The company that is Amazon

Let’s pause to reflect that the company that has made one-day shipping of tens of millions of items the industry standard is also the global leader in cloud computing services, owns the Whole Foods grocery stores (and is building a second chain), helps police departments identify criminals, is building its own air cargo fleet, has an $11 billion-a-year advertising business, is working on a plan to give everyone on Earth internet from space, has put always-on microphones in at least 1 in 10 U.S. homes, built an Oscar-winning film and TV studio from scratch, and is competing directly with UPS, FedExGoogle, FacebookAppleMicrosoftIBMthe entire book-publishing industryNetflix, HBO, DisneyWalmartTarget, CostcoKrogerCVS, Walgreens and countless startups.

I don’t like Alexa, and wouldn’t take one for free!  Still, this is overall a remarkable record of both innovation and competition across many markets.  That said, I wonder for how long Amazon can keep this up without becoming a bloated, inefficient conglomerate.

Here is more from Christopher Mims at the WSJ.  You will note also that Walmart is several times larger in U.S. retail than is Amazon.


I don't like Alexa either! But I have one. Two actually, one in the kitchen and one in the bedroom. I wish someone would make a *non-internet-connected* voice-recognition device that can act on the following commands:

"Device, set a 10-minute pizza timer"
"Device, wake me up at 6:30AM"

Do that reliably, and I'll throw out Alexa, and pay you $100 for your device.

You pointed out something I observed a couple of decades ago: Windows does not have a reliable software timer. So I built one myself, from Windows Presentation Foundation in Visual Studio C#, it's downloadable online, a few people have done so, and it's saved me time. It's a countdown timer or calendar timer and also can pop up and alert you of something. Not voice activated but I'm sure there's a library to do that somewhere. I use it all the time. But nobody else seems to have such a timer, though some phones have a countdown timer alarm.

Bonus trivia: "helps police departments identify criminals"- pace facial recognition banned in 'frisco California, today's headlines.

A kitchen timer costs, what, a dollar? An alarm clock - if anyone still makes them - maybe five dollars?

Of course you are right. This completely ignores the value of the convenience of calling across the room for a timer to be set while your hands are full. Could you set everything down and walk over to manually punch "10 minutes" into the timer? Of course. And you could get off the couch to change the TV channel. But you don't, because a remote is convenient.

And a voice-recognition timer and alarm clock is also convenient and, at least for me, worth $94 more than a $1 manual kitchen timer and a $5 alarm clock.

dearieme, don't take this the wrong way but yer an idiot.

Dearieme is fundamentally wrong on many issues but he is much more erudite and intelligent than 99 percent of the people who post on the internet and at least 90 percent of the people who comment here.

When I criticize him that is ok because I am his intellectual superior but I don't like to see just anybody criticize him.

actually dearieme is a bright guy.

Fundamentally Wrong about lots of things, as so many of our contemporaries are, but he seems to be well educated ( for an English person, anyway ), and he is often interesting, which is more than I can say for most people who comment on the sort of comment threads he comments on.

Don't insult him unless you are able to be as interesting as he is.

The guy that dearieme tried to troll is an interesting person too. I don't see anything wrong with calling out trolls.

yes, trolls can be called out.

and should be called out, but let us not forget that calling out trolls is like, one thousandth of one percent of one percent of the interesting things going on on the internet. Or a lot less than that.

And Dearieme may be one standard deviation less intelligent than me - even in his chosen field of engineering, or whatever he got a degree at Cambridge at - but the guy has posted thousands of interesting insightful comments on various websites. Maybe even more, from a strict numerical view, than I have, so I have to give him some credit.

Don't mess with Dearieme unless you are really really smart, that is all I am saying. Because nobody - literally nobody - wants to listen to a mediocre criticism of Dearieme. And if you think you are being funny by being passive aggressive and calling him stupid without displaying an awful lot of erudition and wit while you do it, you are wasting everybody's time.

ITT "anonymous" makes an impassioned case for quality internet commentary. Tune in next time, when someone uses the phrase "butthurt."

Google announced that its voice recognition is going to work without internet soon so you might actually get that.

Cheap smartphones do this just fine.

Which isn't surprising. "Hubs" are cheap smartphones without the display.

I had to read that comment twice, the first time, I was seeing “Hubs” as a short form or nickname for husband, and imagining said husband setting the requested timers.

I was going to dispute this, because I thought the phones were sending my voice to the cloud for analysis, but I just killed my network and got my phone to set a timer for 10 minutes by voice. Now I wonder why it gives me so much trouble when my connection is unreliable.

Why don't you like Alexa, Tyler? It was made by a big business which you love so much.

You might especially think twice about putting Alexa in the bedroom. But then again ...

Does your phone respond to "Hello Siri" or "OK Google"? Then it has a microphone that's always on. And while you sleep, it's a few feet away.

I can tell you, if Bezos is listening in he's hearing an awful lot of screaming come from my wife when she gets railed by her big black boyfriend. And a lot of tears from me as I run out of the bedroom to seek refuge on MR.

Same here +1! I love technology, it's helped broadcast my cuckoldry worldwide!

Yeah, just mention "Microsoft" in a conversation and next morning have your Inbox spammed with Viagra emails by Alexa trying to be helpful.

If a progressive Democrat wins in 2020, we might not have Amazon to kick around anymore.

HQ3 will be a volcano lair guarded by sharks with laser beams. Jeff Bezos already rocks the requisite hairstyle.

I’d give Bezos a blumpkin

Please explain, I thought Bezos was a liberal plant who hated Trump

circular firing squad

Which candidates are running on the platform of nationalizing Amazon?

None of them. He just wanted to let out some Dem derangement syndrome. It helps with his anxiety.

No one's arguing to nationalize Amazon, although Warren and Bernie, and a few others are arguing it and FB should be broken into smaller companies before they turn into Galactitcus. Which is more likely to haopen with Amazon than FB, I grant you.

"I wonder for how long Amazon can keep this up without becoming a bloated, inefficient conglomerate."

I could imagine quite a while, at least until A) regulators catch up and B) our current definitions of what a 'monopoly/competition-stifling' is and C)...the big one, changes in sales tax laws begin to negate the 'convenience-cost' of ordering from their marketplace.

@EverExtruder - so, as a student of business history, are you saying that Gulf + Western (sic, they used to use the "+" sign instead of the ampersand) was done in by regulators, not market forces? Hmm... suspicious, as GM Ben Finegold would say (yes, his dad *was* GM Ron Finegold, showing chess can be taught like with GM Hikaru Nakamura...or is it hereditary?)

...I'd say they were 'done in' by selling acquisitions they'd made during the 60s, regardless of who was making the decisions of what to peel off, they were bad ones. CBS and Viacom are still with us though.

Womp womp.

“Wimp wimp” is the sound that occurs when I take my pants off. I don’t have a dick but instead a speaker there that goes “wommmp wommmp”

You can observe a lot by just watching.

said the angel to the demon.

They already charge sales tax

But its dependent on a bunch of factors and for a lot of people it's a pittance. Full application of remittance to DOR in all 50 states is a huge data crunch and paying my state's sales tax in full for online purchases would absolutely change my buying habits. I don't think I'm alone there...


But another big reason Amazon and other online retailers do so well: it's gotten almost impossible to find items that are not mass appeal items in bricks and mortar stores. In recent years I've had to go online to get everything from replacement filters for my bedroom air purifier to a ten pack (not 30 or 50) of gladioli bulbs for my small garden to lightweight long underwear for winter biking.

So where did you get lightweight long underwear before? The LLBean catalogue?

I know what you are saying but I myself forget that some of the stuff I buy I never had access to before.

I buy my bath rugs at Costco. Some things you just like to see in person.

And when you go to Costco in person you have the hairnet ladies heating up free samples

I could have found any of the items I mentioned in bricks'and-mortar stores back in the 90s (and in fact did). My point, seemingly missed, is that the diversity of merchandise found in real world stores has declined a lot since the advent of Amazon, etc. Another example: I used to be able to browse at Borders or Barnes & Noble for an hour or more. If I go in B&N now it's all blockbusters by known authors, very little by first time writers or obscure writers.

Quote: "That said, I wonder for how long Amazon can keep this up without becoming a bloated, inefficient conglomerate."

Probably 20 to 30 years.

And I honestly believe the problem is similar to the problem of software maintenance. So long as the people responsible for building the thing are in charge, their vision about how all this works can be kept straight in their heads, and they can make decisions which move towards this vision which make sense and are efficient.

But at some point it gets transitioned--be it software or companies or whatever--and the person asked to maintain it isn't the person who built it. They don't have the vision of the original managers, or can they be properly inculcated on the culture or on the thousands of decisions that were made along the way.

So they'll eventually throw their own (inexperienced, inefficient) decisions on top--and start the transition from something that makes sense to something that's just a bunch of bloated components competing against each other.

Amazon's culture has always revolved around keeping the entities separate and in competition, which seems to explicitly prevent the kind of inefficiencies you would expect from a conglomerate.

For example all of Amazons internal entities transact with each other at market rates and are free to provide or acquire services to/from external parties if it makes sense.

"helps police departments identify criminals" oh you mean helping to realize "1984"? Sounds good to me!

Jeff Bezos is just the kind of rich person it's good to have around.

Re: " I wonder for how long Amazon can keep this up without becoming a bloated, inefficient conglomerate."

Is this consistent with the the title: "Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero?"

I thought Big Business was good, now I hear it is inefficient and bloated

Hero one day< Bloated conglomerate the next.

No man differs more from another than he does from himself on another day.

Try again: Big business is not synonymous with conglomerates.


Of the list of companies mentioned (UPS, Fedex, Walmart, Facebook, Netflix, IBM, Kroger, etc.) only a handful fall into the category of a sprawling conglomerate.

You don't get it, or you don't want to get it. Do some reading.

" A conglomerate is a combination of multiple business entities operating in entirely different industries under one corporate group, usually involving a parent company and many subsidiaries. Often, a conglomerate is a multi-industry company. Conglomerates are often large and multinational."

The post talked about Amazon becoming a bloated conglomerate. All large firms are not conglomerates. But, mostly all conglomerates are large "big" firms ala a Love Letter designation.

If you want to do more research on this you can run the IRS corporate data series or you can google conglomerate firm size.

I get it but you apparently don't. It's a love letter to big business, not conglomerates, which are a subset of big business. The problem of conglomerates arises from having a bunch of unrelated businesses rather than bigness per se.

The federal government is the worst sort of conglomerate.

If the set includes the subset, and he likes the set, then he likes the subset.

It's a subset whose distinct characteristics run counter to the reasons why he likes the set. On the very first page of the book TC admits that some of the criticisms of big business are valid, and being an economist, inefficiency is a deadly sin (though it is not considered to be one by the broad public, especially if that inefficiency involves continuing underperforming businesses and thus employees, which is what conglomerates are criticized for doing too much of by economists).

So, it's a love letter, but not really.

How about a Valentine's Day Card? Some people get one and others do not.

"A love letter to cherry picked businesses"

The other problem of conglomerates is when they own a lot of related or complementary businesses. Different sort of problem, because they are on fact too good at it.

Several of the firms listed above are attacking downward vertical integration in a serious way.

I agree that in principle, being a big business doesn't automatically make you a conglomerate but in the reality almost every big business is a conglomerate. Take Disney, which is more sprawling that you think:

[1; Warning BIG PICTURE]

Amazon is the most functional institution America has.

I think this was a post from Tyrone as a reaction to Tyler's latest book.

When Bezos retires, they should really look at breaking the company up in to smaller pieces or selling it off. Until he does, we get to enjoy the amazing things he creates. That's the problem of having a genius in charge.

Alexa is one of those technologies that I ended up using in ways that I did not foresee. It's one of those devices you just have to acquire then see where it ends up. To my surprise, my house is almost completely covered by Alexa speakers.

The challenge is to explore what more it can do over time and not become complacent. The technology is still evolving in the cloud even though the echo device on my table never changes.

The end result of this technology will be it telling you what to do, rather than the other way around

“When Bezos retires, they should really look at breaking the company up in to smaller pieces or selling it off.“

Who is the “they” you have in mind?

I mean my penis

If we think about Apple, yeah, when the founder is not there anymore the company will lose its cutting edge. Which is fine as long as we have a system that allows new entrepreneurs to rise up.

"Which is fine as long as we have a system that allows new entrepreneurs to rise up." I've never seen that happen. The founder is vested in getting the best people and performance. Everybody else hires people they don't want to overshadow themselves and restricts their performance/ opportunities.

Amazon + Prescription Drugs = Large Efficiency Gains

Yes, bravo to Amazon's record of innovation. (Boo to the WaPo)

Amazon is what GE tried to be but couldn't. At least neither of them have to pay any taxes.

I dunno, GE went to hell abut the time Welch got caught in an affair. Just sayin'...

To me the most impressive marker of Amazon's influence is that they persuaded the USPS to deliver packages on Sunday and execute next-day delivery. Before Amazon I paid USPS for next-day delivery on a few occasions, and it never happened. If you can reform one of the oldest and most entrenched government bureaucracies in the US, that's power!

Amazon and Pynchon's other technocrats are basically autocrats. All that cash and too much office space though Amazon at least works with the government, and has a sticky advertising service that is not a publisher model. I read proverbs 8 and I think this is mostly what genesis is about. Since god is a figment of human imagination and men and women have children, the technological "trait" of mankind can 1) not be distinguished from profit 2) is the effect of understanding common reason. All these technocrats do is model basic services, and moral panics accrue, but its probably less impressive than walkman, the vcrs, cable, moreover those were better for self confidence. They were personal. In this way internet liberalism supplants nature. Being human is guest house, and here the gas is priced in parallel with bureaucracy. and at what cost? Has the tech displacement shock just created a fault line that wall street will once again, profit off of?

O hope amazon can do the same for Brazil's mail!

In retrospect it's just kinda sad that Amazon didn't call itself Acme

Walmart makes a better tree, their velocity equations more accurate. A Walmart store has one hour delivery, if you hire yourself to deliver. A half day delivery if you call your spouse to pick something up. It is all free, as in your own extra expenses.
How do they do it? They got intelligent control on those checkout counters, and they are so accurate they can almost hologram up a workable Newton's grammar, and scale those enterprises everywhere.

And Walmart got much brighter bulbs working the logistics. With risk of anti-trust, Walmart could make deliveries as local as you want in their own trucks. Easily do half day delivery to major cities anytime Amazon wants the challenge.

Tyler: So wait, Amazon's been losing money on its retail operation for 20 years and that's an achievement? Holy shit give me $1T in capital, I can run everyone out of business! WTF????

Bloated conglomerates?

Disney and Berkshire Hathaway. Are they inefficient? The Japanese also have large conglomerates and do nice things.

Inefficient may not be the best word choice. "Less innovative" may
be better.

I really don't understand. Perhaps someone can enlighten me. I thought Libertarians like to extol the virtues of unremitting competition in business as the core driver of efficiency and innovation. Yet they also seem to simultaneously praise the virtues of behemoth corporate monopolies.

I seems like a confirmation of what Neoliberalism's harshest critics argue: That it has no consistent core ideology; it's simply ad-hoc arguments that promote anything that will increase the power of capital and diminish the power of labor.

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