E-books are beginning their march to the web. On Tuesday, Amazon.com announced the release of a beta version of Kindle for the Web to let readers sample new book titles. The new application requires no installation or downloading, and works in any recent browser.
Amazon said it is inviting bloggers and web-site owners who are members of its associates program to embed book samples on their sites and receive referral fees when users click and buy books.
'Read First Chapter Free'
Visitors to an Amazon book-product page can click on the "read first chapter free" button, and it will open in a web page. Some control is offered within the browser, including changing font size, line spacing, background color, or sharing book samples with friends over Facebook, Twitter or e-mail.
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for consumer technology at the NPD Group, pointed out that Amazon isn't the first to offer e-books on the web. E-book seller Kobo had that distinction, although Amazon, with its category-leading Kindle e-reader and a U.S. Kindle Store offering more than 700,000 e-books, is the 800-pound gorilla in this space.
Rubin said there would "seem to be the conditions for a web-based platform" for e-books, especially with the increasing use of HTML5, which offers embedded functionality for off-line tasks, for syncing with other readers, and other benefits. But, he noted, "it appears that Amazon is simply using this as a marketing tool" to sell e-books, at least for now.
Although it's pushing its Kindle e-reader, Amazon is clearly pursuing an all-platform strategy. It's also showing nimbleness in doing so, such as announcing a new, free app for BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet on Monday, the same day Research In Motion announced the device. In addition to reading an Amazon book on a Kindle, Kindle 3G, or Kindle DX, a user can also choose to read on an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, PC, an Android device, or a BlackBerry smartphone.
Reading on a Mac, PC or the other devices entails downloading an application, as opposed to simply opening a browser as in Kindle for the Web. The company said Kindle for the Web will at some point be optimized for mobile web browsers. With Amazon's Whispersync technology, users can sync across devices so they don't lose their place. "Buy One, Read Everywhere" is Amazon's increasingly appropriate e-reading tagline.
The market for e-reading is definitely heating up. Apple's iPad has sparked new interest among magazine and book publishers, even as it has launched the tablet category as a form factor with mass appeal. Barnes & Noble's nook has gone through several updates in hardware and software, correcting various issues that marred its launch, and Barnes & Noble is pushing e-book offers in its brick-and-mortar stores -- something Amazon cannot do.
And Sony recently released updated versions of its e-reader devices, so that all now offer touchscreens, while Amazon's Kindles do not. Like Amazon, Sony and Barnes & Noble have also released e-reading apps for other devices.