Amazon Unbound


reviewed by Marc Schulman

Amazon Unbound is, to some extent, a book with the wrong title. It should be Jeff Bezos unbound. But, at the same time, it's hard to separate the two stories from one another. A book about the last decade of Amazon is, in fact, about the previous decade of Jeff Bezos.

The first part of the book is devoted to Jeff Bezos, the product guy, and in this section, we learn about an unappreciated aspect of Bezos. Bezos seems happiest and most engaged when he is overseas the development of new products and, in fact, new product categories. Unfortunately, Bezos has not gotten the credit he deserves as a product guy. Amazon, under his direction, developed the Kindle, a book reader that holds over 80% of the market. It created the first stand-alone AI assistant with Alexa and pioneered cashier-less supermarkets' development. Of course, it has had its share of failures, the most notable being the Amazon phone. But in all these cases, Bezos has been intimately involved. He also promoted a culture of never being penalized for trying and failing; what was worse in Bezos's mind was not trying at all. The book does an excellent job of telling the story of creating these devices and Bezos's role in them.

The book also describes the efforts that went into creating Amazon's studios and its role in solidifying Amazon's Prime service. While the book delves into the story of Amazon developing its own delivery service, including purchasing a fleet of aircraft, I don't think the book explores in enough depth the logistics that allow Amazon to guarantee one-day delivery and, in some cases, the same day delivery. One of the book's other failings is not devoting enough effort to AWS, Amazon's cloud service that powers its website and many other businesses in the world. AWS is immensely profitable, and it was its profitability allowed Amazon as a whole to begin reporting profits before its core business was profitable. AWS has a wide lead over its cloud competitors such as Google. In many ways, Microsoft and IBM are the most valuable part of the business.

The book discusses Bezos's overall interest in space- and his efforts to make Blue Origin a successful player in that area. When it comes to space Bezos directly competes with another most successful entrepreneur of the 21st century Elon Musk. Here Bezos has encountered one of his few setbacks. Space-X, led by Musk, has developed an impressive lead of Blue Origin. Space-X has been regularly sending crewed and uncrewed missions to space, while Blue Origin has been limited to sending celebrities to near-space short flights. Here is where Musk's advantage of being an engineer, in my opinion, allowed him to move ahead. Bezos was forced to rely on the expertise of others, none of whom have had Musks ability to think out of the box.

Finally, the book touches on Bezos's purchase of the Washington Post and his role as a much more public figure than he had in the past. His purchase of the Washington Post is seen today as an important moment in the world of journalism. His investment in the paper allowed it to go from a struggling also run to the New York Times to reinvigorated national paper. While it has made Bezos a target of Former President Trump, it also bought him significant goodwill.

Overall despite its limitations, the book was a pleasure to read, and I learned a great deal from Amazon Unbound.