I guess it really depends on how much you already know about Jeff Bezos and the history of Amazon - that will probably determine whether you enjoy the book, IMHO. I knew very little, so I got a good, quick oversight into Jeff Bezos as a businessman, and into Amazon's early days. It discusses his strengths and questions his weaknesses as a business leader quite extensively. The traits that made him successful are probably his acute decision making abilities (why he chose books instead of CDs at first, why Seattle over CA, etc), long-term perspective, and a unique ability to execute decisions to precision.
Both sides of Amazon's book business - customers who want lower prices, and publishers who want to keep authors in business, are discussed at length. Amazon may have been portrayed, willingly or unwillingly, in a poor light here. I think Amazon is doing what is right by their customers and what any business would do in order to keep a competitive edge in the marketplace. It's a free market economy and any company is welcome to step in and help publishers get a higher price if they are able to do so - Amazon is not stopping them. There are two sides to the debate, both sides with their own merits, but I think the author spends more time on Amazon's ruthless negotiations with publication houses.
While there is lengthy discussion about the early days of Amazon, the ongoing battles with publishers, and Blue Origin, not much has been discussed about the current market Amazon is operating in and its projected path forward. Cloud computing, for example, is discussed only fleetingly.
The book reveals nothing new in itself, except maybe the early years of Bezos that I wasn't familiar with. If you're reading about the history of Amazon for the first time or know little about the subject, this book is probably a great starting point because it puts together bits and pieces of information that are fragmented all over the internet. However, the book seems to lack thoughtful analysis or insight into the company that would blow readers away. It's cut and dry from that perspective. Reading it on the Kindle, I didn't keep track of when the book would end, but when I realized that it had ended, I was puzzled, it felt incomplete. Sort of like eating an appetizer and realizing that that is it, there is no main course on the way.
on January 7, 2012
I worked at Amazon for several years and have quite a lot of respect for the company and Bezos. This book doesn't do either justice. It's a tiny, large-margin book that has hardly anything you couldn't find by looking over a handful of shallow old Time magazine articles. Only a few people are interviewed, and hardly any information is given about what it's really like being in the company. The first thing I did when I got the book was to look in the index for the names of influential people I knew. Almost none of them was mentioned. Instead, the book quotes a couple early contributors repeatedly and then rehashes well-known stories. Even the quotes from the couple people I mentioned are so lacking in insight that I wonder whether they come from quickly written e-mails responses instead of face-to-face interviews. This reads to me like something rattled off in a week with hardly any research. I want to compare it to 'In the Plex' which is a terrific book about Google. The author of that book spent a huge amount of time in the company, had access to numerous important past and present employees, and gave you a great sense for Google's history and what it's like to work there. 'One Click' is a lazily written book that offers no insights, no new information, and pretty bad writing. I hope someone does a better job with this story someday.
on October 29, 2011
This book came recommended along side Isaacson's Steve Jobs. This is NOT, by any means, a biography, or ANYWHERE CLOSE to the level of insight Isaacson puts in to his book. The only reason this book receives 2 stars, and not 1, is that it does not claim to be a bio.
It is, at best, a high level overview of 'stuff' around the growth of Amazon.com. It jumps back and forth, and doesn't provide any in-depth analysis or research. In addition, it seems that the book is based completely on secondary research. It doesn't appear that any more than a handful of people directly participated in any form of primary research for the book, and pretty much all the quotes by Bezos were from the public domain.
If the author was talking about the "rise of Amazon.com", a more 'timeline'-based approach would have been good to have. The book jumps around a fair bit, and really doesn't get into anything in any level of detail.
To sum this book - "Bezos is ambitious. He started with books. He made a loss. The markets crashed. He focused on profits. He got into other areas. He invested in technology. He's a geek. His quarterly earnings are as follows (some basic numbers), he loves space travel." That's pretty much it, IMO. Since I got it from the Kindle Store, I cannot even resell it...
'One Click' provides background on Amazon's early history; unfortunately, it is not nearly complete enough to qualify as a 'good history.'
Jeff Bezos was a good student in high school, and graduated from Princeton with majors in electrical engineering and computer science. When selecting a business to start he considered books ($19 billion wold in 1994, vs. only $7 billion in software, of which $2 billion was from Microsoft - a company that probably wouldn't allow much profits. Barnes and Nobles, and Borders held 25% of the book business - their stores held a maximum of 175,000 titles. Small bookstores held 21% of the market, and the rest were sold by supermarkets, etc. There are two major book distributors, each with warehouses holding about 400,000 titles.
Bezos liked the name 'Amazon' - is early in the alphabet, easy to spell, and represented a mighty river. He began with less than $200,000 - mostly funds from his relatives. He chose Oracle's database management system, along with free UNIX and AT&T's data-base-management software. His general strategy was to be conservative in estimating shipping dates so as to not disappoint. It took about a year to create a web site; Amazon launched 7/95, and started with about 6 orders/day. Fortunately, neither Barnes and Noble nor Borders had web sites at the time. By October, volume was up to 100 sales/day, and in less than a year, 100/hour. It's 1997 IPO was valued at $429 million. (It now is about $82 billion.)
Early Amazon customer service representatives were given options for 100 shares after three years. The best could answer 12 emails/minute, those dropping below 7 were often fired. Prior to this they took a three-week course to learn how everything worked. My guess is that very few, if any, lasted the three years. Another 'factoid' - in 1998, Amazon charged publishers $10,000 to feature books on its home page under headings such as 'New and Notable.' It's '1-Click Ordering' makes it easy for customers to buy (I've also found that it automatically selects an extra cost delivery option - one has to be wary.) Regardless, the '1-click' is patented, much to the chagrin of many who don't believe a process should be patentable.
Negative product reviews are allowed - they provide credibility for reviews in general. Other site features include 'Look Inside the Book,' and 'Search Inside the Book.'
Amazon spent $600 million on advertising in 2009. Book distributors have tried cutting Amazon (middleman) out, but failed because it already had strong presence in the market. The average bookstore has 2.7 inventory turns/year, vs. 24 for Amazon in 1998. (It fell to 2.9 in early 2000, and reportedly is now back to about 18X.) One of the book distributors tried buying Barnes and Noble - failed.
Bezos hired a number of WalMart distribution managers, and WalMart sued. Bezos defended his actions by citing book accounts of Sam Walton himself pirating employees much earlier. Bezos emphasized building market share instead of profits in its early years. Added CDs in 1998, and also went international. In 1999 lost $720 million, and another $1.4 billion in 2000. Layoffs. Kindle came in 2007. Now Amazon is pursuing cloud computing as a sideline business - renting out spare computer capacity.
Recent Amazon earnings are minimal, and it trades at a 95X P/E ratio (78X estimated). Even at a 'normalized' profit of $1 billion/year, its profits are unimpressive - about 6% ROA. 'One-Click' provides no insights on why.
on October 23, 2013
While I did find this book educational (at the lowest form of the word mind you), I can't say I found it very insightful. Most of the facts and anecdotes seem to be pulled from public sources like Wikipedia and YouTube with little to no additions by the author. Talented biographers such as Walter Isaacson inject at least some level of commentary into the facts and unfortunately that is absent here. On top of this, the prose is written in a lazy and somewhat amateurish style.
Bottom line: You can skip this book and do a few simple Google searches and learn the same exact things.
on September 30, 2013
I can't help but compare this book to the Steve Jobs biography by Issacson. Yes, I know that is a major tome, and this a slight book by comparison, but the writing and story-telling are both oddly flat. It was almost boring, and somehow I doubt Mr. Bezos is boring. Driven, maybe. A bit one-note, maybe. But probably much more animated than this book.
on August 11, 2012
The best way I can describe One Click is that it reads like a long Wikipedia entry. It summarizes the plot points of Amazon's history, but it doesn't provide any non-obvious insights into how the company achieved its spectacular growth. If you were to spend an hour or two Google-ing Amazon's history, you could cover most of the information provided in this book (often times it feels like the author did just that himself). Overall, the book is a good plot summary, but any potential readers looking for depth should look elsewhere.
I love Amazon, so I was curious to find out more about its inner workings and eagerly picked up this book as soon as I saw it on the shelf at the library. And it did provide some interesting information about who Jeff Bezos is and how Amazon got started. The thing to note, though, is that this is a business book. The author is described as "a former correspondent for BusinessWeek", and the focus is on Amazon as a business. That means there's lots of discussion about issues like how to fund a start-up, when to focus on growth and when to focus on profit, and how market analysts responded to Amazon over the years. These discussions were sometimes interesting and enlightening--I certainly know more about starting a business now than I did before reading the book--but I felt like they didn't really get at the core of what makes Amazon Amazon. I would have liked to see more about the impact that Amazon has had on the consumer and on the world, not just how it succeeded as a business. The obligatory chapters were there, like the one about the Kindle, but they didn't offer any real insights, or even the level of depth that I'd expect to find on a random blog. For example, Brandt refers to the fight over the agency model of ebook pricing, saying that "publishers are demanding that they set the retail price of the ebooks". Yes. He then goes on to say that "retailers can then offer discounts if they want, but they have to take it out of their 30%." No. This is completely wrong and misses the point entirely. The agency model does not allow retailers to charge a different price and absorb any losses themselves.
I almost put the book down right then, because what's the point of reading a book about a bookstore written by a guy who has no idea what's going on in the publishing industry? (I know, Amazon is much more than a bookstore these days, but I think the point still stands.) Since I had only 40 pages left, though, I decided to continue, but in a much sourer and more skeptical frame of mind. By the end, I was just glad that it was done.
This is not a comprehensive biography such as the one of Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson. Rather, it is an extended profile in which Richard Brandt provides a wealth of biographical information relevant to what its subtitle correctly indicates: "Jeff Bezos and the rise of Amazon.com." As for the title, it refers to patented software system (I-ware) written mostly by Paul Hartman, a programmer who joined Amazon in 1997. Bezos was determined that customers would have "something to make the ordering system frictionless...They should be able to click on one thing, and it's done." Therein lies one of the keys to the great success Amazon continues to achieve. As Brandt explains, "Jeff Bezos will do anything he can think of to make the process of using Amazon.com easier."
In this 191-page book (plus 10 pages of annotated notes), Brandt demonstrates the genius of selection and concision previously on display in his extended profile of the "Google Boys" in Inside Larry & Sergey's Brain. Most readers will learn as much as they want to know - and probably need to know - about how and why Amazon.com was first envisioned and then created by a remarkable entrepreneur whose stepfather fled from Cuba after Castro seized control, who spent much of his childhood on a ranch in Texas (fixing tractors and castrating cattle was "what I considered to be an idyllic childhood") and graduated from Princeton, who once hoped to become an astronaut, and who left a lucrative position and promising career in D.E. Shaw, "the most technologically sophisticated" firm on Wall Street, according to Fortune magazine at that time) and relocated to Seattle in 1994 with his wife MacKenzie, determined to start a company that sold books online.
Brandt creates a context for each of the key decisions that Bezos made, enriching the narrative with a wealth of comments of those who were personal friends or business associates with him at one tine or another. What I find especially interesting, indeed remarkable, is the fact that neither Bezos' personality nor his values seem to have changed very much since his childhood years. Brandt observes, "Jeff was born with a mind capable of tenacious focus." For example, at age three after his request to sleep in a "real bed" was denied, he dismantled his crib with a screwdriver. He graduated from Princeton Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering after acknowledging, "One of the great things Princeton taught me is that I'm not smart enough to be a physicist." Actually, he was but probably not smart enough to produce work worthy of a Nobel laureate.
Most of the 17 chapters are devoted to a rigorous examination of what happened after Bezos arrived in Seattle with "the self-confidence of Muhammad Ali, the enthusiasm of John Kennedy, and the brains of Thomas Edison." Brandt provides a riveting account of a business success story, with Bezos obviously playing the lead role. That is how he built the company. In fact, that is how he achieved each of his prior successes. And that is how he will proceed with another project, "Blue Origin," that involves what Bezos describes as "establishing an enduring human presence in space." Once again, the Bezos business philosophy is operative: (1) obsess over customers, (2) invent and then reinvent tenaciously, (3) focus on the long term, and (4) "It's always Day One." (I selected Amazon's slogan for the title of this review.) Bezos will always strive to reach the stars and Brandt believes that someday "he may just get there." I like the odds.
on January 21, 2012
As other reviewers have indicated this book is very shallow with no new insights. For even the casual reader of The Wall Street Journal, any national business magazine, or any form of media that reports on Bezos or Amazon, the stories and examples covered in this book would be familiar. This is not an informed insider's account and I did not get the impression that the author had any interaction with the people in the book, including Bezos himself. This is simply a book that has been put together from various common knowledge stories.
The writing throughout was overly simplistic and at times downright bad, i.e. from page 149..."Borders Group, Inc., the second largest bookstore chain, is suffering like a CEO with swine flu." I don't even understand the premise of this statement? Companies apparently live and die by the actual health of their top executive? It is a ridiculous analogy, a sophomoric simile that ends up being an insult to the challenges that any of the big box book stores were going through as the industry they had once mastered changed before they could even understand what was happening. At the end of the day, I guarantee the CEO of Borders only wished he had contracted the swine flu...I am sure that is far less painful than filing for bankruptcy and laying off thousands of hard working employees across the country.
This book's usefullness is limited to being source material for a high school business class essay and not much more.