Jason Del Rey

Recent Posts by Jason Del Rey

Amazon’s First Employee Disses MacKenzie Bezos Review That Disses New Book About Amazon

A day after MacKenzie Bezos, the wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, blasted a new book about her husband and his company in a one-star review on Amazon.com, Amazon’s first employee, Shel Kaphan, has published a four-star review of Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store,” in which he recommends the book and criticizes MacKenzie Bezos’s take. (Kaphan confirmed to me that he is the reviewer.)

In it, Kaphan said he wasn’t planning to review Stone’s work, but decided to after reading the negative review by MacKenzie Bezos and mixed reviews by current Amazon exec Jonathan Leblang and former Amazon exec Rick Dalzell, which are now the first three reviews readers see when they visit the landing page for Stone’s book. (Bezos criticized the book for some factual inaccuracies and for constructing what she considered to be an unbalanced narrative. Stone responded today.)

“I was at Amazon for the first 5 years of its existence, so I also have firsthand experience of those times at the company, and I have been a fairly close observer since I left,” Kaphan wrote. “I spent considerably more time in the Amazon work environment during those years than MacKenzie Bezos did. By and large I found Mr. Stone’s treatment of that which I know firsthand to be accurate — at least as accurate as it is possible to be at this great a remove, and with no contemporaneous documentation of the early chaotic days or access to certain of the principals.”

Kaphan goes on to point out some inaccuracies he noticed, too, (“I did not, in fact, have a bushy beard at age 17 when I worked at the Whole Earth Truck Store & Catalog in Menlo Park”) but only to make the point that errors such as this one “[don’t] change the story materially.”

He then takes on MacKenzie Bezos’s review: “MacKenzie listed one error, which didn’t seem especially awful or material to me, and then referred only vaguely to ‘way too many inaccuracies.’ Without a more explicit list of mistakes, it is hard to know what to make of that. Breaking news: A new 372 page book has some errors!”

Kaphan also notes that Stone allowed him to review a draft of the chapter of the book that chronicles the period of time in which Kaphan was at the company and that Stone made some corrections based on Kaphan’s feedback. His point here is that he believes Stone would have provided the same opportunity to Jeff Bezos had Bezos agreed to be interviewed. (He did not.)

Kaphan concludes that, “Sure, there is plenty more that could be written about, and maybe someday somebody will. If and when that happens, I can only hope it is also ‘unauthorized’ and not sanitized by a corporate PR department, and that some real investigative journalism is done, like Mr. Stone did here.”

It should be noted that Kaphan comes to the reviewer’s table with his own bias; he left Amazon after five years following a period of time that saw his influence at the company shrink. But he certainly isn’t any more or less biased than the wife of the CEO.

In the end, the he-said, she-said, he-said reviews will probably not hurt the book’s sales. It still has four and a half stars on average and was ranked No. 76 among all books on Amazon at last check.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work