Amazon’s New Kindle: Deus Ex Machina for Print Industry?

There were few surprises today at Amazon’s press conference, where it unveiled its new, larger-sized Kindle that it is hoping will bring back paying subscribers to newspapers and magazines as free Internet content has siphoned off their subscription and ad revenue.

The company didn’t even say what the press conference was about, but details of the new Kindle DX, from its 9.7-inch screen size and publishing partner The New York Times Co., have been a badly kept secret.

With the larger screen, the device is designed to address the shortcomings of the 6-inch current version, which already offers more than 100 newspapers and magazines but whose reading experience is limited by its small size. The DX, meanwhile, offers a near-replica of the printed newspaper and also has an auto rotation feature and built-in PDF document reader.

“Even with electronic paper, you need a big display,” Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in introducing the device.

Bezos did reveal details on the device’s availability and price tag: It will be available this summer for $489 versus the $359-priced current Kindle. The Times Co., which worked behind the scenes to help develop the new e-reader, will pilot the DX this summer at its flagship and Boston Globe, along with The Washington Post. The papers will sell subscriptions at a reduced price in exchange for longterm subscription commitments.

“Today, we take another step forward in e-reader technology,” said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the Times Co., who joined Bezos at the press conference. He added that the new device would do a better job than its predecessor of combining the Web’s immediacy with the portability of the printed paper.

The DX also is designed with image-heavy documents, highly formatted books and academic textbooks in mind. It will be tested at five universities this fall, including Princeton, University of Virginia and Case Western Reserve.

In addition to its higher price tag, the new Kindle may disappoint consumers, because it doesn’t offer color or video, a criticism of current e-reader technology. It also will face competition from e-readers that are forthcoming from a crop of other companies including News Corp., Hearst and technology company Plastic Logic.