OUT OF THIS WORLD
Star Trek fans will find a noticeable likeness between Jeff Bezos and Jean-Luc Picard, captain of a Star Trek spacecraft by the name Enterprise: bald, slender, and a healthy stature. It was no coincidence when Jeff Bezos decided to shave his head – leaving a rather awkward 90’s look of pastel gabardine trousers behind. He is, undeniably, a huge Star Trek fan. And in his own universe, he is not only the saviour defending Planet Earth, but also conqueror of new and distant worlds. Jeff Bezos’ space interest – possibly along with the prospect of new business opportunities – has led him to invest billions of dollars in Blue Origin company. A company whose declared goal is to minimise expenses connected to space travel. One means is to create reusable space rockets. In fact, Bezos and Blue Origin managed to send a rocket 100 kilometres in to the air and make it return safely to Earth.
His success, though, is founded on a hundred of years old invention: the book. With a degree in electro engineering and computer science from Princeton University he created a business in his garage, called Amazon.com. The business model was written on a road trip across the US, from New York to Seattle. In fact, the company was first named Cadabra, but it was soon switched to Amazon. The name is partly due to an inspiration from the Amazon River in South America, and partly chosen on the pure basis of the word starting with an ‘A’. The latter would simply result in higher rankings on internet search engines; something key to a company that was to move stores online on www.amazon.com. The result speaks for itself. Through a rather brutal business model and with dirty tricks, as critics would say, Bezos has put himself in a position where he controls 40 percent of all American e-commerce. The platform has grown, and now you can buy everything from books, refrigerators and clothing to computers online – and have it delivered at your doorstep within a few days or even hours.
Today, more people search for product via Amazon.com than they do on Google. As a side benefit, this means that Amazon’s advertising revenues are equal to the total value of the American IT giant IBM. The subsidiary Amazon Web Services now controls more than half of all storage in the ‘cloud’ – the so-called ‘Cloud-computing’ – which means that big global companies, like General Electric, Unilever, and even the CIA, depends on Bezos’ servers. The company controls 42 percent of the sale of all paper books and a third of video streaming markets. Twitch, their popular video platform amongst gamers, has 15 million users a day. Counting the newspaper, The Washington Post, Bezos might just be the most powerful man in the American cultural industry of today.
When you, in such a short time, reform American retail and create a fortune exceeding any other, you are bound to get enemies. And Jeff Bezos has by no means played his competitors gently. Book publishers who would not sell their books on Amazon.com for the low price, Bezos demanded, were simply cut off. An example: When the giant book publisher Hachette refused to comply with Amazon’s demands, they were punished so harshly that they might as well have gone bankrupt. Amazon deliberately delayed shipments of Hachette books, and when users searched for their books, the web page would consistently direct the users to similar books from other publishers. The American journalist Franklin Foer has researched and written about Bezos and Amazon’s business model for years. To expose it, he has interviewed hundreds of former managers and chairmen of Bezos’ empire. Foer reports that Jeff Bezos systematically and consistently has kept all unionizing attempts in all his companies down. If the more than 600,000 employees want security, a decent work environment, and a reasonable pay through collective negotiation, they are not likely to get it at Amazon.
Furthermore, Franklin Foer writes that the amount of power, Jeff Bezos has accumulated, is historically unprecedented. And it does not end here. First and foremost, Bezos’ near future interest is to match potential house buyers with realtors and install Amazon electronics in all houses. Via the voice controlled assistant, Alexa, Amazon will then have access to all health-related data; data users provide when e.g. using Alexa to check on a prescription or read blood sugar levels. Besides, Bezos plan on building an enormous freight airport in Cincinnati, allowing day-to-day delivery in the entire US. A new and gigantic register-free supermarket chain is being launched, Amazon’s television-streaming has bought the rights to transmission of American baseball matches, and Bezos has announced a project of having 3000 satellites orbiting Earth, supplying the world population with high speed internet.
Franklin Foer concludes that Bezos is he the president of the United States’ enemy number one. But despite his crude employee policies and his many different businesses, he has somewhat of a wizard-status to many Americans, magically delivering convenience and abundance. As Franklin Foer writes: “As Trump runs down the country, Bezos builds things that function as promised.”
Philanthropy and utopias
In an interview, a high school sweetheart of Jeff Bezos has explained his insatiable need to earn money with his dreams of financing space travel. Already as a teenager he proved his intelligence by creating an alarm system to keep his smaller siblings out of his room. Since then, he has been a man who, all the way through youth and adulthood, has had an almost fanatical admiration for the Star Trek universe and almost all science fiction literature. To greater or lesser success, he has, as investor in the American cultural industry, spent billions securing the rights for films and series like Lord of the Rings and Westworld. But it is the space dream – perhaps along with the want to picture himself and his company out there in the future – that has been driving force in his creation. It is impressive how Jeff Bezos dwells on details while never leaving the bigger goal out of sight. That is why he can stay on target while selling books via Amazon, establishing new supermarkets, and working on sending people into space to extract minerals and create a colony. Bezos has no hopes of ever visiting future colonies. He knows that they will only be realised after his death. But this does not shorten his interest in and motivation for investing enormous amounts in the attempt of building his own – and reusable – space crafts. Dreams of a future in space is the driving force behind Amazon and Bezos’ entire business empire. But the present also matters: To all surprise, Jeff Bezos seems to have a philanthropic side. Recently, he donated 10 billion dollars to the fight against climate change. Though, some might say, this may just be another investment, clearing the way for new business adventures.