Price Cuts Push eBook Readers to the Mainstream

When it first debuted in 2008, Amazon's best-selling eBook reader, the Kindle, cost a whopping $400, placing it out of the reach of all but the best-heeled readers. But now, less than two years later, the latest Kindle version has dropped below $200, less than half the original selling price. This comes thanks to increased competition from other eBook readers and, at the very high end, multifunction devices such as Apple's iPad.

On Monday, Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle from $259 to $189, just hours after its primary competitor, Barnes & Noble, dropped prices on its own eBook reader, the Nook. Barnes & Noble sells two versions of the Nook, including a Wi-Fi only model that now retails for $149 and a 3G-equipped model that sells for $199. Amazon's single device includes 3G networking, which provides anywhere-in-the-world, over-the-air, book and periodical purchasing and downloading.

The other major eBook player, Sony, hasn't yet announced price cuts, but it will almost certainly need to do so. Sony currently sells three versions of its Reader eBook readers, which range in price from $169 to $349. But if the current pricing trends are any indication, we could see prices fall below $99 by this time next year. And that's true for all dedicated eBook readers.

At the top end of the spectrum, Apple's overpriced iPad starts at $499 and runs to $829, so the average selling price of these devices is over three times that of the Kindle. Apple fans argue that the iPad is far more powerful than a dedicated eBook reader and can, in fact, be used much like a real computer, albeit one without a keyboard or mouse. But despite its gorgeous color screen, the iPad isn't ideal for reading because that screen is highly reflective, causing eye strain. And the device is much heavier than a Kindle or competing eBook reader, making it less portable and harder to hold while reading.

Still, Apple's aggressive marketing of the iPad and its decision to open a competing online bookstore called iBooks has rattled the eBook industry. And while the Amazon Kindle remains the best selling dedicated eBook reader, it's unlikely that the device is selling as well as the iPad. Apple claims to have sold one million iPads in each of its first two months on the market.

While Apple's entry into the market has harmed readers in one obvious way—the company raised the average price of eBooks in a cozy agreement with publishers—it has now had at least one positive effect as well: Dedicated eBook readers, which remain the superior choice for those actually concerned with reading, are now actually affordable. And if you've waffled on this purchase, there's never been a better time. I recommend (and use) the Kindle.

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