How long before Amazon extends “Special Offers” to existing Kindle owners?

Unless the new ad-supported Kindle is rocking some sort of actual hardware widget that creates magical screensaver ads, the main difference between it and existing “normal” Kindles is probably at the operating system level. And if that’s the case, then it’s possible that Amazon could roll out the same functionality to existing users on an opt-in basis, via an OS update.

“Why would anyone want this?” you ask. Or, if you’re more dramatic (as I suspect many ebook readers are), “Why oh god whyyyyy? I’d rather throw detergent in my eyes!” [rend garment for emphasis]

First, because these aren’t just traditional display ads like you’d see in a magazine, at a bookstore, or on most websites. As Business Insider noted, mixed in with traditional ads are exclusive special offers. [Edit: not sure that they’re exclusive.]

The offers that Amazon has been posing are similar — such as half-price Amazon gift codes — and they’re only going to be available to people with this special, new Kindle. So it’s not just a $25 rebate, but a new, potentially valuable source of content and deals in your life.

Will the offers be good enough? I don’t know. Some that Amazon has promised include $10 for $30 of products from the Amazon Denim or Swim Shop, $6 for 6 Audible books, and 50% off a Roku streaming media player. I suspect the Audible offer requires a paid membership commitment like every Audible offer I’ve ever seen, which lessens its real value. Also, some of the other offers require you sign up for a Visa, or use your existing Visa to shop on Amazon, and as a rule anything credit card related is almost always not very consumer friendly, since credit card companies only make money if they can get you in debt (or sell your purchase history to advertisers).

Okay, before I go too far down that tangent, here’s the second reason why existing Kindle owners might want to join: Because Amazon would almost certainly offer some sort of compensation to Kindle owners who opt-in.

Most likely this compensation would take the form of a $25 Amazon gift card, but another route would be to turn the Special Offers program into its own special offer, the way Amazon promotes Amazon Prime. For example, you go to the Kindle Store to buy a case for your Kindle, and under the price you see: “Save $25 now when you join Kindle with Special Offers!”

If this happens, I expect lots of Kindle owners will mine their device for a final bonus before selling it used, by upgrading right before selling. But Amazon could easily throttle that sort of cashing-in behavior by restricting the offer to, say, Kindles that were bought within the past 12 months, or by requiring Special Offer accounts to have a registered Kindle for a specific length of time. Then again, there doesn’t seem to be any special requirement for the new devices, so maybe Amazon wouldn’t care so long as another Kindle was turned into a Special Offer Kindle.

I’m personally not interested in the program. I enjoy customizing my screensavers too much to give that up, and the last thing I need in my life is another way to talk myself into spending money. I’ve banned Groupon and LivingSocial from my online life for that reason.

But since these aren’t just old-fashioned display ads but rather a potentially exclusive valuable deals program, I’m guessing there are plenty of bargain-hunters who already own a Kindle who would like to get in on the deals, especially if the ratio of offers to ads is favorable. If this proves successful, perhaps Amazon will go after such customers in the coming months.

Amazon’s info page: www.amazon.com/aboutkindlespecialoffers.

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