Book review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
October 23, 2013 | 10:03 am
The narrative has been there for years – Amazon is a big, evil corporation that will do anything to get what it wants.
Part of that is true, especially after reading The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. Amazon didn’t become a successful business by being nice and allowing other companies to get in line in front of them. No, it was ruthless and confrontational.
Yet, point of view matters when it comes to Amazon.
If you are a competitor, then Amazon is not your friend. Partners have had it hard with the Seattle-based company as it looks at ways to save money, which often means getting products as cheaply as possible from third-parties by threatening tactics.
However, if you’re a customer, Amazon has done it right. It offers low prices, excellent customer service and has made the user experience everything you want it to be.
That has always been one of CEO Jeff Bezos original goals when he founded Amazon.com 20 years ago.
Stone’s book offers an interesting look at Amazon. He’s been a reporter at The New York Times and Newsweek. He’s now a senior writer at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and has been following Amazon for years. The Everything Store is wonderfully reported, going through public records (even garbage), talking to Bezos’ family, friends, colleagues and former employees. Noticeably missing, however, is Bezos. While Stone does have a few quotes from Bezos over the years, Bezos did not do any interviews specifically for this book.
Stone paints a picture of a polarizing figure. Bezos inspired many, helping to lead Amazon through turbulent times when it seemed as though everyone thought Amazon would shut down. Bezos turned Amazon into more than a retailer and into a technology company.
But he also left many of those same people traumatized.
Bezos would yell. He would demean his employees. He would say things that cut to the core. Yet, it seemed he would get through his “nutters” – as employees called them – after a matter of minutes. And most of the time, his assessments were right, according to Stone’s books. However, that wouldn’t be the end of Bezos’ involvement. He would jump in and make certain departments his pet projects to ensure things got done to his liking.
Amazon failed as much as it succeeded. Stone reported plenty of stories about Amazon acquiring start-ups or venturing into categories that were not successful. Its infrastructure was one of the worst things about company, having employees from the main offices work in the fulfillment centers around the holidays to get gifts out on time.
One of the best ways to view Bezos is quoted in Stone’s book.
“If you’re not good, Jeff will chew you up and spit you out. And if you are good, he will jump on your back and ride you into the ground.”
The book doesn’t draw any conclusions, which might have been inspired by an early meeting between Stone and Bezos about the book. Stone presented Bezos with a fake press release, which is what Bezos makes his own employees do when developing new products. Bezos asked Stone what he was going to do about the narrative fallacy, a reference to “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which refers to the tendency to construct stories around facts. It seem as though Stone left the narrative and conclusion up to the readers.
The book feels like Part 1 of the Amazon story because the ending still has yet to be determined. Some people viewed this as a negative about The Everything Store, but I’d rather have the facts presented without someone telling me what should happen. I appreciate Stone’s lack of predictions as to what Amazon will become and what it means for digital technology.
One of the most interesting topics in The Everything Store was about Bezos biological father, whom he did not know. His father Ted Jorgenson, a bike shop owner in Arizona, didn’t even know Bezos, one of the most successful and famous men in the country, was his son. Stone broke the news.
Even though they have no contact, they still share one thing in common – a loud, disarming laugh.The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon