MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
First, he changed the way many of us buy books. Now, he's trying to change the way we read. Today, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a new electronic reading device, it's called the Kindle. It's smaller, thinner and lighter than a hard covered book and weighs in at about 10 ounces. It will lighten your wallet, too, to the tune of $399. But the Kindle can hold up to 200 books, download new books wirelessly and even highlight your favorite passages.
Earlier today, I spoke with Jeff Bezos. And despite some questions about his new product's design and appeal, he says the Kindle is a marriage of modern technology and good old-fashioned book sense.
Mr. JEFF BEZOS (CEO, Amazon.com): If you think about the physical book, it's such a highly evolved object. And we knew that if we were going to build something that could be an improvement in certain dimensions on the book, we would have to do some new things. We were never going to out-book the book. So we started with the key feature that books have, which is that they disappear so you can enter the author's world, where you - the ink, the paper, the glue, those things disappear, and you're left with the author's words and stories and ideas, and you really get immersed in that.
But then, we also wanted to go beyond the book and do things that advance technology can do, like have wirelessness so that you can wake up in the morning and have your newspapers waiting for you on the device.
NORRIS: Now, people are used to reading blogs on a computer screen. Many people read the newspapers via the Internet. But a book? Why do you actually need to improve on a book? There's something wonderful about the tactile experience of holding a book, turning the pages, the feel, the smell.
Mr. BEZOS: Absolutely.
NORRIS: You don't cuddle up with a device like this in quite the same way.
Mr. BEZOS: Well, I'll challenge that assumption. I think you will cuddle up with this device. I mean, Kindle uses a new kind of display called electronic ink. It's paper-like, it's not backlit, there's no eye strain. They're literally are little molecules of ink that the display rearranges and flips over. And then once you've done that, it doesn't consume many battery power, this display technology - except when it's changing. If you turn the wireless radio off, there's a switch there on the back of your device. If you're travelling and you're not going to be downloading things for a while, it will actually last more than a week between recharges - thousands of page turns.
NORRIS: Now, when you roll out a new electronic device like this, design is almost as important as the function…
Mr. BEZOS: Absolutely.
NORRIS: …And I'm sure I don't have to tell you that you've taken a bit of a beating on the design for this product. One of the bloggers compared it to a 1970s era Battlestar-Galactica-pong-digital-watch kind of feeling about it, which is not exactly high praised.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BEZOS: This - well - this device is beautiful. And I think it's, if you -well, I can tell you, the blogger who wrote that had never seen the device. There was FCC file that included a very unflattering photograph from one particular angle of a very dirty prototype. Unfortunately, that - I think that blogger may have taken off and used a little bit of imagination from that earlier photograph. But this device is gorgeous. If you look at the device, it has long buttons that go up and down the full length of the device on both the right hand side and the left hand side, and that's because people like to shift their hand posture while they read. It avoids fatigue. They need to be able to hold the book in different ways.
NORRIS: Now, on the program tonight, we're hearing about a new report from the NEA, reading numbers across the board are pretty abysmal for older teenagers. And while they're the most likely to embrace this kind of device, they're also the least likely to pick up a book and read. Does that make it a tough sell for something like this?
Mr. BEZOS: Well, I think, in a way, it makes reading easier for people. So Kindle is going to be one of those things that causes people to read more, and especially that demographic that you're talking about. There will be a certain amount of glamour associated with this way of reading and that's going be very appealing to this device-connected generation.
NORRIS: Jeff, other people have tried this. You know that you're not the first person to try to roll out an electronic reading device. But the success rate behind this is not exactly stellar. Why do you think that you can succeed here where so many others have failed?
Mr. BEZOS: Well, you're absolutely right. There's a long history of failed reading devices. And, in fact, I have - I've looked at the museum of reading devices and sort of studied that. The technology just changed a lot and -number one, so that we have this new kind of display. That's a big factor. The second thing is, that this is the only reader to ever seamlessly incorporate wireless. Third, the store is right on the device, which also increases simplicity and convenience. That's never been tried before. And then also, the price points have to be right. So, you know, those New York Times best-sellers and new releases are only $9.99. And these are books that in print, in physical form, the list price might be 25, 30 or even $35.
NORRIS: How much money did you actually spend developing this product? You say you spent three years working on this. And when do you expect to be able to recoup your investment?
Mr. BEZOS: Well, we're going to have to be patient, because we've invested a lot. It's a significant investment and it has been a significant investment for three years. We're - I think one of things that we're very proud of is a piece of our culture at Amazon is that we are willing to be patient and work on things for many years before we see a financial return.
NORRIS: Jeff Bezos, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much.
Mr. BEZOS: It's been my pleasure. Thank you.
NORRIS: That's Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, talking about his electronic reading device called the Kindle.
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