Amazon.com is offering its customers the ability to "gift" Kindle ebooks, yet another escalation in the online retailer's efforts to stay atop the e-reader market. Despite its sales position, Kindle faces increased competition from not only Barnes & Nobles' new Nook Color, but also the Apple iPad and other tablet PCs with e-reader applications.
"We are thrilled to make it easier than ever for our customers to give their favorite Kindle book to a friend or family member as a gift," Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Amazon Kindle, wrote in a Nov. 19 statement. Users can now select a book from the Kindle store and click "Give as a Gift," sending the ebook to a selected e-mail address.
Amazon managed to capture an early lead in the then-nascent e-reader market with the Kindle. With high-profile launches attended by literary celebrities such as Stephen King, the retailer managed to capture much of the public mind share. By the end of 2009, however, the market had evolved from niche to mainstream; not only had Barnes & Noble launched the competing Nook, but a host of smaller manufacturers decided to carve off a share of the market with their own devices.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, those startups offered their own surefire ways for conquering segments of the e-reader market. Over the course of subsequent quarters, though, many of those companies imploded-leaving Amazon, Sony and Barnes & Noble to battle it out. At the same time, Apple offered a competitive challenge from the flank with the iPad, which offers an e-bookstore of its own.
In July, Amazon unveiled the third-generation Kindle ($189) alongside the cheaper Kindle WiFi ($139), the latter undercutting the similarly stripped-down Nook WiFi by $10. The newest Kindle includes a Webkit-based browser, text-to-speech, and the ability to listen to music and podcasts.
Not to be outdone, Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook Color, which offers a 7-inch display, 8GB of storage space expandable through a microSD slot, WiFi capability, Web surfing, LendMe and the option to share selected passages from ebooks via Facebook and Twitter. The bookseller evidently hopes all those features will justify the $249 price point. Nook Color shipments have already begun.
Analytics company In-Stat has estimated the e-reader market as growing from 12 million units in 2010 to 35 million in 2014. In addition, both Barnes & Noble and Amazon offer respective e-reader applications for use on a variety of mobile devices and PCs, as a channel for selling ebooks.