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Kindle or Kindling?

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith hopes that a bigger version of its Kindle electronic reading device will help move the digital book reader into the mainstream.  The new and larger Amazon Kindle DX comes in with a steep price at US$489 (NZ$837) and Amazon is basing a large part of its sales hopes on the goal of turning college textbooks into kindling. 

The new Kindle offers major technical enhancements as it includes a built-in PDF reader and lets you can read documents in both portrait and landscape mode without losing the formatting of the original fil.  There is a much larger display - 9.7" diagonal e-ink screen with auto-rotation, so users can read content in either portrait or landscape mode.  Also there is a bigger hard drive (3.3GB) that can hold up to 3,500 books.

Amazon is also focused on two content enhancements.  Amazon has signed on The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe to offer the Kindle DX at a reduced price in exchange for long-term subscription commitments. Obviously not a big impact in non-US markets and is another attempt by these papers to avoid extinction.

I'm more interested in the pilot program while 5 American universities where the Kindle will be offered to students as a replacement for textbooks.  Although it's been a few years since I graced the hallways of academic life as a student, I hope that digitizing textbooks will be a game changer. Buying dozens of new textbooks each semester was a pain in the purse and a huge waster of publishing resources. It's a few years away - but the Kindle has the chance to dramatically change the textbook industry.

An article by Martin Taylor just appeared in the February/March edition of New Zealand Author and has already been quoted and linked to from around the world.  Taylor notes that "Ebooks seem to be the slow burner of the digital media world, one of the last digital hold-outs."  However he, like Amazon is predicting that after "a false start in the early 2000s, the ebook is rising again and this time looks set for mainstream acceptance."

But more importantly Taylor talks about how this could impact New Zealand.  While much of the New Zealand TV, movie and music industry is ruled by foreign imports, in the world of books, locally-published books make up about half of the half a billion dollar annual book market. Furthermore, a big chunk of New Zealand's publishing is educational and most of its book exports. 

Digital publishing should be a positive opportunity for New Zealand literature to increase in diversity and to reach a wider audience. The cost of shipping a heavy book or textbook from New Zealand around the world are a lot more than transmitting the content over the Internet.  If adoption of the digital book continues, this will level the playing field and allow New Zealand authors and publishers to better compete around the world.

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