“Get Excited and Make Things,” a small sign said in the conference room where I interviewed Jeff Bezos this week for the eighth anniversary episode of The Kindle Chronicles podcast.
The sign was a fitting backdrop for my recorded 24-minute conversation with Amazon’s founder and CEO. We met on the morning of July 26th in a building named Day 1 North at the company’s Seattle headquarters.
My goal was to ask questions that I hadn’t heard Bezos answer before, so I began by asking how the pioneer in digital publishing reads the oft-described six-page management memos his team uses to consider new projects. Paper or digital?
“I almost exclusively read those on paper,” Bezos replied. “I circle things and underline things and put exclamation points next to things and smiley faces—for me that’s still a little bit more convenient and a little easier to do, less mental effort, than doing that with any kind of electronic device.”
“It’s the early 21st century, and we’re still using paper for certain things,” he said with a grin, noting that I had my questions for him printed on a single sheet of paper placed on the conference table between us.
The problem of frictionless input to a digital document remains to be solved, Bezos said, adding that he is sure “we’ll get there.”
To explore Bezos’s expectations for future Kindle pricing, I asked if he can imagine a Kindle selling for $7.99. That’s how much you’ll pay now at Amazon.com for a calculator, a device I remember costing more than $500 when I was a business school student 40 years ago.
He burst into a tamed version of his exuberant laugh and replied, “That’s amazing,” then added, “I don’t see that happening in the near term or even the foreseeable future, but that is our vision. We’ll keep working on it until we make that true, and I love that audacious. Thank you for the challenge, Len. I love that!”
Another challenge that remains to be solved, Bezos said, is to figure out compelling storytelling on the emerging Virtual Reality technology. I asked if Amazon Studios will play a leadership role in creating VR content.
“We’ll be one of many companies experimenting in that arena,” he replied. “What exactly we’ll do and whether any of it will work and how long it will take are questions still to be answered.”
The day before the interview, I visited the Amazon Books store that opened in the University Village shopping center in November of last year. It was busy with shoppers at about 8 p.m., and two of the sales staff I met were learning the store in preparation for taking jobs at the second Amazon Books location, opening this summer near San Diego.
Publishing guru Mike Shatzkin last week on the Kindle Chronicles listed a rapid rollout of Amazon Books stores—200 or 300 new stores a year, for example—as a “black swan” event that would change the world of publishing.
Bezos did not offer specifics on the future pace of Amazon Books store openings, but you might be able to detect some black feathers if you read this answer carefully:
“We’re going to go slow. We’re still trying to make sure we understand the customer experience before we replicate it in kind of a higher-volume way. We want to make sure that we really understand what we’re doing. So that’s the plan. We’re tinkering, understanding, changing little bits of the customer experience. And when we have something that we really like and that we feel customers really love then we will try to bring it in a much broader way.”
When we were talking about how long it might take for a Kindle to cost as little as a calculator does today, Bezos mentioned “decades” as the likely timeframe.
That prompted me to mention my dream of continuing the weekly Kindle Chronicles show until he turns 80, which is the age he mentions in what he calls the Regret Minimization Framework.
In a 2001 interview, Bezos said his decision to leave a good job on Wall Street to found Amazon in 1994 stemmed from his desire “to project myself forward to age 80 and say, ‘Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.’”
On July 26, 2044, which will be the 36th anniversary of The Kindle Chronicles and six months after Bezos turns 80, I’d like to be around in order to ask how many regrets has.
“Awesome,” he replied with a bigger laugh than before. “I love it. That’s a date. I’ll eat well!” When I pointed out that I will be 93 on that date he said, “Well then you’re going to have to eat well, too!”
If I’ve learned anything from Jeff Bezos it’s the power of setting ambitious visions and working to achieve them step by step, ferociously.
So it begins now.
For my writing snack I have a bowl of carrots on my desk.