Q. & A. with Charles Duhigg : suite de l’article sur Amazon dans le New Yorker
“It wasn’t fair to call Amazon a cult, but it wasn’t entirely unfair, either,” Charles Duhigg writes this week in The New Yorker. His piece explores the retailer’s readiness to fight regulators, the company’s intense culture, and the tabloid scandal that engulfed Jeff Bezos, its founder. In a conversation that has been edited for length and clarity, Duhigg discussed what he learned.
You wrote that “Amazon now has such a severe image problem that it can no longer count on being able to do whatever it pleases.” In fact, Elizabeth Warren tweeted your piece, arguing that a company can be an umpire or own a team but can’t do both in the same game. How is this image problem affecting Amazon’s relationship with consumers?
For the first time—for all of the tech industry, but Amazon is front and center on this—you’re seeing this reëvaluation on the part of shoppers and consumers and voters and politicians to say, “This thing we thought was great—now we’re beginning to understand there are vast downsides associated with it.” Before, we couldn’t even perceive the downsides.
What’s happening right now is there’s this very complicated and very challenging reëvaluation of the age we’re living in. Part of that is saying, “Let’s look at these companies with a more gimlet eye,” but also, “Let’s look at our lives with a more critical eye.”
You wrote about the National Enquirer’s coverage of Jeff Bezos’s extramarital affair, which was more personal than the other controversies that have shaken Amazon. What implications did the scandal have for the company, beyond Bezos’s own reputation?
I don’t think the National Enquirer has many implications for Amazon, except what this one guy said: Amazon is a reflection of Jeff Bezos’s brain. Jeff Bezos is at the core of everything Amazon does. He is the spiritual center. I heard this from a lot of people: the reason Jeff Bezos has moral authority within Amazon is because of his integrity.
Everything at Amazon is so rational and logical. For this guy to take what seemed like a crazy risk, to become tabloid fodder—it really shook people’s sense of the company, and of Bezos, and of themselves. For people inside Amazon, it was shocking.
If you had another two months to report this story, what would you have wanted to explore?
Amazon is one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington, D.C. It’s harder to track state-by-state lobbying. As a result, companies are much less transparent when they’re lobbying state legislatures than when they’re lobbying the federal government. If I had more time, I would have looked at what Amazon is doing in states.
Amazon now has fulfillment centers in almost forty states—most of them are in different congressional districts. They have more than six hundred thousand employees. Amazon lobbies lawmakers, but they don’t ask citizens to become lobbyists for Amazon. But if they ever decided to, or they ever asked their employees to become lobbyists on behalf of Amazon, the political impact could be enormous.
Read Duhigg’s story, “Is Amazon Unstoppable?”
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