Kindle 2 to kill audio books?

Amazon launched its Kindle 2 ebook reader today, to the sound of a thousand weeping audiobook publishers. The $360 (£240) US-only wireless reader ar

Amazon launched its Kindle 2 ebook reader today, to the sound of a thousand weeping audiobook publishers.

The $360 (£240) US-only wireless reader arrived pretty much as expected: slightly slimmer, lighter and faster than version 1.0, with a better monochrome screen (16 greyscales instead of 4 making images a touch smoother). But it's also home to two new features that promise to send shockwaves through the publishing world.

The first - Whispersync - promises to share your ebooks (including their bookmarks and annotations) between Kindle devices. This implies both that it uses Amazon's own cloud computing services and that we will soon see Kindle applications on other mobile devices.

I predict that first up will be a simple web portal to allow you to keep reading your commuter page-turner in quiet times at work, followed quickly (and inevitably) by an iPhone app.

The second feature - Read-to-Me - could bring down an entire industry. The Kindle 2's text-to-speech feature makes it the world's biggest audio book provider at a stroke , with its 230,000+ titles dwarfing Audible's current 50,000-strong library.

Unlike a normal audio book, read-to-me lets you switch seamlessly between reading and listening to your book - handy for long journeys or helping a kid with his reading lessons (as long as you don't mind your child picking up a Stephen Hawkings accent).

And while the Kindle 2 does let you download Audible audio books, you can't do it over the 3G EVDO connection due to the file size - you need to hook the reader up to your PC via USB.

All of which suddenly makes buying the standard version of a book - which is usually unabridged and cheaper than an audiobook anyway - a bit of a no-brainer. I await audio book publishers' reaction with interest.

UPDATE Well, that didn't take long. Today's Wall Street Journal has Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, saying of the Kindle 2 "They don't have the right to read a book out loud." While it seems definitely legal to read a book to your kids, and definitely illegal to sell a copy of you reading a book to you kids, the status of speech generated on the fly might seem to require legal clarification. Lawsuit anyone?