Now I’m sure Jeff Bezos likes to read books as much as the next guy, but whether he wants to remain in the book business is something I’m less confident about. I should emphasize that I am inventing this theory out of whole cloth: I have seen no indications and have no knowledge of any idea that he’s thinking of abandoning the book business. I just doubt that there’s very much thinking about the book business going on inside his head nowadays.

This picture of that head is the lead-in for The Atlantic‘s fascinating article, by Frankin Foer, about Jeff Bezos’s Master Plan. (Link via Kathy Sandler’s Technology·Innovation·Publishing.) Books are just there in the picture, tucked away in the occipital lobe. My belief in the likelihood of his giving up on books is based on the vast array of other businesses, much more profitable businesses, that he’s involved in. “At any moment, [Amazon’s] website has more than 600 million items for sale and more than 3 million vendors selling them. With its history of past purchases, it has collected the world’s most comprehensive catalog of consumer desire, which allows it to anticipate both individual and collective needs. With its logistics business—and its growing network of trucks and planes—it has an understanding of the flow of goods around the world.” And then there’s cloud computing, and space exploration, and groceries, and movies and television too.

Of course just because they don’t make him a fortune is no reason for Mr Bezos to abandon books, They do after all provide another avenue to ever more Prime membership dollars. Maybe his company is now so huge that it’s hard to spend the few minutes thinking about the narrow margins available on books, and consider doing anything about it. And there’s that old sentimental pull: without books the behemoth would never have gotten off the ground. And I suppose book buyers also buy sneakers. As he says of their Hollywood activities “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes.” Shoes, note, not books.

Might one envisage Mr Bezos making his book business over to the book publishing community? Unlikely perhaps but when political pressure is applied on the monopoly front, much dodging and weaving can be anticipated. As Richard Hershberger comments at last week’s Ch-ch-changes? post something like the abebooks system run by Amazon might be a good way for publishers to get into on-line sales. The cost of building that infrastructure just seems prohibitive to me, even if the initiative could be mounted without illegal collusion. Could we accept it as a gift?

To us Amazon is a huge presence in the book business.* To the overlord surveying his domain books must be almost invisible.


* And they do publishing too.