What’s next for Amazon after Jeff Bezos? No dramatic changes, just more growth and optimisation


Louise Grimmer, University of Tasmania; Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology, and Martin Grimmer, University of Tasmania

Jeff Bezos has announced he will stand down as chief executive of Amazon in the third quarter of 2021. The founder of the online retail behemoth will hand the reins to Andy Jassy, who currently leads Amazon’s cloud computing wing.

The announcement comes after an enormously successful 2020 for Amazon despite (or perhaps because of) the COVID-19 pandemic, with operating cashflow up 72% from the previous year to US$66.1 billion, and net sales increasing 35% to US$386.1 billion.

Amazon has its share of detractors, with critics highlighting concerns around working conditions, tax minimisation, anti-competitive practices and privacy. But its enormous size and continuing phenomenal growth make it a force to be reckoned with.

How did Amazon get to this position, and what does the future hold under new leadership?

How it all started

Almost 27 years ago, in 1994, Bezos left his job as a senior vice-president for a hedge fund and started an online bookstore in his garage. At the time, using the internet for retail was in its infancy.

Bezos decided that books were an ideal product to sell online. Originally the new business was named Cadabra, but Bezos soon changed it to Amazon and borrowed US$300,000 from his parents to get things off the ground.




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Books proved popular with growing numbers of online buyers, and Bezos began to add other products and services to the Amazon inventory – most notably e-readers, tablets and other devices. Today Amazon predominantly makes its revenue through retail, web services and subscriptions.

The rise and rise of Amazon

Amazon is now one of the most valuable companies in the world, valued at more than US$1.7 trillion. That’s more than the GDP of all but 10 of the world’s countries. It’s also the largest employer among tech companies by a large margin.

The key to Amazon’s dominance has been constant expansion. After moving into e-readers and tablets, it extended more broadly into technology products and services.

The expansion has not yet stopped, and Amazon’s product lines now include media (books, DVDs, music), kitchen and dining wares, toys and games, fashion, beauty products, gourmet food and groceries, home improvement and gardening, sporting goods, medications and pharmaceuticals, financial services and more.

More recently Amazon has expanded into bricks-and-mortar, heralded by its purchase of the Whole Foods chain in 2017, the creation of its own high tech stores such as Amazon Go, and its sophisticated distribution and delivery services such as Amazon Prime.




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Amazon has become increasingly vertically integrated, meaning it no longer simply sells others’ product but makes and sells its own. This gives the company a position of extreme market dominance.

Criticism

Amazon is hugely popular with customers, but has attracted criticism from supplier advocates, workers unions and governments.

Industrial relations matters, such as fair wages, unsafe work practices and unrealistic demands, appear the most common area of concern. A 2019 UK report found:

Amazon have no policy on living wage and make no mention of wages being enough to cover workers’ basic needs in their supplier code.

Other concerns relate to alleged unsafe working conditions and “whistleblower” policies.

In March 2020, as COVID-19 began to take hold, workers claimed they were fired for voicing concerns about safe working conditions. Amazon vice president and veteran engineer Tim Bray resigned in solidarity and nine US senators issued an open letter to Bezos, seeking clarity around the sackings.

More general criticisms of the company culture have surfaced over the years, relating to insufficient work breaks, unrealistic demands, and annual “cullings” of the staff – referred to as “purposeful Darwinism”.

Another strand of criticism relates to Amazon’s market size and antitrust laws. Antitrust laws exist to stop big companies creating monopolies. Amazon presents a challenge, as it is a manufacturer, an online retailer, and a marketplace where other retailers can sell products to consumers.

Privacy concerns have also plagued Amazon products like Echo smart speakers, Ring home cameras, and Amazon One palm-scanning ID checkers.

The Amazon Web Services privacy policy says all the right things.




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Finally, the amount of company tax Amazon pays in Australia has been brought into question. The company has used a range of tactics to legally reduce the income taxes it pays around the world.

What does the future hold for Amazon in a post-COVID world?

What will change at Amazon when Bezos steps down? We’re unlikely to see a dramatic shift in the short term. For one thing, Bezos is not departing entirely – he will stay involved as “executive chairman”. For another, his successor, Andy Jassy, has been with Amazon since 1997.

Jassy is the head of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and already one of the most important people in the tech industry. AWS has been at the forefront of simplifying computing services, driving the cloud computing revolution and influencing how organisations purchase technology.

Jassy’s long history, intimate knowledge of the organisation, and technological expertise will no doubt stand Amazon in good stead.

However, he faces a monumental undertaking. Jassy will inherit responsibility for more than a million employees, selling millions of different products and services.

His expertise in AI and machine learning at AWS will be increasingly important as these play a greater role in Amazon’s operations – for everything from optimising warehouses and giving better search results to business forecasting and monitoring warehouse staff and delivery drivers.

The physical lockdowns and online acceleration driven by the COVID-19 pandemic provided the ideal conditions for a company that has been called “the everything store”. Supporters and critics will watch with interest to see if this is still true in a post-COVID environment.The Conversation

Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Retail Marketing, University of Tasmania; Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology, and Martin Grimmer, Professor of Marketing, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 locked in shift to open access publishing, but Australia is lagging



Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

Lucy Montgomery, Curtin University

For all its faults, 2020 appears to have locked in momentum for the open access movement. But it is time to ask whether providing free access to published research is enough – and whether equitable access to not just reading but also making knowledge should be the global goal.

An explanation of open access and how the system of having to pay for access to published research came about.

In Australia the first challenge is to overcome the apathy about open access issues. The term “open access” has been too easy to ignore. Many consider it a low priority compared to achievements in research, obtaining grant funding, or university rankings glory.

But if you have a child with a rare disease and want access to the latest research on that condition, you get it. If you want to see new solutions to climate change identified and implemented, you get it. If you have ever searched for information and run into a paywall requiring you to pay more than your wallet holds to read a single journal article that you might not even find useful, you will get it. And if you are watching dire international headlines and want to see a rapid solution to the pandemic, you will probably get it.

Many publishing houses temporarily threw open their paywall doors during the year. Suddenly, there was free access to research papers and data for scholars researching pandemic-related issues, and also for students seeking to pursue their studies online across a range of disciplines.




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Graphic showing benefits of open access

Safia Begum/The Blogworm/Aston University

In October 2020, UNESCO made the case for open access to enhance research and information on COIVD-19. It also joined the World Health Organisation and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in calling for open science to be implemented at all stages of the scientific process by all member states.

There is clearly an appetite for freely available information. Since it was established earlier this year, the CORD-19 website has built up a repository of more than 280,000 articles related to COVID-19. These have attracted tens of millions of views.

Europe has led the way

Europe was already ahead of the curve on open access and 2020 has accelerated the change. Plan S is an initiative for open access launched in Europe in 2018. It requires all projects funded by the European Commission and the European Research Council to be published open access.




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Chart showing growth in number of open access repositories
Growth in the number of open access repositories listed in the international Registry of Open Access Repositories.
Thomas Shafee/Wikipedia, CC BY

A 2018 report commissioned by the European Commission found the cost to Europeans of not having access to FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) research data was €10 billion ($A16.1 billion) a year.

In 2019, open access publications accounted for 63% of publications in the UK, 61% in Sweden and 54% in France, compared to 43% of Australian publications.

Australia is lagging behind

Australia’s flagship Australian Research Council has required all research outputs to be open access since 2013. But researchers can choose not to publish open access if legal or contractual obligations require otherwise. This caveat has led to a relatively low rate of open access in Australia.

chart showing numbers of publications that are open access and behind paywalls
The increase in the numbers of open access publications in Australia has been gradual.
Open Access Dashboard/Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative (COKI)



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The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) and the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group (AOASG) have long carried the torch for open access in Australia. But, without levers to drive change, they have struggled to change entrenched publishing practices of Australian academics.

Our Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative (COKI) project has examined open access across the world. We have analysed open access performance of individuals, individual institutions, groups of universities and nations in recent decades. The COKI Open Access Dashboard offers a glimpse into a subset of this international data, providing insights into national open access performance.

This analysis shows a steady global shift towards open access publications.

For example, in November 2020, Springer Nature announced it would allow authors to publish open access in Nature and associated journals at a price of up to €9,500 (A$15,300) per paper from January 2021. This was a signal change for the publishing industry. One of the world’s most prestigious journals is overturning decades of closed-access tradition to throw open the doors, and committing to increasing its open access publications over time.

At the moment, the pricing of this model enables only a select group to publish open access. The publication cost is equivalent to the value of some Australian research grants. Pricing is expected to become more affordable over time.

Chart showing open access publication options
A quick guide to open access publishing: for researchers who wish to do this the required fee can be a significant deterrent.
OpenAire, CC BY



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It’s not just about access to facts

This international trend is a positive step for fans of freely available facts. However, we should not lose sight of other potentially larger issues at play in relation to open knowledge – that is, a level playing field for access to both published research and participation in research production.

Put another way, we need to pursue not only equity among knowledge takers but also among knowledge makers if we are to enable the world’s best thinkers to collaborate on the planet’s signature challenges.

All of this is good news for people who love to access information – but the bigger overall question for the higher education sector is about the conventions, traditions and trends that determine who gets to be considered for a job in a lab or a library or a lecture theatre. There is much more to be done to make our universities open for all – a future of equity in knowledge making as well as taking.The Conversation

Lucy Montgomery, Program Lead, Innovation in Knowledge Communication, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bookshop.org


The links below are to articles reporting on Bookshop.org, an alternative to Amazon that is beginning to take shape.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/02/this-is-revolutionary-new-online-bookshop-unites-indies-to-rival-amazon
https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2020/nov/05/bookshoporg-is-what-the-publishing-world-has-been-waiting-for
https://lithub.com/bookshop-org-misses-opportunity-with-uk-launch-to-spell-it-bookshoppe/

Bertelsmann the New Owner of Simon & Schuster


The links below are to articles reporting on the purchase of Simon & Schuster for over $2 billion US dollars by Bertelsmann, the parent company of Penguin Random House.

For more visit:
https://the-digital-reader.com/2020/11/25/bertelsmann-buys-simon-schuster-from-viacomcbs/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2020/11/germany-bertelsmann-buys-simon-schuster-for-us2-175-billion/
https://goodereader.com/blog/business-news/penguin-random-house-buys-simon-schuster
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/25/prh-owner-bertelsmann-to-buy-simon-schuster-in-2bn-deal
https://bookriot.com/penguin-random-house-to-buy-simon-schuster/

My favourite detective: Trixie Belden, the uncool girl sleuth with a sensitive moral compass



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Tanya Dalziell, University of Western Australia

In a new series, writers pay tribute to fictional detectives on page and on screen.


Trixie Belden, girl detective, does not rank in the world’s pantheon of cool sleuths. She’s unlikely to appear in a Coen brothers’ film (à la Marge Gunderson in Fargo (1996)), for example. Nor did she issue from the pen of hardboiled, mid-century crime writer Chester Himes.

Instead, she was the creation of Western Publishing — the American maker of Little Golden Books who wanted to market low-cost mysteries and adventures to children after the second world war — and Julie Campbell, a writer and literary agent who responded to their call.




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Campbell wrote the first six books in the series from 1948 to 1958. The rest, some 30 or so, were composed by ghostwriters between 1961 and 1986 and published under the pseudonym, Kathryn Kenny.

As a child, I had no inkling of this origin story. So far as I knew, Trixie Belden was from Crabapple Farm, Sleepyside, in the Hudson River Valley. She had three brothers (two older, one younger) and her best friend was Honey Wheeler, met in the original book, The Secret of the Mansion (1948), which I read more than 30 years after it was first published.

Friends like these

Trixie Belden book cover. Two girls peek through curtain.

Goodreads

Honey was rich and beautiful. So was Diana, who turned up a bit later in the series and was memorably said to have violet eyes. Trixie was neither of these things.

In the first book, at the age of 13, she found her detective vocation by uncovering the fortune of a deceased recluse. She also met its beneficiary. Jim Frayne, a runaway with a brutal stepfather, would become Honey’s adopted brother, Trixie’s blossoming love interest, and a member of the Bob-Whites, Trixie’s club of friends who formed the support cast for the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency.

Whether searching for a lost weather vane or tracking down an arsonist, Trixie was at the centre of all the mysteries, which I avidly read and reread.




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My attraction to Trixie was not a matter of projection or identification; my world was clearly unlike hers.

I did not anticipate that I would come across a rabid dog; rescue a pilot from a burning aeroplane; or have to suck blood from my brother’s toe to prevent his poisoning by a copperhead. (And that was all in only the first book of the series).

Trixie was obsessed with horses, I was more interested in her setter dog, Reddy. Trixie was terrible at maths, which had yet to cause me trouble.

The differences between us didn’t matter so much as our shared interest in “running all the information through [our] mental computer” (from 1977’s The Mystery of the Uninvited Guest). I wanted to figure things out, just like Trixie. She nonetheless had many amateur sleuth competitors on my primary school reading list.




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Tips for young detectives

I had the non-fiction Detective’s Handbook out on constant library loan. It was instructive in disguise-wearing and decoding. Then there was Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, and also Nancy Drew.

Children's book about detective work

Amazon

The child-groups constituting the two former titles were like the Bob-Whites insofar as they also formed detective communities. Although to my mind they put inordinate value on passwords, badges and boarding school holidays.

Nancy Drew was undeniably admirable in her older sophistication but a little too polished for my still-developing taste. She was confident and self-contained, which is surely why Hollywood created movie versions of her and why the intrusion of the Hardy Boys franchise into her narrative made no sense to me. It wasn’t like she needed any help.

By contrast, Trixie Belden was more accommodating and needing of others. She sometimes said mean things, and would then regret them and apologise.

She knew she wasn’t as pretty as Honey or Diana and, while that worried her a little, she shrugged it off and had far more interesting existential doubts. In the 17th book, The Mystery of the Uninvited Guest, she speaks of feeling as if she were inside a glass box:

All the people of the world march past me … I know that when I can tell just one person who I am, the glass will melt and I can join the parade.

I’m sure at the age of eight or nine I had only a vague idea of what she meant, but it sounded a lot like what growing up was all about.




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Smart and sensitive

Sticky situations, mistaken identities and stolen jewels were always worked out, revealed or returned to their rightful owners in the end. And the motives behind these events weren’t always nefarious.

Book cover: Trixie Belden girl detective mystery

Goodreads

Reassurance was offered in the sympathetic knowledge that circumstances, rather than moral flaws, can bring about bad deeds, and that detection itself trod a fine ethical line.

Trixie’s conscience was pricked by her practices of eavesdropping, surveillance and occasional breaking-and-entering. At times she determined that the status quo, which her detective work ostensibly upheld, was not right.

Maths might have stumped her, but as Honey appreciatively recognised of her friend:

Trixie was a down-to-earth person, keenly aware of information gathered by all of her five senses — plus that extra sense called horse sense.

She might not be cool, today or then, but — well-surpassing her intended pulp-fiction status — Trixie Belden was smart and sensitive in the ways that mattered.The Conversation

Tanya Dalziell, Associate Professor, English and Literary Studies, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Literary prizes and the problem with the UK publishing industry



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Jamie Harris, Aberystwyth University

This year’s Booker prize shortlist offers the most diverse lineup ever with four female and two male writers, four of who are people of colour. But while the diversity of the 2020 shortlist for the best original novel is to be commended, the majority of the publishers of Booker-winning novels are still based in London.

This reflects that the concentration of power in UK publishing is still in the English capital. As such, non-English British writers published outside London are perennially disadvantaged by the Booker’s selection criteria.

And as it stands, of the 30 times the prize has been awarded to UK-based authors, it has only once gone to a Scottish author: James Kelman’s How Late it Was How Late, in 1994. It went once to a Welsh author – Bernice Rubens for The Elected Member in 1970 – while Anna Burns became the first winner from Northern Ireland in 2018 for Milkman. Three non-English, but UK-based winners, all of which were published by London presses.

The Booker is steeped in Britain’s colonial history, having originally been set up as an award for British and Commonwealth writers writing in the English language and published in the UK and Ireland.

The literary prize opened up its entry criteria in 2013 to allow submissions from writers born outside of Britain, its Commonwealth and its former colonies. This is a move that continues to rankle some prominent British authors with concerns US writers are dominating the line-up. All but one of the writers on the 2020 shortlist, are from the US or hold joint US citizenship.

Prior to this, the makeup of Booker winners was overwhelmingly male (67%), privately-educated (62%), and one-third of winners had attended Oxford or Cambridge University. No wonder, then, that Julian Barnes, former judge and winner of the prize, described it as “posh bingo”.

A publishers’ prize?

As with any literary prize, the Booker’s submission criteria has always influenced the kind of novels that are shortlisted. Its submission guidelines, which don’t allow entries from publishers who don’t publish at least two literary fiction titles a year, have created an unbalanced system.

And since a rule change in 2013, the prize is now weighted even more towards publishers with a history of having books longlisted for the prize – who are able to submit up to four entries. This change was said to be in the interest of fairness and to better “represent the levels of publishing the different sized houses do”. But many feel the changes work in favour of the bigger publishers.

Anna Burns on stage after she was awarded the Booker prize for Fiction.
Anna Burns on stage at the Guildhall in London after she was awarded the Booker prize for Fiction for her novel Milkman.
Frank Augstein/PA Archive/PA Images

In a country where publishing is so concentrated in the hands of just a few conglomerates who have acquired some of Britain’s most successful small presses, the chances of British novelists who are neither English, nor published by major London publishers, winning seems to be getting smaller. And for non-English UK novelists published by small presses (self-published works are ineligible for the Booker), the Booker is simply not a plausible option.

As Leigh Wilson, professor of English literature, has argued on this site: “Booker rules make submissions from small publishers very tricky because of the size of the print run required and the amount of money that involves.” This is compounded by the fact that: “The rules of eligibility are almost entirely now about the publisher, rather than the novel or novelist”.

Absence of small presses

The prize also often illustrates a disconnect between the publishing industry and the reading public. This gulf could be behind the surging popularity of the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize, a reader-nominated, deliberately tongue-in-cheek, rejoinder to the Booker’s perceived pomposity.

Indeed, Welsh writer Richard Owain Roberts’ debut, Hello Friend We Missed You – touted as the favourite for this year’s Not the Booker – would simply never have been considered for entry to the Booker. This is because the submission criteria makes it near impossible for small presses – like Parthian, Roberts’ Cardigan-based publisher – to even afford to enter.

This absence or marginalisation of writers in Wales, Scotland and Ireland seems not to relate to sales successes. Irish novelist Sally Rooney’s phenomenally successful Normal People, for example, didn’t make the step from longlist to shortlist for the Booker. This is despite it having a cult following, achieving substantial sales and being touted as the favourite when the longlist was announced.

But the Booker is far from alone in not reflecting bestseller lists. In his analysis of the Pulitzer prize for fiction (broadly the US equivalent of the Booker), author and academic, James F. English notes the number of shortlisted novels that also appear on that year’s top ten bestseller lists have been in steady decline – from a high point in the 1960s of 60% to under 5% in the 1990s.

That said, winning might not be all it’s cracked up to be, given a 2014 study found that literary prizes make books less popular.The Conversation

Jamie Harris, Lecturer in Literature and Place, Aberystwyth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.