Back in the late 1990s, the publishing industry anticipated the end of the printed book. It never happened, of course. It just didn't seem like a good idea to read a book on the beach via a computer device.

But now, Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation (NASDAQ:AMZN) is trying an experiment -- short stories online, through a service called, aptly enough, Amazon Shorts.

At just 49 cents per download, the price is right. And Amazon is the only source for the stories, anywhere.

With its launch, Amazon Shorts has assembled an impressive list of 60 authors, including Stuart Woods, Robin Cook, and even Danielle Steel. The service will let you get a taste of your favorite authors between books.

It should also become a great way to try out new writers. True, we can all read book reviews, but why stop there when you can sample some of an author's actual writing for just 49 cents? Let's face it -- checking out new writers can be a risky and expensive proposition. I have shelves of books I've never read and probably never will.

Here's how it works: When you make your purchase, you can read the file by way of an Adobe PDF file or through a plain-text email message. The story also gets stored permanently in your Amazon "Digital Locker," from which you can print out hard copies. A typical short story is seven to 10 pages long.

Kind of like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iTunes, the Amazon Shorts business is not likely to be a profit center. Instead, it should be a nice value-add that helps spur the purchase of more books.

Young companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) seem to get a lot of attention for being great innovators. Yet this move shows that old-line Internet pioneers like Amazon still have the magic. And we should expect more from Amazon down the road, such as -- possibly to Apple's chagrin -- digital music downloads. Stay tuned.

Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares of companies mentioned in this article.