Back in October, when the bestselling book about Amazon, “The Everything Store,” was first published, I talked about Jeff Bezos with Michael Maccoby, a psychoanalyst who writes about business executives and teaches leadership at Oxford’s Saïd Business School. His impression of Bezos, he told me, was that Bezos needed a strong right-hand man, something that Bezos – unlike Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others – hasn’t seemingly had or wanted. Maccoby then veered into what sounded slightly absurd to me at the time, even if it made for provocative copy; he compared Bezos to Napoleon.
In recent weeks, the analogy has begun to seem a little less outlandish.
As I noted in my interview with Maccoby, both Bezos and Napoleon enjoyed success at a young age, both rejected the established wisdom, and both took on seemingly invincible enemies and defeated them.
Napoleon also pushed his luck eventually, ignoring repeated advice not to invade Russia. And however stretched, it’s hard not to see some comparisons to Amazon’s recent assault on suppliers that have fallen out of the company’s favor. Yesterday, it was Warner Home Video, whose popular movies Amazon is refusing to pre-sell or market, much to the chagrin of its customers.
Two weeks ago, it was the German publishing company Bonnier Media Group, the delivery of whose books Amazon has slowed dramatically because Bonnier seemingly refuses to give Amazon a bigger cut of the earnings of its electronic books.
Meanwhile, the publishing house Hachette and Amazon have been at odds for months, reportedly over deep discounts on Hachette’s electronic books that Amazon wants to impose. While publishers are rooting for Hachette’s CEO, no one is expecting a quick fix, and Hachette, its authors, and consumers are being made to suffer in the meantime. Said one author to CNN Money this week, “I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back by a company I supported.”
Are its tactics going to stir up a tsunami of congressional subcommittees and political investigations and give ammunition to Walmart and Target, which sorely want to take back the ground that Amazon has stolen from them? Will they embolden Alibaba, which just opened its first online storefront for U.S. customers? We don’t know yet, but what’s worse, it doesn’t seem like anyone at Amazon is asking these questions.
Back in October, Maccoby noted that “Napoleon was very successful as long as he had Talleyrand as his foreign minister.” When he lost Talleyrand, he spun out of control. “The danger with someone like Bezos is the same danger that Napoleon had,” Maccoby had added. Without enough pushback, “you can go too far.”
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