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Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut Paperback – Nov 1 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
With Amazon.com 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.
*Starred Review* Marcus, an accomplished writer of magazine articles and five books, was hired in 1996 as a senior editor at Amazon.com, 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.
Top Customer Reviews
In spite of the high tech world in which amazon.com 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 amazon.com'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 amazon.com 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.Read more ›
The first half of Amazonia is fast and fun. James Marcus gets his first "real" job as Amazon.com 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, Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com bore.
Marcus describes the giddiness of the early Amazon.com 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.
Most recent customer reviews
There are "editors" at Amazon today, but what they mostly do is censor reviews by Amazon.com customers. Read morePublished on July 19 2004 by Dennis Littrell
..And there are moments of serious thought here too! After Mr. Marcus flies from Portland to Seattle for his first interview, he is asked his thoughts about possibly working 60... Read morePublished on July 1 2004 by Hans Castorp
James Marcus's Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.com Juggernaut is a surprisingly quick and absorbing account of the author's five-year stint as an editor at... Read morePublished on June 27 2004 by Debra Hamel
A long time since I read *any* book at a single sitting, let alone 262pp of non-fiction when I could least afford to be propping eyes open at 4am. Read morePublished on June 26 2004 by Chris Holmes
It was the editorial content of Amazon.com in the late 1990s that originally drew me to the site. It was literate, it was cool. I badly wanted a job there. Read morePublished on June 25 2004 by C. Ebeling
The story of Amazon.com has been all too well covered, by insiders and outsiders alike. What Marcus gives us is an actual piece of stylish writing, a series of essays, really, on... Read morePublished on June 23 2004
I devoured "Amazonia" in one sitting. James has a gift for words and is a master at pacing. Read morePublished on June 17 2004 by Amazon Customer
Marcus writes honestly about what it was like for him to be an early employee at Amazon. It's not a definitive history of the company, and it doesn't claim to be. Read morePublished on June 14 2004 by David desJardins
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