Brad Stone — Amazon Unbound

Amazon Unbound reprend là où The Everything Store s’était arrêté. À l’époque, Amazon était certes la plus grande boutique en ligne du monde occidental, mais rien d’autre qu’une boutique en ligne. Amazon est aujourd’hui une pionnière des interfaces vocales, un opérateur incontournable d’infrastructures numériques, une place de marché de premier plan, et une entreprise passée maitresse dans l’art du moins-disant social.

Working Backwards décrivait l’exploitation systématique des travailleurs du corps et la pressurisation constante des travailleurs de l’esprit. Amazon Unbound montre comment cette institutionnalisation des pires travers du capitalisme a construit le « succès » d’une entreprise véritablement déchainée. Ni les chaines de la morale, ni celles de la régulation, ne retiennent un Jeff Bezos qui n’a plus rien à prouver.

Notes

Le scoop de Brad Stone :

Characteristically secretive, Amazon has never revealed the name of the voice artist behind Alexa. I learned her identity after canvasing the professional voice-over community: Boulder-based singer and voice actress Nina Rolle. Her professional website contained links to old radio ads for products such as Mott’s Apple Juice and the Volkswagen Passat—and the warm timbre of Alexa’s voice was unmistakable. Rolle said she wasn’t allowed to talk to me when I reached her on the phone in February of 2021. And when I asked Amazon to speak with her, they declined.

La corporate America est obsédée par cette idée de Ford :

He was infatuated with new technologies and business lines and loved spitballing ideas and reviewing the team’s progress. And while he was inordinately focused on customer feedback in other parts of Amazon’s business, Bezos did not believe that listening to them could result in dramatic product inventions, evangelizing instead for creative “wandering,” which he believed was the path to dramatic breakthroughs. “The biggest needle movers will be things that customers don’t know to ask for,” he would write years later in a letter to shareholders. “We must invent on their behalf. We have to tap into our own inner imagination about what’s possible.”

Comment tester Alexa sans révéler Alexa :

Amazon contracted with an Australian data collection firm, Appen, and went on the road with Alexa, in disguise. Appen rented homes and apartments, initially in Boston, and then Amazon littered several rooms with all kinds of “decoy” devices: pedestal microphones, Xbox gaming consoles, televisions, and tablets. There were also some twenty Alexa devices planted around the rooms at different heights, each shrouded in an acoustic fabric that hid them from view but allowed sound to pass through. Appen then contracted with a temp agency, and a stream of contract workers filtered through the properties, eight hours a day, six days a week, reading scripts from an iPad with canned lines and open-ended requests like “ask to play your favorite tune” and “ask anything you’d like an assistant to do.”

Jassy comme mini-Bezos :

In many respects, Jassy’s business philosophies were a distillation of Bezos’s. A few years after he joined Amazon from Harvard Business School in 1997, Jassy had narrowly avoided getting fired in an early purge of Amazon’s marketing department. Bezos saved him, dubbing him as “one of our most high potential people,” according to former S-team member Diego Piacentini. For eighteen months, he was Bezos’s first full-time shadow, or technical advisor. This brand-new role entailed the almost slavish following of the CEO, and colleagues gently teased Jassy for it. Jassy totally embodied Amazon values like frugality and humility. He usually wore inexpensive sport coats and loudly trumpeted his enthusiasms for diversions like New York sports teams, buffalo wings, and the Dave Matthews Band. Even as his net worth skyrocketed along with AWS’s value—he received a $35 million stock grant in 2016 alone—he shunned the ostentatious trappings of success, like traveling via private aircraft. He held an annual Super Bowl party in the replica sports bar that he’d fashioned inside the basement of his own Seattle home. Bezos attended every year until 2019, when in another glimpse of dramatic changes ahead, he showed up at the actual game, sitting in the commissioner’s box.

Le « fossé » compétitif :

Bezos also served as a kind of strategic guru for Jassy and his leadership team. As Google and Microsoft awoke to the potential of cloud computing and began investing heavily in their competing initiatives, he urged Jassy to think about ways to protect Amazon’s advantages. “You’ve built this lovely castle, and now all the barbarians are going to come riding on horses to attack the castle,” Bezos said, according to a former AWS exec who reports hearing the comment. “You need a moat; what is the moat around the castle?” (Amazon denied that Bezos said this.)

Le patron de presse :

Marty Baron recalled Bezos defying his expectations at every turn. For example, he assumed that Bezos would want to personalize the Post’s home page for every reader. But Bezos observed that readers came to the paper in part because they trusted the staff’s editorial judgment. Baron said that Bezos “didn’t try to reinvent the paper; he tried to capture what made it special.”

Je ne me souvenais pas qu’Apple avait essayé d’acheter Clarkson :

Bezos and Price’s strategy was validated—and so Price was empowered to take bigger bets and to move faster. He had hired a friend, Conrad Riggs, a former partner of Survivor producer Mark Burnett, to develop reality TV shows for Amazon. On a trip to London in June 2015, Riggs went to a Who concert with Jeremy Clarkson, the former host of BBC’s reality TV show about cars, Top Gear, who had been ousted from the program for verbally and physically attacking a BBC producer. Riggs observed that Clarkson was a bigger star than even the members of the classic rock band. Amazon then outbid Apple and Netflix to sign him and his cohosts to a three-year, $250 million deal to make a similar show, The Grand Tour. It was one of the largest deals in unscripted television history. Riggs recalled that Bezos approved the expenditure via email in “about 15 seconds.”

Ce que finance la cotisation Amazon Prime :

After abandoning a marketing plan to promote the launch by wrapping the entire Empire State Building in gift paper, Amazon introduced Prime Now on December 18, 2014.

Le camion à steaks. Pourquoi pas :

The first, which Bezos proposed in a free-flowing brainstorm session in 2014, started as a notion he called “the steak truck.” Imagined as “an ice cream truck for adults,” the original suggestion was to stock a van or truck with steaks, drive into neighborhoods with lights flashing and horn blaring, and sell them to residents, as Doug Herrington remembered it. It would be convenient and a great deal for customers, since the meat was being sold in bulk. Eventually, the company might even predict demand and eliminate the inefficiencies and wasted food of supermarkets.

Quand le robot domine l’humain :

Over the next few years, Amazon methodically redesigned the Kiva robots and moved Kiva’s software to AWS. Then it introduced the machines into its newer FCs, with profound results. As Clark had hoped, they magnified worker productivity and decreased the rate of growth of Amazon’s seasonal labor needs relative to its sales. They also allowed Amazon to build denser fulfillment centers, with the shelf-toting robots swarming over the ground floor as well as a series of reinforced mezzanines. In a 2014 TV interview, Clark estimated that Amazon was able to get 50 percent more products per square foot into new fulfillment centers than the previous generation. The robots also transformed labor that was physically exhausting, characterized by endless walking, into work that was instead mentally straining, with employees standing in place and monotonously repeating the same movements over and over.

James Bond sans son flingue :

No, advertisers couldn’t make vague claims in their ads. They couldn’t use exclamation points; that would be shouting at the customer. Their colors couldn’t garishly stand out because it might distract shoppers. They couldn’t use images that showed excessive skin. And on and on. Advertisers accustomed to getting rich sets of demographic data about customers from Silicon Valley firms were also rebuffed. No, advertisers couldn’t access Amazon data about its customers’ age, ethnicity, and shopping habits. No, Amazon wouldn’t allow companies like Adobe and Acxiom to put their third-party software tags onto ads and track their performance, a common practice elsewhere on the web. Advertisers would have to settle for getting reports about their ads’ effectiveness directly from Amazon. Inside the advertising group, a few of these battles became notorious. Over one holiday, Paul Kotas vetoed the particular hue of blue in ads by the Ford Motor Company, because the display campaign felt “Sunday circular.” Amazon also told the wireless carrier T-Mobile that its trademarked magenta-pink logo was too bright and distracting. And it informed Sony Pictures that a banner for the James Bond film Skyfall violated the policy on showing weapons. The studio “was like, ‘screw you!’ ” an Amazon ad executive recalls. “Who is James Bond in silhouette without a gun? Literally, he’s just a random dude.”

Être CEO n’est plus aussi amusant :

Bezos had another reason to elevate himself out of the top role: being Amazon CEO was about to get a lot less fun. There were complicated, maturing businesses to oversee, like the Amazon Marketplace, with its bevy of dissatisfied merchants who consistently complained of fraud and unfair competition; and the Amazon fulfillment network, with more than a million blue-collar workers, a vocal portion of them agitating for higher pay and better working conditions. Those parties tended to train their ire on Amazon’s top executive and to hold him personally responsible for problems. Related regulatory challenges also loomed in Washington and Brussels. With Jassy, fifty-three, Bezos was anointing a disciplined leader he had meticulously trained in his unusual way of managing, who performed well in the spotlight and presented a somewhat humbler target for Amazon’s political opponents. His former technical advisor had amply proven himself by building and running the most profitable part of Amazon, and had the bandwidth for an increasingly engrossing job.