Ina Fried

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AT&T Adds Amazon’s Kindle to Shelves in Move That Hints at Retail Expansion

AT&T is announcing today its plans to start selling Amazon’s Kindle via its nationwide network of more than 2,000 stores.

While somewhat interesting on its own, the deal highlights the potential for Ma Bell and other cell phone carriers to add a broader array of electronics to their shelves as more and more gadgets start including cell phone technology.

Because of the highly competitive nature of the cell phone market, carriers have built up huge nationwide retail footprints with thousands of stories–some just blocks away from one another in the nation’s busiest downtown areas. Until recently, these stores have served as little more than places to buy or service a phone and its accessories.

In recent years, the stores have expanded their reach somewhat. AT&T for example, also pitches bundles with other services, such as its U-Verse television service. These days, one can also find netbooks with cellular capabilities as well as the kinds of cards and portable hotspots that allow standard laptops to get Internet access on the go.

Unlike those products, however, the Kindle isn’t sold with a cellular contract. Rather, the cost of service is built into Amazon’s business model, where the user pays an upfront cost for the device and a price per book that is enough to cover Amazon’s cost for sending the book, in many cases over AT&T’s network. While the Kindle is the best known of these devices, there are hundreds of products that tap an embedded cellular connection–devices ranging from navigation units to photo frames to pill bottles that remind people to take their medication.

Already there are some 11 million “emerging devices” on the company’s network, with 2 million of those products sold in last year’s fourth quarter alone. Over time, AT&T sees an opportunity to sell more of these products from within its own stores.

Glenn Lurie, who heads the AT&T unit that focuses on this new class of devices, said that the company is planning a dedicated section for such products.

“We believe we should have all of our devices available in our 2200 retail stores for our more than 95 million customers that shop there,” he said in a statement to Mobilized. For more from Lurie, check out his on-stage appearance at last year’s D: Dive Into Mobile conference.