Move over iPad, Kindle is coming to an AT&T store near you

Today, AT&T announced that, starting March 6, it will carry Amazon's Kindle reader in its retail stores nationwide. Timing is interesting, given iPad 2's imminent launch and Apple App Store subscription changes that could compel Amazon to curtail or even stop distribution of Kindle software for iOS devices. Buyers considering iPad in AT&T stores will now have option of the lower-cost and ebook reading-dedicated Kindle.

Retail distribution isn't new for Kindle, which I've seen available here in San Diego from Best Buy and Microsoft Store. Given that Barnes & Noble and Sony sell their readers at retail, Amazon levels the competitive field for people that want to hold and experience Kindle.

"Every product with mass appeal benefits from offering its customers a wide range of distribution choices," Stephen Baker, NPD's vice present of industry analysis, told me this morning. "Every product needs to balance that against the cost of adding distribution but for a product like Kindle, as successful as it was from Amazon direct, it has benefited from being in stores where more customers can see and become aware of it and easily compare it to competing devices."

While touting record ebook and Kindle sales, Amazon refuses to release numbers (kind of like Verizon and iPhone 4). Last month, IDC tallied them for third quarter, putting Kindle ahead of competitors with 1.14 million unit shipments and 41.5 percent global market share.

"Amazon has without question pioneered the eReader space with Kindle, and it's exciting to not only connect this device through our network, but now offer it in our stores to readers around the country," Glenn Lurie, AT&T president of emerging devices, said in a statement. "As the first dedicated eReader offered in our stores, we are confident the Kindle will be an attractive addition to our in store connected devices lineup."

Baker doesn't expect much, however. "I know they say the[y] will 'sell' it, but I say they will 'carry' it. I don't expect them to sell very many just as their netbook distribution petered out quickly, and I believe the tablet products will as well."

IDC ereaders Q310

Perhaps, but for people considering iPad for ebook reading, among its functions, Kindle has appeal -- lower pricing, for starters; $189 for the 3G model vs $499 for cheapest-costing iPad. Then there is the App Store scuffle that could make iPad a less appealing choice for anyone buying ebooks from any seller other than Apple. Later this year, Apple will compel Amazon to offer ebooks inside the Kindle application rather than externally through web browser. The change means that Amazon must cough up 30 percent of sales to Apple. So ebook publishers like Amazon must either raise prices or suck up profits handed to Apple, should they keep their iOS apps. Or they could remove them altogether.

For now, Amazon will have shelf space alongside iPad. I've got to wonder: Would AT&T even be offering Kindle readers if it still had exclusive iPhone distribution in the United States?

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