Virginia Postrel on Jeff Bezos and the Resistance to Capitalist Innovation, From 1996


Tech moguls still had hair in the '90s. Also, did you know that he took her last name? |||

One of the first articles about founder (and new Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos was written in 1996 by then-Reason editor Virginia Postrel. In her prescient time capsule of a piece, Postrel celebrates the technological innovation of online selling while predicting opposition from those reflexively hostile to disruptive change:

Nothing upsets stasis-loving social critics more than new institutions for buying and selling, institutions that are often among the first applications of information technology. Just about every innovation that makes trade easier, especially for consumers, meets social and political resistance—often in the name of values. […]

[But] take the values independent booksellers celebrate: diverse literary voices, personal service, support for unknown authors. Jeff Bezos is delivering those values—and just about any English-language book—via the World Wide Web. His year-old Seattle-based company,, is the world's largest bookstore, a store with a million titles and no inventory. " cannot exist in the physical world," says Bezos, a 32-year-old former hedge fund manager. "No metropolitan area could support a million-title bookstore."

Order it on Amazon today! |||

When a customer places an order from its Web site (, Amazon's computer checks with several large distributors. If a distributor has the book, the customer gets it from Amazon in two to three days. If not, Amazon orders by phone from the publisher—including places so small they carry only a single title—and the process takes a bit longer. The on-line customer finds out immediately how soon to expect the book. "From the customer's point of view, it doesn't feel any different ordering a hard-to-find art book than ordering Primary Colors," says Leslie Koch, vice president for marketing. threatens old-fashioned physical bookstores—and we can expect to hear them squawk—but it furthers their professed values. It's great for tiny presses and obscure authors. By tracking customer order records, it plans to offer the sort of knowledgeable recommendations a small-town independent bookseller might make to a regular patron, while drawing from many more titles. And by boasting that it carries every book in print, it's agreeing not to let political pressure or slow sales stand between readers and their books.

Read the whole thing here, read Postrel's Reason archive here, then order (from Amazon!) her foundational 1990s book on the broad topic, The Future and its Enemies

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    1. My liver BEGS you to stop, Welch! It’s eight fuckin’ twenty, for Christ’s sake. I’m at WORK!

      Think of teh children…

  1. “Did you know he took her last name?”

    I did not, nor did I want to. But now I know.

    You know who else had more hair than most people while they worked at Reason than most other staffers….

    1. Radley Balko?

    2. I’m not even sure what this is about.

    3. I don’t think that’s correct. Bezos is not his birth last name, but I thought it was the last name of his stepfather, whom his mother married when he was quite young.

      1. “Bezos’s parents were married less than a year, and when Bezos was four years old his mother married his step-father Mike Bezos, a Cuban immigrant.”

  2. This drivel would never have been posted back when Postrel was editor.

  3. I love it.

    It is the Peanut Gallery vs. The Legacy of Reason Magazine.

    The former is feeling all jilted due to the homage paid a “pseudo libertarian” like Bezos.

    Of course, Bezos is an imposter to the Peanuts only because he has not openly sided with conservatives against liberals. Hey, Bezos, donate a few bucks to Jim Inhofe to prove you are libertarian!

    1. WTF

      1. Don’t try to understand stupid, it just makes you stupid as well. Walk way. Spare yourself.

        1. Give us the logic, the facts, and the whole argument, and we’ll spare your lives. Just walk away.

      2. WTF

        Yeah. He got me to look back again at the comments before his, but his curveball is all spin and no ball.

    2. “I love it.”

      You love it, but you don’t understand it. No one here has ever given two shits about Bezos’ politics. Unlike you, we don’t obsess over who is a “good guy” and who needs to be pulling up turnips in a re-education camp.

      Bezos is celebrated for his innovations that make our lives better (and make him rich enough to buy the POS Wapo from the liberal idiots who ran it into the ground).

      Suck on this: the head of Home Depot said he couldn’t even start his business today (under Obama). Bezos would probably say the same if you got him drunk.

      “Hey, Bezos, donate a few bucks to Jim Inhofe to prove you are libertarian!”

      Please don’t try to be clever. Your kids may read this someday. They’ll have enough shame to live with as it is.

  4. Amazon had a great run. They charged me NJ sales tax on my last order. Run over.

    1. Well, since you’ve been dutifully paying your NJ sales tax on items purchased online, you should be thankful Amazon has picked up that burden for you now.

      1. So grateful I might have spread the love to other retailers.

    2. They charged me NJ sales tax on my last order.


      Was it Amazon or just someone that sold you something thru amazon?

      If the latter, it’s quite possible the merchant that you bought said order from just happened to live in NJ.

      I bought my last TV through amazon specifically to avoid sales tax.

  5. I buy everything through Amazon. And now with Amazon Fresh, I get my groceries delivered too. God I love that company.

    1. Sucks that you live in Seattle or LA though.

      God help you if you live in Seattle. The only place I’ve been to that I hate more, in the entire world, is Minot, ND.

      1. Long Beach, CA.

        1. I’ll call your suck-ass towns and raise you Immokalee, Fla.; Alton, Ill.; and High Point, N.C.

  6. Oh jesus fuck Matt, you could’ve made this one of those “45 years of reason in 45 days” things.


  7. Won’t somebody think of the poor buggy whip makers?

    1. Their warehouses full of stock will go in a flash when Peak Oil hits.…..ries-2013/

  8. says Leslie Koch, vice president for marketing

    KOCHTAPawwww fuck it.

  9. He used to be against it, but now that it suits his needs since they are setting up warehouses in more and more states–taking advantage of state cronyism, which I don’t like but is rational given the environment–he’s now all gungho for the national online sales tax.

    $26 million from NASA for Bezo’s space company, Blue Origin. $800 million contract with the CIA and in general gov agencies for AWS and S3. That means, both he personally and the corporation have MUCH more incentive to bend over and cozy up to the gov instead of resisting; to make snooping easier than the make snooping harder or impossible *even* when they have the legal option to. Buckles easily under social pressure and political pressure, both for hosting for AWS/S3 and US marketplace material, some of which find refuge at Barnes&Noble; ironically.

    Amazon is useful, no doubt. Postrel was right about their utility, but let’s not kid ourselves and conflate utility and principle.

    In her prescient time capsule of a piece,

    I’m pretty sure she did not predict his hard 180 degree flip-flop on online sales taxes

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