Bezonomics: How Amazon Is Changing Our Lives, and What the World's Companies Are Learning from It
Author: Brian Dumaine
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
The author tries too hard to bring the flywheel concept each time he examines a new business or to explain why certain strategies were adopted by Mr Bezos. This becomes a bit irritating in an otherwise well-written book that explores many issues, including some of the negatives of the Amazon juggernaut.
Mr Dumaine is clearly in awe of Mr Bezos and Amazon but the book is not a hagiography and explores what Amazon does not do right as well. The author looks at how Walmart is more than holding its own despite the rise of Amazon. (Walmart is still much bigger in terms of revenues, though the market does not value it as highly as Amazon. Also, Walmart is making a huge push into online even as Amazon is getting into physical retail).
The author also explores the negative influence of Amazon. This includes the abysmal working conditions in Amazon warehouses, Mr Bezos’ ruthlessness with competitors, especially small start-ups that he has crushed, and Amazon’s penchant for giving a raw deal to small entrepreneurs on its platform. He also looks at Amazon’s (and Mr Bezos’) conflicts with governments in many places in which it operates. Several lawmakers around the world feel that Amazon has become too powerful and need to be broken up or more tightly regulated.
Mr Dumaine also looks at the big question — if Amazon (and the other Silicon Valley giants) increasingly use robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning etc, to reduce manpower, what happens to employment? Will new jobs be created by the new technologies to compensate for the jobs lost? Or should governments worldwide go for universal basic income (UBI) as many technology titans have suggested.
Unfortunately, the author stops short of discussing all the issues. For example, he does not look at the fact that for UBI to be implemented, the government would need to garner more taxes —something that Amazon, Apple, Google and their ilk manage to keep at a bare minimum by smart tax planning and overseas corporations. Equally, if the company is making so much profit, why isn’t it paying its workers more? (To be fair, Amazon increased its minimum pay for warehouse workers to $15 an hour when the minimum mandated wage was $11).
The book excels in its detailed look at Amazon operations and its understanding of American business history. It falls short of getting under the skin of Mr Bezos himself — possibly because Mr Dumaine got little time with the man himself. The other issue — and it is not the author’s fault — is that a book of this nature becomes somewhat outdated as soon as it comes out. This book was written before the coronavirus pandemic roiled the globe and hence misses on what Amazon did right and where it faltered during the lockdown in various countries. Still, I would say it is an excellent addition to any business books
The reviewer is former editor of Business Today and Businessworld magazines and the founder of www.prosaicview.com