Is Amazon's Jeff Bezos the Next Steve Jobs?

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Is Amazon's Jeff Bezos the Next Steve Jobs? There will never be another Steve Jobs.

Apple's (AAPL) iconic co-founder is one of a kind. The world's most valuable tech giant will survive without him. Between CEO Tim Cook's operating savvy and chief designer Jonathan Ive's penchant for simplistic gadgetry style, most believe Apple will continue the momentum that's been building over the past few years under Jobs' watch.

However, what Apple will miss the most in his absence is Jobs the master marketer.
  • He sold us on the iPod, while our throwback Sony Walkman was collecting dust in the attic.
  • He sold us on iTunes, somehow convincing us that it was better to pay 99 cents for a legal song download than hitting the plethora of peer-to-peer networks for a free pirated copy.
  • He sold us on the iPhone at a time when paying as much as $599 for a smartphone without a physical keypad seemed preposterous.
  • He sold us on the iPad. We snickered at the name and questioned whether we really needed a device to bridge the gap between the smartphone and the laptop. Jobs simply called it "magical" and we asked where to line up.
Who is going to tell us what to buy before we realize we want to buy it now?

Bang a Gong, Amazon

Jeff Bezos may seem like an odd choice to be the next gadget visionary. Amazon.com (AMZN) got its start in the mid-1990s as an online bookseller with the gall to call itself the world's biggest bookstore.

Jobs may have the storybook tale of two guys in a garage -- the genesis of some of California's biggest tech giants including Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Google (GOOG) -- but Bezos was just a guy on a hard concrete floor, packaging book orders with fellow employees until one of them suggested that Bezos invest in packing tables.

However, Amazon isn't just an online retailer. It is a technology company at its chewy center. Its proven platform and patented one-click checkout find third-party retailers of all sizes leaning on Amazon to sell their wares.

Jobs played by his own rules and won -- and so has Bezos. Suppliers and rival retailers question why Amazon allows negative customer reviews on product pages, but it's also the reason why shoppers can trust the site. Besides, it's not as if Amazon can't steer visitors to similar products with more positive critiques.

Just as Apple has evolved into more than just the computers that defined its purpose on the other side of this millennium, Amazon has evolved into more than an online retailer.

Kindling a Fire

Bezos isn't afraid to dream. He was an early advocate for the Segway scooter. He's also invested in public space travel. These are big-ticket items -- hobbies for Bezos, perhaps -- but he has finally taken a bold step in Jobs-ness with the Kindle.

Bibliophiles love the way their books feel in their hands. They enjoy stacking a finished read on their bookshelf or passing it along to a friend. Then Amazon, which got its start in 1995 appealing to bookworms, comes along a dozen years later with a device that threatens to push leafy books toward obsolescence.

Mainstream audiences didn't want e-readers when Amazon introduced the Kindle during the 2007 holiday shopping season. Outside of Sony (SNE), it was largely obscure companies cranking out electronic book readers. The name certainly didn't help. Kindle -- and now the Kindle Fire -- convey images of kindling firewood in a book burning.

However, Bezos went all in with the Kindle. The $399 e-reader was promoted heavily on Amazon's homepage. It was the holidays! Did Bezos know what he was doing by making it harder for shoppers to find the stuff that they actually wanted to buy that season?

Several price cuts and generations later, Amazon's Kindle is the undisputed champ in this space. Barnes & Noble's (BKS) Nook is the distant silver medalist with only a quarter of the market. Now that the Kindle can be had for as little as $79 it will be tough to topple.

Then we have the Kindle Fire, Amazon's $199 touchscreen tablet that does more than just read books. Apple's iPad has easily deflected rival tablet makers, but it has never faced a company this big selling a tablet at a price this low.

In an ideal world, Kindle Fire doesn't eat into Apple's business as much as it expands the market of tablet owners. Folks who have flinched at Apple's $499 entry-level price for a nonessential gadget may make the plunge at $199. It also only helps that Amazon has 12,000 video titles available at no extra cost to existing Amazon Prime members.

One Disruption at a Time

Bezos won't be crowned tech's next visionary overnight. The market's reaction to this week's report -- pounding the shares because Bezos is valuing market penetration more than margin expansion -- shows that Wall Street isn't ready to trust his gambles.

However, Bezos was able to sell millions of Kindles to this same skeptical market, and preorders for next month's Kindle Fire appear to also be in the millions.

Bezos knows what we want before we know we want it -- and that's the biggest Jobs-esque compliment that one can ever receive.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any stocks in this article, except for HP. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Google, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.





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7 Comments

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John

Nope, just like there won't be another Bill Gates. Jobs was one of a kind. Anyone who steps in his shoes will be compared to Steve Jobs.

November 01 2011 at 5:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wla2000

No.

October 31 2011 at 11:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
azmurph

No way. If he was the next steve jobs he would have stepped up months ago. The kindle.....please!

October 31 2011 at 3:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MARK

Technology only kills jobs when the manufacturers get greedy. In theory if the technology is used correctly it creates a better product with less labor but when you simply use less people and retain the sme pay and working hours or more it becomes self defeating since you have fewer customers that can afford to purchase. Henry Ford was the father of this approach and it not only put many more affordable cars on the road but many people to work.

October 31 2011 at 3:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
MARK

All these toys are nice but it takes JOBS to afford them.

October 31 2011 at 2:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
servicemasterwv

ah noooooooooooooo there will never be another steve jobs just wantabees

October 31 2011 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dabrownman

I sure hope not. Jobs killed more jobs with technology than anyone alive today except perhapes Bill Gates

October 31 2011 at 9:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mario Augusto

Great for both Marketers and their product's impact will be felt for a long time... The impact would have been even greater if only the back of the units were to say MADE IN USA.

October 30 2011 at 6:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply