Amazon.com, which has dominated the young but fast-growing electronic book market for the past few years with the Kindle, announced Friday its way to tap into the anticipation of Apple's multimedia tablet, the iPad.
Amazon released news of its iPad application on the eve of the iPad's debut Saturday.
The online retailer says its Kindle App for iPad won't look much different than its application for Apple's iPhone. In a press release, the company says the application will remember what page users were last reading and their bookmarks, notes and highlighted sections. That information will then be synced across multiple devices, including the Kindle e-reader and Macintosh computers.
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The Kindle starts at $259 and is designed mainly for reading text on a gray-and-black screen. The iPad starts at $499, but with the higher price comes more functions: a color touch screen for downloading books from Apple's new iBookstore, surfing the Web, playing videos and games and more.
Even if the Kindle falls out of favor with people drawn to Apple's offering, it could still sell e-books for use on other devices. That means the Kindle could fade and Amazon could still occupy a profitable perch in e-books.
However, Apple could find ways to tilt the field in its favor. At least for now, both the Apple iBookstore and the Kindle service will be accessible in much the same way on the iPad - as icons that users can click. Eventually Apple could give its own bookstore and reading program more attention on the iPad.
Apple also could try to curry favor with publishers in a way that matters to consumers, perhaps by securing exclusive titles.
Publishers' relationships with Amazon have been strained by Amazon's insistence on charging $9.99 for some popular e-books. Publishers have complained that it is an attempt to get consumers used to unsustainably low prices. Amazon takes a loss on some books at that price, and the publishers fear that if the $9.99 tag sticks, Amazon will force publishers to lower their wholesale prices, cutting into their profits.
The iPad gives publishers an opportunity for a new pricing model. Some e-books will cost up to $14.99 initially, and Apple is insisting that publishers can't sell books at a lower price through a competitor. The iBookstore is launching with titles from major publishers such as Penguin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan. One big publisher, Random House, has not yet struck a deal with Apple.
Although Amazon has tried to snag as much of the e-book market as possible since launching the Kindle in 2007, the company has never revealed how many Kindles it has sold. Analysts estimate it has sold 3 million. (Analysts believe Apple could sell that many iPads in the product's first year). Amazon has offered only sketches of the Kindle's effect on its business, such as by saying that when books are sold in both hard copy and the Kindle format, it sells 48 Kindle books for every 100 hard copies.