Amazon SVP of Worldwide Digital Media Steven Kessel Taking Time Off

Amazon has confirmed to All Things D that Steven Kessel, a 13-year veteran of Amazon’s digital business who was responsible for the company’s original e-reader, is taking time off.

As SVP of Worldwide Digital Media, Kessel oversees the company’s digital strategy, including books, music, video and the Kindle.

“After incredible success leading the Kindle team over the last several years, Steve Kessel decided to take a well-deserved and long-planned-for sabbatical,” said Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener.

Herdener declined to say when Kessel would return, but said that, in the meantime, Dave Limp, who runs the Kindle device business, and Russ Grandinetti, who runs Kindle content, were overseeing the digital business.

Kessel’s absence follows the launch of the Kindle Fire tablet late last year, and comes at a time when Amazon is aggressively pushing into digital content. Just today, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos sent a letter to shareholders, emphasizing how the Kindle is disrupting the book publishing industry.

Some sources I talked to believed that Kessel, 46, was unlikely to return to Amazon and were characterizing his departure as early retirement. Another source pointed to internal documents, which listed Kessel as overseeing Donald Katz, the CEO of Audible, the company’s audiobooks group. However, Amazon’s investor page continues to list Kessel as the SVP of Worldwide digital media, and Herdener said Kessel is not retiring and is not in charge of Audible.

As one of 10 executives who report directly to Bezos, Kessel has worked closely with the visionary founder since 1999. Initially, he served as the VP of U.S. Books, Music, Video and DVD, and then was the VP of digital before landing in his current role.

According to a BusinessWeek article, it was Kessel who conspired with Bezos in 2004 to explore the radical idea of the online retailer making their own hardware.

Over the years, Kessel has been quoted occasionally in press releases, providing updates on how well the Kindle is selling. In October 2010, he said: “It’s still October and we’ve already sold more Kindle devices since launch than we did during the entire fourth quarter of last year—astonishing because the fourth quarter is the busiest time of year on Amazon.”

Amazon has never released specific sales numbers about the Kindle — a secret that has largely stayed under wraps, likely due to the company’s small management team.

Kessel received his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Dartmouth College, and an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus