Saturday, November 09, 2013

Amazon: a player in the market, or a heartless juggernaut?

The book The Everything Store by Brad Stone is creating a bit of controversy, because it gives a strong impression of Amazon and founder Jeff Bezos as being bullies and rather ruthless.

Even if you only read the chapter about the Kindle, there are numerous examples of the bullying character of Amazon. Just one, if true, suffices for me: that they will only take sales people who are of the character who believes that in a negotiation there must only be one winner, and that winner must be Amazon.
If taken far enough, I think that character trait in a person or a company ultimately is destructive. Look at it squarely: if you are a very strong person, and you *cannot* accept loosing under any circumstances, what respect do you have for other people’s lives and feelings? What respect do you have for rules and the law?

Some people in Bezos’ shoes would be having a fun game of having a very successful company amongst other successful companies. But a lot we hear about him indicates that he will never relax before reaching his real goal, which by logical extension is: Amazon being the all-dominating, untouchable, one-winner-takes-all merchant on the Earth.

Even the basic concept of Amazon (notice Bezos' joy when deciding on the name "Amazon" that the river Amazon is not just the biggest, but by *far* the biggest!) from the beginning: one store carrying everything, selling to everybody… what does that imply? It is not a “game” one would play for love of, for example, books and literature. Because he wants to sell *everything* to *everybody*, there is no love for anything in this game. The only attraction there can possibly be in it is the love of dominating and winning over everybody. It’s not even love of money, he could easily have had that, staying on Wall Street.

Jeff seems like a nice person, and I wish I could believe he were at the core. Because one company dominating all sales on the planet is a scary and dangerous idea. But we often see in very strong people that they have two very different faces which live apparently side by side with no trouble, probably oblivious of each other.

And all the different evidence we see, including Jeff’s continued willingness to sacrifice profits for growing market share, all points to this, I see nothing else which fits.
If Amazon is not big enough now to satisfy him, when will it be?
Only when it’s the last one standing. (Then he will begin to look for other planets to move onto, if he still has breath left. Heck, he already has a rocket company.)

The world is complex. I might be wrong. I hope I am.


Ivor Tymchak said...

Oh, you're not wrong. The system encourages the worst possible people with the worst possible motives to kill their way to the top.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you mean like Steve Jobs? I was and am a big fan of Steve for all that he did for me by changing my life for the better. Ruthless? Yes?

Ivor Tymchak said...

You were a personal friend of Steve Jobs then? Great, can you please confirm for me that he didn't lobby the Chinese government to get them to prevent the formation of workers unions which would campaign for better working conditions and higher wages forcing the price of Apple products up (or their massive profits down).


Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Yes, it was heart-breaking to me to read his bio, and about cold and cruel he was very often.

I call them "zebra people". White and black, not mixing.

At least Jobs really cared about the products though. Big difference. Also a big difference that he did not care about becoming the Only One, he was comfortable having a successful quality brand.

Anonymous said...

I work in one of Amazon's fulfillment centers (where you're order is picked and packed) and I can confirm that the "Amazon must win" mentality extends to the treatment of it's employees. They try to cover their treatment of workers with the line "we may not pay you much cash, but look at all the benefits we give you." I have actually heard management say; "don't worry about them (workers) they can always be replaced." While I'll admit no one is indispensable, concern has been dispensed with at Amazon.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

That's the world of business. It's a capitalist society. Communism doesn't work. Libertarianism is just the Communism of today. This is the world we live in.

Ken said...

I never know whether or not to believe this type of book. Obviously there are examples when he hasn't behaved well, but that applies to most of us. There are commercial pressures on authors to make their books interesting and that means giving people something that is a bit controversial. Bland people who get rich are not very exciting, so they accentuate the extremes.

I have seen a recent opinion on why Amazon expands at the expense of profits. Walmart and similar make a profit of 2-4% on turnover, so if you want to make lots of money then high turnover is required. There are worrying aspects that he may increase the prices when the market is large enough.

America has a rather large surplus of unskilled labour at the moment, so I wouldn't expect people in unskilled work to be well-paid. If they operate in ways that cause safety concerns then they should look at the laws relating to workplace safety and fix those rather than singling out a large corporation.

The belief in the product requirement is necessary for a lot of jobs. Your local Ford dealer isn't going to tell you that you'd be better off with a Honda.

George Ramirez said...

Amazon has shareholders. If Bezos wasn't doing everything he could to maximize profits they'd get rid of him. Plus his company is one of the few "dot com" companies that survived - there must be a reason. Often these guys have very negative personalities - Jobs was a colossal asshole, apparently.