Kindle 2 Offers Stephen King

NEW YORK Amazon has introduced Kindle 2, the second version of its digital reading device. The much-anticipated unit boasts a thinner design, improved navigation, longer battery life and several new media partners, including USA Today and The New Yorker.

Much of today’s buzz around the product has focused on the participation of horror icon Stephen King, who read an excerpt form his new offering, Ur, which is being offered exclusively for download via the new device. The book’s storyline also prominently features the Kindle being used by several characters.

The revamped Kindle is available for $359 starting Feb. 24. Like its predecessor, Kindle 2 enables users to wirelessly download full-length books in less than a minute for $9.99 each.

Officials said the digital reader, which is primarily being marketed to book lovers, would gradually become an alternative to print reading for a growing portion of the population. Amazon now offers subscriptions to 31 newspapers and 22 magazines and over 1,200 blogs, including offerings from Wired and Vanity Fair.

At this point Kindle is not much of an advertising platform. Users pay between $5.99 to $14.99 per month for ad-free newspaper subscriptions and $1.25 to $3.49 per month for ad-free magazines. They can also opt for continuously updated subscriptions to blogs for 99 cents to a $1.99 per month.

And while users can surf the Internet using Kindle, Amazon officials downplayed that functionality at Monday’s press event in New York, saying that the device was best suited to deliver Kindle-optimized versions of periodicals via subscriptions, particularly for business travelers and commuters who want to read in places where wireless access is scarce, such as airplanes.

During Monday’s presentation, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he envisions Kindle elevating the reading of books and magazines in much the same way that computers and mobile devices have boosted shorter content. “Long-form reading is losing ground to short-form reading,” he said. “We change our tools, and our tools change us.”

For print in particular, Bezos said the new Kindle offers “really dramatic improvements in newspaper navigation” — allowing users to jump from section to section and story to story with more ease.