The new service introduced in beta Tuesday is called Kindle for the Web and allows people to sample any e-book through a browser without having to install the Kindle software. Amazon makes the latter available for a variety of devices, including Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch; and smartphones based on Google's Android operating system.
Amazon is also making it possible for third-party websites to embed the service on their pages, and is offering a referral fee for each visitor who buys a book.
To use the service on Amazon, visitors click the "read first chapter free" button on a book's product page. The first chapter will open within the web page, and readers can change font size and line spacing and adjust background color. In addition, people can also share the content with others via Facebook, Twitter or email.
The idea behind Kindle for the Web is to make it as easy as possible to sample e-books on Amazon. The retailer offers more than 700,000 digital books, with more than 575,000 selling for $10 or less.
The latest announcement comes less than a week after Amazon released an upgrade to its Kindle for Android application. The update adds a link to the books-focused social network Shelfari, making it possible to easily read comments on a book from users of the online community.
Amazon has added social networking features before to its Kindle software. In May, the company released an upgrade to for the Kindle e-reader hardware that made it possible for people to share e-book passages with friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter.
Amazon's major rivals among makers of devices built almost solely for e-books, newspapers and magazines include Barnes & Noble and Sony.