rob --

At today's announcement, Bezos said something about the new Kindle being able to sync content with other Kindles (including 1st gen.) What do you know about that, and would it address some of your rights-management issues? It sounds like you can now share books, but only with other Kindle owners.

Posted by: airsix | February 9, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse


It's interesting that the kindle subscription for the Post is only about $10 cheaper annually than home delivery... Will it still be delivered sans comics? I would be really tempted if the Comics were in there...

Posted by: arlingtonian4 | February 9, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

The main problem I have with the whole Kindle concept is that there is simply no need for a stand-alone device to read e-books. E-books should be delivered in a format that can be read by a regular PC or laptop. Why didn't Amazon take advantage of existing software (Adobe Acrobat Reader) to deliver books electronically? That makes far more sense than trying to fleece $359 out of people for a clunky machine that will become obsolete when lack of sales or cost drive Amazon to abandon it.

But that's the real point, isn't it -- Amazon wants to charge the price of a computer for Kindle and take all the profits.

Posted by: xenophile | February 9, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I own a 1G Kindle and love it. It is especially good for traveling and commuting -- a 12 hour flight to Shanghai is torture without plenty to read. It's also good for carrying around favorites that you know you might want to consult (or even reread) on the go. I have also emailed PDFs to myself and read them easily on my device.

It will never substitute for paper books, and in some cases I would even buy the book in both formats. But it is a life-changing technology and I've been so happy to have one.

Posted by: portlandia | February 9, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't go so far as to say DRM is always a deal breaker, but it's close. I would buy an inferior product without DRM over a superior one with DRM. When you pay for DRM infected files, I feel like the transaction is more similar to licensing than purchasing.

In the case of books, no I won't tolerate DRM. Because if you ever desire to have more than can fit on your kindle, I suspect you'll have a hard time storing and referring back to them on your computer. Which is one big reason why you buy the book to begin with.

Posted by: Booyah5000 | February 9, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

If the Kindle is not going to have the same rights as a physical book, then they should be charging much less for the restricted e-versions. Think $0.99, rather than $9.99. Otherwise, why should I buy this device instead of carrying around a few paperbacks. I'm not THAT lazy -- maybe other people are or perhaps they've found a good way to use up all that money from their generous unemployment checks.

Posted by: Jay14 | February 9, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I love my Kindle 1, so upgrading to the K2 is a no-brainer for me. Kindle has changed my life. I take it to bookstores, and compare the prices of a book to its Kindle version. Most of the time, Kindle version is cheaper and I don't have to haul a book home with me and find space to put it.

Who cares about DRM? It works for iTunes.

Posted by: jeffgopack | February 9, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

I was given an ipod Touch for Christmas, and using the Stanza program can read lots of books. The touch is about $130 *cheaper* and has additional features such as backlighting. It's also more sturdily built (we have two broken Kindles in my extended family). Plus, the Touch can actually do other things, like play music, videos, games, and browse the web. Rob, I'd love to see a comparison between these two products-- I see them as competing with one another, but maybe I'm the only one.

Posted by: mlscha | February 9, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Let's see: all wireless communication, books and email, is channeled through one source: Amazon.

Amazon guarantees my privacy how?

If I use the note-taking feature, "Amazon automatically stores all of your book annotations in the "My Clippings" file and backs them up on Amazon servers so they will not be lost."

Again, Amazon guarantees my privacy how?

If I want to view a pdf file, Amazon first converts it to their proprietary format (with the caveat that "conversion of PDF documents is an experimental feature on Kindle, and some complex PDF files might not format correctly on your Kindle.")

Likewise, Amazon must first convert HTML documents before they can be read on the Kindle.

These conversions are 10 cents a pop if you want to receive them wirelessly. And if next year Amazon decides to charge 15 cents? Or 25 cents?

But wait, there's more: "Your Kindle comes with an Experimental application called Basic Web, which is a Web browser optimized to read Web sites that are primarily text-based."

Wow. "experimental" and "text-based" web browsing.

And then there's the copy protection. Even iTunes offers DRM free music.

The Kindle may offer wireless communication, but you're joined at the hip to Amazon.

No thanks.

Posted by: WylieD | February 9, 2009 8:19 PM | Report abuse

I pre-ordered (As George Carlin pointed out, how can you "pre-order" something?) a Kindle 2, but after reading about the DRM restriction, I'm considering canceling it. My main reason for getting one is because my wife and I are avid readers and book purchasers, but our collection takes up too much space. However, I like the idea of actually owning what I pay for; call me crazy! I could wait until the hardcovers I want come out in trade or mass-market paperbacks, and not pay much more than I would for the e-books. Plus, I'd own the copies I bought, and could probably sell them at a second-hand bookstore, or give them away to friends. Also, I have to admit that I'm not crazy about paying so much for something that does less than a netbook at a comparable price. I still have some time before it ships, so i'll have to give this some thought.

Posted by: nbri555 | February 10, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

First of all you can thank all the software thieves for these "restrictive" DRM policies. Why do you think you have the right to give the book away? At least if it is a printed book, you lose the original when you lend or give it away. Another factor seldom mentioned in the "exorbitant" cost of the Kindle is that you are also paying for the electronic delivery of the book. Also in the cost of the Kindle is money that will be spent digitizing books from the past that otherwise wouldn't be available. I recently downloaded the 1,000 plus pages of Gibbon's monumental "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" in less than a minute for about a dollar.

Caveat emptor - "Whispernet" delivery is not available throughout all of the CONUS. I recently visited the bastion of multi-million dollar homes of the very rich at Reynold's Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia. Reynold's was Bush the Younger's and McCain's financial adviser. I found that you couldn't access the "Whispernet" at this location. So I had to drive about ten miles outside the guarded enclave to a rural area where nobody lived but Whispernet was accessible in order to get my newspaper on a daily basis.

My wife sneered at my Kindle when I first bought it over a year ago. She asked for one for her birthday almost a year later. Now she loves hers because it is so convenient to take on vacation and with the airlines charging you for the "overweight" baggage, this is a cheap way to carry, in my case, over 100 books, not to mention newspapers.

I read yesterday that when you look up the definition of a word on the new Kindle, it appears "instantly" at the bottom of the screen. Not sure if this is really the case.

As for those who don't like the Kindle, its cost, etc. - well, don't buy one.

Oh, there is one other bad feature of Kindle 1 or 2. I can't read my Kindle in public without people coming up to me an asking how I like it and where can they buy one.

Posted by: deltadace | February 10, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I have been using a 1st gen Sony ebook reader and like it a lot--the design and feel of the reader seems better than the Kindle. The store and software is better, but not iTunes wonderful. The DRM and lack of portability is a major flaw--and the same applies to Amazon. An electronic book purchase should be complete rights and portability with no restrictions. I love Gutenberg for that reason. Interested readers might take a look at the new New Yorker digital site (free for four issues, free to subscribers) which is pretty nifty but doesn't download to a reader or mobile phone (yet). I tend to purchase "one time reads," mysteries, and non-fiction books on the for the ereader. No bookshelves, no reselling at a penny a pound, perhaps it's green?

Posted by: cbaer2 | February 10, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I have for several years now been reading ebooks on different devices. I have simply stopped buying paper based books. The Kindle is a nice ebook reader, a little better than the Sony and a lot better than the Rocket/RCA/eBook. However, the best, in my opinion, is the iPhone. With the iPhone you have quite a few choices of readers, the best being the Fictionwise/Palm eReader and Stanza. As for AMAZON keeping DRM on the ebooks they sell and not the music - Amazon is a book publisher. They are just like any other publisher (Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, etc) they want to keep their rights to profits as long as copyright is maintained. I don't believe that they publish music. If they gave up DRM on other publisher's works, they would have to do the same for their own. Why people think they shouldn't pay for a book that isn't in public domain simply baffles me. Intellectual property is the same as real property. Theft is theft. However, Rob, your comments about your traditional user rights with your books or your music or anything else, for that matter, is correct. Our system of law just hasn't got the new technologies worked into it as yet and probably won't until there are a few law suits filed and won to force a set of standards that work for everyone and not just the publisher.

Posted by: john_in_dallas | February 10, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

After reading the comments, I would like to reply to a few issues mentioned:

"Why do you think you have the right to give the book away?" Oh, I don't know -- maybe it's because people who pay for things usually have that right? Have you ever been given a book as a present? Did you rush out to the nearest bookstore to pay for it again because you felt the publisher and author were being cheated out of profitin the proces of the giving? Of course not.

"Another factor seldom mentioned in the "exorbitant" cost of the Kindle..." Obviously, as you made a point to mention, you're on the invite list of a Republican finance manager, money's not a consideration for you. However, it is for us working stiffs (who are being asked to "bail out" your clueless corporate buddies), so you shouldn't be denigrating those of us who have to actually put thought into what we'll spend our honest, hard-earned dollars for. And the "electronic delivery" of data can and is being done at a more cost-effective manner.

"As for those who don't like the Kindle, its cost, etc. - well, don't buy one." Wow, thank God we have you to tell us this! What would we have done without your sage advice! By the way, this is a comments section, which means our opinions are solicited, both pro and con. God bless American and the freedom of speech (lol)!

"Why people think they shouldn't pay for a book that isn't in public domain simply baffles me." Who said anything about not paying for non-public domain books? I believe the topic discussed was ownership vs. licensing. If Amazon wants to hold on to profits by keeping DRM, then so be it And if it potential customers prefer to own rather than simply "rent" books, and choose not to buy Kindle 2s, then so be that also. By the way, am I the only one who finds it odd that Amazon won't publish the number of units sold for an allegedly successful product? That's something other manufacturers crow to the stars about.

Posted by: nbri555 | February 10, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

The post of 12:28 PM [Feb 10th] is an excellent exercise of intellectual exercise - leaping to conclusions. Well, the response seems to quote from more than one commenter but I think he was talking about me when referred to me being on the invite list of a Republican finance manager. I don't recall saying that at all. In fact I despise both of the Bush presidents and am, in fact, a retired, 100 percent handicapped enlisted man. Not exactly buddies with the corporate big-wigs.

I did say if you bought a book and decided to give it or lend it to a friend you obviously no longer had it in your possesion. If you don't have DRM in place then you could give away ten or a million of what isn't yours to give while retaining the original.

I am an author and photographer and 99.9 percent of the time give away my photos or books [in electronic non-DRM files]. I only ask that they credit my name if they use the material. If they are smart enough to sell my copyrighted material, I ask them to be kind enough to give me half. So far I haven't had any such problems.

Sorry if you confused me with the rats on Wall Street or others whose greed and dishonesty have brought most of America to great economic discomfort.

Posted by: deltadace | February 10, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

An earlier commenter expressed interest in an iPhone/iTouch comparison with the Kindle v2. I assume this would have to wait until Rob could actually get his hands on one. I also read eBooks on my Palm PDA, and have for years. I did not know that the eReader software was also available on the iPlatform as well, as john_in_dallas mentions. (One of these days my Palm is going to finally give up the ghost.)

Although I can share eBooks between my Palm and my desktop PC, one of my gripes about eBooks is that they are searchable in only a rudimentary way -- unlike, say, Adobe Reader -- and are not printable. Obviously just the cost of the paper media would mitigate against wanting to print most items. But there may be an excerpt or two (a cookbook would be a good example) where commission to paper for a recipe collection would be a good thing. Plus not wanting to splatter marinara all over your $400 Kindle in the kitchen.

Doesn't sound like you can print a Kindle document from the device itself, and currently there is no sync with another device.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | February 10, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

While I love the idea of a eBook reader from an environmental perspective, I'm a heavy library user. I see little value is owning a copy of a book, other than for lending it to others. An eBook, by its nature, is temporary. DRM is only as permanent as the infrastructure behind it. Even with Apple's "generous" DRM licenses I've run into this issue when I upgraded my machine's operating system and when I created new user accounts. To Apple, this required additional authorizations which ran out on certain tracks!

eBooks have great potential as a rental device. If publishers start to pass along the savings of instant, electronic delivery, then the Kindle can be a huge success. As long as they want to charge $10 for a temporary license to a best seller, they will only appeal to a small market. If the price for content dropped to $2 for a 6 month license, half the country would want to own one.

Posted by: dannews | February 11, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

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