Summary:

The Kindle Fire was the star of today’s Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) show but don’t ignore the retooled Kindle e-reader lineup. CEO Jeff Bezos knows…

Amazon Kindle Touch
photo: Amazon

The Kindle Fire was the star of today’s Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) show but don’t ignore the retooled Kindle e-reader lineup. CEO Jeff Bezos knows Swiss Army knives aren’t for everyone. With that in mind, Amazon is revamping its e-readers, using its ad-supported “special offers” concept to lower prices for the dedicated devices below anything major competitors have done yet.

The new “Kindle Family” of devices starts at $79 (or $109 sans ads) for a basic WiFi-only Kindle, with the $199 Fire at the high end. In between, the new Kindle Touch for $99/$149 (WiFi only) and $149/$189 (WiFi and 3G). Two current Kindles remain in the mix: the Kindle Keyboard with a new $99 “special offers” price and the 9.7″ Kindle DX, still at $379.

It’s a far cry from the lone Kindle introduced 4 years ago that drew criticism for its beige clunky-ness but quickly sold out (aided by a bad call in managing inventory). It wasn’t the first e-reader but it was in many respects the first e-reader with mass potential.

In addition to the tech innovations as the device got lighter and sleeker with better battery life, Amazon added a layer of e-commerce and advertising in May — using sponsored deals and advertising to offer a discount that brought the price down for some customers. It also gave Amazon the chance to pitch the Kindle as a lower-cost device, making it sound more affordable. Amazon cut the “special offers” price again over the summer and with the news today, has made it an option for every e-reader but the DX.

At the same time, the reading borders expanded. In one of its smartest moves, Amazon didn’t try to stand apart from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) or Android. Instead it went to the Kindle Platform, creating a virtual reading universe that crossed devices and worked on devices based on iOS and Android. That provided access to people without Kindle devices and allowed those who already had a Kindle e-reader to access their library across devices and platforms. When the iPad launched with “Kindle-killer” iBooks, the Kindle app was in place, too. (Amazon also played up its other advantage over the iPad: the ability to read the low-glare screen in sunlight.)

The Kindle Store has grown to more than 950,000 titles, added some sharing capabilities and just last week, a program with OverDrive rolled out to 11,000-plus libraries, making it possible to check out books to read on Kindle devices and across the platform. Not having to buy every book you read on the device can help change the economics of a consumer’s choice.

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