We are gathered here today to pour out a 40 in honor of our fallen Amazon dogs, and as we do so, I'd just like

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The Amazon column

We are gathered here today to pour out a 40 in honor of our fallen Amazon dogs, and as we do so, I'd just like to say something wistful and heartfelt:

Jeff Bezos and company, you never should have gotten out of the business of shipping rectangular things.

Let me say, because I'm thinking this is the right time and the last time I will have occasion to do so, that a lot of us wanted Amazon to succeed. Yes, even me: I can name any number of occasions and professional gatherings over the years at which I cheered Amazon as the hometown (meaning Net-born-and-bred, not Seattle) team. I remember an Internet World panel on which I insisted loudly that Amazon was going to beat the socks off Barnes & Noble because Amazon "got" the Net better and was just generally good enough to beat the B&N name brand. I was right about that, in the main, yet it doesn't mean I'm still not going to owe a couple of panelists a seriously expensive dinner when the end comes—not that this is the end, but these guys will circle for ages if they think there's a chance I'm finally going to have to pay up.

Of course, those were different times. Back in the day, you guys were all about books and music and videotapes—flat rectangles that stock and ship neatly. And Amazon as a company was making all the right moves: Positive about their future, the company was a joy for journalists to cover, and rank-and-file staffers were firm believers in both Jeff B. and the celebrated "work hard, have fun, make history" motto. There were concerns (and I wasn't alone in raising them) that Amazon could eventually harm the narrow-margin world of independent bookselling, but smacking B&N around was a good and worthy goal— and I supported you.

But cars? Pet supplies? Prescription drugs? Getting into the person-to-person auction space, where eBay rules like a mad monarch? You inhaled deeply from the first-to-market hookah, and using the communal love the Net expressed for the Amazon brand, you went whirling off in all directions. You spread yourselves far too thin, and here we are.

Other things changed too. You're not so much fun to cover these days (though I've had a lovely time covering you anyway). Like eBay, you got remarkably paranoid about press scrutiny. Unfortunately, you needed the press more than eBay did—they've got their own problems (their rickety, jerry-built infrastructure comes to mind), but profitability hasn't been one of the big ones. Being an actual shopkeeper is much harder than offering a space for even the world's largest flea market.

Which brings us to one of your great strengths: customer service. In a better, fairer world, the people who advised you to stop selling just rectangular things would be on the pavement, and the good and dedicated folk who have staffed your customer service lines would still have their jobs. I've talked to a number of them over the years, and none of them have ever been less than enthusiastic about the concept and the company as a whole (if not the way some aspects of Amazon were going).

Management couldn't see that, though. The attempt to unionize seems to have finally upset the applecart. Say what you will about the cost of doing business in Seattle (and who chose to move here from the East Coast, Jeff B.?) and about how the unionization effort wasn't a factor in your decision; offering to move people to North Bufu and East Bufu—far from the reach of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers—(not to mention last summer's move to export some customer-service duties clear to India) makes more than just WashTech wonder.

And then there's the attempted press gag. Agree not to talk to anyone about what happened here, you told your unemployed-in-a-potential-recession throng, and we'll kick you some money down the line. A company founded on the success of the First Amendment tries bribing people to not speak? If there were room for irony in all this sadness and anger, there you'd have it. You rescinded it, yes, but it's the thought that counts. You really don't trust or like your ex-employees to suggest a thing like that.

The dream is over. There's a suspicion that you know it too, that the massive cuts are in preparation for a sweet buyout offer from a Wal-Mart or an AOL Time Warner. More than this, though, the dot-com dream of work hard, have fun, and make—if not history—a reasonable success of a company you can believe in, has ended. We are gathered here today to bury not just 1,300-plus jobs but the idea of dot-com company loyalty. I don't expect to see you at the wake.

agunn@seattleweekly.com

For more on dot-com deaths at Amazon, see Aging Amazon.

 
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