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Amazon the innovator or Amazon the violator?

October 13, 2020, 1:51 PM UTC

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The last time I wrote a feature article about Jeff Bezos or Amazon was a political lifetime ago, in March of 2016. For the piece, about Bezos’s leadership skills, I took what felt like a refreshing and slightly novel approach. I examined the three major businesses on his plate: Amazon, The Washington Post, and Blue Origin, his rocket ship company.

The notion of Amazon facing antitrust concerns in those late Obama years never came up—or at least didn’t find their way into print. I did write this: “His company is expanding internationally and spreading its hydra-headed product and service offerings in unexpected new directions.” But this was written admiringly rather than forebodingly. Amazon was long considered a thug to competitors and a slavedriver to employees, hourly and salaried alike. But not a monopolist.

Times have changed. The long knives are out for Amazon, from the Trump White House, leftish quarters of Queens, N.Y., and even the Gard region of southern France. Along with its Big Tech brethren Facebook, Google, and Apple, Amazon also is in the crosshairs of House of Representatives investigators.

Amazon is powerful, no doubt. But it likely will take new laws or a novel interpretation of existing antitrust law to force it to break up. What I find surprising is the suggestion that Amazon isn’t innovative. True, the engines of its success had predecessors. There were web-hosting companies before Amazon Web Services, Costco memberships before Prime, Sonos speakers before Echo, and so on.

That line of reasoning reminds me, though, of the hollow knock against Apple back in the day. It didn’t invent the MP3 player (iPod) or jukebox software (it bought the company that became iTunes) or even the smartphone (Palm and Nokia came first). That argument was pedantic at best. Apple improved dramatically on each concept and profited handsomely. So has Amazon in its way.

An innovator can be an unfair monopolist too, of course.


After tomorrow you’ll see a new lineup on Data Sheet. Aaron will write the report top to bottom on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Robert Hackett will do the same on Tuesdays. And Fortune tech writer Danielle Abril, who’s written for us a few times already, will join the fray on Thursdays. You’ll be in good hands with this crew.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


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Aaron Pressman