The Kindle has landed

<p>So the wait is over and the Kindle is here. Or, more accurately, available on import via Amazon.com.</p>
<p>E-readers have made little overall impact in the 18 months they have been available here, with total British sales of about 100,000 devices. But the reason the Kindle feels different is that it enables people to buy and download books on the hoof via a mobile connnection. So a commuter sitting on a train can, prompted by a trackside poster or perhaps by a review in the Times (also available on the Kindle), buy an e-book within a minute. That, at least, is the technical capacity that Amazon is promising us.</p>
<p>This is a step-change ahead of the other readers, such as the Sony and the Elonex, because they need to be linked to a PC to make a purchase. Wireless roaming is essential to today&rsquo;s digerati; Sony&rsquo;s need to be linked to a PC has unfortunate echoes of the doomed Rabbit mobile phone, which users could only use in designated zones. In other respects the Sony product is superior, principally because it uses the e-pub format widely used by British publishers, and it is cheaper. Certainly the Sony offers a slick reading experience.</p>
<p>But in the end this will come down to a battle of the brands and Amazon has a decade-plus of bookselling credibility whereas Sony is still best known as a hardware manufacturer. But wifi-like connectivity is the magic ingredient and only the Kindle has it.</p>
<p>A sizeable group of British publishers are onboard for the Kindle, which in total offers some 200,000 titles&mdash;around the same as Foyles in Charing Cross Road. Three of the big four publishers are supporting the Kindle, with Random House the exception (other notable absentees include OUP and Macmillan). Confidential Random/Amazon talks are continuing but stumbling blocks for other publishers include territoriality and the complications about withdrawing libellous books.</p>
<p>In the US Amazon is believed to control around 90% of the e-book market and British publishers are privately anxious to prevent that happening here, which partially explains the support Sony has received. Coming late to the market here, and with the Kindle only available through the US site, Amazon has no short-term prospect of achieving a similar stranglehold. This fear may become academic if e-readers prove merely to be an interim technology ahead of a single platform &ldquo;tablet&rdquo; offering an e-reader, e-mail, internet, music and phone. </p>