PBS’ Frontline shines a spotlight on one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in the world. “Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos” looks at the man and his empire.
Think back on the old days, or what some people refer to as the good old days. Remember when you could go to Borders and spend the afternoon browsing through books while drinking a latte? There were many bookstores, but today the only major store is Barnes and Noble, and they are few and far between.
And remember when you could go to different stores in search of different products? There were kitchen stores, art stores and others. Today, while there are still some of those in existence, people can browse just about any item on their computer in one location – Amazon. Some folks say this is a step in the right direction while others think it is going too far. Whatever your thoughts, it is Jeff Bezos who is calling the shots and directing our lives.
The producer, James Jacoby, “The Atlantic” staff writer Franklin Foer, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Stacy Mitchell, and executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath recently met with the media to discuss this documentary.
“I think that we've all been really accustomed now to this convenience,” said Jacoby. “And I think many of us are actually Prime members.”
He added, “But I do think that taking stock of where the empire is now is really our focus. A lot of people really don't understand the infrastructure that he's building -- both the delivery infrastructure that is there to deliver these goods and services but also cloud computing. Estimates of 40 percent of all computing in the cloud happens on Amazon web services. PBS, for instance, is housed on Amazon web services.”
“So it's a company that began as a bookstore, then became the everything store, and now has become the everything company,” added Foer. “It's become such an unthinking habit in all of our lives. When we have the itch to consume, the first place we kind of unthinkingly go is to Amazon. And that comfort that we have with Amazon has allowed us to keep inviting Amazon further and further into our homes, whether it's digging a speaker (Alexa) that's listening to us all the time in our kitchen or bedroom or whether it's having their cameras on our doorpost. And I think the essential question that the film is raising is the question that's going to hold up over time, which is the question of power.”
And power is at the center of Amazon. Whether it’s the power of purchasing or the power of surveilling, Amazon is at the core of our lives.
According to Mitchell, “And what that means is Amazon has this godlike view of everything that is happening. It can spy on not only us as consumers but all of these businesses, all of its competitors, all of its suppliers, and it can strategically pick off parts of the business it wants itself and then it can levy essentially a kind of a toll or a tax on all the other players. And so it's a fundamentally different kind of monopoly problem than, say, Walmart's power and is one I think we've really got to face up to from the perspective of citizens.”
At the center of the Amazon empire if Bezos. He’s rich and powerful. How did he rise to this level?
“We kind of trace him from the mid-'90s to the present,” Jacoby said. “You certainly do see kind of a physical transformation, and you also do see his cultivation of this very goofy, affable image very early on. And some of his early employees talk to us about how that belied a sort of Napoleonic ambition. So I think that the contrast between what early Amazon employees are saying as you're watching footage of Jeff kind of really acting like a brilliant goofball, but really running a ruthless enterprise inside (and) that contrast is really strong.”
There is no doubt technology is changing our lives very rapidly. There have been tech booms and busts. What is the future of Amazon and Jeff Bezos? Time will tell.
“Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos” premieres on PBS on Tuesday.