Thursday, May 26

Amazon Unbound Review: How Jeff Bezos Gobbled and Devoured Us All | Books

BRad Stone, senior editor at Bloomberg News, is now the author of a second book portrait of what may be the most successful business of the 21st century. When Stone’s first book, The Everything Store, was published in 2013, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was worth a paltry $ 27 billion. That number has risen to $ 190 billion, 70% more than what it had at the beginning of the pandemic.

In a decade, Amazon has become an exaggerated version of Gobble and devour, the hydra-headed conglomerate invented by Mel Brooks. Once upon a time, only Barnes & Noble was threatened by Amazon, in the area of ​​online book sales. Now Amazon has revolutionized everything from department stores and supermarkets to Hollywood movie production and even space travel.

Bezos’ best act of citizenship was, without a doubt, his rescue and revival of the Washington Post, one of the great newspapers in the United States and from which, unlike all the other businesses to which he is connected, he has remained admirably distant. . His business triumphs include the invention of the virtual assistant Alexa and his company’s hugely profitable cloud computing, so successful that he tried for years to hide his profits, to prevent Google and others from realizing how rich the business was.

But Amazon has also fought unions in every country where it owns a warehouse, sought billions in tax breaks, and slashed stock opportunities for hourly workers, even as Bezos trumpeted its raise to a low of $ 15 an hour. .

Stone acknowledges that Bezos’ gigantic wealth raises “disturbing questions about the asymmetric distribution of money and power.” With a market capitalization that exceeds $ 1.5 trillion, Amazon represents all that is great and terrible about the modern world. It has become “a referendum on the responsibilities that large companies have with their employees … and the sanctity of our fragile plane.” Bezos is “propelling the world into an exciting future” or “helping to erase … free enterprise itself.”

Most of this highly readable book is devoted to Bezos’s triumphs. It is undeniable that it has taken synergy and brand building in directions that no one else thought. For example, many colleagues were skeptical when Amazon began investing billions of dollars a year in Prime Video. But Bezos realized that not only did he help retain Prime customers, a vital source of income, but he also enhanced his other brands.

“When we win a Golden Globe, we sell more shoes,” he explained.

On the other hand, the only thing that seemed to drive him to improve the conditions of his manual workers were regular exposures to the media.

When one of its executives proposed a modest investment to upgrade its warehouses, Bezos dismissed the idea as too expensive. But then the Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania reported that workers passed out at the Lehigh Valley warehouse and were then transported to the hospital in ambulances that the company was waiting outside. Only then did Bezos approved $ 52 million for air conditioning, “setting a pattern of changes only after reading the criticism in the media,” as Stone puts it.

Amazon is dominating so many different businesses that it has finally inspired renewed interest in antitrust law, in the United States and Europe. One student, Lina Khan, played a key role when she published a 93-page article in the Yale Law Journal. Khan noted that unlike previous monopolies whose market share created unnecessarily high prices for consumers, the main damage Amazon has done comes from relentlessly lowering prices, in order to “bleed out competitors and accumulate market share. “.

Lina Khan, nominee for Federal Trade Commission commissioner, arrives for a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.
Lina Khan, nominee for Federal Trade Commission commissioner, arrives for a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. Photograph: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

Khan was hired by the House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee, eventually forcing Bezos to testify before Congress. His appearance featured this memorable question from Lucy McBath, a Georgia Democrat: “If Amazon didn’t have the monopoly power over these sellers, do you think they would remain in a relationship characterized by intimidation, fear, and panic?”

Bezos rejected “the premise” of the question, but inspired Stone to interview several outside marketers who originally praised Amazon’s contributions to small businesses. Many had changed their minds.

Paul Saunders, a high-end home goods seller and former Amazon booster, now reported that rising fees, increasingly expensive advertising, and direct competition from Amazon Basic had destroyed his profits.

The Congressional committee uncovered the same practices and made “a compelling case that big tech platforms arbitrarily and selfishly controlled our political discourse, our financial lives, and the health of countless smaller companies.”

“There is a clear and pressing need” for “antitrust enforcement” to “take steps to restore competition,” the committee concluded. And in a hopeful sign that Joe Biden is listening, he nominated Khan as commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission.

Amazon is now so unpopular that Democrats and Republicans on the Senate trade committee came together to approve his nomination.

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