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October 02, 2011

Sunday Book (and Music) Thread

The past week saw a lot of developments on the e-reader front.

Amazon, as expected, introduced the Kindle Fire, a 7" color touchscreen device. This was a widely anticipated move, but most observers were expecting Amazon to bring out the device at the $250 price-point to compete with Barnes & Noble's Nook. Amazon surprised everyone by pricing the new gadget at $199, and by so doing threw the whole tablet market into disarray -- RIM, Samsung, and HTC were all forced to make huge price-cuts in their own offerings to stay competitive. B&N is widely expected to drop the price on the Nook as well.

The Fire is touted as a competitor to Apple's iPad, but it really isn't. Whereas the iPad is more of a general-purpose tablet computing device, Amazon is clearly intending the Fire to be a customized "front end" to Amazon's digital media offerings (music, books, and video) and maybe some games. The Fire is not aimed at hackers, modders, or technology geeks; it's aimed at the direct center of the Amazon consumer market, people who already have a relationship with Amazon and who want to have another way to consume their digital goods. By all accounts, the strategy is working: Amazon reports that they sold 95,000 Kindle Fires the first day. (Delivery isn't until November 17, alas.)

But the Fire was only part of the story -- Amazon also released several new versions of the classic "e-ink" readers. The low-end model comes in at only $79! That's getting into impulse-buy territory even for people with tight budgets; that's about what you'd pay on date-night for dinner and a movie afterwards. ArthurK wonders how long it will be before Amazon just starts giving them away as premiums for other services. It depends on how low they can get their manufacturing costs -- if they can make these units for less than $50 apiece, they might figure that a Kindle owner will buy more than $100 worth of digital content over the life of the unit, so giving them away would make sense. But Amazon is probably going to sell a lot of these things at this low price, so they don't need to give them away yet.

Barnes and Noble are in a tough bind with their Nook product. It's competitive with the Fire based on pure specs, but B&N doesn't have the breadth of offerings that Amazon can offer. B&N has books and magazines; Amazon has books, movies, music, magazines, newspapers, and blogs. If B&N wants to compete, they're going to have to partner with someone (Netflix?) to offer similar services at a similar price-point. And the other tablet makers are probably doomed unless they can figure out some way to undercut Amazon's per-unit price (or go upmarket and directly challenge Apple in the iPad space, which is probably a suicide mission).

I've pre-ordered a Kindle Fire, so when I get it I'll post a review.

So much for the book stuff. I wanted to mention a music CD I bought recently because it is one of those rare purchases that at once surprise me, gratify me, and remind me once again that good music is still being made even in these debased times. The CD is Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa's first duet project, "Don't Explain".

It's an album of soul and r&b covers, which normally puts me off (nothing beats the old stuff), but in this case I couldn't wait to listen to the CD: Bonamassa is probably the best electric blues guitar player now living, and Beth Hart has a voice that harks back to the glory days of Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Billie Holiday. Together they turn these soul standards into something fresh and dazzling; they take the songs and make them their own.

I've linked two YouTube performances from this CD: a cover of Etta James' famous "I'd Rather Go Blind", and the old soul standard "I Will Take Care of You". If you're a fan of blues, soul, or r&b, don't hesitate to pick this one up. This CD is fantastic.



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posted by Monty at 10:41 AM

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