For a good number of years now pundits have discussed the ominous rise of tech companies. Google, Facebook, Apple: all of them groping for control in different ways. But personally, particularly because of the industry I work in, I have always been most fearful – and most in awe of – Amazon.
Amazon grew off the back of selling books. At the time during the 1990s this would have seemed ludicrous. How could this internet upstart challenge Barnes & Noble or Borders? But challenge them – and win – it did. If you can systemise and sell a product as varied as books, you can sell anything. Books come in all shapes, sizes, and page lengths. The added bonus is that nothing is as intimate as a book, and as the old adage goes, you can tell a lot about a person from their bookshelf.
So while Google, Facebook and Apple were all gathering data on you via your direct interaction with platforms, Amazon was analysing your buying habits – a far scarier prospect. For years they went hard on scale, with massive investments in warehouses, and monetarily never made much profit, with hard discounts and reinvestment of revenue back into R&D. This strategy paid off like little else. From books they have expanded to general goods, groceries, cloud computing and more. Heck, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. They’ve got their fingers in so many content pies that they come across as anything other than humble. Sinister is the word I would use.
See, the key to Amazon is content. If they have all (relatively speaking) of the content, then it doesn’t even matter if they have the ‘best’ content. Amazon are now the biggest publisher of translated books. Did you even know they have publishing houses? Not only do they have a monopoly on ebooks, print books, and self-published books, they now have a majority share in foreign language translations. Content is king. The more you have, the more you sell. It’s simple physics. And the more you sell, the more customers you have with which to sell other products to. There is nothing scarier, in my eyes, than a Singular Retailer, one that can almost literally spoon feed you products. Science fiction writers showed us the horrors of a consumer dystopia; I’m just
surprised horrorfied by how easily we took it up. Their tactics are truly forward-facing, and truly evil if you are a small business. And it’s all because of books.
The easiest and most frightening future I can imagine is one where civilians watch their Amazon TV, read on their Kindle (or maybe just listen to the books on Audible), receive their groceries via Amazon drones and then skip down the street to their local Amazon coffee house. And then, latte in hand, you go to your work – at the District Amazon Mega Warehouse. The local is dead and the globocorp is real.
How can one combat this juggernaut? Not very easily, because convenience is key to the heart of the consumer, and Amazon thrives on making everything as not-difficult as possible. The fact is, most people in cities have grown up buying from corporations. We are indoctrinated into getting things cheaply, easily and nastily. Amazon promises to deliver that in spades, and in doing so destroy its competitors. We will barely notice the shift.