The Amazon Birthday Party

Image - iStockphoto: golfcphoto
Image – iStockphoto: golfcphoto

On the occasion of its 20th birthday, The Bookseller would like to wish Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos many happy returns. Amazon is a remarkable business led by a remarkable visionary.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

My colleague at The Bookseller, Philip Jones is right — party hats: on.

In his leader piece for today’s edition of the magazine on the stands, in fact, Jones invokes great icons behind Penguin Books (and the Penguincubator vending machine) and UK bookselling:

He may not acknowledge it but Bezos is the natural heir to people such as Sir Allen Lane and Tim Waterstone, who revolutionised the business of reading. Yet unlike Lane or  Waterstone, Bezos has done it twice: For that, he is unparalleled.

We’re ticking the “This is a gift” box and sparing nothing on the virtual decorations. We hope you’ll come by today and gift us with your thoughts and feelings about “our friends in Seattle,” as The Perpetual Smile closes on its second decade.

This article was written as the walkup to the #FutureChat of 17 July. Join us every Friday for #FutureChat live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos


Some interesting insights await you in Jones’ commentary.

The Bookseller last interviewed Bezos back in 1997, when the publisher Gwyn Headley met him. Bezos predicted then that the Internet would create a global market, leading to the advent of a large number of small players and then a small number of large players, led, he said, by Amazon. Bezos also explained how the Internet would enhance our ability to know customers: “In the future we’re going to have books finding readers rather than readers finding books. The great retailers have always been able to understand their stock, but have not been able to understand their customers’ needs — until now.

So that’s the problem with discoverability, you see? Those books are having trouble finding their readers. (Not enough drones?)

And I’ll cry if I want to

It’s interesting, of course, that those party poopers at Authors United would renew their objections to Amazon just as the festivities kick into gear.

Jones notes, in fact, that several problematic ingredients are baked into the celebrations, not least those having to do with the interest of the European Commission and Booksellers Association.

Of course, part of the extraordinary story of Amazon is the extraordinary antipathy it generates within the indigenous communities it came into. The UK Booksellers Association has compiled a dossier of practices it regards as abuses that follow from the company’s undeniable market dominance; the European Commission is investigating its ebook business; in the US, the Author United group has allied itself with the American Booksellers Association, the Authors Guild, and Association of Authors’ Representatives to call for a Department of Justice Investigation.

The biggest news of late for authors from Puget Sound, of course, and not a bit controversial — that’s a joke — has had to do with those per-page payouts in the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select programmes, Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Binder1.pdfAnd just this week, we saw the company throw its own Amazon Prime Day bash, only to be bashed, itself, by customers who “expressed disappointment on social media about the quality of the deals on offer using the Twitter hashtag #PrimeDayFail,” wrote our Lisa Campbell at The Bookseller.

“They also complained that many items sold out quickly.”

And there you have it, you see: To disgruntled customers, the idea of those special deals that “sold out quickly” is negative while, in those offices on Mercer, “sold out quickly” is a happy phrase indeed.

In fact, the word from Amazonia was a-OK on the big Prime Day, the company’s news release trumpeting, in part:

Amazon sold more units on Prime Day than Black Friday 2014, the biggest Black Friday ever…Worldwide order growth increased 266% over the same day last year and 18% more than Black Friday 2014…More new members tried Prime worldwide than any single day in Amazon history…Sellers on Amazon that use the Fulfillment by Amazon service enjoyed record-breaking unit sales – growing nearly 300%…Customers ordered hundreds of thousands of Amazon devices – making it the largest device sales day ever worldwide…

Jones is all over it:

One day, we will realise that Amazon has been a victim of its own success: even in 1997 Bezos admitted that it was using shareholder/investor cash to fund customer acquisition — a strategy that Amazon is still hooked on. “We’re funding the customer’s purchasing power,” Bezos told us. The trick he has pulled off again and again is to convince investors to go along with this, a pyramid scheme that can only last as long as the cash is piled back in. Back in the day Bezos said the company was sowing seeds. “It would be short-sighted to harvest now.” If investors realise this time can never come, it may prove to be the company’s fatal flaw.

And Jones also isn’t ready to concede the farm:

Some excuse what are legitimate concerns about the way Amazon has developed as a story of disruption, a line of thought they pursue with distasteful relish. But a trade that can nurture books such as Go Set a Watchman and turn them into To Kill a Mockingbird is not so easily made obsolete.

But today it’s Campari and cakes.

Twenty years is too soon to judge Amazon, but a toast on its birthday should take into account those who make Bezos’ vision real, as well as those who resist it.

And that’s the cue for our intrepid #FutureChat digital publishing community members. We want to know what you like and what you’d rather return in that smiley box. We’ll be watching for you at the regular time today. Come help us blow out those candles.

And make a wish.

There’s more to this story: Read the rest

By Porter Ander­son  

The FutureBook:  The Amazon Birthday Party

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