retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The press is abuzz with the story of how MacKenzie Bezos, who is married to Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos, has leapt to her husband's defense following the publication of "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon," by Brad Stone.

The book has been well reviewed and has been selling respectably. But MacKenzie Bezos takes issue with some of the reporting, and she decided to do something about it …and so she wrote a review of the book. And posted it. On Amazon.

An excerpt:

"Everywhere I can fact check from personal knowledge, I find way too many inaccuracies, and unfortunately that casts doubt over every episode in the book … I have firsthand knowledge of many of the events. I worked for Jeff at D. E. Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centers, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history. Jeff and I have been married for 20 years.

"While numerous factual inaccuracies are certainly troubling in a book being promoted to readers as a meticulously researched definitive history, they are not the biggest problem here. The book is also full of techniques which stretch the boundaries of non-fiction, and the result is a lopsided and misleading portrait of the people and culture at Amazon. An author writing about any large organization will encounter people who recall moments of tension out of tens of thousands of hours of meetings and characterize them in their own way, and including those is legitimate. But I would caution readers to take note of the weak rhetorical devices used to make it sound like these quotes reflect daily life at Amazon or the majority viewpoint about working there."

And, she concludes:

"One of the biggest challenges in non-fiction writing is the risk that a truthfully balanced narration of the facts will be boring, and this presents an author with some difficult choices. It may be that another telling of the Amazon story—for example, that people at Amazon have no secret agenda they’ve been able to keep hidden for 19 years, really do believe in the mission they keep repeating, and are working hard and of their own free will to realize it —would strike readers as less exciting than the version offered here. I sympathize with this challenge. But when an author plans to market a book as non-fiction, he is obliged to find a suspenseful story arc that doesn’t rely on mischaracterizing or avoiding important parts of the truth."

Yikes.

I have to be honest. I knew absolutely nothing about MacKenzie Bezos before these stories started being posted.

But now, having read her impassioned defense of her husband and the company he built, I'm kind of impressed with her.

I have the book downloaded to my Kindle app. I'm looking forward to reading it … but her comments about the book cannot help but color my view of it.

In all fairness, Stone says the book was scrupulously reported, and that he spoke to more than 300 past or present Amazon employees before writing it. And, he seems a little surprised by the attack, saying that he believed it was not "an unflattering account" of the company's evolution.

And, to be fair, Amazon's corporate communications folks also have officially questioned the book's verisimilitude.

Either way, it's an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: