LAS VEGAS - When most people think of electronic book readers, Amazon.com Inc.'s thin, white Kindle probably springs to mind. But that could be about to change.
A cascade of e-readers will hit the market this year, taking the devices far beyond gray-scale screens with features such as touch navigation and video chatting - and probably lowering prices too.
This week, nearly two dozen companies that make the devices or deliver reading material to them are showing products at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
E-books make up a tiny portion of book sales, but their popularity is growing rapidly. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the trade show, 2.2 million e-readers were shipped to stores in 2009, nearly four times as many as the year before. This year, the group expects five million will be shipped.
E-readers from Sony Corp. and other companies were around before Amazon released the Kindle in 2007, but the Kindle was the first to offer wireless downloading of books, making impulse buys easier.
Since the Kindle debuted at $399, Amazon has lowered the price to $259 and lured buyers with inexpensive material, such as new releases of books for about $10 each. On Christmas Day, Amazon sold more e-books than physical copies for the first time.
To keep up, Barnes & Noble has come out with its $259 Nook, and Sony has stayed in the game with its Readers, with an entry-level model at $200. Each offers hundreds of thousands of titles, with relatively few exclusives - publishers have shown little interest in favoring one device over another.
EnTourage Systems Inc. is showing off a $490 e-reader at the trade show that has two screens - a 10.1-inch color touch-screen on the right and a 9.7-inch black-and-white display on the left. That screen is controlled with a stylus.
Success in this market might require more than selling a specific gadget. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony, for example, also sell electronic books for people to read on other devices, such as the iPhone.
That gives those companies a way to profit if the most popular reading device turns out to be, say, a tablet-style computer such as the one Apple is expected to launch this year.Another company hedging its bets this way is Skiff LLC, an e-reading company developed by media conglomerate Hearst Corp. that hopes to funnel content to devices from various producers.
Skiff is focused on trying to make newspapers and magazines look good on e-readers - which is difficult because they have more complex layouts than the single column of text seen on book pages. Skiff also plans to include ads.36.17191 -115.14
When most people think of electronic book readers, Amazon.com Inc.'s thin, white Kindle probably springs to mind. But that could be about to change.