Posts about amazon

Jeff’s Post problem

One issue I’m surprised I haven’t seen discussed regarding Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of The Washington Post is what his tenure will mean to local advertisers.

They don’t like him. He’s helping putting them out of business.

Haven’t you seen: retail is in the tank. Stores have become showrooms for Amazon’s sales. Looking at the golf club? Go to the pro shop and try it out and learn about it and get advice about it, then go to Amazon and buy it for a better price.

Amazon is going into local markets with experiments in same-day delivery. He will do that in competition with local merchants.

eBay, on the other hand, says it will serve local merchants and help them with same-day delivery and online sales. Google is looking to test same-day local delivery and I would imagine it, too, would work with local businesses, who are its advertisers as well.

The New Republic wondered whether Bezos wants The Washington Post’s delivery trucks. I doubt that. Though as I remember, the Post was one of the first papers in the country to shift from large-scale delivery to small-scale (trucks to station wagons), the system is still not set up to do what a UPS truck does.

So how will Bezos finesse this? He’s not big on finesse, Jeff. He could come and find ways to reassure local advertisers. He could involve them in his local delivery scheme, just as he handed over his sales and technology platforms to more merchants. He could shrug and not worry about retail advertising since he’s killing retail anyway.

As with all speculation about the Bezos era in journalism, we’ll just have to wait and wonder.

Taxes are an obligation, not a moral choice

In its tax fight with Google, Starbucks, and Amazon, the UK has in essence been demanding that they tax themselves: that they pay more tax than they are legally obligated to because lawmakers, in their hectoring, say that would be the “moral” thing to do.

Now see this discussion by Reuters’ brilliant Chrystia Freeland about the notion of plutocrats self-taxing. She says, quite rightly, that the concept of self-taxation is a challenge to the authority of governments: rich people are saying they can better spend their money to benefit society than society’s representatives in government can.

The irony, then: The UK’s lawmakers are undermining their own authority when they demand that Google et al meet different — perhaps higher — demands than their own laws’. They are abdicating their responsibility to write good tax laws and to negotiate tax treaties with other nations, which are attracting business and thus tax revenue from these multinational companies by offering them better deals than other countries (it’s called competition).

And therein lies another challenge to the authority of national governments: that multinational corporations can indeed play states against each other to get the best deal in minimizing taxes and thus maximizing profits (which, let’s remember, is their fiduciary raison d’etre: maximizing shareholder value). This is especially true in the digital economy, when companies can operate anywhere, even apparently nowhere (across distributed, virtual networks), and also find customers anywhere (that’s the subject of a Guardian story today lamenting the VAT taxes it loses to multinationals selling products directly to consumers, offering lower tax rates and thus better prices … which usually is seen as a good thing for consumers).

Taxation is not a moral question. It is a legal obligation. It is the role of government to write and enforce equitable tax laws for the benefit of society. In the current fight over taxes in the U.S. — which, of course, is what the fiscal cliff is all about — we see various sectors predictably acting in their own self-interest: the middle class wanting to tax the rich, the rich hoping to at least minimize that change. In the end, after much needless pain and struggle, Congress will have to pass a tax law and we will pay our taxes as is our legal duty. I would agree that is a moral duty: to serve and protect the rest of society, to give us services and to help those in need.

But if government makes taxation a matter of moral choice, then what of the law? Where is the certainty that both companies and individuals require to plan their lives if we are held to some unwritten standard? Where is the certainty of government revenue to do its work if taxes are a matter of taxpayers’ judgment?

In an age when borders are increasingly meaningless, when citizens can organize themselves, and when new and stateless armies of hackers bear new but damaging weapons, the authority of governments is being challenged on many fronts. Here governments challenge even their own authority.

Gutenberg the Geek: A Kindle Single

I’ve just published Gutenberg the Geek, arguing that the inventor of printing was our first geek, the original technology entrepreneur. I find wonderful parallels in the challenges and opportunities he faced and those that face Silicon Valley (or entrepreneurial journalism) startups today. So I retell his story from an entrepreneurial perspective, examining how he overcame technology hurdles, how he operated with the secrecy of a Steve Jobs but then shifted to openness, how he raised capital and mitigated risk, and how, in the end, his cash flow and equity structure did him in. This is also the inspiring story of a great disruptor. That is why I say Gutenberg is the patron saint of entrepreneurs.

The Kindle Single came out of my obsession with Gutenberg that developed while I researched Public Parts. I also wanted to learn how Kindle Singles work (more on that later) -… and prove that I have nothing against charging for content! But I’m not charging much, only 99 cents (free in the Amazon lending library).

Tomorrow, I’ll link to an excerpt from the piece. I’d be honored if you bought the piece and said what you think here or at the Amazon page.

Kindle?

I’m not getting Kindle in both senses of the verb — not buying and not understanding, both as a device and as a model.

I was approached to add BuzzMachine to the blog available for sale on the device but didn’t pursue it because I don’t see the sense in selling this blog when it’s available on the web for free. Oh, I’d love to think that I could sell it — nothing against money; though I’m often accused of it, I’m not arguing that content should be free but that it just is. But if this content is available here for free, why would and should someone buy it on a different device? Why shouldn’t that device just bring me the internet? The iPhone does.

Of course, that’s because the business model is different: Amazon created a device through which it could sell content; it is charging for the content instead of the access. But I have to believe that the Kindle will feel imprisoned when I want to get other content that I know is out there on the web. And I wonder about the economics of paying for all that access if people don’t buy enough content. The alternative to that is to sell a subscription to content but who wants another monthly bill? I do prefer the a la carte nature of iTunes over subscription movie services.

If the Kindle enabled me to pay for access so I could get the entire web, would I get it? I doubt it, because it appears to be a limited device. The iPhone is more powerful. It gives me the ability to both buy content and see the world of content. It’s a connected computer. Am I going to lug around a device just to read books and a limited set of blog and newspaper content without the ability to fully interact with it? No.

I’ve said often that I don’t believe re-creating an old media form electronically is the salvation of that form. The salvation of the content within that form is to take advantage of the new opportunities afforded by electronics and connectivity. I haven’t touched a Kindle yet, so I don’t know what it adds but those additions would be more valuable to me than its homage to the size and feel of the book.

(Disclosure: I own Amazon stock.)

: Update and correction: Tom Evslin and Aaron Pressman in the comments say that you can, indeed, surf the web from the Kindle, though with some limitations. So now I’m triply confused: Why try to charge for blogs? I’m also doubly glad I said no.

Amaziki

The Customer Evangelists report that Amazon is experimenting with product-information wikis (more here) so we the customers can share and update information on products for sale. Damned smart. The evangelists also make some good suggestions.

: Rob Hof has more.