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“The book industry is in better shape than it ever has been and it’s due to ebooks,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told an audience on Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview that addressed the company’s drone plans, its campus culture and its indifference to pain of short-term shareholders.
Speaking at a BusinessInsider event in New York, Bezos downplayed [company]Amazon’s[/company] recent high-profile spat with publisher Hachette as a run-of-the-mill fight with a supplier, adding that it’s the essential job of any retailer to fight for the best price for its customers.
As for the publishing industry and its authors, Bezos argued that $30 is too high a price for books, and that lower prices will lead to more readers, which will in turn benefit everyone. And in a remark that may have been intended to head off antitrust arguments, he urged people to consider book prices in the context of a larger entertainment market.
“Books don’t just compete against books,” said Bezos, pointing out that readers can just as easily turn to a blog or a movie or a Candy Crush games.
He also noted that some well-situated incumbents can have a hard time accepting change, and warned against glamorizing an idealized past.
“6 hours a year” for investor relations
Amazon has always appeared famously indifferent to both profitability and share price, and Bezos reinforced that perception on Tuesday by stating that spends all of six hours a year on investor relations.
In response to a remark by host Henry Blodget that Amazon had lost “a boatload of money” last quarter, Bezos said that focusing on quarterly earnings is a strategic mistake, and likened short-term adjustments to “eating your seed corn.”
“In the short term the stock market is a voting machine, in the long term it’s a weighing machine.”
The CEO said he does not take the time to meet with most of Amazon’s largest investors, many of whom he regards as traders rather than investors. Instead, he prefers to speak with those who have a low turnover in their stock portfolio, and who will appreciate the company’s long-term strategy.
That strategy, he said, requires seeing Amazon as a collection of companies, some of which are long-term ventures that generate cash and others are bold new bets.
Asked how he reconciled his mantra that company’s should have a narrow focus with Amazon’s evermore sprawling ambitions — books, TV, cloud services, groceries, and so on — Bezos said that the job of senior executives is to decide on when a firm should stick to its knitting, and when it shouldn’t.
The stupidity of massage culture and the future of drones
Bezos is not from Silicon Valley. When asked about giving a college student on career choices, would he suggest they choose a company that offers massages? Bezos was clearly scornful of that idea, and the pampered culture of perks for which rivals like Google are known.
According to Bezos, Amazon has just as many amenities, but that those amenities are just different that at other companies. He pointed in particular to Amazon’s urban Seattle campus, which he said permits many in the workforce to walk to work, and enjoy a vibrant local food truck culture.
He also posted of facilities that let employees bring their dogs to work and open their office windows.
Towards the close of the interview, Bezos also shared his thoughts on the role of drones, which Amazon is investing in heavily.
While clearly excited by drone technology, especially that related to machine-guided vision systems, Bezos also said he is worried about the regulatory environment.
“It’s sad, but it’s possible that the U.S. could be late [to drone development],” Bezos said, noting that Amazon’s drone teams — which are now working on a tenth drone prototype — have the highest lawyer-to-engineer ratio in the entire company.