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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Thursday Excerpt: Almost, but not Quite Edition

The history of technology is littered with stupid and wrong projections. Here's one of them made in 2001 by Jason Epstein, a long time publishing big wig at Random House, in his book Book Business: Publishing Past Present and Future:

We were candid with Bezos. We would be delighted to work with him, we told him, if he won the auction, but we also showed him the results of my initial attempt to sell books from The Reader's Catalog using a toll-free number and the even worse projections made by Rea's business manager if we now turned to the Internet. Bezos brushed these numbers aside... Like me when I conceived The Reader's Catalog a decade earlier, Bezos did not see that he was committed to an incorrect business model, one in which costs would rise in proportion to sales while margins would remain under constant pressure from competitive discounts and high service costs.

...The structural problems of online retailers, by contrast, are intrinsic and cannot be outgrown.

... It was obvious to many in the industry by 1998 that Amazon could not overcome the structural problems that defeated The Reader's Catalog.

This really falls under the category of “wrong” more than “stupid.” Amazon was bleeding money until 2002, when it turned its first profit. And dozens and dozens of other e-retailers did finally go bust shortly after Epstein wrote the book. But his smarter-than-thou attitude makes the quote priceless.

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

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