Amazon: thinking beyond the Kindle

March 30, 2009, 11:07 PM UTC

We love companies that underpromise and overdeliver. Apple is one. Another is . Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos thrives on overdelivering.

I had my own Jeff Bezos multimedia experience last night as I sat in my living room and played with my new Kindle 2 while watching Bezos on the Charlie Rose show. (Click here to see the show from late February–yes, I was playing DVR catchup.) The Amazon boss certainly doesn’t set his bars low. “Every book in every language” is his goal for the Kindle, in terms of acquiring e-content.

Bezos’ ambition got me thinking: What if he could get Kindles–or the next generation of his reading device–into the hands of the poorest of the poor? Give everyone a Kindle to learn–a la Bill Gates setting as Microsoft’s mission “a computer on every desk and in every home.” For now, the Kindle’s wireless connectivity works only in the U.S. But  Amazon, which already does half its business abroad, obviously has sights set on the Kindle’s global opportunity.

The Kindle already does much more than you might expect from its marketing pitch. (For instance, I can send any document from my computer to my Kindle–and click the text-to-speech function to listen to my docs if I prefer audio to reading them.) No question, the Kindle and its rivals will transform the book market. We’ll see lots of custom e-books–like Stephen King’s Ur, the novella he wrote for the Kindle 2. We’ll see a dramatic shrinkage in time to market. Want an e-book? Send us your manuscript and we’ll publish tomorrow! Bezos also talks about music embedded in e-books. Cool.

If you want a quick fix on the upheaval in publishing, check out the front page of the business section of today’s New York Times. One story: “You’ve Read the Headlines. Now, Quick, Read the Book” tells how publishers are rushing manuscripts to market, with the help of e-books. “Do-it-Yourself Magazines, Cheaply Slick” details a new Hewlett-Packard web service called MagCloud that enables you–yes, you–to produce your own magazine cheap and quick. Like YouTube for wanna-be publishers.

On the same front page is a story about how Hearst may shutter the San Francisco Chronicle if it doesn’t find a buyer for the money-losing paper. Yes, it’s all about survival of the fittest. The head of Hearst Interactive Media happens to be Ken Bronfin, my college pal from 30 years ago. (We worked together on the University of Virginia’s newspaper, back when we cut and pasted copy–literally, with glue.) Ken is also the chairman of E Ink, the hot little company that provides the technology for the Kindle, the Sony Reader, and other e-book devices. There’s lots of hope in publishing, Ken will tell you. But success hinges on adaptability.

My colleague Michael Copeland lays all this out smartly in his recent Fortune story, “The end of paper?” Also check out his exclusive on Hearst’s plans to launch a device custom-designed for newspapers and magazines this year. Read on!