at the Morgan Library: A Kindle among the Gutenberg Bibles?

Tomorrow, CEO Jeff Bezos will hold a much-anticipated press conference in New York at The Morgan Library and Museum, and the choice of venue suggests that an intriguing narrative might unfold. Journalists believe the company will discuss the next version of its Kindle e-reader (I’ll be there along with BusinessWeek technology reporters and will fill you in). But for now, let’s analyze the setting for tomorrow’s announcement.

Intriguingly, The Morgan is the actual former home library of Pierpont Morgan, the American financier who saved the United States economy when he and fellow bankers put up money to help ameliorate the 1907 panic. The decision to do so took place at what is now The Morgan Library and Museum. Of course, you don’t need me to draw any obvious parallels here to the economic drama of Morgan’s time and today’s headlines. Could be referencing its own success here…its business model as some sort of savior for American retail in tough times? After all, as most companies suffered at the end of 2008, Amazon’s net profit rose 9 percent in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, up from the same quarter the year before. Its net profit was $225 million (52 cents a share), up from $207 million (or 48 cents a share). Of course I realize this isn’t a direct comparison in any way, but you have to admit the parallels between Morgan’s time and our own are interesting.

Another reason’s choice of venue is compelling is that Morgan was an avid collector of books. And his collection, housed in The Morgan Library and Museum, includes precious artifacts of the print era, including not one, but three Gutenberg Bibles. This makes me think back to coverage of the November 2007 launch of Kindle 1.0 at New York’s W hotel. I wasn’t there, but as reported, Bezos said “We forget (that the printed book) is a 500-year-old technology, and we sort of forget that it’s even a technology…Gutenberg would still recognize a modern-day book.” It seems as if is possibly suggesting that the Kindle could be one of the most historically significant things to happen to books since…Gutenberg.

And such a clear context of books might also differentiate the device from other forms of e-reading, as on iPhones and BlackBerrys, netbooks and even Nintendo DS-Lite portable game systems (in the U.K. only), all of which now threaten Kindle’s dominance. As if to say, well, the true book experience is available via Kindle because of its design and user interface. Of course, Kindle 1.0 has been roundly criticized for its clunky form factor—as well as its hefty price (it debuted with a $399 price tag, which went down to $359).

The real innovation was the ambient, free wireless (built on Sprint’s Evolution Data Optimized network) to download content anytime, anywhere, and the iTunes-like service for purchasing digitized versions of books online at a flat fee (even the $9.99 per book recalls the 99 cents per song of iTunes). Not to mention the accompanying tight-lipped internal PR staff that operates with an Apple-like flavor as it builds anticipation for the Feb. 9 event in New York.

Will there be another Kindle innovation announced at the Morgan tomorrow? A lower price, a new service, a brighter display, a sexy new shape? Stay tuned. At the very least, the choice of venue for the press conference is clever.

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