Amazon rolls out a device to save the newpaper – two years too late

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    A man holds the new Kindle DX electronic reader at a news conference in New York, on May 6, 2009. The latest version of the Kindle is larger, aimed at newspapers and textbooks and carries a price tag of $489.
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The front page of Amazon.com today carries a splashy advertisement for the new Kindle DX, a next-generation digital reader first unveiled last May. The DX, which is priced at $489, has active PDF support and a screen better suited to textbooks and newspapers. The device will go on sale next week, Amazon says.

“You never have to zoom, you never have to scroll, you just read the documents,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in May, at a press conference for the DX. Amazon's newest Kindle has an expanded hard drive, which can hold upward of 3,000 texts. And like Apple's iPhone, it is equipped with motion-sensing technology: tipping the device on its side yields a horizontal display to make reading wide pages easier.

At 1/3 of an inch thick, the DX is about as thin as an issue of the Christian Science Monitor's weekly edition.

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In a report released last month, Forrester Research predicted that the ebook market will grow over the next few years, expanding beyond early adopters in 2009. The “wider market of students and business consumers” won’t really catch on until 2011, the study said. But Amazon is betting that readers will use the DX for more than just ebooks.

Print is dying!

In May, the company announced it had joined forces with the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post to sell a bargain-priced DX to subscribers of those newspapers. And the company has partnered with five textbook publishers and 75 university presses who will make their products available on Amazon.

It's been a very bad year for newspapers, which have watched ad sales plummet and readership numbers drop. Some have turned to the web to make up for the loss of print ad dollars. Others have shuttered or cut back on their print operations. In February, The Rocky Mountain News, the oldest newspaper in Colorado, ceased printing, and in March, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shut its presses. Once-great newspapers such as the Boston Globe are now struggling to stay afloat. (In April, the Christian Science Monitor began publishing its daily edition online only.)

Long live digital ink!

The DX is being touted as one possible solution for declining circulation – a device that makes consuming newspapers easy and cheap. Well, cheaper, anyway. (And you can stop worrying about ink on your fingers and those pesky paper-cuts.) But many have argued that the DX isn't a one-size-fits all solution, because the death of the American newspaper doesn't have a single cause.

As I've written in this space before, it’s a manifold disaster: advertising is down, the economy is down, and many 20-somethings don’t want anything to do with a newspaper, whether it’s printed on dead trees or emblazoned on a digital screen. The DX is intriguing, but it won't solve all our woes.

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