Few tech companies have charted a more fascinating course than Amazon. It’s expanded from its humble beginnings as a bookseller to an absolute juggernaut that spans scores of product categories and service offerings. The company has set out to change the way the internet is structured, the way we interact with computers, and the way we shop—online and off.
On this episode of Gadget Lab, journalist and author Brad Stone joins us to dish about stories from his new book Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, including Amazon’s more aggressive business maneuvers and Bezos’ personal shenanigans.
Brad recommends the book Press Reset by Jason Schreier. Lauren recommends Anne Helen Peterson’s CultureStudy newsletter on Substack. Mike also recommends a Substack: Tom Moon’s music newsletter, EchoLocator.
Brad Stone can be found on Twitter @BradStone. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
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Michael Calore: Lauren.
Lauren Goode: Mike.
MC: Lauren, when you order stuff on Amazon, how much are you thinking about Amazon as a corporation and not just an e-commerce site? Does that factor into your buying?
LG: That’s a good question, and I would say yeah, like increasingly so. I think I pause a little bit now when I’m about to impulse buy something, and I think, “I wonder what the toll of this is to the people working there or to the environments, and do I really need this thing?” Do you think about it?
MC: No. To be totally honest, I am a trained monkey. I just click the button, and then I start waiting for the thing to arrive at my door but-
LG: That’s what Amazon wants.
MC: That’s mostly what we’re going to be talking about today on today’s show. We’re going to talk about Amazon.
LG: What better way to get to the heart of Amazon than to bring on Brad Stone.
[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]
MC: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I am Michael Calore, a senior editor here at WIRED.
LG: I’m Lauren Goode. I’m a senior writer at WIRED.
MC: We are also joined by journalist and author, Brad Stone. Welcome, Brad.
Brad Stone: Hi, guys.
MC: Great to have you here. Brad is a long time Bloomberg reporter, and he’s the author of not one but two books about Amazon. Brad’s first book about Amazon is called The Everything Store, and it came out in 2013. The new book came out this very week, and it’s called Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of A Global Empire. You can actually read an excerpt from the book that we published this week on WIRED. In the second half of the show, we’re going to talk about Amazon’s founder, CEO, and soon to not be CEO Jeff Bezos, but for this first half, there will, of course, be some Bezos talk, but we’re mostly going to concentrate on Amazon as a company.
Now, Brad, I assume you felt the need to write a whole second book about Amazon just because so much has happened since the publication of your first book in 2013. The company has gone off in all these interesting directions in recent years. Groceries, movies, TV shows, Alexa. You had some catching up to do.
BS: Yeah, that or I’m a glutton for punishment because I got to say reporting, trying to dig up the secrets of this intensely secretive, dominating company is exhausting, but like a lot of journalists, I’m drawn to a good story. I’m a business journalist. I’m drawn to a good business story, and in 2017 when I started on this project, yeah, the Kindle company had become the Alexa company. The $100 billion company had become, at that point, the 800 or $900 billion company, and Bezos had transformed almost within front of our eyes from this geeky tech guy to a, I don’t know, Vin Diesel or The Rock or I don’t know. The the nerd version of that.
So, I started on it, and while I was researching the book, we had HQ2, we had Bezos’s has National Enquirer scandal, we had the antitrust investigation in the big tech at Amazon, and then the pandemic. It really was, in some ways, fortuitous timing for me because here was a company becoming so big and dominating that a lot of people were starting, as Lauren said earlier, to ask questions about the impact. Then, of course, Bezos resigns as CEO right as I’m about to finish the manuscript, and it’s really the end of an era. So, this is a book about the last 10 years and Amazon’s growth from a tech juggernaut into a global empire.
LG: You were thinking, I’m never going to be finished reading this book as all of these things kept happening.
BS: Well, I was thinking, boy, this is juicier than I thought.
LG: Did you end up dumpster diving for this book?
BS: No. Lauren, those days are well in the past for me, but the tabloid story was super interesting and kind of hall of mirrors full of questionable people with questionable motives and a lot of, at least, legal research to figure out what the heck happened.
LG: So, we’re going to get to some of that personal drama in the second half of the program today, but let’s talk about Amazon products because as we’ve noted now, it’s not just the online bookstore or even just an e-commerce platform anymore. It’s a multilayered complex company. There’s Amazon Web Services, of course. From a product perspective, we’ve seen the emergence of things like Alexa, the voice assistant that most people know at this point. I’m sure it’s going to trigger a bunch of Alexas for whoever’s listening right now. Amazon’s private label business, Amazon Basics, which also they’ve been scrutinized for because sometimes, it seems Amazon is making products that they’ve already measured to be successful that are made by third parties. Then, we’ve seen Amazon enter a bunch of new markets through strategic acquisitions. What would you say, aside from just the standard e-commerce business, is the most interesting business you’ve seen emerge from Amazon in recent years?
BS: Well, I mean, I think you listed a couple of them, but I’ll select one that you didn’t just describe, which is the Go store, which is still a big question mark. This is, people might know, the cashier-less. They look 7-Elevens now. Amazon’s beginning to bring the technology into big supermarkets. This is the idea that when you take something off a shelf, computers will be watching you. Computer vision algorithms will tabulate what you’ve taken and automatically charge you.
The reason that’s so interesting is that physical retail is 90 percent of all retail. People prefer to go into supermarkets to pick up a piece of fruit and to figure out what they want to eat that week. Amazon, if it can succeed in its very Amazon-like way of trying to use technology to wedge into a new industry, this, the $1.6 trillion company can be who knows how big. Now, it’s interesting because I get into that in one of the chapters, and Amazon and Bezos kind of led this effort as he does a lot of these new things at Amazon. They determined that the pain point that they could solve for was waiting in line at the checkout. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really don’t mind that. You check your email, but the type A disruptors at Amazon figured they’re going to put a couple million dollars worth of tech into the market to try to figure it out. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s successful.
LG: Yeah. It’s interesting. I think one of the first go experiences I had was in Seattle when I was there for another Amazon event. Brad, I’m sure you were there too, and I remember thinking, “Oh, there’s the Go store. Let me go check it out.” So, in the early days, you might recall people trying to take things off the shelf and then put them on a different shelf to see if you could sort of trip up the system, or what would happen if you took something and just tucked it in your bag and then walked out with it? Would the computer vision technology work? Consistently, it seems like no matter how hard you try to trip up this cashier-less little grocery mart, the tech was picking up what you were buying. It was incredible.
So, on the one hand, it’s like, “Oh, wow. This is really cool futuristic stuff.” Then, on the other hand, sometimes, they’re just isn’t really the greatest practical application for that. To some extent, that’s voice control still too, right? It’s actually remarkable what it can do, but at the same time, it’s like I use voice control to set my alarm.
LG: That’s how far into the future we are.
BS: Well, a couple of little things that you just said got me thinking. One, they do employ an army, an invisible army of contractors to sometimes review when the system inside the Go store makes mistakes. There is a wizard behind the curtain, but the second thing is that, and this is going to sound like a trivial observation, but the sandwiches in the Go store are horrible. They’re like nothing that you can’t get from a 7-Eleven or a gas station, but why I think that’s interesting is because the whole Go store experiment has been a very expensive technology trial. Amazon is setting this up for bigger and better applications. I do think now, moving those into Whole Foods size grocery stores, they’re calling them Amazon Fresh, or licensing the technology to airport kiosks or other stores, this could be, if it works, a big opportunity for Amazon.
People described it to me as I was researching the book as the most expensive project in Amazon’s history right up there probably with the black eye they got in China over many years and probably bigger than Alexa just in terms of pure R and D cost. It just embodies Bezos’s willingness to try to do hard things. He has a vision. He pursues it and the patience to do it over many years. That project started in 2012. Now, it’s almost 10 years later, and they really probably don’t have much to show for it now that pandemic has slowed down a little bit, but it is really this unique appetite to do things over the long term and to lose money for a long time.
MC: Speaking of experiments and losing money, the Seattle trip that Lauren just referred to, which I’m sure you made as well was for a launch event, right? Now, Amazon has these big media events where they launch a bunch of products like a gazillion gadgets all at once. I think on that particular trip, Lauren counted around 40 products launched in one day. We’ve seen Amazon do this year after year. What’s the strategy here with basically carpet-bombing our homes with Amazon gadgets?
BS: Lauren, was that the microwave event?
LG: Yeah. I’m trying to remember because there was one year where they actually tallied up more than that like probably closer to 60 or 70 products, but in that tally, they were counting every single little iterative software update too. I think there have just been events where, from a pure hardware perspective, there have been dozens of gadgets launched. That might’ve been the microwave year.
BS: Yeah. I mean, Michael, to answer your question, it’s this idea, this vision or ambition that Alexa will be pervasive, that it’ll be a platform layer inside all of the products in our home, kind of invisible artificial intelligence that we can summon the Star Trek computer anytime we want. I think we need to say that it really hasn’t been successful. The microwave flopped, the Alexa glasses. I’ve never seen anybody wearing them. The wristwatch feels a poor imitator of a Fitbit or certainly an Apple Watch. The app ecosystem that Apple developed with the iPhone in iOS, Amazon has these skills on Alexa, and they’re very hard to summon and certainly, there haven’t been many businesses built on the Alexa platform. So, it represents an ambition and yet, I think even though by any measure, Alexa has been successful probably financially because they sell a lot of devices and certainly culturally because it’s ushered us all into an age of voice computing, it hasn’t really realized the vision of this ubiquitous AI Star Trek computer that Bezos had when he first drew the sketch on the whiteboard in 2011.
LG: Yeah. That’s the story that we ran on WIRED.com this week, the inside story of how Alexa was built. We encourage everyone to go to WIRED to check that out and then, of course, to buy Brad’s book. One of the questions I had about that was you mentioned in this excerpt how Amazon was doing this because they wanted their own software to be in people’s homes and in people’s lives. I think about that a lot, I mean, in the sense that they really don’t have a mobile operating system. They did make a phone at one point. It was called the Fire Phone. It was a failure. It didn’t really work out. So, I wonder if that strategy of getting Alexa into everyone’s homes was driven by this longterm vision of this is actually where the voice assistant is going to be most valuable or if it was driven by the fact that they didn’t have control over devices. They didn’t have control ultimately what the native voice assistant would be on iOS or Android, and so they had to strategically think elsewhere.
BS: I mean, this is back in 2011. The Fire Phone was also a kind of incipient project back then, so they didn’t see themselves as blocked off from the potential mobile ecosystem. They were developing tablets at the time with the same Fire OS that is now limping along, but I think it was more extending the advantage they had in cloud computing. Bezos was asking everyone inside the company, “What are you doing for AWS?” He was sort of thinking about, “Well, could you create a consumer device with its brains in the cloud that extended the advantage Amazon had into the consumer world?” At the same time, his assistant, Greg Hart, at the time showing him Google Voice, and they’re probably demoing some things at the time for the Fire Phone, which also needed a voice assistant. They knew Apple had acquired Siri, or at least, Siri was a popular app at the time. Bezos comes back to his executives with an email, “We should build a $20 computer whose brains are in the cloud that is completely controlled by your voice.”
So, it was this combination of exploit AWS, bring something else into people’s lives, maybe instead of clicking on Amazon once a week or once a month, it can be part of people’s lives, invent something new in consumer technology, but it was developed alongside the Fire Phone, so it was not seen as sort of a replacement or a strategic alternative. If anything, they invested more and had higher hopes for the Fire Phone. Because it failed, maybe they were able to take a little bit more risks and invest more and advertise on the Superbowl and do all this other stuff with Alexa that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise have done.
MC: I’m particularly interested in Amazon’s private label business, both Amazon Basics and those so-called in-store brands, brands that are sold exclusively on Amazon that Amazon actually owns though that fact is not made obvious. How did this part of the business grow? How much did you uncover about how much Amazon is using third party seller data to inform its own business moves?
BS: Right. That’s the big question. Well, this was not a unique page from the retail playbook, right? You go into Costco, and it’s all Kirkland. Walmart and Target and Walgreens, they have their own private labels. So, as Amazon build its consumables business and its food business, they started to think about, well, should they get into this arena as well? The early initiatives are hilariously ham-handed. They’ve got diapers that leak and that get terrible reviews. They’ve got … I don’t even … The names are crazy. Solimo and … They come up with all these names. I actually described in the book, they have a private label that is called Bloom Street That Bezos reviews and rejects after they’ve done a ton of work on it because he doesn’t want a Kirkland style brand. He wants unique individual brands that maybe aren’t explicitly tied to Amazon to your point, Michael.
Then, here’s the key to Amazon. It’s decentralized, OK? So, managers are like little CEOs over their own fiefdoms, and they’re given crazy goals. If they don’t meet their goals, well, maybe they’re not on an upward trajectory. The managers of these private label brands have to achieve every year. One of the ways they do that at the time, early days, 2015, ’16, ’17, is they go look to see what is selling well on the marketplace. If you have a nutritional supplement seller and there’s a million SKUs of enzyme, well, how does Amazon know what the private label and those sellers? I got documents, and I talked to former executives. The cookie jar was open even though Amazon had a policy against doing that, and they looked at the data. Fast forward to today and Bezos has asked about that in front of the House antitrust subcommittee. They say they’re going to evaluate it and examine it and investigate it. They assure everyone that it doesn’t happen and can’t happen, but look. It did.
The caveat is that the private label business at Amazon is still kind of small, still kind of sad. The 365 brand that they got from Whole Foods, of course, is a big asset but it’s funny. They’re still finding their way there. I think that it’s because they are geeky technologists that when it comes to creating something, a brand that has meaning for consumers like 365 or Kirkland, it’s foreign to them. They’re still trying to figure it out. So, we can point to the advantages they have. If a law was passed and private labels became illegal for at least a company like Amazon to do, it probably wouldn’t slow them down that much, so you got to put it in context.
MC: All right. We’re going to take a break, and then when we come back, we’ll have more with Brad Stone.
MC: Welcome back. Our guest this week is journalist and author, Brad Stone. Brad’s new book is called Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire. It’s out now from Simon & Schuster. You can also read an exclusive excerpt from Brad’s book on WIRED, which we published earlier this week. So, how has Jeff Bezos changed or evolved as an executive in the time between your two books, the early 2010s and today?
BS: So, I’ll tell you a story from Amazon Unbound, which is a little Godfather II-ish in terms of it’s mostly a continuation of the story, the last 10 years of Amazon, but there are some flashbacks. There’s a story that I tell, I think it’s in chapter six, of it’s a flashback, the early years like 2007. It’s an FBA meeting, Fulfillment by Amazon. A finance executive presents Bezos with a paper. These are six-page papers full of data in the appendix, and he’s scanning it. He somehow points out or identifies a mathematical error in the appendix. He says to this female finance exec named Cynthia Williams, “If I can’t trust this number, how can I trust anything in this paper?” He tears it up, and he throws it down the table, and he walks out.
I mean, can you imagine? She describes going home, basically thinking her career’s done. She can’t believe she made the mistake, opening a bottle of wine, emailing Bezos to apologize. He writes back. He’s cooled down. He says, “I don’t know anyone who has made the same kind of error.” So, that’s the old Bezos. The books are filled with these kinds of anecdotes. It’s very Jobsy in his lack of empathy, right, and that weird gene that he doesn’t have and his ability to cut an employee down at the knees.
You fast forward to today, and I don’t know if he got a leadership counselor, or he realized that you can’t get away with it anymore. He does still have the high standards. He does still send the ants scurrying in panic around him when he makes a proclamation or passes an edict or asks a question that somebody can’t answer, but there is a little bit, at least in Amazon, of a softer touch. Maybe at Blue Origin, he’s let the demons out a couple of times, but I think he understands now maybe because of some of these depictions that he needs to inspire more than intimidate.
LG: So, one of the big stories in the book that also ran on bloomberg.com as an excerpt is the story about Jeff Bezos’s personal drama that has unfolded in recent years and how he essentially wielded his power to squash what could have been an even more damaging story or how he beat the tabloids as you put it in the story. So, walk us through what happened and also how his ownership of the Washington Post became something of a complexifier in this extremely personal saga.
BS: Right. Well, let’s assume, since we can’t spend the hour it would take to recount the whole sorted ordeal, that people will have some recollection of the basics, right? Bezos is a married man. At least, the world believes that in 2018. He starts carrying on with a married woman, Lauren Sanchez, who was married to the very powerful head of the Endeavor Talent Agency. Early 2019, he announces his divorce on Twitter. The next day, the National Enquirer publishes details of the affair. All of our jaws collectively hit the floor, and we just can’t believe that the most disciplined person in the world has been caught in this dalliance and embarrassed by a tabloid.
LG: He’s been sexting.
BS: He’s been sexting. Right. There are talks of explicit photographs. I think this is a family podcast, so we’ll be careful in how we describe the tawdry details, but then fast forward maybe about a month or a couple of weeks, and he posts this blog to Medium where he accuses the Enquirer of extorting him. Well, he says that they are trying to force Bezos and his camp to drop the insinuation, that the story was politically motivated because the Enquirer is owned by AMI, which was all involved in the catch and kill allegations against Donald Trump. They have a non-prosecution agreement with the Southern District of New York, and they’re not supposed to get up to any mischief anymore. So, they’re trying to get the Bezos camp to stop these insinuations. They described what they have in their possession, which they were given by Lauren Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, and Bezos wraps himself up in the Washington Post and says, “These are my political enemies, and their motives are still to be better understood.”
What I conclude in the book and in the chapter on this in the book is that it really wasn’t about the post. The Saudis might have hacked his phone. We really don’t know for sure, but essentially, it was a much simpler story of the wealthiest person in the world making himself into an object of tabloid fascination, but he won that episode. The cover of Business Week where the excerpt ran said, “Bezos wins.” It was because it was a masterful turn of events, and he exploited the weaknesses of the National Enquirer with its arrangement with the prosecutors in New York and turned the tables on them and published their emails. It’s remarkable. It’s remarkable that a billionaire was … A major tabloid newspaper tried to embarrass him, and he got the editor fired and turned the tables. It was a jiu-jitsu move that even today can hardly be believed.
MC: Sticking with the controversies for a bit, Amazon, just all of the other large powerful tech companies, has not been immune to criticism because of cultural and social issues, right? There’s the company’s impact on the environment with all of its shipping, its treatment of its warehouse workers, its union-busting efforts. From your reporting, did you get the sense that any of these things sort of sit heavily with Jeff Bezos, and do they affect the culture of the company at all?
BS: No doubt. He is incredibly attuned to criticism of the company and of himself. I mean, some of it is tactical, like he doesn’t want people to hesitate when they click the Buy Now button. I think that they, I mean, arguably have been late to making adjustments in their fulfillment centers. A couple years ago, they moved their hourly wage to $15 an hour. We’re talking in a week where they announced they were hiring 75,000 more employees and who are going to have a $17 an hour wage, but in that last shareholder letter, he wrote, which might be the last investor letter he ever writes considering he’s retiring as CEO, he talked about wanting to be the world’s best employer and how he was going to start devoting more of his time to improving that employee relationship.
Now, look. It’s 25 years into the company. It shows that maybe instead of leading as they like to believe that they are, they’re reading, right? They’re seeing all the criticisms, and they’re realizing that it poses a kind of existential threat to the company if people believe they’re a negative force in the world. So, they’re, they’re looking at it. They take it seriously. You compare his reputation to Elon’s, and it’s remarkable the halo that is over Elon’s head and almost opposite when people consider Jeff and his public image, but I think that’s why he’s starting to take philanthropy seriously and try to improve that legacy as well.
LG: It’s so interesting that you say that because I thought you were going to go in the opposite direction and say, “If you compared him to Elon, Jeff has a glowing image compared to Elon,” but I guess it’s how I-
BS: Do you disagree? I mean, I feel like Elon, despite some of the Twitter missteps, he goes on SNL, and it’s a cultural moment. You can’t even imagine Bezos doing that. I feel increasingly, he is seen as a little bit of a economic … Well, predator is a strong word but certainly in some corners, for sure and Elon as this as the swashbuckling space guy.
LG: Right. Speaking of space, Bezos also runs Blue Origin, a suborbital space flight company. We should probably talk about that as well as the fact that he has stepped down as CEO of Amazon. So, I guess two-pronged question. What does the future of Amazon look with Andy Jassy at the helm, and why is Bezos so interested in space? It seems like he’s going to be spending more of his time with Blue Origin.
BS: Right. Well, space was always a personal passion of his. He gave his valedictorian speech in high school about it. He started Blue Origin in 2000 before SpaceX. He just thought he could go slowly, and Elon came around to SpaceX and started getting all this government money to scale the company. Then, Bezos thought, “Why am I spending a billion dollars of my own money?” Now, they compete for space contracts, and SpaceX has been winning everything, and Blue Origin has been protesting everything. I think it’s created some dysfunction at Blue Origin, and so he’s going to have to, in his newly available free time, go back there and maybe devote the kind of attention to it that Elon devotes to SpaceX. So, there’s a really entertaining rivalry that we’ll be following for a couple of years there.
Then, Lauren, to answer the other question, Andy Jassy ran the cloud business at Amazon. He is one of those Jeff disciples who is a shadow, his technical assistant but who has now really evolved into a formidable leader in his own right. AWS is a $50 billion run rate a year business. It’s like he’s a logical choice to succeed Bezos. The difference is that he’s not an innovator or at least an inventor in the way that Bezos is. He’s not going to be drawing the next Alexa on a white board, right, or coming up with something out of the blue. At least, I don’t think so. I mean, he’s an MBA and an operator. So, Bezos says he’ll stick around to keep working on new things, but if he ever does really step aside, who will replace that function at Amazon is a really good question for people who watch the company.
LG: To follow up on Mike’s earlier question, Amazon with Jassy at the helm, does the culture change at all? What is his style as a leader? I do wonder if the company will become something of a friendlier place for people to work at, which we could only hope.
BS: Right. I think he has a little bit more of the empathy gene than Bezos does, so perhaps it does. I think he’s a lot more attuned to the sort of diversity challenges that Amazon has, the workplace pressure that it’s under to improve its relationship with employees. He presents a humbler target also for regulators and lawmakers. Bezos is the richest guy in the world, and he’s just not going to get a lot of sympathy sitting in Congress now, so I think we probably will expect the Jassy to be there. They’ll probably still ask for Bezos. So, will the culture change? That’ll have to be a slow process because Bezos has finely tuned the mechanics and the clockwork right down to the review process, the leadership principles. We’ll also see how much leeway Bezos gives Jassy to make those kinds of changes because he’s still going to be the loudest voice in the conference room, right? He’ll still be around. I suspect if there is changes, it’ll be gradual.
MC: All right. Well, let’s take another quick break, and when we come back, we’ll move into our recommendations.
MC: All right. Welcome back. We’re here with Brad Stone. Now, Brad, you may have heard that this is the part of the show where we recommend to our listeners a thing that you have been enjoying that you would urge them to check out. It can be a physical object. It can be a piece of media. It can be a book about Amazon. Please don’t recommend your own book, but what would you like to recommend?
BS: OK, well, I have a colleague at Bloomberg named Jason Schreier, who is an enormously talented journalist. He covers the video game beat for us. We had the sort of coincidental, maybe misfortune of releasing books on the same day. His is called Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry. I have been gobbling this thing up at night after I’m done self-promoting. It’s like this look inside the video game industry, everything from the demise of small video game studios like Irrational Games or how Curt Schilling, the famous former baseball player turned conservative gadfly, tried to develop World of Warcraft and buy the company that made it. It’s like the seedy underbelly of the video game industry. It’s such an entertaining read.
I’ve got a PS4. I need to upgrade, I guess. We also have a Nintendo that we play with the kids. Learning the stories of this and what goes on and how difficult and challenging the culture of the video game industry is, is like a wild revelation. It’s a book that I recommend to anybody who’s interested in video games or the tech industry or how corporate cultures develop and can go wrong.
MC: Nice. The title one more time.
BS: Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry.
LG: Did he consider naming it Blow on the Cartridge?
BS: I will have to ask him that.
MC: Lauren, what’s your recommendation?
LG: My recommendation is a Substack from the writer, Anne Helen Petersen. Now, some of you might remember that we’ve had Anne Helen on this podcast before. She joined us last year to talk about her book, Can’t Even, which is about millennial burnout. We brought her on to give us advice for how, well, not to feel so burnt out. She was a wonderful guest, and she’s also just an excellent writer. So, I now pay $5 a month for access to her newsletter, Culture Study, which is all about culture particularly internet culture but also other really interesting, fascinating topics as well. Bonus, if you subscribe to Culture Study, you also get access to this new Discord server that a bunch of fellow writers have started. Writers include Casey Newton, Eric Newcomer, Nick Quah, Delia Cai, Charlie Warzel, and of course, Anne Helen. This is a very writer on writer podcasts that we’re sharing with you today. Some of these names might not be familiar to you, but some of you might know who these folks are. Anyway, it’s a cool thing that they’re doing to, to try to just run their own business as independent writers. I recommend supporting it, so subscribe to Culture Study, and then you can access the Discord.
MC: What’s their Discord platform called?
LG: Sidechannel. Because we at WIRED already had Backchannel.
MC: That’s right. You know they wanted to call it Backchannel.
LG: I mean, who wouldn’t want to call it Backchannel? Mike, what’s your recommendation.
MC: Would you believe it? I am also going to recommend a Substack newsletter.
LG: Oh, my gosh. Substack taking over the world for now.
MC: For now anyway.
LG: Brad’s going to write his next book on Substack.
MC: Subscribe to get the chapters. So, the newsletter that I want to recommend, it’s a music nerd newsletter. It’s called EchoLocator. It’s written by a lifelong music journalist named Tom Moon. Tom has reviewed albums, and he’s written about musical genres. He’s also the author of a book that you’ve probably heard cited everywhere. It’s called 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. So, the echo locator newsletter is dedicated to finding this sort of obscure and forgotten parts of the music world that are hiding in plain sight in the streaming era.
So, in recent weeks, there has been a whole essay about the “unknown remixes” of Fresh by Sly and the Family Stone. There has been one about the Detroit instrumentals that came out of the Motown era. There was one about … There’s a really great rant about Spotify. He’s anti-Spotify. The funny thing is every newsletter that comes out has a Spotify playlist attached, so if you’re interested in going a little bit further into the world of music recommendations and you prefer to get your music recommended to you by a person in the know rather than an algorithm that is guessing what you might like, then this is a great way to take that path because Tom is a good writer. His newsletters are very short, and there is a link to get right into what he’s talking about at the top of every of every one. So, that’s my recommendation. EchoLocator, and it’s free.
MC: All right. That is our show for this week. Brad Stone, thank you for joining us.
BS: Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Lauren.
LG: Thanks, Brad.
MC: Come back any time when you write that third book. Brad’s new book is called Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire. Read it on your Kindle and thank you all for listening. If you have feedback, you can find all of us on Twitter. Just check the show notes. This show is produced by Boone Ashworth. We will be back next week. Goodbye.
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