Kindle 2 Debuts

Amazon will begin shipping its upgraded e-book reader, Kindle 2, February 24. The new device is significantly slimmer than the original, has a text-to-speech function that can read the book out loud, and easier and improved navigation. The device also offers improved graphics and more storage—it will hold 1,500 books, and its battery will hold a charge for two weeks. Price remains $359.

Guild Questions Kindle Speech

The Authors Guild is warning its members that Kindle 2’s text-to-speech function is an unauthorized use of audio rights and may be “undermining” publishers' audio markets. In an alert sent last week, the guild told its members that it was studying the issue and advised members that haven’t already granted e-book rights to backlist or other titles to hold off. “If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon’s use of those rights is part of the dialogue,” the guild said. Amazon maintains its text-to-speech function is legal and noted that it “provides a completely different experience from a professionally recorded audiobook.”

New Rubin Role

Steve Rubin, former publisher and president of Doubleday Broadway, has been named executive v-p and publisher at large for Random House, reporting to Random chairman Markus Dohle. His responsibilities will include acquiring books for Random worldwide in collaboration with its publishers in North America and overseas, and serving as international Random House publishing liaison.

Minotaur in Nonfiction Deal

St. Martin’s Minotaur, which has until now published only fiction, last week acquired a book by Edgar-winner Daniel Stashower about a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln. Minotaur said it will continue to look for well-written nonfiction that can complement its fiction list. The untitled book by Stashower is set for 2010.

Hachette USA Ends Strong

Hachette Book Group USA had a strong fourth quarter, parent company Lagardère reported last week, led by sales of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, which sold eight million copies in December alone. For its entire book publishing operation, Lagardère said revenue rose 1.4% in 2008, to 2.16 billion euros ($2.77 billion); without the negative impact of exchange rates, sales were up 4.7%. Outside of the U.S., sales were generally soft, including the U.K., where sales were down.