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Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut Paperback – Nov 1 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: New Press; New edition edition (Nov. 1 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595580247
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595580245
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 21 x 14 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,124,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

With firmly established as one of the leaders in e-commerce, it is easy to forget the company's early roots as a struggling online bookstore. Marcus, who was employee 55 and one of Amazon's first editors, provides a captivating, witty account of how the fledgling e-retailer transformed itself from a startup that generated $16 million in sales in 1996 to a behemoth with revenue of $5.3 billion in 2003. The early days of Amazon, Marcus recounts, were full of a do-it-yourself attitude, with everyone at the company encouraged to try different ways to drive customers to the site. In Marcus's case, it was writing and assigning reviews, the content designed to make people decide what to buy. But although Amazon founder Jeff Bezos began as a firm believer in the power of content, his philosophy gradually changed to what Marcus calls the "culture of metrics," in which everything connected to the site could be measured. And as Amazon added more and more products, the importance of content slipped away. It's clear Marcus's most satisfying time at Amazon was in the early years, even if that meant picking and packing books during the holiday rush. There is even a bit of nostalgia in his tone, which people in the book industry can especially appreciate: once upon a time there was a company whose employees scrambled to sell books over this new thing called the Internet. Today the company has become a software and retailing machine dedicated to selling as many widgets as efficiently as possible.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Marcus, an accomplished writer of magazine articles and five books, was hired in 1996 as a senior editor at, which was just being recognized as the first Internet bookstore. The company hadn't even gone public yet, and no one had any idea that Amazon would become the poster child for the Internet stock frenzy, but the excitement was already palpable among the young, casually dressed workforce. Marcus began by cranking out thousands of online book reviews, and before long he was doing online author interviews and managing the content of the home page. He spent five years at the company, during which time his stock options made him a paper millionaire, only to watch in anguish as most of it evaporated before his eyes. Marcus tells his story with wit and candor, revealing what it was really like to live in the New Paradigm, where you "monetized eyeballs" and "leveraged your verbiage" to reach an "inflection point" (make money). Although the company survived both the NASDAQ crash and 9/11, the journey was not without loss of artistic freedom: the home page, no longer shaped by human talent, is now simply programmed to display content based on the user's buying habits. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For somebody working in the Internet industry for a long time it is great to read about how a company like Amazon developed itself. Not from a pure marketing or financial perspective, but from a people and organizational perspective. Anyone interested in finding out how it was or would have been to go through the growth stages of an Internet start up that executed on a vision and succeeded with that, this is a great book. It is easy to read, not too long or too short. With the departure of the author from Amazon in the early 2000's you wonder how life in Amazon has changed since then. But anybody familiar with the rollercoaster ride of the late nineties will attest that that surely was the most interesting period. Go read!
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Format: Hardcover
'amazonia' by former senior editor James Marcus is a memoir of that company's fifty-fifth employee, hired just a few months after the company moved from founder Jeff Bezos' garage in Seattle, the home of tech giant Microsoft and the fast becoming mythical Bill Gates.
In spite of the high tech world in which moved, it's operation, at least from what the reader can glean from these pages, was remarkably low-tech, and this may be a source of disappointment to some readers of this book, which is much, much more of a personal memoir than it is a chronicle of the company and its times. It is also done from the perspective of a non-technical literary editor who, in 1996, was not conversant with the few tech totems encountered in the book such as HTML and UNIX.
One of the very few insights into's technology was given when, in that same year, early in his employment, Marcus had to rotate the content of the site, thereby bringing the current internet content off-line and bringing an updated copy of the site content on line. By 1996, this technique is incredibly primitive, and the fact that it is being done by a copy editor signals an utterly 'fly by the seat of your pants' operation. It is an expected relief to a frequent user and customer to have the author say that times changed and the company Information Technology staff soon would not let a copy editor within two solid doors of a terminal capable of doing this task. Even so, this is pretty tame stuff. In 1996, working in Information Technology for a pharmaceutical company, we were doing database based content which was more sophisticated than this, and our business was drugs, not Internet content.
But, this is all a symptom of the fact that this book is not about technology.
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Format: Hardcover
There was no way I was not going to read Amazonia. I love memoirs, I love, and a story about a book reviewer who gets rich reviewing books for Amazon, well that sounds just fine to me.
The first half of Amazonia is fast and fun. James Marcus gets his first "real" job as is taking off, when it is still an upstart company staffed by enthusiastic and smart people (Jeff Bezos asked all potential employees what their SAT scores were). He is hired as an editor, but finds he spends a lot of time working on web pages and packing books. It's okay though, because everyone has a stake in the company's success.
By the second half of the book, has become a grownup company where everyone speaks in management cliches and tries not to brag about all the cool stuff they are buying now that they are fabulously rich. Marcus spends all of his time at work or with people from work and his marriage is on the rocks. No wonder. He has become an bore.
Marcus describes the giddiness of the early years well, as the young employees throw themselves into a project that is as likely to go belly up as it is to make them millions. It's a huge gamble and you want them to succeed as much as they do themselves.
Marcus, a great fan of literature, goes off on egghead-y tangents from time to time. If you are not a modern literature geek, then these parts are easily skipped. He also gets rather involved in the technical aspects of the web site a bit more than seems entirely necessary.
Amazonia brings to mind David Denby's recent American Sucker, but Marcus avoids the worst of Denby's wallowing in self-pity, and doesn't dwell on his foundering marriage and only hints at an affair with an Amazon colleague.
Amazonia is a fun book for people who like rags-to-riches stories, especially those who dream of making their fortunes at something as unlikely as book reviewing.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a gripping nonfiction account of the author's tenure at Amazon between 1996 and 2001 as Employee #55. Unlike other works that cover similar territory, Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim's 2001 film and Mike Daisey's 21 Dog Years (the one man show), the protagonist and author, James Marcus comes across as a thoughtful, likable person. As a Senior Editor, Marcus reviewed and championed obscure and overlooked books and authors. The list of works he recommends is worth the price of the book. After finishing the book, I regretted that Amazon has stopped thinking of itself as a bookstore and scotched much of the editorial content Marcus was responsible for. One quibble with the author-he never questions his own credentials as a reviewer, while admitting to the fact that few of his reviews were pans. When measured on the barometer of critical independence, the Amazon customer reviewers that he dismisses are at times more worthy than Amazon's editorial reviews. This Amazon customer does not simply want recommendations from reviews but seeks criticism as well.
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