The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
This biography of Jeff Bezos, Amazon, and even Internet e-commerce traces the development of a man, business, and industry that has noticeably transformed American society. The author gives insight into the problems faced by Amazon as it grew into the “Everything Store” and the demanding founder who brought the vision to reality. It is amazing what Bezos and Amazon accomplished despite frequently getting in their own way. I was intrigued by Amazon’s approach to logistical demands, surge challenges (holidays), and surprised about the inbreeding with Walmart. The history behind some of the features that thrived and died: Prime, Auctions… includes the reasons that some of these things were tried; for example, the Auctions experiment to face off with eBay.
The author portrays Jeff Bezos as an intriguing brilliant individual who could be as caustic as Steve Jobs but wasn’t as cool as Steve Jobs. Also explored was its founder’s ability to will an incredible organization into existence focused on customer service and loyalty while sometimes compromising employee service and loyalty. We who work in the tech industry know the Jeff Bezos type and are probably more forgiving of the idiosyncrasies and impaired social skills that is the shadow side of technical brilliance and focus on excellence. We are left with respect for the man and a clear reminder that he is just a man with outstanding qualities that have contributed value to the marketplace and abrasiveness that has created problems.
The abrasive personality is on display in the tumultuous and contentious relationship with book publishers and distributors especially around the development and release of the Kindle. The author describes the market attempts, and failures, to popularize an electronic reader and the eventual success of the Kindle platform. As a Kindle user, and lover of books, I was engrossed in this part of the history and I think most bibliophiles will be as well.
The contentious relationship with the book industry and other suppliers made me consider the same question I had after watching a documentary of Walmart’s relationship with its suppliers: do low prices come at a high cost? We enjoy a convenience of what we need when we need it. My local Walmart is 24-hour and has items that I never thought I’d need after 9pm when most stores close. Amazon has items that would require me to drive across town wasting time and gas in traffic. I am a customer of both organizations. However, we must also balance it with the loss of some local retailers (and their jobs), minimal profits for suppliers (profits that can go into developing new products), livable wages, and perhaps other issues. I did not develop an answer to the question and I imagine we will continue to ponder such questions. There is much to admire and fear about how Amazon became a success. Did we sacrifice some intangibles that we will greatly miss for cheaper products? Have we not been able to calculate the true value of Amazon and Walmart’s contribution to the marketplace in ways that far exceed what we can truly grasp? It may be that in holding onto the Main Street of the past with a false nostalgia and that the cottage industries and small business opportunities these global behemoths created are the success stories we should be cheering. In fact, the end of the book, which chronicles the development of Amazon Web Services which is fueling many Internet businesses that are creating value and jobs worldwide.
I listened to this on the unabridged audiobook and it is well narrated and produced.
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