Amazon Unveils Digital Reading Unit

NEW YORK has unveiled Kindle, its long-rumored and much-anticipated portable electronic reading device, which the online retailer hopes will transform the book-reading experience while also advancing print media forward into the digital age.

The company has inked distribution agreements with several top-name publishers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Time magazine, to regularly deliver content to Kindle, a 10.3-ounce portable device that is said to feature an advanced, high-resolution display designed to reproduce the visual look of real paper.

Though full-length books are the primary focus of Kindle (90,000 are available at launch), Amazon is clearly betting that traditional newspapers and magazines, along with emerging digital publishers, will play a major role in the adoption of electronic paper devices. Amazon has also signed deals with several well-known blogs to provide content to Kindle devices, including several ESPN blogs, The Huffington Post, The Onion, Slashdot and TechCrunch, among others.

Individual books are available for $9.99 on Kindle, while monthly newspaper subscriptions will range from $5.99 to $14.99 per month and magazines will run from $1.25 to $3.49 per month. Unlike many portable devices, Kindle users will be able to access all of its content wirelessly, and books can be downloaded in less than a minute, claims Amazon.

Despite Kindle’s alleged technological advancements, Amazon needs to prove that there is a market in the U.S. for electronic books. After several attempts faltered in the 1990s, the push to digitize one of the oldest media forms has picked up momentum in the last few years, driven in part by the recently launched Sony Reader. Amazon is asking consumers to shell out $399 for Kindle.

The new wave of electronic readers also will have to contend with the growing popularity of Apple’s iPhone and other smart phone devices, which have made surfing the Internet via a portable device far more enjoyable and useful for owners. As that trend intensifies, it may limit enthusiasm for subscribing to newspapers and magazines via an electronic reading device, since the online versions of these publications will be available on the Web for free.