Taking Stock of Amazon

Gotta' admire the Seattle Times for the series they are running on Amazon this week.

Amazon - more so than Microsoft, Starbucks, or the Gates Foundation - is reshaping and energizing the physical infrastructure that is Seattle. Though a corporate no-show in local philanthropic life, the thousands it employs are working and circulating, not in God-forsaken eastside office parks, but in the city.

And the pressure of Amazon's future commitment to develop in downtown Seattle will inure to the benefit of the city's sidewalks, railines and restaurants.

SeattletimesbusadBut the Seattle Times, headquartered almost between Amazon's new development site on the north edge of downtown, and Amazon's existing South Lake Union campus, isn't playing hometown booster. It's pursuing Amazon with the kind of classic "accountability journalism" that is supposed to be dead.

One Times story in the series ran photos of an independent publisher in North Carolina, photos that in less than a thousand words signify how small houses dedicated to commodity print have absolutely no chance against Amazon's distributive might.

No doubt the Times itself well knows what it is like to see a business model disappear.

Amazon is roundly criticized in this Times article by publishers who complain about not having any voice to talk to or name to email, when it comes to confronting Amazon's unilateral changes in the discount it requires or in other policies.

No one on the receiving end of sharp news likes to feel anonymous. The publishers being squeezed are probably right to conclude that Amazon does not value them or find them important.

And yet, from a consumer's point of view, transacting with Amazon without human interaction is a plus. If there is one cultural value Amazon is known for and can celebrate as a core competency, it might be self-provisioning.

Here's an idea for publishers who part ways with Amazon and seek their own destiny: accept Amazon's core competence, and differentiate yourself by addressing what de-personalization doesn't.

On the way, get far more literate about how Amazon and web commerce work, technically. As you think of your authors as potential web services, as you find ways to personalize the relationships among your backlist, your authors, your readers, and the habits of reading and writing, you will need to network the pieces, digitally. (You might start using AWS, or its competitors.)

In a phrase, go the opposite direction: as Amazon relentlessly automates, use the tools of information distribution to personalize.

Photo by Oran Viriyincy / Flickr.

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