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Book Review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the i'll-take-one-of-everything-please dept.

Books 45

Nick Kolakowski writes "Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regarded Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as a rival, but the men had more in common than they might have believed. Like Jobs, Bezos had a vision of a tech company, started it on a small budget with a tight cluster of coworkers, and fought to grow it into an industry giant. And as detailed in The Everything Store, a new book about the rise of Amazon.com, Bezos also boasts a Jobs-like temper, riddling his subordinates with withering insults when he feels a project is imperfect or falling behind schedule." Read on for the rest of his review.

Brad Stone spent years researching Amazon as a journalist, speaking to Bezos a handful of times in the process. His footwork clearly shows in the book, which is exhaustively detailed without ever feeling bogged down. The most surprising thing, perhaps, is that Bezos didn’t start Amazon.com out of an all-consuming love for books, although he reads voraciously; in the early 1990s, realizing that the Internet was the Next Big Thing, he drew up a list of potential products that best fit the nascent e-commerce model in his head, including computer software and music.

“The category that eventually jumped out at him as the best option was books,” Stone writes. “They were pure commodities; a copy of a book in one store was identical to the same book carried in another, so buyers always knew what they were getting.” At the time, only two major distributors actually handled shipping books, which would make it easier for Bezos to set up a supply chain; and in reasonably short order, his growing team figured out how to get each volume to the customer relatively intact.

Much of the book details Amazon’s rapid growth in the years preceding the dot-com bubble. In his quest to create an “everything store” capable of shipping a wide variety of products to nearly anywhere in the world with a mailing address, Bezos pushed his employees relentlessly; many couldn’t take the pace. Even as customers ordered books, movies, and other goods from a handsome and smoothly running Website, the underlying infrastructure strained to handle all that traffic; meanwhile, the warehouse and distribution operations (headed up by executives poached from WalMart) evolved into a lab of sorts, as the company did its best to figure out how to ship products in the quickest and most efficient ways. (Praise today’s startups all you want, but most of them never have to handle real-world logistics on a massive scale.)

The book paints a nuanced portrait of the hard-driving Bezos, who comes off as a spectacularly unsentimental individual more than willing to fight to the bitter end with pretty much anyone to get what he wants. Stone offers up a bit about Bezos’ childhood—even as a youngster he was ambitious, and technically inclined—and tracks down his biological father, who was unaware that his son had grown up to become a billionaire businessman. (When they finally communicate, it’s by email; Bezos writes a quick message that he bears the old man no ill will for leaving him as a baby, and wishes him “the very best.”) But the overall focus here is on Bezos the Businessman, plunging into the details of everything from the Kindle to free shipping, and determined above all else to conquer the world’s marketplaces.

This is one of those biographies that will probably end up on the shelf of every self-styled “entrepreneur” and Internet CEO looking for a role model. For those who’re merely interested in Amazon, e-commerce, or stories about people who bulldoze their way to success, The Everything Store is a highly entertaining read.

You can purchase from... the everything store. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) — to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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9/10 (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45239445)

There is a 90% chance of any given book review on slashdot having that score. You'd think it would be the other way around, but no; poor, pitiful, neglected 6/10.

Re:9/10 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239905)

Perhaps Slashdot should only review bad books.

Re:9/10 (2)

MRe_nl (306212) | about a year ago | (#45240157)

Perhaps people are generally more motivated to write about books they (really) like?

Re:9/10 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45240621)

I don't mind enthusiastic reviews about books that people have found noteworthy, even if they're not balanced by a proportional amount of unenthusiastic reviews of unmemorable books.

However, I *do* mind enthusiastic reviews about mediocre books, which makes me suspect there is some sort of quid pro quo going down **cough** Ben Rothke.

Huckabees (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239457)

I thought Huckabees was the everything store.

Roots (1)

themushroom (197365) | about a year ago | (#45239501)

According to a song by The Frantics, Roots has everything... including gimp masks and branded dildoes.

Shill (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239469)

Fuck these shill reviews. Bezos is an asshole and so is the person who gave this book a 9/10.

Re:Shill (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about a year ago | (#45239665)

Mr Kolakowski is not a shill (afaik), he's a native writer for slashdot. He does a lot of positive-note tech articles, I think that's just his style. At least what I've gathered from the slashbi channel.

Re:Shill (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239725)

In that case we need the exact opposite kind of reviewer to produce a nice contrast. "0/10 - There was a photoshopped image on the cover that looked like a 5 year old spent 10 minutes on. That's some bullshit. I couldn't force myself to open the book."

Re:Shill (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about a year ago | (#45239779)

While I (and perhaps many other slashdotters) would love to see a tech/biz version of yahtzee, I think the target audience for the channels are more professional and business oriented.

Come to think of it, that would be pretty awesome.

Re:Shill (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about a year ago | (#45241127)

Didn't your mother ever teach you not to judge a book by the cover?

One thing people should realize about Amazon (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239535)

They are like the bad old Microsoft in one sense: they use their capital (and investors tolerant of many consecutive quarters with no profits) and the cash horde they accumulate in one market to become predatory competitors in another market, kinda like Napolean's military strategy (BTW young Bill Gates was reported to have read *many* biographies of Napolean). So, that's the way it should be, some might say. But wait, Bezos is not doing this to be your friend; once he drives out the most effective competition in a segment (music CDs, for example), he'll jack up the prices once again so he can get a cash cow for his next target. So don't get too used to those big discounts.

Re:One thing people should realize about Amazon (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239715)

I think a lot of people realize this already though, the trouble is there aren't a lot of options left.

Generally you can still buy new release music / books / movies at brick and mortar stores, but if you want something else you'll find yourself at Amazon.

Why? Because they have it, in stock, ready to ship at convenient prices.

No waiting months for back catalogue stuff. No $25 CDs with 12 songs on them, no single shelf for an entire genre with content spilled over from god knows where, no haggling on eBay, just fast, easy "gimmie it now" service... for good or ill they're the best at it right now

Re:One thing people should realize about Amazon (1)

chromas (1085949) | about a year ago | (#45239717)

Plus they like to use FedEx Smart Post for shipping.

Re:One thing people should realize about Amazon (3, Insightful)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year ago | (#45239801)

As long as Wal-Mart is out there I expect the big discounts to continue.

Also AMZN does not hoard cash like Microsoft and Apple. Just the opposite. They have often been criticized for their heavy investment in infrastructure and other capital projects to drive the next wave of growth.

Re:One thing people should realize about Amazon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45240023)

the cash horde they accumulate

Cash hoard; mongol hordes.

Napolean

Napoleon

Re:One thing people should realize about Amazon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45244579)

And Google doesn't do this worse?

Helen (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239607)

Any fonts aviable in this site, it's free, just visit www.kdwin.org

Amazon isn't the "everything store" until... (1)

istartedi (132515) | about a year ago | (#45239667)

Amazon isn't the "everything store" until you can buy a house there. In the early 20th century you could buy a house from Sears. Of course I'm sure there were plenty of details left for the purchaser.

Anyway, Amazon is the closest thing to a 21st Century Sears. People comment on Amazon listings and discuss them just like people used to salivate over stuff in a Sears catalog.

Re:Amazon isn't the "everything store" until... (1)

themushroom (197365) | about a year ago | (#45239711)

And by some twist, Sears is flailing and on life support because people buy from Amazon now.

Re:Amazon isn't the "everything store" until... (2)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year ago | (#45239839)

No, Sears got crushed way before Amazon was around. discount stores (Wal-Mart, Target) , big box stores (Best Buy), and specialized mail order catalogues had long ravaged Sears.

Re:Amazon isn't the "everything store" until... (2)

puto (533470) | about a year ago | (#45242189)

Sears starting dying in the 90s when they had the MBAs pension off their older employees early and lower wages and commissions. I know I worked their in college, and my commissions from selling electronics went from 10-15 percent to 1-3 percent, and if something was returned within six months, they would take your entire commission back. Plus Sears had higher prices than many stores on many items but would give anyone credit, which of course the majority of people they gave it to never paid their bills. Sears also had special skus on products because they orderd tvs,tools, etc with lower specs that were made so that only sears had access to parts to fix them. Sears had many more problems before Amazon was even an idea.

Re:Amazon isn't the "everything store" until... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45242425)

I know I worked their in college ...

"their" ? No, this is the wrong word.

Try : "there".

You cannot begin to imagine how sad it is that someone who has
been to "college" doesn't know the difference between the two words
above. Good lord, the human race is devolving at a rate which is visible
from space, without a telescope.

                                                                                                      - God

Re:Amazon isn't the "everything store" until... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239815)

"For all intensive purposes, "whom" is no longer a word. That begs the question, "who cares"?"

"intensive purposes" ???
How about "intents and purposes" ? Doesn't that make more sense?

Re:Amazon isn't the "everything store" until... (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | about a year ago | (#45239995)

Re:Amazon isn't the "everything store" until... (1)

istartedi (132515) | about a year ago | (#45240131)

Oh wow, real close. Closer than I thought they'd come. I don't think steel buildings will meet occupancy requirements in most areas, but wow. Oh... so.... close. Flying under the radar doesn't count. Getting it past the government is the hard part.

I worked for MS and Amazon (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239673)

I was always a low level engineer so I can't claim that I personally interacted with either Gates or Bezos (although one time I nearly slammed a door into Bill's head but I don't see the point of dwelling on missed opportunities).
From my PoV they are both driven individuals who also drove their employees hard. However I think Bezos is the better businessman. Both of them generate a significant amount of fear with their underlings. You never wanted BillG going off in your product review and I saw people turn white when they got the infamous one character email from Bezos (the character in question being '?'). But at MS the fear was all theatrics. There is a huge amount of outright morons that to this day constitute a large chunk of MS middle management and not only are they allowed to screw up project after project, they often get rewarded for it (I have seen one rise from first line manager to corporate VP; hasn't shipped anything in 15 years).
At Amazon consequences were real, and went far beyond mere humiliation at the hands of the boss. I have seen director level people being asked to empty their desks within the hour. As a cog this filled me with joy.

Re:I worked for MS and Amazon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239805)

Well, at least you weren't working in the warehouse. That's the big difference between Microsoft and Amazon.

Re:I worked for MS and Amazon (2)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239911)

Well, at least you weren't working in the warehouse. That's the big difference between Microsoft and Amazon.

I hear the warehouse jobs are tough. I don't doubt it but I have no personal knowledge of that.

I have however experienced first hand what goes on at one of the customer service call centers and the working conditions are a ton better than you'd expect.
Employees have a lot of autonomy and personal responsibility. They don't have to follow a script and they almost never have to refer to a manager; they're allowed to make their own decisions. There are metrics but they are usually smartly applied. There is no incentive to close a call within a given time.

The people I talked to over there told me it was a lot better than similar jobs they'd had and paid better too.
Still, it's no Google. Hell, even for engineers Amazon is no Google. They are notoriously stingy when it comes to perks.

Re:I worked for MS and Amazon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45240145)

Does Google even have a call center?

Re:I worked for MS and Amazon (2)

Gilmoure (18428) | about a year ago | (#45240571)

The google help line number is the one thing their search can't find.

Re:I worked for MS and Amazon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45241199)

I hear that it's 1-900-fag-fuck

Rivals (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239683)

From my experience most rivals are alike, that's why they compete.

Not cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239685)

Personally, I would have respected Bezos's wish not to have any knowledge of or involvement with his biological father. Seems like a simple matter of courtesy.

Re:Not cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45239869)

Meh. The guy's an asshole. He deserves whatever he gets.

Free market at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45240657)

Jobs and Bezos are Galts among men. Rich and successful not BECAUSE of government theft and incompetence (as NObama would have us believe) but DESPITE it. God Bless The Free Market! God Bless Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos!

Rivals.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45240735)

...are kind of defined by the fact that they share many similarities.

Lol, cute, Amazon (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45241461)

It's like you guys haven't heard of Ali Express [aliexpress.com] . Why would anyone buy anything other than books or movies from Amazon today. The Amazon stores are just buying off Ali Baba or Ali Express and reselling at markup, it makes no sense to buy from Amazon, even less sense if you live outside The Americas, as shipping direct from the manufacturers in Asia is going to be cheaper than shipping to the US and then to Europe/Asia.

Amazon is like the dumb person's Ali Express. If you're dumb, you pay more.

Yeah right. (1)

jotaeleemeese (303437) | about a year ago | (#45270151)

When something goes wrong Amazon really sorts things out.

With an Asian based company with no local presence where I live? Good luck with that one.

Amazon's purpose is to destroy profit margins (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45244869)

Amazon's purpose is to destroy profit margins. They are doing everything they can to eliminate "friction", that is the ability for people to make money selling things by reducing profits to the point no one could survive. If Amazon was ultimately successful, no one could make any money on anything. So why do investors like them? In an Amazon world, companies which sell products would offer Amazon deep discounts, and then people would pay Amazon for Amazon Prime, and companies would sell through Amazon's warehouses, and Amazon would get a cut of everything, and there wouldn't be any profit left.

We're geeks and nerds, right? Look at Dover math books. Over the past couple of years (or so), Dover has essentially doubled the price of their books to allow Amazon and others to sell them 40% off. Dover math books were in the $10-15 range a few years ago, and now they're all almost $30, but online the price is reduced to around $15-20. Dover is an extreme example of the Amazon discount effect where a publisher has to jack up prices to allow deep discounts. Most trade paperbacks are over $20 now, and a few years ago they were $15 or less. This isn't because of inflation, it's jacking up the price so the 40% online discounts don't hurt so bad.

Who is Bezos' Woz? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45245101)

Jobs couldn't have done Apple without Woz. Was Bezos the same way, or did he have a techie to complement his marketing skills?

Think Harder about supporting this stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45249907)

Every time you "Add to Cart", you push a local store, mall, strip center, etc., closer to shutting their doors.

You want a "Nail Salon" economy in your future? Keep supporting online stores.

I have a deal for you (0)

jotaeleemeese (303437) | about a year ago | (#45270221)

You pay me the difference and I'll buy local.

Oh wait you also have to pay for my time.

And other costs (parking and/or transportation to name only the most obvious)

making a new blogger (0)

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