Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN (http://quotes.nasdaq.com/asp/SummaryQuote.asp?symbol=AMZN&selected=AMZN)) is an American electronic commerce company based in Seattle, Washington. It was one of the first major companies to sell goods over the Internet. Amazon also owns Alexa Internet, a9.com, and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
Amazon assigns a unique identifier to all items it sells, the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN). (For books, the ASIN is the same as the item's ISBN.) Amazon offers access to its catalog via web services, much as Google does to its search engine. In addition, a9.com provides search engine services directly on the Amazon.com site.
Launched in 1995, Amazon.com began as an online book-selling company but has now branched off into many other areas, including DVDs, music CDs, computer software, video games, electronics, apparel, furniture, and more.
Screenshot of the Amazon home page
Founded as Cadabra.com by Jeff Bezos in Internet, the company began as an online bookstore. Bezos saw the potential of the Internet; while the largest brick-and-mortar bookstore might sell upwards of 200,000 titles, an online bookstore could sell many times more. Bezos renamed his company "Amazon" in reference to the world's most voluminous river, the Amazon. Amazon.com began service in July 1995. The company was originally incorporated in 1994 in the state of Washington and was reincorporated in 1996 in Delaware. Amazon.com had its initial public offering on May 15, 1997, trading on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the symbol AMZN at an IPO price of $18.00 per share (equivalent to $1.50 today due to stock splits).
Amazon's initial business plan was unique, in that the company did not expect to turn a profit for a good four to five years after it was founded. This strategy proved to be a sound one in the wake of the dotcom collapse of 2000. Amazon grew at a steady pace in the late 1990s while other Internet companies appeared out of nowhere and grew at a blindingly fast pace. Amazon's "slow" growth caused a number of its stockholders to complain, saying that the company was not reaching profitability fast enough. When the Internet "bubble" burst and many e-companies began going out of business, Amazon persevered and finally turned its first-ever profit in the fourth quarter of 2002. It totaled a meager $5 million, just 1 cent per share, on revenues of over $1 billion, but it was extremely important symbolically for a company that kept promising profitability but wasn't delivering. It has since remained profitable and maintained revenues of over $1 billion per fiscal quarter. In January 2004 Amazon posted its first full-year net profit (for calendar year 2003). Its profits were $35.3 million on revenues of $5.65 billion. Much of the growth of the company was due to its international division.
Recognizing the website's success in popularizing online shopping, Time Magazine named Bezos its 1999 United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, France, and Japan. In addition, the Web sites of Borders.com, Waldenbooks.com, Virginmega.com, Virginmega.co.jp, Waterstones.co.uk, CDNOW.com, and HMV.com now redirect to Amazon's site for the country in question, for which these companies are paid referral fees. Typing ToysRUs.com into one's browser will similarly bring up Amazon.com's Toys & Games tab. Amazon.com also operates Target's retail Web site and the online NBA store.
Corporate headquarters are on Beacon Hill in Seattle, Washington; the rest of the Seattle workforce operates out of the International District and Rainier Valley. There are also domestic operations in Tacoma, Washington; Campbellsville and Lexington, Kentucky; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Huntington, West Virginia; New Castle, Delaware; Coffeyville, Kansas; Fairfax County, Virginia; and Fernley, Nevada. International operations are in Slough and Milton Keynes, England; Edinburgh and Gourock, Scotland; Guyancourt and Orléans, France; Munich, Regensburg and Bad Hersfeld, Germany; and Tokyo, Sapporo, and Ichikawa, Japan.
Expansion of product lines and site features
Amazon's bookstore quickly began expanding, branching off into retail sales of music CDs, videos and DVDs, software, consumer electronics, kitchen items, tools, lawn and garden items, toys, apparel, sporting goods, gourmet food, jewelry, watches, health and personal_care items, beauty products, musical instruments, and more.
According to information in the Amazon.com discussion forums, Amazon derives about 40% of its sales from affiliates, whom they call "Associates." By the end of 2003, Amazon had signed up almost one million Associates.
Amazon bought the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) in April 1998, a move that upset a number of its longtime users; the transformation of IMDb from a public-domain, nonprofit site to a commercial venture was seen as a slap in the face to many Internet users. However, the IMDb has continued to grow and prosper.
Amazon bought Cambridge, Massachusetts-based PlanetAll in August 1998 for 800,000 shares of Amazon stock, then valued at approximately $88 million. PlanetAll operated a Web-based address book, calendar, and reminder service. Most of the staff at PlanetAll were absorbed by Amazon in early 1999. Many went on to build community-focused features for the Amazon Web site, including Friends & Favorites and Purchase Circles. The original PlanetAll Web site was discontinued on July 2, 2000.
In March 1999, Amazon launched Amazon.com Auctions, its foray into the Internet auctions space then dominated by eBay. Although Amazon's stock received a short-term boost from the announcement, Amazon's auction business failed to chip away at eBay's juggernaut growth. Much of the failure is owed to Amazon's inability to quickly integrate the fledgling auctions business into their existing successful retail space where Amazon's customer traffic was focused. Amazon Auctions was followed by the launch of a fixed-price marketplace business called zShops in September 1999, and a failed Sotheby's/Amazon partnership called sothebys.amazon.com in November. Although zShops failed to live up to its expectations, it laid the groundwork for the hugely successful Amazon Marketplace service launched in 2001 that let customers sell used books, CDs, DVDs, and other products alongside new items.
Amazon bought Alexa Internet, Accept.com, and Exchange.com in a set of deals worth approximately $645 million in June 1999.
In 2002, Amazon became the exclusive retailer for the much-hyped Segway Human Transporter. Bezos was an early supporter of the Segway before its details were made public.
"Search Inside the Book" is a feature which makes it possible for customers to search for keywords in the full text of more than 120,000 books (or 33 million pages of text). Since October 23, 2003, the company has cooperated with around 130 publishers to allow users to perform searches on copyrighted printed material that is not readily available elsewhere except for texts in the public domain (see list of digital library projects for examples of these) or otherwise available in digital form. To avoid copyright violations, Amazon.com does not return the computer-readable text of the book but rather a picture of the page containing the found excerpt, disables printing of the pages, and puts limits on the number of pages in a book a single user can access.
In 2004, Amazon launched a new search engine called a9.com (http://www.a9.com/). A9.com incorporates Search Inside the Book, allowing users to search within the text of books as well as searching for text on the Web. It also purchased Joyo.com, a Chinese e-commerce Web site.
Also in 2004, Amazon launched its Presidential Candidates feature, whereby customers could donate from $5 to $200 to the campaigns of U.S. presidential hopefuls, resurrecting the Amazon Honor System for the purpose. The Honor System was originally launched in 2001 as a way for Amazon customers to "tip" their "favorite Web sites and to buy digital content on the Web," Amazon collecting 2.9% of the payment plus a flat fee of 30 cents. It has never been shut down, but had fallen into relative disuse.
At the end of the year, with the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Amazon set up an online donation channel to the American Red Cross using the Honor System, waiving its processing fee. As of January 3, 2005 over 162,000 individuals had donated over $13.1 million in this way. The same week, Amazon created similar channels for the British, Canadian, French, German, and Japanese Red Crosses via its international sites. Over 7,000 Britons have thus far donated over $350,000; over 900 Canadians, over $56,000; over 660 French, over $23,000; over 2,900 Germans, over $145,000; and over 1,900 Japanese, over $66,000.
The company has been controversial for its use of patents as an alleged hindrance to competitors. The "one click patent" is perhaps the best-known example of this. Amazon's use of the one-click patent against competitor Barnes and Noble's website led the Free Software Foundation to announce a boycott on Amazon in December 1999  (http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=1999-12-22-001-05-NW-LF). The boycott was discontinued in September 2002  (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/amazon.html).
On February 25, 2003, the company was granted a patent titled "Method and system for conducting a discussion relating to an item on Internet discussion boards."
- Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first book sold by Amazon on July 15, 1995.
- Some of the words in Amazon.com URLs are nods to the Brazil: obidos comes from Óbidos, the meeting place of the Amazon's Portuguese (Brazil's main language) for a forest flooded after heavy rains, as parts of the Amazon forest are; gp is short for Gurupa, a region in northeastern Brazil near the mouth of the Amazon.
- Robert Spector (2001). amazon.com--Get Big Fast: Inside the Revolutionary Business Model That Changed the World. Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0066620414.
- Mike Daisey (2002). 21 Dog Years. Free Press. ISBN 0743225805.
- Mara Friedman (2004). Amazon.com for Dummies. Wiley Publishing. ISBN 0764558404.
- James Marcus (2004). Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut. W.W. Norton. ISBN 1565848705.
- Coeus Internet Explorer add-on adding built in Amazon.com searching.
- Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/) (United States)
- Amazon.co.uk (http://www.amazon.co.uk/) (United Kingdom)
- Amazon.ca (http://www.amazon.ca/) (Canada)
- Amazon.de (http://www.amazon.de/) (Germany)
- Amazon.at (http://www.amazon.at/) (Austria)
- Amazon.nl (http://www.amazon.nl/) (Netherlands)
- Amazon.fr (http://www.amazon.fr/) (France)
- Amazon.co.jp (http://www.amazon.co.jp/) (Japan)
- Joyo.com(Chinese: 卓越网) (http://www.joyo.com/) (China)
- Blog about amazon.com (http://www.amazonbrand.com/)