Double Dose of Good News Sends Amazon Shares to New High (AMZN, AAPL, NOK, GOOG, CBS, NWS, PSO)

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Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced a new Kindle reader called the “Kindle Paperwhite,” which includes a new front-lighting technology (called ‘paperwhite’) that allows the device to be used in the dark. Other changes include increased pixel density, a new color for the bezel, the elimination of the ‘home’ button, and eight weeks of battery life.

A Wi-Fi enabled version of the new Kindle will cost $119 and a 3G wireless version will sell for $179. Amazon also dropped the price of its existing Kindle reader to $69.

A new version of the Kindle Fire tablet, called the “Kindle Fire HD” is also being announced today. There are two versions of the device, one with a 7-inch screen and one with a 9-inch screen. The entry level price for the original Kindle Fire will be $159.

Amazon is taking orders for both the original Kindle and the new model today and will begin shipping on October 1st.

Today’s announcement represents another shot at Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), which is expected to announce a new iPhone 5 next week. A number of smartphone and tablet makers have piled product introductions and announcements into this week. Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) announced that it would begin shipping its latest Lumia phones some time this year at some price. Samsung Electronics has announced a new tablet and Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) will add new models of the Motorola Razr line of smartphones.

More important than the new hardware, though, is a court ruling today that accepted a settlement by three of five book publishers named in an antitrust suit. The five publishers named in the March suit were Simon & Schuster, owned by CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS); HarperCollins, owned by News Corp. (NASDAQ: NWS); Penguin USA, owned by Pearson plc (NYSE: PSO); Hachette Book Group, owned by Lagardere SCA; and Macmillan, owned by Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH. Along with Apple, the publishers were defending themselves against charges that they colluded to keep e-book prices high in an effort to kill steep discounting by Amazon.

The three publishers that settled today are Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins. Apple, Penguin, and Macmillan are preparing for a trial in June 2013.

The court-approved settlement opens the door once again to Amazon’s so-called “wholesale” model and undercuts the Apple-supported “agency” model, under which Apple receives 30% of a cover price set by the publisher. Under the wholesale model, a bookseller may sell the book at any price it wishes.

Shares of Amazon reached an all-time high today of $252.28, but have since pulled back a little to $249.55. The previous 52-week range was $166.97-$251.00.

Paul Ausick

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