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With the upcoming release of the iPad, along with a slew of other tablet devices, Amazon is going to have to change to keep the Kindle alive. I expect a price drop for both the Kindle and Kindle DX over the next few months, but even that may not be enough.

Now TechCrunch is reporting that a “reliable source” says Amazon is considering a plan to offer free Kindles to Amazon Prime subscribers. A Prime subscription currently runs for $79 a year, and offers members free two-day shipping on any Amazon order.

The news follows a promotion Amazon ran last month that offered semi-free Kindles to book lovers. The promotion offered a full refund to certain users who bought a Kindle, but didn’t “love it”. Even if they requested a refund, Amazon allowed the users to keep the Kindles.

Somehow I don’t think it’s coincidental that we’re hearing murmurs of this now. The Kindle 2 turned one year old as of this week (it was released on Feb. 9, 2009). At launch, the device cost $359, but Amazon rounded that down to $299 in July, and dropped it again to its current $259 price in October.

Amazon could potentially offer the device for free, alongside a Prime membership, without losing too much. What little they would lose would be made up for in giddy users who get a killer deal for a $79 Prime membership, and tons of PR buzz. It would also likely smooth over some publisher relationships — which Amazon desperately needs to do if it intends to take on Apple’s potential content offerings.

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