An upcoming PBS FRONTLINE investigation promises a deep dive into how Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos executed his plan to build an unprecedented empire that has invaded every sphere of our lives.
“We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions,” Bezos wrote in his first letter to shareholders in 1997. For the past 22 years, he has held true to a simple long term vision in the midst of the dot-com bubble, Great Recession, temporary market trends, and Wall Street skepticism.
The vision? Predatory pricing deployed to accelerate growth, undermine competitors, accumulate market power, then erect new barriers to entry that block potential challengers to Amazon's dominance. From that simple strategy, Amazon has become a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that has its own private surveillance network, political candidates, and delivery infrastructure, while leveraging its incredibly profitable Amazon Web Services to do everything from becoming a military contractor to "strip-mining" start-ups of their inventions.
Politicians, regulators, and commentators are not as clear-eyed about what to do with Amazon. Some want to break it up, others say that antitrust action won’t work, and others still talk of nationalizing the company. Or even worse, incorporating the company into a socialist system (gasp) by taking a close look at how Amazon’s central planning might help us design non-market solutions to problems that Amazon claims to solve today (i.e. matching people to their individual tastes at the highest possible quality for the lowest possible cost).
Amazon is rapidly metastasizing into an invisible infrastructure that mediates our economy, politics, social relations, and culture. It is important we have a clear understanding of that and reject its rosy PR about simply wanting to provide goods to customers cheaply (and profitably).
Catch the PBS Frontline documentary about Amazon’s empire on February 18.