Farhad Manjoo admits that his "record on predictions about Amazon is mixed at best," but he's pretty certain about this one: Sooner or later, the company will start offering its Kindle e-reader for free, he writes on Slate. Even though Amazon currently loses money on each Kindle it sells, it's worth it to the company because Kindle owners buy so many more e-books. Similarly, Amazon Prime customers—who pay $79 per year for free two-day shipping and free access to some movies and e-books—spend a lot more money on the site than those who aren’t members of Prime. Hence Manjoo's theory: Amazon will give you its entry-level Kindle for free—as long as you sign up for Prime.
Amazon ultimately wants to profit off "content and general merchandise," not "its own devices," he explains. Plus, there's the fact that Kindle editions can be read on other e-readers—but not vice versa. Since other e-books can't be read on a Kindle, people who are handed a free Kindle will be more likely to buy the Kindle edition of a book they want, and thus be able to read it on any of their devices. "For the cost of one gadget, then, Amazon has turned me into a Kindle book buyer for life," Manjoo writes. The free Kindle will be the equivalent of the free phone you get when you sign up for a wireless contract—the only question is when. Click to read Manjoo's argument in full. (Read more Amazon stories.)