Amazon’s Antitrust Antagonist Has a Breakthrough Idea

Excerpt from this article:

In early 2017, when she was an unknown law student, Ms. Khan published “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal. Her argument went against a consensus in antitrust circles that dates back to the 1970s — the moment when regulation was redefined to focus on consumer welfare, which is to say price. Since Amazon is renowned for its cut-rate deals, it would seem safe from federal intervention.

Ms. Khan disagreed. Over 93 heavily footnoted pages, she presented the case that the company should not get a pass on anticompetitive behavior just because it makes customers happy. Once-robust monopoly laws have been marginalized, Ms. Khan wrote, and consequently Amazon is amassing structural power that lets it exert increasing control over many parts of the economy.

Amazon has so much data on so many customers, it is so willing to forgo profits, it is so aggressive and has so many advantages from its shipping and warehouse infrastructure that it exerts an influence much broader than its market share. It resembles the all-powerful railroads of the Progressive Era, Ms. Khan wrote: “The thousands of retailers and independent businesses that must ride Amazon’s rails to reach market are increasingly dependent on their biggest competitor.”

The paper got 146,255 hits, a runaway best-seller in the world of legal treatises. That popularity has rocked the antitrust establishment, and is making an unlikely celebrity of Ms. Khan in the corridors of Washington.

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Delivering Amazon Packages to the Top of the World

Excerpt from this article: (a good weekend read, lots of neat interactive videos and great photos)

Perched high in the Himalayas, near India’s border with China, the tiny town of Leh sometimes seems as if it has been left behind by modern technology. Internet and cellphone service is spotty, the two roads to the outside world are snowed in every winter, and Buddhist monasteries compete with military outposts for prime mountaintop locations.

But early each morning, the convenience of the digital age arrives, by way of a plane carrying 15 to 20 bags of packages from Amazon. At an elevation of 11,562 feet, Leh is the highest spot in the world where the company offers speedy delivery.

The couriers must follow exacting standards set by Amazon, from wearing closed-toe shoes and being neatly groomed to displaying their ID cards and carrying a fully charged cellphone.

Mr. Rangdol said that in addition to delivering packages and managing the delivery warehouse, he taught people how to order on Amazon.

“Before I joined Amazon, my friends called me Eshay,” he said. “Now they call me Amazon.”

Working with the company is certainly better than his previous job leading tourists on long treks up cold mountains — although he still has to do a bit of climbing with a heavy pack.

Amazon unveils Alexa for kids… and there’s a lot at stake for them to get it right

Excerpt from this article:

According to Buzzfeed News, Alexa will reward kids for good manners (like saying “please”).It will also temper its response to sensitive questions like “Where do babies come from?” (A: “People make people.”) and “Why are kids mean to me?” (A: “People bully, or are mean, for many different reasons. Bullying feels bad and is never OK.”)*Pause to collect yourself after picturing that heartbreaking scenario*

The implications are massive

In both scenarios above, Alexa also tells kids to talk to a trusted grown-up, but there’s no question it would play a pivotal role in the development of a child who regularly interacts with it.Whereas Facebook doesn’t have access to kids until they turn 14 (the age limit to create an FB account), Amazon will theoretically have access to kids from birth — long before they can even read or write.For kids that grow up with the device, Alexa will theoretically have a record of everything they’ve asked or listened to. And, as Amazon says on their site, “She’s always getting smarter.”

Amazon Key Is a Lot Less Scary Than My Post-1-Click Remorse

Excerpt from this article:

Buyer’s remorse is as old as capitalism, but online buyer’s remorse is the essence of the 21st century and endlessly refreshed. As internet shopping continues to creep into our lives, most recently with the potentially unsettling arrival of Amazon Key (speaking of sliding doors), consumers may feel regret more acutely than they do with traditional retail.

Those cookie-based ads and targeted emails reminding you of other possibilities reinforce the paradox of choice, the oft-cited theory of Barry Schwartz, the psychologist, that increased options leave us more dissatisfied.

How Amazon’s Bookstore Soothes Our Anxieties About Technology

Amazon’s new bricks-and-mortar bookstore, in Seattle’s University Village, lets customers experience the tension between front-of-house and back-of-house as a kind of pleasure.

Excerpt from this article:

The first thing Amazon did to the building that would become its first bricks-and-mortar bookstore was add bricks and mortar. The store, located in Seattle’s University Village shopping mall, opened in early November…

If Amazon’s intention had been a miniature masquerade, to pose as the kind of downtown community bookstore that it (like Barnes & Noble before it) is conventionally said to have displaced, then plenty of actual neighborhood storefronts were available in Seattle. A wave of smaller online retailers—especially clothiers and accessories-makers like Bonobos, Frank & Oak, and Warby Parker, for whom in-person trying-on is a thing—has done just that, recently opening bricks-and-mortar storefronts in urban downtowns from New York to San Francisco. Amazon’s decision to occupy a pseudo-neighborhood pseudo-storefront is, intentionally or inadvertently, more interesting.

…Suspended somewhere between a tangible (albeit exquisitely staged) reality of paper and wood, and a perceptible (albeit artfully obscured) reality of pipes and machinery, the bookstore customer is able to experience a curated version of the ethical and visceral tension between front-of-house and back-of-house—between the sleek one-click seamlessness of the screen and the unceasing labor of the fulfillment center—as a kind of pleasure. In our global moment of high-tech fabrication and doorstep delivery, we are gradually becoming more aware of distant factories and warehouses, from urban China to exurban America, and of the dispossessed lives of the faraway people who make and move our possessions. Can it be a coincidence that this awareness parallels the emergence of an aesthetic that seems, somehow, to remind us of warehouses and factories—but, with all that burnished wood and polished metal, of warehouses and factories at rest, from another time, at their most impossibly beautiful?