A fire has started, indeed

I just finished watching Charlie Rose’s interview of Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos on PBS. Most of the conversation focused on Kindle: Amazon’s Wireless Reading Device, an amazing new device that embodies a vision to improve the act of reading. Kindle was the chosen product name specifically because it means to start a fire. The creative fires surrounding authoring, publishing and reading are certainly stoked by the arrival of this device.

Charlie Rose has got to be one of the best connected persons in the world.

Part of his paradigm–appropriate given his profession–is that questions are important. So, Charlie asked Jeff what question the Kindle seeks to answer. Jeff replied something as follows: “How can the act of reading be improved? How can a the essence of a book be improved?”

Q: What is the most important aspect of a book? A: It disappears. That is, when you start to read a long form, well written text, you enter the world of the author. Paper and ink fade away; the book disappears.

Jeff went on to say that you “can’t ‘out book’ a book.” There are aspects of books that cannot be improved upon. So Kindle doesn’t attempt to outshine such qualities of books but rather focuses on what physical books cannot do.

Nearly 90,000 books today can be delivered to Kindle, which can store up to 200 books, yet weighs less than the average book at slightly more than 10 ounces. I probably own more books than I can pack into a Kindle, but I assure you that I can’t carry my personal library either! :-)

Jeff expects devices like Kindle to become platforms for experimentation, and he very quickly remarked that most experiments will fail. However, experimentation benefits everyone by uncovering the unforeseen challenges, creating new choices, lowering access barriers, etc.

I appreciate that Kindle has been under development for the past three years. Kindle represents a bet by Amazon’s leadership that all of the required technology would be commercially available in time for today’s public launch (e.g. the paper-like display, 10 years in the lab). It’s a fine example of calculating risk-taking as well as, what appears to be the reasonable expectation of a rewarding commercial future.