Bezos Gets the Steve Jobs Treatment

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - At some point in a successful company's evolution, its founder appears as a mad genius and its image morphs into that of a rampaging monopolist.

That's the stage of life Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com (AMZN) have reached with the publication of Brad Stone's "The Everything Store," ( available at Amazon, naturally ).

In Stone's account, Bezos get the full Steve Jobs treatment. He never knew his father, he's wildly eccentric and his knowledge gets reduced to aphorisms such as "Life's too short to hang out with people who aren't resourceful," that are meant to explain just about everything.

In fact, Bezos is quite different from Jobs, and Amazon is quite different from Apple. Bezos is methodical and his company is based on networks. Bezos is accessible right down to his e-mail address while Amazon mainly sells other peoples' stuff.

But with the company now worth almost $142 billion despite non-existent margins, and due to blow by last year's $61 billion in sales (it had $53 billion in just the first three quarters and Christmas is the big one) it's as good a time as any to get this over with.

Or is it. Amazon.com is still not quite a giant. In terms of sales it's less than half Apple's (AAPL) size. It's still smaller than Microsoft (MSFT) or Target (TGT) (although it could pass both this year), much smaller than either Costco (COST) or even Kroger (KR) on the top line. Even if it meets its sales goals for this year it will be one-fifth the size of Wal-Mart (WMT).

And this is just a stage, a point defined by journalists, not by the company.

I'm old enough to remember Bill Gates being portrayed as Bill Gatus of Borg , an inhuman force trampling all of computing. I watched Steve Jobs transform from failure to evil genius to legend before my eyes.

It's something the media likes to do, a way to explain the zeitgeist of an era, to take a businessman, along with their creation, into its imagination and use them to explain the times.

It's just Amazon's turn.

All this is coming as Amazon faces major challenges.

  • Having made it in tablets, there's speculation about a phone.
  • Having come to dominate the public cloud, there's speculation about what happens when hybrid cloud becomes the thing.
  • People are asking whether Bezos' purchase of The Washington Post will leave him distracted, or whether he intends to become king of all media.
  • Amazon is being feared as a monopolist and criticized for what's on its shelves.

Then there's Christmas. Every retailer is defined by Christmas. Amazon is no exception. Last Christmas it brought in almost two-thirds of its annual revenue, over $39 billion, during the fourth quarter. Any failure at this point, whether caused by internal factors or external factors like a U.S. default and recession, could turn its 2013 into a disaster.

Bezos and Amazon.Com are as busy as Santa Claus himself right now, doing everything they can to execute the plans they've spent all year making. The new Kindles are out and getting reviewed, new warehouses are stocked and the company's cloud has been scaled to meet both its own and its' clients' demands.

This is the point, in any year, where a retailer is sort of holding its breath, hoping the customers deliver on the plans they've been making. A hagiography making the founder out to be some weirdo is the last thing Jeff Bezos and Amazon.Com need right now, with the fate of the whole year hanging in the balance.

But that's retailing.

At the time of publication, the author owned 100 shares of COST and 80 shares of AAPL.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and a tech reporter since 1982. His specialty has been getting to the future ahead of the crowd, then leaving before success arrived. That meant covering the Internet in 1985, e-commerce in 1994, the Internet of Things in 2005, open source in 2005 and, since 2010, renewable energy. He has written for every medium from newspapers and magazines to Web sites, from books to blogs. He still seeks tomorrow from his Craftsman home in Atlanta.

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