Review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

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http://www.amazon.com/Everything-Store-Jeff-Bezos-Amazon-ebook/dp/B00BWQW73E/?tag=dedasys-20

The Facebook, Apple and Microsoft stories have been made into movies.  Google’s founders are fairly well known, but Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and the company he created are far more opaque.

This book changes that.  Detailing the rise and rise of Amazon, this is the most comprehensive description of what makes Jeff Bezos tick, how he works, and how he runs his company.

As such, I’d highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Amazon and the many, many markets it touches, from cloud servers to streaming video to all kinds of things you can buy and have shipped to your house.

Critically for such a private person, the book builds on several interviews with Bezos.  Apparently, those are not so easy to come by, due to Bezos’ understandable desire for privacy.  While any biography is unlikely to be perfectly accurate, and despite Bezos’ wife commenting on the book’s faults, I do get a sense that it’s better than anything else that has been written on the subject to date.

Some things that stand out about Amazon’s way of doing things:

  • They are highly customer focused.  It’s easy to see this in the numbers, too: http://finance.yahoo.com/q/ks?s=amzn+Key+Statistics : the profit margin is 0.31%. Compare and contrast to Google at 20.91%, Microsoft at 26.9%, and Oracle at 29.33%!   They are very clearly reinvesting a lot of money in the company, and simply giving customers good deals.  Numerous quotes attest to this throughout the book:

“Bezos believed that high margins justified rivals’ investments in research and development and attracted more competition, while low margins attracted customers and were more defensible.”

“Like Sam Walton, Bezos sees it as his company’s mission to drive inefficiencies out of the supply chain and deliver the lowest possible price to its customers”

“We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.”

  • Relevant to Kindles:

One of the primary conclusions from their research was that a good book disappears in the reader’s hands. Bezos later called this the top design objective. “Kindle also had to get out of the way and disappear so that you could enter the author’s world,” he said.

  • This quote makes a great deal of sense for those trying to sell something on the internet.  There’s no longer a lack of storefront space, like along a busy road, but getting people’s attention among all the other people trying to sell stuff is very difficult:

“In a world where consumers had limited choice, you needed to compete for locations,” says Ross, who went on to cofound eCommera, a British e-commerce advisory firm. “But in a world where consumers have unlimited choice, you need to compete for attention. And this requires something more than selling other people’s products.”

  • On eBook pricing.  Granted, given how long it takes an author to write a book, the paper and other bits are really inconsequential when we talk about costs, but still, it feels a bit insulting to readers to sell an eBook at a higher price than a paper one, especially because you can’t resell the eBook.

“Customers are smart, and we felt like they would expect and deserve digital books to be lower priced than physical books,” says Steve Kessel.

  • Occasionally, Amazon steps on other people’s toes.  Part of the reason is that they, like Google, and perhaps Microsoft before them, grew so quickly that they still have some of the “go get ’em” startup mentality.  That’s something you need when you’re a small company competing against giants, but when you’re a giant thinking that way, sometimes it leads to people getting stomped on.

“It’s a weird mix of a startup that is trying to be super corporate and a corporation that is trying hard to still be a startup,”

Bezos comes across as being 100% dedicated to Amazon and its customers.  Occasionally this is depicted as being very rough on the people who work with him at Amazon, but the book conveys a sense that it’s not just about making more money for Bezos (although he certainly has), or exercising power, but about improving the company and their customers’ experience, whatever the cost to the people involved.

Certainly, there are many more chapters yet to be written in the Amazon story, but if you’re curious about the man and the company he built, this is the best book on the subject.

Kindle Formatting for Fiction Books

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Giving readers the ability to “lose themselves” in your book has always been a main goal for the people who design and develop the Kindle at Amazon.  Readers should forget about whether they have a paperback, a hardbound book, a Kindle, or a mobile phone in their hands and concentrate on the story you, the author, have written.

Here at LiberWriter, that’s our mission too: ensuring that nothing, including bad formatting, gets in the way of your readers’ experience.  Your book should look good on the Kindle and have all the features that readers expect, such as a working table of contents that allows them to skip around, should they need to.  We also do a thorough cleanup of the book to remove any formatting artifacts left by the program you used while writing your book. MS Word, for one, is notorious for its, well…we like to think of them as “droppings” in the sense that we need to clean up after them!

Fiction books are really where the Kindle shines.  Having grown up with paper books, I’ll admit that, for certain kinds of reference books, I’m still partial to paper, even though I buy more and more on my Kindle just for the expedience factor; having the book within minutes without leaving the house is a huge plus.  Also, books about rapidly changing topics, such as computer programming, quickly become out of date, so it’s better not to clutter up the house with thick books that are no longer relevant.

On the other hand, a novel is the type of book that you sit down and read from start to finish, usually for enjoyment, without flipping back and forth between sections, and this works wonderfully on the Kindle.  I was impressed the first time I realized that I was speeding through a novel as quickly as possible on my Kindle, without any cognizance of what I was reading it on. I was really “lost” in the book, and I began to realize that eBooks were not just a fad or something to use when you have no other option.

The main reason why fiction books work so well on the Kindle, in technical terms, is that they “flow” very well.  The contents do not need to be “just so” in order to read well, the way non-fiction often does. The rule for fiction books is that bad formatting will get in the reader’s way and detract from the story, so it should be avoided at any cost. Anything that isn’t bad is probably ok.

Since most fiction books are fairly straightforward, they do not usually need much work to make them look good.  That’s why we price them at an intermediate price: http://www.liberwriter.com/pricing .  Non-fiction books that are simply essays also fit well in that category. However, once you start to add charts, images, tables, and the rest of the great stuff that goes into many non-fiction books, then we have so much more work to do, so, naturally, they cost more.

Many of our customers ask us how to best prepare their novel for Kindle formatting.  Luckily, the answer is easy: keep it simple!  This is covered in more depth in this post: https://blog.liberwriter.com/2013/11/09/best-practices-in-word-for-kindle-conversion/ .  When all is said and done, as an author, especially as the author of a fiction book, you should concentrate on writing the best book you can and worry about formatting only when the book is finished.