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"Mum says that when I was I was two years old, I was disassembling my crib with a screwdriver," says Amazon's Jeff Bezos. "I didn't want to sleep in it any more, I wanted to sleep in the bed. I also built alarm systems to entrap my siblings." Even as a child Bezos – the son of an engineer, Cuban immigrant Miguel Bezos – was fascinated by how things work. Bezos went on to study electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton. "My parents had high standards for us. They were supportive of my passions," he says.

On graduating, Bezos created computer systems on Wall Street. He was working for a hedge fund in 1994, when he began exploring the idea of starting a dotcom business – and looked for an area where there was money to be made. "Web usage was growing at an incredible rate in 1994. It was clear that anything growing that fast was going to be big very shortly.

 
 
 
 

Two years later, we added CDs. Then we kept adding categories. He credits his decision to start the company to the support of his family.

"Taking that leap to start a company – it's nice to know you're supported, no matter what," he says "It was a big factor. These risks are not as big as they seem. When I started Amazon, I thought, ‘Am I going to regret it? If I look back on it when I'm 80, at least I'll think, I'm glad I tried it even if I failed.'" The book retailer initially operated from his parents' garage. Amazon didn't turn a profit until long after the crash of 1999 – "Bubbles are much easier to see in retrospect," says Bezos – and Amazon was pronounced doomed many times, having acquired several dotcom ventures that collapsed spectacularly. But it's Bezos' transformation of Amazon from retail giant into technology leader that has thrust him back into the spotlight.

Since launching its first Kindle e-book reader in 2007, Amazon has seen sales of ebooks overtake paperbacks and hardbacks combined. British readers have bought 114 e-books for every 100 paper-and-ink books sold via its store in 2012. Bezos, though, believes that in at least one way, the online market he pioneered may be about to "peak".

"A tablet computer these days can pretty much do everything," he says, "Films that look like cinema, music, console-quality games. We're not exactly hitting a plateau yet – but service can be the crucial thing that differentiates you more than anything." Bezos says that while record labels and publishers complain about Amazon muscling in, consumers don't. "Books shouldn't cost £12.99," he says, "That momentous change when the price of a CD fell from £15 to the proper price – £5, it was a huge crash for the music industry. It wasn't a crash for consumers. I guess not many people felt that sorry for musicians as musicians have historically been very rich." Bezos says that he could imagine a time when devices such as Kindle are free – and revenue comes from selling or renting books and films. The differences between one tablet and another will become irrelevant – "service " will be what counts. Hence the fact that new Kindles can summon a live video link to tech support, 24 hours a day. "In the end, the battle will come down to low price," he says. Bezos shrugs off criticism about Amazon paying little tax in the UK, despite employing large numbers of people here and ringing up £7bn in sales in 2012. "You'll have to ask my accountant," he says. "I can understand why people are angry about Amazon not paying corporation tax, but we are huge investors in this country in terms of employment. I focus on services and products – there are taxes to be paid, and we stick within the law. It's wrong to think of us as evil." Bezos is also unrepentant about industries his digital ventures have assaulted, such as paper-and-ink books.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"Like millions of other people, I retain a fondness for books: anything you grow up with and have childhood memories of, you're going to have a special place for. But you can't stop change. More people are getting a chance to become authors now – four out of ten of our top sellers on Kindle are self-published. I'm reading a yoga murder mystery myself – it's quite good.

"The technology is changing, too. Books with video and music are happening, but they won't displace narrative. Narrative – a novel, or a biography – works well. No matter what the next Kindle can do, Hemingway is not going to be improved by adding video."

 
 
Feature:  

Jeff Bezos: the man behind Amazon

Amazon Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch 3G press conference, New York, America - 28 Sep 2011

“Mum says that when I was two years old I was disassembling my crib with a screwdriver,” says Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. “I didn’t want to sleep in it any more, I wanted to sleep in the bed. I also built alarm systems to entrap my siblings.” Even as a child Bezos – the son of an engineer, Cuban immigrant Miguel Bezos – was fascinated by how things work. Bezos went on to study electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton. “My parents had high standards for us. They were supportive of my passions,” he says.

On graduating, Bezos created computer systems on Wall Street. He was working for a hedge fund in 1994, when he began exploring the idea of starting a dotcom business – and looked for an area where there was money to be made. “Web usage was growing at an incredible rate in 1994. It was clear that anything growing that fast was going to be big very shortly.

quote2

“I looked for something that was going to be a good business plan and I picked books,” he says. “There were three million books in catalogues at that time. You couldn’t build a physical store to hold all of them. Amazon was the name – Earth’s biggest river, Earth’s biggest selection.”

Two years later, we added CDs. Then we kept adding categories. He credits his decision to start the company to the support of his family.

“Taking that leap to start a company – it’s nice to know you’re supported, no matter what,” he says “It was a big factor. These risks are not as big as they seem. When I started Amazon, I thought, ‘Am I going to regret it? If I look back on it when I’m 80, at least I’ll think, I’m glad I tried it even if I failed.'” The book retailer initially operated from his parents’ garage. Amazon didn’t turn a profit until long after the crash of 1999 – “Bubbles are much easier to see in retrospect,” says Bezos – and Amazon was pronounced doomed many times, having acquired several dotcom ventures that collapsed spectacularly. But it’s Bezos’ transformation of Amazon from retail giant into technology leader that has thrust him back into the spotlight.

Amazon fulfilment centre prepares for Christmas, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, Britain - 08 Nov 2013

Since launching its first Kindle e-book reader in 2007, Amazon has seen sales of ebooks overtake paperbacks and hardbacks combined. British readers have bought 114 e-books for every 100 paper-and-ink books sold via its store in 2012. Bezos, though, believes that in at least one way, the online market he pioneered may be about to “peak”.

 I guess not many people felt that sorry for musicians as musicians have historically been very rich 
“A tablet computer these days can pretty much do everything,” he says, “Films that look like cinema, music, console-quality games. We’re not exactly hitting a plateau yet – but service can be the crucial thing that differentiates you more than anything.” Bezos says that while record labels and publishers complain about Amazon muscling in, consumers don’t. “Books shouldn’t cost £12.99,” he says, “That momentous change when the price of a CD fell from £15 to the proper price – £5, it was a huge crash for the music industry. It wasn’t a crash for consumers. I guess not many people felt that sorry for musicians as musicians have historically been very rich.” Bezos says that he could imagine a time when devices such as Kindle are free – and revenue comes from selling or renting books and films. The differences between one tablet and another will become irrelevant – “service ” will be what counts.

Hence the fact that new Kindles can summon a live video link to tech support, 24 hours a day. “In the end, the battle will come down to low price,” he says. Bezos shrugs off criticism about Amazon paying little tax in the UK, despite employing large numbers of people here and ringing up £7bn in sales in 2012. “You’ll have to ask my accountant,” he says. “I can understand why people are angry about Amazon not paying corporation tax, but we are huge investors in this country in terms of employment. I focus on services and products – there are taxes to be paid, and we stick within the law. It’s wrong to think of us as evil.” Bezos is also unrepentant about industries his digital ventures have assaulted, such as paper-and-ink books.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 11.30.17

“Like millions of other people, I retain a fondness for books: anything you grow up with and have childhood memories of, you’re going to have a special place for. But you can’t stop change. More people are getting a chance to become authors now – four out of ten of our top sellers on Kindle are self-published. I’m reading a yoga murder mystery myself – it’s quite good.

“The technology is changing, too. Books with video and music are happening, but they won’t displace narrative. Narrative – a novel, or a biography – works well. No matter what the next Kindle can do, Hemingway is not going to be improved by adding video.”

Photo: Sipa Press/Rex
Photo: Geoffery Robinson/Rex
 
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