Amazon CEO hopes new Kindles stoke sales

SEATTLE (AP) - Jeff Bezos isn’t just confident you’ll want a Kindle e-book reader. The CEO of Amazon.com is bracing for a future in which you’ll also want ones for your kid heading to college, your spouse in a book club and perhaps even Grandpa.

And despite increased competition from Apple Inc.’s flashy iPad and other e-readers, that future could be coming soon _ as early as August, actually, when online retailer Amazon.com Inc. releases two new Kindle models.

With both versions costing less than $200, and one not far above the $99 psychological tipping point for gadget-buying, Bezos expects people to buy multiple devices for their households. If he’s right, the new Kindles could help cement the company’s status as the reigning e-reader and e-book champ, even in the face of an ever-growing field of challengers.

Sitting at the head of a conference-room table at Amazon’s new headquarters on a late July afternoon, Bezos flips over a skinny, dark gray device. It’s the upcoming Kindle, and he’s excited to show it off.

Bezos zips through the new Kindle’s features, rattling off a bevy of percentages. It’s 21 percent smaller and 15 percent lighter than the current Kindle, he says, though its display is the same size. Its electronic ink display has 50 percent higher contrast for improved reading in low and bright light. It turns pages 20 percent faster.

Amazon began taking pre-orders on the devices this week for delivery Aug. 27. Available in dark gray or white, the third-generation Kindle will have Wi-Fi access for the first time. Previous versions had only 3G cellular access for downloading books and other content.

A version with both 3G and Wi-Fi will cost $189 _ the same price as the current Kindle. A Wi-Fi-only version, which can only download books when you’re in a wireless hotspot, will cost $139.

That second price tag makes the Wi-Fi-only Kindle $10 cheaper than the Wi-Fi-only Nook, an e-reader sold by competitor Barnes & Noble Inc. It will cost $11 less than Sony Corp.’s low-end e-reader, the Reader Pocket Edition, which doesn’t have wireless connectivity.

That lower price is also less than half of the $399 that Amazon charged when it released the first Kindle in late 2007.

James McQuivey, a Forrester Research analyst, expects the new price will “shatter the bottom” of the e-reader market.

“Anything that doesn’t have any kind of connectivity, like the Sony Pocket Reader, has to drop to $99 by the end of the year,” he says. “Why would you buy that non-wireless device if you have the choice for the same or less money to buy a Wi-Fi-enabled Kindle?”

If Bezos has his way, you wouldn’t _ maybe you’d buy a Kindle with 3G and Wi-Fi for yourself, since you travel a lot, and a Wi-Fi-only one for your brother, who does most of his reading at home.

But even if the lower-price Kindle stimulates new demand, it will likely be hard to gauge how well they’re really selling. While Apple happily touts sales milestones for the iPad, which starts at $499 and can be used to read e-books, surf the Web and more, Amazon has never divulged how many Kindles it has sold, beyond saying that readers have snapped up “millions” of the skinny e-readers.

Bezos said Amazon is so secretive with its sales figures because releasing the information could help competitors, making it easier for them to estimate how many e-readers they should manufacture, for example.

Forrester estimates that Amazon has sold 4 million Kindles so far in the U.S. and expects it will have sold more than 6 million by the end of the year.

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