Amazon Makes It Easier to Give E-Books as Gifts

With the holiday shopping season about to kick into high gear, Amazon (AMZN) announced something today that it probably should have done years ago. Now, you can send actual e-books as gifts to others, whether they have a Kindle or not.

"We are thrilled to make it easier than ever for our customers to give their favorite Kindle book to a friend or family member as a gift," said Amazon Vice President Russ Grandinetti in a statement. "We're making this functionality available in time for the holidays to offer an easy, stress-free holiday shopping option for anyone -- not just Kindle owners."

From the looks of things, giving Kindle books as gifts will indeed be fairly easy:

Choose a book from the Kindle store, select "Give as a Gift" and send it to anyone with an email address. Recipients then get notified they have a gifted e-book waiting for them.

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Amazon's move comes days after rival e-reader firm Kobo announced that it would allow customers to give e-books as gifts. But while the Canadian-based company said that feature wouldn't be available until early December, Amazon has opened up the gifting option immediately.

Such swift and decisive moves have been one of Amazon's hallmarks: This week, the company also announced it was effectively getting into the film business, and that it had acquired the back catalog of the Toby Press, a small publishing house devoted to literary fiction and translated works.

This two-pronged approach of meeting the evolving needs of its customers while also moving more definitively into media and publishing circles puts Amazon in a very strong position going into 2011. Earnings and profits are up in 2010, and Kindle device and e-book sales have a lot to do with that.

Still, the infrastructure and manufacturing costs of being the dominant e-book player, plus Amazon's intensifying push into the media market, may threaten to undermine its core business: selling products, and lots of them.

At the moment, Amazon seems to want to be all things to all possible customers and partners. The online giant has the monetary muscle to stay that way for the time being, but one misstep -- say, a large acquisition gone wrong, or a hefty tax bill -- could send its fortunes spinning off in the wrong direction.

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