Jungle Logic? How about Jungle Growth?

December 13, 2011

Let me be upfront. I am not a professional writer. I am not a “real” journalist or story-telling consultant. I am a semi retired person living in rural Kentucky. I know my limits, and I know when another is testing those limits.

I read in the dead tree edition of The New York Times this morning (December 13, 2011), an article on page A 29, “Amazon’s Lost Jungle.” The author is Richard Russo. I looked him up in Bing and learned that he is a “real” writer. You can get more information about him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Russo. I was disappointed that the dead tree edition of the New York Times did not include some basic information about the author, but that’s what sets dead tree publishers apart from the faux folks who write in blogs like Beyond Search. I am supposed to know Mr. Russo. I told you I had limits.

Amazon has been making headlines. First, there was the Kindle Fire, which was supposed to be an Apple iPod killer. The gizmo is an okay reader. The “iPad killer” part is a non starter. Second, there has been a flurry of information on podcasts, including Adam Carolla’s comedy program, about Amazon’s offering authors money to publish a book with Amazon in place of a New York outfit. Third, there’s The New York Times’s article by Mr. Russo.

I want to focus on that write up.

The hook for Amazon’s Lost Jungle is the cash back for buying from Amazon, not a brick and mortar store front. There are not many of those left in Harrod’s Creek. WalMart, Costco, and BestBuy took care of that. What the big boxes did not crush, Kroger and convenient stores mostly eliminated. Need a vacant store front? Harrod Creek’s for you.

The article recounts via quotations from authors various views of the shift from paper to digital content. The observations are interesting, and I quite liked the phrase “scorched earth capitalism.” Here’s the passage I marked with a question mark:

Like just about everybody I’ve talked to about it, I first attributed Amazon’s price-comparison app to arrogance and malevolence, but there’s also something bizarrely clumsy and wrong-footed about it. Critics may appear weak today, but they may not be tomorrow, and if the wind shifts, Amazon’s ham-fisted strategy has the potential to morph into a genuine Occupy Amazon movement. And even if the company is lucky and that doesn’t happen, what has it really gained? The fickle gratitude of people who will have about as much loyalty to Amazon tomorrow as they do today to Barnes & Noble, last year’s bully? This is good business? Is it just me, or does it feel as if the Amazon brass decided to spend the holidays in the Caribbean and left in charge of the company a computer that’s fallen head over heels in love with its own algorithms?

I think, just guessing I suppose, that Amazon is “bad” somehow. Amazon is successful because people find value in what the firm does. Is Amazon supposed to behave differently with regard to books. In its own way, Amazon is just doing what comes naturally to 21st century, information based companies.

I have three observations:

  • Amazon is going to get bigger and more invasive. Mr. Bezos has a vision which may be as all encompassing as the Apple or Google view of what the firms can accomplish.
  • Books are going to face an uphill battle. I know that in certain demographics books are hot tamales, but in certain demographics so are vinyl records. Unfortunately the big world of money is not based on looking at the world through niche colored glasses.
  • Consumers in the US are into video. Now I know that I like books, but I am old and woefully out of step with the 20 somethings with whom I am sometimes forced to work. The world is video and embedded devices which pump connectivity direct to the brain. Watch for it in the next 10 years.

The “jungle logic” is not operative in the digital world. Think in terms of natural monopolies which attempt to embrace broad expanses of information, information services, and content outputs. The law of the jungle is a lion eats man thing. The law of the digital Amazon is closer to uncontrolled cellular growth colonizing a host. Without meaningful regulation and management common sense, we are looking at some unpleasant, large, and ultimately unhealthy growths. Call the doctor. I just went to voicemail and I have to listen because the menu choices have changed.

Stephen E Arnold, December 13, 2011

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