The DX debut
07.05.09 | GAYLE FELDMAN
On Monday (4th May), journalists and publishers were summoned by an email cryptically dropped into their inboxes. On Wednesday, they came, to hear Jeff Bezos announce the third iteration of the "Kindle family": the DX.
This time, it wasn’t Stephen King sharing the stage, as he had at the launch of Kindle 2, but Arthur Sulzberger Jr, chairman of the New York Times, and Barbara Snyder, president of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. If anybody needed a hint about the direction the new Kindle was taking, it was embodied in those two guests.
The device, expanded to a 9.7in display from the earlier 6in; with double the internal storage (4GB or up to 3500 books compared to 2GB or 1500 books); and with a PDF reader built in, is being pitched as the answer to a university student’s textbook dreams, and one answer, at least, to the nightmares plaguing the newspaper business.
On the earlier models, it was necessary to pan, zoom, or scroll if you wanted to read anything whose original format was larger than that of a paperback. So the ease of being able to subscribe to a newspaper and have it delivered each morning "automagically" (it wasn’t clear whether Bezos was intentional or it was a slip of the tongue) wherever you are in America came along with the annoyance of having only a small chunk of any article on the screen at any time. Now, more is there, and with an auto-rotate capability—a big improvement.
Beginning this summer, when the DX ships, the NYT, its sister the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post will launch a pilot offering the DX at a "reduced price" in exchange for a long-term subscription commitment from readers "in areas where home delivery is not available." That means a lot of places in America.
Sulzberger sees it demonstrating "our commitment to reinvention" and marking "an important milestone in the convergence between print and digital". The DX will retail for $489, as opposed to Kindle 2’s $359—but the "reduced price" was not given.
On the textbook front, three heavy hitters—Pearson, Cengage and Wiley, representing 60% of higher education texts in the US—will make books available this fall to pilot with six universities: Case, Princeton, the University of Virginia, Arizona State, Reed College and Pace. Each university has designed its own pilot.
Case is giving DX devices to 40 students who will follow courses in both arts and sciences, and is matching them with a 40-student control group without Kindles, to see, says Snyder, "whether Kindle is a real improvement to learning".
The textbook pages with graphs, charts and illustrations that Bezos projected on to a big screen were indeed impressive. Still, not everything went entirely smoothly. There was the embarrassing technical glitch—the images were reversed for a while. There was the fact that neither Bezos nor the press materials mentioned that Pace University—where the press conference took place—was added as a sixth partner. And there were all those questions about when colour capability will be added, since after all, Plastic Logic will be launching soon enough. No answer there, nor to that other question: when Kindle will be coming to the UK.