When I was a kid, I approached getting my books for the new school year with dread. The condition of the books was a crapshoot, and at year's end I had to return them in roughly the same condition in which I received them. Once in a while, it was fun to find a cartoon or a juicy bit of gossip left by an elder student. For the most part, things haven't changed much with my kids' experience with their textbooks, except that their backpacks seem so much heavier than mine used to be.

If flash memory giant Sandisk's (NASDAQ:SNDK) latest move bears fruit, however, textbooks may change quite a bit; in fact, they may no longer be books as we know them. SanDisk recently announced its acquisition of MDRM, a private Israeli company with a system for distributing secure content via flash memory cards. One of MDRM's products, BookLocker, is a system geared for securely providing electronic texts for educational applications and markets.

Will SanDisk's purchase pay off in e-publishing profits? As one industry researcher put it (before the passing of Ronald Reagan), there are more e-book and DRM (digital rights management) standards than there are living presidents. Digital documentation leader Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) and digital-everything company Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have provided software-based e-book solutions for a number of years. In addition to the use of PCs for viewing e-books, display platforms designed for greater portability and convenience have come and gone... and some linger. Is SanDisk really prepared to compete in this part of the digital documentation domain? It might not have to.

SanDisk's ability to produce the storage medium hardware with anti-piracy measures, perhaps combined with existing software e-book applications, could provide a technological edge over software-only solutions. SanDisk, MDRM, and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) have been piloting a BookLocker-based solution, special versions of SanDisk's Cruzer USB flash memory drives, at the University of Denver's Law School for the past four years. The school's mobile IT specialist, Jennifer Moore-Evans, has praised the collaboration. Although one successful pilot doesn't an industry standard or a market make, as the global leader in flash memory sales (and patents), SanDisk may be in a uniquely qualified position to provide the hardware-secure "keys" to the academic e-publishing kingdom.

SanDisk is making other inroads beyond flash memory components and into flash memory-using end products. In January 2004, SanDisk introduced its Cruzer line of USB key flash memory drives. Last September, the company unveiled its Photo Album, a standalone device for reading flash memory cards and displaying them directly on a TV. Last October, SanDisk introduced its own brand of flash memory based, low-end MP3 music players.

Some might question the prudence of entering the competitive consumer end-product domains, such as the MP3 player space. In an interview with Investor's Business Daily, vice-president for consumer products Wes Brewer stated that the strategy behind SanDisk's entry into specific consumer products was to grow sales of flash memory units. Since flash memory is the most expensive raw material in flash memory-based music players, said Brewer, SanDisk benefits from lower materials costs.

SanDisk has had a rough recent past, as documented by Fool Seth Jayson last October. The company announced an underperforming third quarter shortly after share sales by CEO Eli Harari and a day after a seemingly prescient "Sell" rating issued by major shareholder Citigroup (NYSE:C). Investors were justifiably discomfited by this coincidental glitch and should be vigilant to follow what SanDisk does, and does not, disclose in subsequent reports and guidance. If, as Seth stated, SanDisk is to be the new Kodak, then stockholders should hope that SanDisk heeds Kodak's expensive lesson in overdiversification. So far, rather than deworsifying (Peter Lynch's label for inefficient diversification), SanDisk seems to be mining and expanding its niche quarry as the market digests the current glut in flash memory.

Fool contributor Michael Jaffe owns shares of Microsoft but none of the other companies mentioned.