Jeff Bezos’s unveiling of Amazon’s drone delivery program last night has created tons of social media buzz, exactly as he intended, I’m sure. And this is justified. I think drones are awesome, and make tons of sense for tons of purposes in the future, including delivery. What I do think is totally unlikely, however, is that Amazon will have hordes of drones making deliveries by 2015 as Bezos sort-of suggested. One or two accidents where drones fall out of the sky and hit a baby and the FAA and other regulatory orgs will choke it. So…I think it was a bit misleading to go on TV and create this sensational conversation about how Amazon is about to do this at scale. And it’s especially suspect that Bezos did this on 60 minutes, a show that mainly old people watch and which might influence their retirement investment decisions.
This fits into a larger critique of Amazon that I have, which is that this is a shareholder-financed monopoly that shouldn’t be permitted to become the only store in the World. I say this as someone who spends more money with Amazon than any other retailer, and as someone who LOVES Amazon’s customer experience.
I try to put myself as a citizen before myself as a consumer, though, and while I believe that Amazon provides amazing benefits to consumers, I don’t believe that what they’re becoming is ultimately good for society. It is exactly like Wal Mart in this respect. They come into a town, slash all prices 30%, but nobody has jobs anymore! At the least, there should be 3-4 behemoths in this space as there are in the wireless telco business (a beacon of great customer service itself!).
Anyone should be able to compete with anyone in an open economy, but when shareholders throw infinite money at an infinite valuation, and this then permits Amazon to UNFAIRLY dominate all sorts of sectors, I believe that’s anti-competitive. Just think about this: why would anyone start an online retailer of ANYTHING these days? I certainly wouldn’t, because if you have a product that is anything other than a highly brand-differentiated good with tightly controlled distribution, Amazon will eat you!
They are accumulating total price control over large markets, and are vertically integrating the supply chain in a way that makes it impossible for others to compete. This is especially worrisome when it comes to art, ideas, and other media. Centralized power has never been a good thing for culture.
I don’t blame Bezos for this; it is the natural tendency of any aggressive actor, but the government should not allow it. And all of us young, creative, technologically-literate thinkers should not worship Bezos and Amazon for their power and ingenuity in a vacuum, without considering what their business model means for everyday people, inequality, and the health of our communities!