While early opinions have already judged Amazon’s next Kindle as either the company’s great hope or just more hype, CEO Jeff Bezos took to the stage at the Morgan Library in Midtown Manhattan to fuel the excitement. “The book hasn’t changed much in 500 years. [In terms of media consumption], we’ve been going from long-form to short-form for some time. But books are different. There are certain things that can only be learned from a few hundred pages, as opposed to a few paragraphs… We have been selling e-books for years it didn’t work — until 14 months ago. Today, more than 10 percent of the units we sell are Kindle books… We’ve been working on traditional book sales for 14 years. What happened? 230,000 things happened.” (That’s how many titles are available on Kindle.) Bezos is continuing to rhapsodize the Kindle as a “gateway drug” that spurs people to read more books.
— Weight, size — but no Euro rollout yet: Weighs 10.3 ounces and is about a third of an inch thick. Bezos compares it to the best-selling 3G phones and notes it’s even thinner. Also, the battery can go for two weeks of reading without having to recharge. It will ship on Feb. 24. Current Kindle owners who buy one by tonight will move to the top of the queue. Following the press conference, I asked several Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) reps when the device would be released in Europe and the UK. All declined to comment, saying only, “We haven’t made any announcements on European sales of Kindle yet.” More after the jump.
— Memory: The new device can hold more than 1,500 books — the first model held only about 300 titles, depending on the length — and users’ book files are all backed up on Amazon’s system.
— Not in color: Bezos is reading the NYT, which has been available since the first Kindle. The navigation appears easier, but still no color photos with the articles.
— You could look it up: Turning to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, Bezos says he needs to look up the word “chary” (caution, foreboding), which you can do on the Kindle.
— Kindle will read to you: A clipped computerized voice is reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
— Stephen King’s one-of-a-kind Kindle: Stephen King is discussing the offer his agent got from Amazon to produce a story for Kindle. The story will be available elsewhere, but Kindle has it first. The call came in January. He started two days before Barack Obama’s inauguration, and the Kindle figures into the story. King is reading an except. A kid is reading his Kindle in class and basically giving his teacher a sales pitch for the Amazon device. The teacher is defending the idea of print and the tactile qualities of an actual book. The child appears to be winning the argument, as the “old school teacher” settles on buying himself a Kindle. Since this is a Stephen King-imagined Kindle, “it can access 10 million other worlds.” Plus, the kid’s Kindle is pink. When he arrived this morning, Bezos presented King with a pink device as well.
— Not in Technicolor: Afterward, an Amazon rep told me that the company is staying with the basic white/gray look of the Kindle, as it tries to build more recognition for it in the marketplace. If consumers start demanding the devices in different “flavors,” Amazon will then move to satisfy it. But don’t expect iPod-like variations for a while. As to color on the screen, the rep said “the technology’s just not there yet.” So far, tests have shown that the colors come out muted, even diluting the black and white of the text. Amazon is similarly dissatisfied with the touch-screen technology associated with Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch, saying that it doesn’t lend itself well to reading in bright sunlight as The Kindle does.