The NEWSWEEK 50: Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon

You know him as the man who allows you to buy almost anything and everything online (order now for free shipping!). What you might not know is that he is poised to become a major cultural arbiter, especially in the book world. The Kindle, Amazon's "wireless reading device," thankfully hasn't made print obsolete, but it's been the most successful stab at the paperless book yet. The 10-ounce, $360 gizmo has racked up more than $100 million in sales and holds as many as 200 titles at a time. Want one for Christmas? Too late. Amazon is completely sold out, thanks to a pitch from Bezos's buddy Oprah Winfrey. But you can join the waiting list. (Story continued below...)

It's not that Bezos has anything against paper. Amazon is already responsible for as much as 30 percent of the books sold in the United States, and it recently purchased AbeBooks, the biggest online seller of used and rare titles. According to Bezos, Kindle owners buy 1.6 times as many books (print and electronic versions combined) as buyers of print versions only. The greater Amazon's market share, the greater his power to influence what is published, either directly—by selling original titles—or indirectly, by using the growing power of e-books to talk print publishers into lowering their prices. (The company sells most bestsellers on the Kindle for $9.99.) For years publishers have chafed under the power of the big book chains; if Barnes & Noble doesn't like a book jacket, the publisher will probably change that cover. Bezos has the potential for far greater influence over what is sold and how, and for how much—more so, perhaps, than anyone else in the industry. If devices like the Kindle can attract a new generation of readers, that's the kind of control the industry won't be too sorry to give up.