Enough with the mutual acrimony. We didn't like the way you asked your question and you didn't like the way we answered it. But these dueling blogs on both sides are avoiding the central question: Should Amazon blog? From where I sit I see a great number of ways that Amazon will benefit from blogging. Let me try to lay them out for you.
1. Closer with your customers.
According to what you said at our Fishbowl presentation, Amazon thinks it knows everything it needs to know about its customers. I see scattered evidence that this is not the case. There's the example, I published of my own experience, of having Amazon recommend books for nearly 10 years from categories that are not my reading tastes. Salted in our current blog-based debate are comments from customers trying to be heard. These comments would probably be a lot more polite and constructive if they were on an Amazon-based blog. People are much more polite when they think you are listening. A lot of people do not think Amazon is listening and a blog would change their perspective. You may argue that Amazon makes it easy to leave comments. But that's different andd less desirable than having a customer know that they are speaking to a real hum who actually cares about his or her satisfaction.
2. Amazon employee morale.
In a company that discourages its employees to blog about their work, the employees get the message that they are not trusted by their superiors. From what Robert and I heard from you in that fishbowl, this may actually be the case. You could change my perception by letting your people blog. Employee morale may not be an issue today although a handfull have shared with me their desire to blog and their desire to have Amazon culture become--well more decentralized. Amazon is unquestionably on top of the mountain. But over time, as you recruit new people, they are more likely to look at your culture as closed--and other cultures competing for the same talent as open. I think the best and the brightest will almost always opt for an open culture.
3. Humanizing Amazon.
Maybe I should not have made public how funny I thought Hugh's cartoon was. I do not perceive of Amazon as the new Borg of the Northwest. Over the past months, I have met many gracious, enthusiastic, dedicated people from Amazon. However, most of your customers do not have the benefits of my personal experience. Amazon would do well to use blogs to let its customers--and authors--see real people doing real jobs with passion and knowledge. This puts people on your side. I makes them your word-of-mouth engines. It makes them your champions.
4. Increased Sales
In our book, we discussed a Japanese online bookseller called BK1, who old us they had increased book sales by 20 % by encouraging employees to blog about books they did or did not like. They found a direct correlation between favorable blogs and immediate sales. I believe this is absolutely applicable to Amazon. It also lets you compete with the one compelling reason to shop at small, independent bookstores, where the selection is smaller and the prices are higher than at Amazon. What they have that you don't have are "book buddies" employee and owners who read books, who share their enthusiasm for books, who ask customers how they liked their books. In short they have passion and authority for books that Amazon does not yet display. A blog would cure that.
5. Staying Modern
Amazon is an unquestioned winner of the first great wave of online business. It got to this position by showing superior online technology and merchandising was more valuable than old world branding. Now that you are on top, there is a danger of becoming complacent. Now tomorrow morning, but may the next day or the day after that, people will become suspicious of companies that don't make employees accessible through blogs. You have forwarded the argument that blogging may be okay for some little unknown company, but because you are Amazon, you don't need this stuff. That is the attitude of incumbents whenever innovation disrupts their agenda. They dismiss the new stuff. You may be the most powerful incumbent in the world, but if you ignore innovation--particularly innovation that puts you closer to your customers, you will eventually be disrupted. If I were an entrepreneur today, looking for a market opportunity for a new startup, I would be exploring points of vulnerability in large incumbents. I would be looking for kings of the mountain who are s certain of themselves that they will ignore me for a prolonged period, until I can get my foot in the door. That's what Amazon did a decade ago. That's what Yahoo did a decade ago--opening the opportunity for a young agile company to use innovative technology to take over the Search category.
6. Wisdom of Crowds
If you blog, your customers and audience will make you wiser. We spoke to very diverse business people in writing Naked Conversations They had all sorts of ways their businesses operated, all sorts of cultures, models, etc. What they shared in common, almost unanimously was that they said they were surprised by how much they had learned by listening to comments. Not one of them took a contrary view.
7. The ROI Question
Werner, I suspect you already know that this is a Sphinxlike riddle. When something is new, and as dynamic as blogging, it is impossible to forecast the ROI. There will come a day for companies that blog when they look backward at historic data and can make honest assessments of increased revenue or other benefits. I think Microsoft and Sun for example, have been blogging long enough to say that perceptions of them have improved because of bogging. They could not have told you that when their toes were at the base of the mountain and they were just beginning their journeys.
I would add to this a second observation. Sometimes, the quest for ROI in all corners of the corporation has caused the problem with customer relations that most reasonable people agree exists. We wanted better ROI from customer support, so we lowered the quality for the support. Marketing was historically to touchy feely for financial reviews, so we started adding ROI requirements to each project, forgetting that the essence of marketing is relationships that improve the ROI of the sales department. Companies still know this. They realize the ROI of a press release, an employee health club, a three-day trek to a conference where an executive speaks for 45 minutes, a donation to Katrina survivors and so on. Those are soft-ROI items, but most companies see their values.
Werner, in a way you have been a great service to Robert and me. You took us by surprise and you knocked us off balance in our presentation. We didn't like the way you asked your questions and you didn't like the way we answered. We didn't like being set up to look foolish in front of your employees and cameras and you didn't like us saying we were disappointed by what happened at Amazon.
All three of us have egos. The core issue is important to all three. And we sincerely think the issue is a significant one for Amazon moving forward. You blog and a few other Amazon employees do as well. You have at least two departments who are playing with blogs one way or another.