Amazon is launching a new version of its Kindle e-book reader that will be discounted by $25 and will feature ads and pitches for daily deals, delivered via Wi-Fi. The Kindle with Special Offers will make what's already a well-priced e-book reader cheaper still. But it may also test the willingness of bookworms to have advertising intrude on their reading experience.
This new version of the 6-inch Kindle is a clever move in Amazon's long-running price war with Barnes & Noble, whose nook Wi-Fi (also a 6-inch, black-and-white e-book reader) costs $149 in its least expensive version. (Both devices are included in our Ratings of e-book readers, available to subscribers.)
Available on May 3, the Kindle with Special Offers will replace the current screensaver images of famous authors for those from advertisers. Ads will also run along the bottom the home screen, the company says.
Buick, Olay, and the Amazon Rewards Visa will be the debut advertisers. Eventually, says Amazon, ads will be chosen by Kindle owners via a new app called AdMash. You'll also be able to set preferences for the type of screensaver ads you prefer—those with literary references, for example, or landscape images.
The special offers put Amazon in competition with such services as Groupon and Living Social, and will be quite Amazon-centric, at least at launch. Early offers will include a $20 Amazon gift card for $10, $1 for an album from the Amazon MP3 store, and $30 worth of merchandise from either the Amazon Denim Shop or Swim Shop (who knew about those?) for $10. Those initial deals will be exclusive to the Kindle with Special Offers, an Amazon spokesperson told us via e-mail this morning, though that exclusivity "may evolve" as Amazon talks to new partners.
Since the ads and offers are delivered via Wi-Fi, it appears possible that eliminating or reducing the use or wireless access might minimize the presence of the ads. Asked about that this morning, an Amazon spokesman gave only "a quick answer" that "we deliver the special offers and sponsored screensavers periodically when you connect to a Wi-Fi network, so there's no need to have the Wi-Fi on all of the time." Meantime, the New York Times quotes a company spokesperson as saying that turning off Wi-Fi would allow the ads to be avoided, but would also eliminate the offers, which he said would be valued by Kindle owners.
The success of the Kindle with Special Offers may hinge not only on the allure of those offers, given the proliferation of such services, but on the extent to which would-be buyers are prepared to accept their Kindle as just another Internet-connected device, advertising and all.
Amazon has, thus far in the Kindle's evolution, gone out of its away to play down the device's Web connection (placing the Kindle's puny Web browser behind an "experimental" tab, for example). In doing so, it's created a device that's focused almost entirely on serious book reading. Will Kindle owners be prepared to have the noisy commerce of the Web intrude on that experience, even subtly, in order to save a buck? Will you?