Amazon Embraces the E-reader’s Niche Status with a Premium Kindle

Last week I wrote about the recent spate of predictions about the coming demise of the dedicated e-reader, and I predicted that rather than go away, the e-reader would probably embrace its niche status in two ways. I wrote:

…[E]-readers are not doomed, but … they’re going to cease to be an explosive category of mass market technology. Instead, I think we’ll see them continue to be honed and improved for a slightly niche market of frequent book consumers. And since they don’t require frequent upgrades on par with phones, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see two general categories of e-reader devices:

1. Free or nearly-free commodity e-readers that Amazon may just give away to Prime subscribers, for example, because they encourage e-book purchasing, and

2. High-end “luxury” e-readers (like the [Kindle] Paperwhite) with advanced, ever-more-readable e-ink screens, improved lighting, and premium builds.

Well mere days later it looks like I’m at least half right. Yesterday Amazon announced a new line of Kindles to join the Paperwhite: a standard “Kindle 5” updated with touch controls instead of buttons, and more to the point, the Kindle Voyage, which is, well, a high-end luxury e-reader with an advanced, ever-more-readable e-ink screen, improved lighting, and a premium build. Gizmodo is saying “damn, it’s beautiful,” and The Verge is calling it “shockingly good.” Even Marco Armentdoes not hate it on site.

It’s got touch controls and haptic “buttons” for page turns, it has a glass display that sits flush with the bezel, the back is made of magnesium instead of plastic, and it’s still lighter and thinner than the Paperwhite. Amazon itself describes it as “passionately crafted for readers.” It’s going for $200, and it really is just as I suggested, a true premium Kindle e-reader for the relatively small number of people who really care about this sort of thing (like me — birthday coming up!).

So while I already got #2 of my predictions right, #1 hasn’t yet come true. If anything, Amazon made the Kindle harder to get by raising the base model price by $10. Seems to me they could have kept on selling the “Kindle 4” for a lot longer, and at ever lower prices. Any reason this couldn’t be made available for, say, $40?

It’s still very possible that a free or almost-free Kindle is in the cards, but perhaps it doesn’t need to be. If you own a tablet or a smartphone, you already have the “free Kindle” in the form of the Kindle app. Maybe that’s as far as they’ll ever go.

Okay can I have a Kindle Voyage now please?

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