launches Kindle for the Web beta

Tool lets users read samples of Kindle books on Web before deciding to purchase Wednesday introduced a beta version of Kindle for the Web, which makes samples and first chapters of Kindle books available through a Web browser. The new offering doesn't require readers to download or install the Kindle e-reader software.

E-books have long been readable over the Web from different devices, including public library e-books from desktop computers. But Amazon's move shows that the company is now willing to let people not using its software access its e-books. The Kindle e-reader software also runs on a range of non-Amazon devices, and will soon be available for Research in Motion's new BlackBerry PlayBook.

Amazon is often criticized for not supporting the more open e-Pub or PDF e-book formats used by some other e-reader makers and many libraries. Even the "Kindle for the Web" beta re-directs book buyers to purchase full versions of books that use Kindle's proprietary format, known as AZW.

Beta users of the new tool can simply click on a "Read first chapter FREE" button on a book product page on and some other Web sites, and the first chapter will open within the Web page, Amazon said on its site.

Kindle for the Web lets users change font sizes, line spacing and background color. Users can also share the book sample with a friend via e-mail or social networks Facebook or Twitter.

The primary intent of offering samples of books via the Web seems to be focused on giving bloggers and authors a way to promote books on their own Web sites. For example, Amazon said the service is running on the blog of author Karen McQuestion, making free samples of her bestselling Kindle book, A Scattered Life, available

Web site owners like McQuestion earn referral fees from Amazon when customers use links provided to purchase Kindle books, Amazon said.

If, after reading the sample, a user wishes to the buy the full Kindle edition of an e-book, a "Get Kindle Edition" button lets users download the book to a Kindle or another device.

Amazon offers its Kindle reading app for free to iPhone and iPad, Android and BlackBerry devices, as well as Mac and Windows PC computers.

Amazon said on Tuesday it would offer the app for the BlackBerry PlayBook in the "coming months."

Yankee Group analyst Dmitry Molchanov said Kindle for the Web is a way for Amazon to stay competitive against a variety of e-book sellers and seems to borrow from the way Youtube videos are embedded in a variety of Websites.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

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