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July 29, 2005

Remember When Amazon Was Only a River?

Posted by admin

Traveling and a hectic schedule have kept me from acknowledging --- and celebrating --- the 10th Anniversary of I have decided belated is better than skipping this occasion since I think this anniversary deserves to be acknowledged.

Remember when you would hear the word Amazon and think only of a river in Brazil? Ha, if you are a book lover, I am betting the river is a distant second thought these days.

I remember when Amazon was just starting out. They launched about 2 months before we had our first conceptual meeting about The Book Report Network. Rumblings about a company that would sell books online did not cause any ripples at the beginning. Remember 1995? I am betting that few of you were online then even for email. There were about 500,000 people using AOL; Prodigy and Compuserve were the big competition. You know ancient times, like, the Stone Age.

People could not grasp HOW this was going to work. After all, readers only shopped in STORES for books. Readers needed to SEE the books. Readers needed to TOUCH the books.

Yes, early reports about Amazon were about its doomed future.

But there were some of us...who..."got it." We knew there were parts of the country where the bookstore was a wire rack in the drugstore. There were people, who for a whole host of reasons, could not leave the house to shop for books. And we knew that no physical bookstore --- no matter how huge those superstores got --- was going to be able to carry as many books as a virtual one.

Thus, when Amazon announced their Affiliates program about six months after we launched our first website on AOL, we signed up. Packrat that I am, I still have our first usage report, which told us how much people bought, in a file someplace. I came across it a few months ago and realized how we have grown up together.

Why did we like this program and adapt it from the start? We loved that our readers were able to click --- and buy --- if the mood struck them after they read a review or feature without our having to handle the fulfillment.

Yes, I do remember one of my original partners coming to me with a concept that we could ship books from our back office if we had a credit card account. I thought about taking orders, packing them up, shipping, taking returns and --- panicked. This was a much better alternative. Especially since I knew that I, not Murray, would be doing all the steps outlined above.

Along the way, Amazon became much much more. Sure, they added music, videos and what seems to be an endless number of other stores. But they also became THE resource for authors, editors, agents and publishers --- as well as readers. I cannot count how many times a week we say, "Let me look it up on Amazon." Want to see a cover jacket? Check Amazon. Want to see every book and every version of it by an author? Check Amazon. And for readers, Amazon provided a place to learn more about a book they heard about on television or read about in the paper --- and then to post their own review.

For those who gripe that Amazon takes sales away from small indy stores, etc, I think about how many times I have looked up a book online, yet bought it at a local store . Why? Because I wanted the book --- and didn't want to pay for one-day shipping. But I also will admit there are times I just sit down and order whatever I want knowing I will have my own personal Christmas the day that box arrives.

I loathe taking time to shop, and those who shop with me know what a whirlwind this experience is as a result. Shopping online takes the stress out of holiday shopping, allows me to send presents throughout the year to get to recipients on the right day without my dealing with the post office and ensures that I have....selection.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a publisher who had missed meeting Jeff Bezos at his booth at Book Expo America the year he and his wife were driving cross-country deciding what business to start. He spoke of missing this encounter with all the regret of missing a moment in history. He's right. He did.