Impact: Stealing a page from the undisputed Barnum of high tech, Apple chief exec Steve Jobs, Bezos staged a splashy Manhattan debut for his company’s new e-book reader, the Kindle. The November product launch was accompanied by a fawning cover story in Newsweek and video testimonials from bestselling authors like James Patterson and Toni Morrison.

But either Amazon hadn’t manufactured enough of the $399 devices or demand was insatiable (possibly both), because Kindles were hard to come by during the crucial holiday shopping period.

Kindle was Bezos’ third high-profile leap into distributing digital media.

First came Amazon Unbox, which offers digital TV shows, movies and instructional videos. That was followed last fall by music downloads, sold for 89¢ a track, and without any copying restrictions. Then Kindle improved on Sony’s existing e-book reader by allowing consumers to purchase books, magazines and newspapers using its built-in wireless connection — no computer required.

While Amazon’s revenue from digital media may still be small, “They will become a dominant player in the field because of their great brand and their customer loyalty,” says Hamed Khorsand, an analyst who follows Amazon at BWS Financial. Khorsand sees Amazon gunning for “a head-to-head competition” with Apple when it comes to selling digital music and video to consumers.

POV: “If you have a good piece of content, it can find a bigger audience in the modern world,” Bezos said during a recent “Charlie Rose Show” appearance. “That’s pretty cool. It’s much more likely to be a meritocracy, where the best content will really find an audience.”

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