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Kindle Paperwhite's all right: Amazon's announcement and books

September 06, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • Jeff Bezos at Amazon's Kindle news conference.
Jeff Bezos at Amazon's Kindle news conference. (Michael Nelson )

Amazon announced a new line of Kindle e-readers and Kindle Fire tablets on Thursday, and things pretty much went as expected. Images of the new Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, and the new Kindle Fire models, had already been circulating online.

The big change in the Kindle e-reader is the new Paperwhite. Great name! But it made me think of paper, and I kind of think paper is a pretty good format on its own. Paper is stable, it can be shared, and it has great resolution.

Amazon head Jeff Bezos, who kept the stage for the full length of the announcement, made a point of showing newly tweaked fonts on the Paperwhite, which has a white display and a frontlight to illuminate the page (the illumination is between the screen and the display, instead of behind the display). Indeed, the resolution is clear, and the text can be made pretty small.

But it's still not as dense as you'd find in an old Stephen King paperback.

I wanted to put the Paperwhite next to a book, but I'd left my book in the car. Instead, I used my New Yorker for comparison. The magazine was crisper, denser and easier to read -- although it was crumpled, and the Kindle Paperwhite was not. So there's that.

Buzzfeed made a more spot-on comparison, between the most recent Kindle and the Paperwhite -- side by side (scroll down), it's pretty hard to see the difference.

Paying attention to the bookishness of the event, I found it significant that Bezos started the announcement focusing on its literary offerings. "People don't want gadgets anymore, they want services," he said, and after talking about the Amazon Cloud and low prices, he went right to the Kindle Lending Library. He praised the volume of, um, volumes it offers, and the enthusiasm with which it, and ebooks, have been adopted.

He showed quotes from authors whose books had been turned down many times before finding a publisher, including Kathryn Stockett's "The Help," which was rejected 60 times -- and went on to become a bestseller. He lauded the Kindle Direct Publishing program as an empowering option for self-published authors. They certainly can be -- a video played successful self-publishing testimonials from three KDP authors. I'm curious about those who are less successful or even critical of the program, but they certainly weren't highlighted in the demonstration.

What was also highlight was a new Kindle Fire feature Amazon is calling "immersion reading." When reading on a tablet device, the reader can simultaneously listen to the audiobook version. In other words, he can read the words on the page while it's being read to him aloud. The functionality has been around in early iterations, but now the audiobooks are professionally recorded: They're from industry leader Audible. Amazon purchased Audible in 2008; perhaps the company had this in mind then. Bezos tried to sell "immersion reading" as a better way to absorb information, but it seemed most useful for me as a way to engage early readers. There are a number of iPad apps geared toward children that work in the read-me-a-story vein.

Bezos used books as a touchstone, describing the Paperwhite as "thinner than a magazine, lighter than a paperback." That makes it nice to carry around, and will probably be great news for people who love their Kindle e-readers. I find the lightness a little anxiety-making.

The most interesting thing Bezos said was this: "We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices." He was explaining Amazon has given its new Kindles low prices. Inside of that, however, is another message: Amazon wants to make money off content. That's something content creators should pay attention to.

The new Kindles -- both e-readers and tablets -- are a little faster, a little clearer, a little cheaper. One's bigger. One's 4G. Our tech blog has all the details.

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Carolyn Kellogg: Join me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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