One Click: Jeff Bezos and the rise of Amazon
By Richard L Brandt (Penguin, 2011), $37
Less a biography than an extended Wikipedia entry, One Click dives straight into Amazon’s seamless patented ordering method of the same name.
It’s a fitting introduction to founder Jeff Bezos and his method of operation – customer- focused, coolly logical and forward-thinking.
As Brandt writes, Bezos is ruthlessly practical in matters of business. Most entrepreneurs start companies based on passion; Bezos arrived at the decision to sell books through a process of elimination, ruling out all other products based on market size, competition and online potential.
While Brandt only draws on a handful of sources and secondhand Bezos quotes from published interviews, he paints a picture of a loner from a young age, a bookworm whose technical ability combined with resourcefulness and a talent for spotting markets ripe for disruption sealed his place in history. As a survivor of the dotcom crash, Amazon can thank its low-profile founder for constantly innovating to keep the company ahead of the curve.
Amazon has its fair share of detractors, as One Click chronicles. Bezos was in no hurry to turn a profit, but when crunch time hit, he had no hesitation in slashing costs and instigating mass layoffs.
There are hints at the dark side of the Amazon cult from a disgruntled former employee, and the book also delves into the tensions between Amazon and publishers. You might be surprised, too, at just how many other companies it has bought up over the years.
The problem with books about innovative companies at the front edge, of course, is that they are inevitably out of date by the time they hit shelves. Amazon’s play in cloud computing warrants just a brief mention and the chapter on the Kindle predates the much-hyped Fire.
As an introduction to the history of Amazon, One Click does the job – but for those with prior knowledge, it’s probably rehashing well- trodden ground.