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No-show for Amazon's Kindle

22 October 2007

Is this just another false dawn for the e-book? Strong rumours that Amazon were about to launch their new Kindle device at the Frankfurt Book FairWorld's largest trade fair for books; held annually mid-October at Frankfurt Trade Fair, Germany; First three days exclusively for trade visitors; general public can attend last two. appear to have been just that. But this is not the first time that much-anticipated e-book developments have failed to produce the expected outcome.

Last spring Sony launched its e-book Reader in the US at a price of $349 - £170 - (currently $279.99 - £137 - but apparently now out of stock). You also get 100 free Connect eBooks Classics titles as part of the deal. It has enough memory for hundreds of books and consumers can purchase 12,000 titles through Connect. The expected launch in the UK and internationally has not happened yet and now seems to have been postponed until a new version of the Reader is available next year, a sign perhaps that Sony do not yet feel that they have got the device quite right, or that it has not sold as well as expected in the States.

The iREx iLiad, created by Dutch company iRex, the development partner of Phillips, was launched in February 2007. Mark Chillingworth, editor of Information World Review, reviewed it in the Bookseller and concluded that it works well as a business tool, since it has portals for USB and Flash memory cards, you can add notes to texts, and connect directly to a printer, and you will soon be able to connect to wireless internet. He concluded that: 'For book-heavy occupations such as engineering, law, medicine and teaching, the iLiad has an obvious use.' At £449 ($1,016), it is not currently aimed at the mass market.

But it is really the Amazon Kindle that everyone is waiting for and it looks as if this is the device that might propel e-books into a new mass market world, which previous e-book readers have failed to do. Publishers certainly think so, and have been developing their digital warehouses at speed (see News Review 10 September), so as to make sure they have plenty of titles to offer once the Kindle is launched.

There's no doubt of course that Amazon is in a pole position to sell e-books. Sara Lloyd, head of digital publishing at Macmillan UK said back in April: 'The industry is on the edge of its seat for the announcement because of its huge significance. Amazon saying it is worth investing in a device is a massive step for the e-reader business. It is an enormous global brand and extremely influential.'

The fact that the launch of the Kindle appears to have been delayed may be because Amazon has had technical problems with getting the reader to deliver to its ambitious brief, but it may also relate to hard-nosed commercial decisions. Why launch the Kindle before the company has access to a decent range of e-books available to read on it?

But when Amazon's Kindle is launched we should see the answer to the questions which have been hanging in the air for several years: Will the e-book have a real impact on traditional book sales? Is this the future for books?

Sony e-book reader

iREx iLiad