On November 19, 2007 Jeff Bezos summoned journalists and bloggers to a New York hotel (the W of Union Square) for “an important announcement”: the Kindle, a digital book and newspaper reader, was finally ready. We had been talking about it for a while. The previous year, an Amazon team had been “kidnapped” and taken “to a secret location” to test this new product. The project was entrusted to one of the senior vice presidents, Steve Kessel who years later will remember that moment: “As soon as the working prototype was ready, we all went with Bezos to a house for a weekend. We said: let’s all go and read for an hour. And then we come back here and we tell ourselves what effect it had on us holding it “.
Despite Amazon’s strength, the project started out as a classic startup. The first manager to lead him, Charlie Tritschler, will say that when he asked for a computer in the first few days, they told him there was one in the closet.
The key decision had been whether to make the Kindle a tablet capable of doing more things or just a book reader. The second option was chosen for a reason that seems even more sensible today: reading a book does not involve distractions. The second choice was to focus on a technology to ensure that a book was downloaded, and could be read, at most in sixty seconds after purchase.
It took three and a half years to get from idea to product. Much longer than expected. But on November 19, 2007, everything was ready. Bezos, listening to TechCrunch’s liveblogging, took the stage at 9:41 am. He took it very wide. He began by showing a tablet, papyri, a codex, a portrait of Gutenberg, “the inventor of mass production of books,” a technology now half a century old, he said. Bezos wanted to talk about this: about books, “the last bastion of the analogue world that stubbornly resists digital”. Ten minutes later here is the first Kindle, less than three hundred grams in weight, like a notebook and had its strong point in a technology that makes you download ebooks without wifi and without costs.
The Kindle started with 90,000 ebooks at $ 9.99 and several newspapers; price, $ 399. And it really changed the way books were read. For a while it seemed that ebooks would outclass paper books that would disappear. But no: the paper books at a certain point stopped falling and started a comeback. And if he were to talk about it today Bezos would perhaps use the words of that morning in 2007 at the W Hotel in New York again: “Why are books the last bastion of analog. They have stubbornly resisted digitization”.