- Business Software
- Computer Security
- Internet and Online Business
- Managing Technology
- Telecom and Wireless
- Tools on Managing Technology
Tag Archives: Harry Potter
In his Wired article in 2004, Chris Anderson pioneered the use of the phrase “The Long Tail” as a proper noun. He observed that the reduced costs of distribution over the Internet are making it easier for businesses to serve consumer demand for niche items, and that collectively, the niches added up to quite a significant market for companies like Rhapsody, Netflix, or Amazon. This collection of all niches, “the long tail,” he argued, generates substantial value for a variety of businesses. The long tail effect liberates consumers from having to buy what everyone else is buying, and enables businesses to serve specialized needs, rather than just serving the lowest common denominator. This idea flies against the traditional distribution networks, which only stocked those items that are most likely to sell a lot of units. Traditional supply chains needed to play this “blockbuster” strategy because their fixed costs of carrying any item and making it accessible to customers were very high. And the only products that could justify that cost were the ones that were likely to sell a lot of units. For example, in the movie industry, this “supply chain” consisted of theaters, and DVD sales through large retailers, both of which have high fixed costs and limited shelf space. The Internet reduces many of the fixed costs, removes the restriction on shelf space, and makes every item easily accessible through searchable interfaces. No wonder, then, that Internet companies have chosen to carry larger inventories than their offline counterparts, enabling them to cater to niche interests. Backlash against the long tail Despite the widespread use of this idea, there has been recent backlash against it. Criticism of the idea recently started with an analysis by Anita Elberse, and was picked up by many others in the media. The critique centers around the idea that long tail companies make most of their profits from a small percentage of items sold; the classic 80-20 rule still applies. Based on this, the critics recommend that entrepreneurs and managers should continue to focus on the blockbuster strategy. This analysis, however, overlooks the fact that it’s impossible to predict what will be a hit. Consider the list of top 100 rentals on Netflix a good indicator of consumer demand. At least three of these movies are independent films, each with a budget of $6-8 million. Juno, with a budget of $6.5 million, went on to gross 35 times that in earnings, and Little Miss Sunshine, which cost $7.7 million to make, earned more than $100 million in revenues. The Last King of Scotland, with a budget of $8 million, completes the trio. Compare these 10x returns with a mainstream movie like The Dark Knight, which made less than six times its budget of $185 million — and that’s among the more successful hits. Before they made it big, movies like Juno, Little Miss Sunshine and The Last King of Scotland seemed like films that would end up in the long tail. And the entertainment executive who focused purely on the blockbuster strategy would have missed out on the financial returns of these movies. When the critics of the long tail theory account for revenues and profits, they look at data compiled after the masses have picked the winners and the losers. Some of the “winners,” the items that made it to the top 20 percent of revenues, might have come from the long tail of investments (e.g., the low budget movies). So when the critics recommend not investing in the long tail, they’re confusing the tail of revenues with the tail of investments. The real value of the long tail is that it helps pick the winners like Juno. You might think the cost of picking winners in this way is prohibitive, but that’s no longer true in the new digital world. In the traditional supply chain, an average long tail product would not make any money at all, because it wouldn’t be stocked anywhere. However, in the digital world, even the product that starts life in the long tail and stays there makes some money because it reaches a niche audience. And, who knows, there’s always the chance that some of these long tail products could become popular someday, and make tons of money. The author Nissim Taleb deals with phenomena like these where the outlier (like Juno) has a significant effect on the average performance. He calls this effect the “Black Swan.” In the blockbuster strategy, which requires heavy investments, the returns on all movies would perhaps cluster around one, and an outlier like The Dark Knight returns six times its investment. The exposure to the outlier, or the Black Swan, is much greater in the tail. As we’ve seen, an outlier in the tail can have a much more significant return. These effects only get amplified with digital distribution, where shelf space is unlimited and the investment in distribution costs is negligible. As The Arctic Monkeys, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and many others have shown, it is possible for small indie bands to rise to stardom by the buzz they create on the Internet. While the long tail is exposed to the positive Black Swan (unexpectedly good returns), the blockbuster strategy is only exposed to a negative Black Swan, because the strategy requires heavy investments. A prime example is the movie Waterworld, made with a budget of $175 million, which grossed only $88 million worldwide. Does this mean that the blockbuster strategy is dead? Not at all. After all, the Netflix 100 has a lot of room for high budget movies. Amazon and Netflix understand this very well, and put as much focus into the likely hit as they do into carrying all the indies. Their infinite shelf space allows them to stock the Harry Potter book or The Dark Knight DVD as well as lesser known title, and their search and review mechanisms help the community vote up an occasional obscure title to become a hit. The lesson? Success is about finding the right balance of long tail strategies and more traditional approaches. Vijay Chittoor is the director of product management at Kosmix, an exploration engine that offers a 360 degree view of any topic on the Web. A former McKinsey consultant, Vijay is a graduate of Harvard Business School and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. He shares his thoughts on technology at his blog..
Printable Promotions has only had a blog on its site for a month or so. But it’s already made an impact on the company’s search engine rankings. “I did a Google search on ‘reusable folding grocery bag,’” says Stacie Long, the company’s operations manager. “The YouTube video of our product that we posted on our blog came up third or fourth.” For many small business leaders, blogging can engender feelings of envy and frustration — envy over legendary blogs that draw thousands of daily page views and frustration from the sneaking suspicion that no one out there is reading their own postings. Search engine optimization (SEO) can change that. “Blogging is a great way to drive users to a site,” says Kelly Cutler, CEO of Internet marketing firm Marcel Media. “It can also help with stickiness, which is an important goal these days. It’s too easy for users to bounce away from your site before they’ve done something valuable like sign up for your newsletter or fill out a form.” How can you improve your blog’s ranking on search engines? SEO is a complex science, but here are some principles that will help: Make it crawler-friendly Search engines dispatch software called crawlers (or sometimes “spiders”) to roam the World Wide Web in search of sites that might be of interest to searchers. One important SEO strategy is to have your blog be easy for the crawlers to find. “Make sure the software is set up so that posts don’t get buried ten levels deep in your site,” advises Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings, an SEO service. “They should be easy to reach so search engines can crawl them.” Whalen also advises using SEO-friendly blog software. “WordPress is probably one of the best for that,” she says. It’s also smart idea to include links in your posts, both to your own website’s product pages or other information, and to outside websites as well. Why? It’s links to your site, not from your site, that drive search engine rankings — but, Whalen notes, one often begets the other. “It’s a good way to get linking back and forth,” she says. “Other site owners usually check who’s linking to them, so they get to know who you are.” When linking to outside sites, make sure the links open in a new window or tab so that users don’t automatically leave your site whenever they click on a link. To keyword or not to keyword Since all searches start with keywords, it seems obvious that including the pertinent keyword as many times as you can in a blog entry should help bring traffic. Not so fast, experts say. “Don’t force keywords into content where they wouldn’t normally be,” Cutler cautions. “That creates a bad user experience, which means people won’t use your blog, and then Google won’t index your blog.” In fact, Marcel Media usually refrains from even telling client bloggers what the top keywords are for their sites. “Blogs are usually better done without that kind of research in mind,” Cutler says. Instead, she tries to identify blog topics where preferred terms come up naturally. “One of our clients is a hospital and we’ve identified specific areas they want to focus on. We’ve invited doctors who specialize in those areas to participate in blogging. We’re not trying to build content around keywords, but because those doctors work in those areas, we know the keywords will be used.” If you do decide to do keyword research, Whalen recommends Keyword Discovery or Wordtracker to find what keywords your customers are searching. She also notes that Google’s AdWords offers information on keyword searches that is free to use, even if you’re not an AdWords customer. But, she advises, don’t just go for the top terms. “Very competitive phrases probably have many sites optimizing for them,” she says. “So you want a phrase that’s less competitive, but still has some people searching it.” If that phrase is specific to your business’s unique value proposition, optimizing on it can be a very powerful tool. Content is king “A mistake I’ve seen a lot is that companies think Web 2.0 is like regular advertising space,” Long says. “They treat it like a billboard.” Instead, make sure you’re providing content that will entertain, amuse, or inform your readers. One way to build traffic is to comment or react to the news of the day as it affects your particular business. “If you’re a bookseller, you might blog about the current lawsuit by J.K. Rowling to block publication of a Harry Potter Lexicon,” Cutler says. If you use this strategy, she adds, “Keep it short, to the point, and keep it opinionated. Don’t just republish news.” Understanding the connection between blogging and search rankings can inspire busy executives to take the time to blog, Cutler notes. “What I like about blogging is that it stays in the spirit of the Internet, but lets you accomplish SEO goals in the background,” she says. “Content and linking are two of the most powerful Internet marketing tools –and blogging lets you use both in a non-advertising way.”
Laima Tazmin LAVT because she’s a lot like other kids–and then again… Laima Tazmin, president of LAVT LLC, a Web consulting company based in a ramshackle prewar upper Manhattan building, is laying out her vision for the company’s expansion into customizing computers and developing community-based online businesses. Tazmin’s office is efficiently sparse, all her papers are properly filed, and her workspace is ordered and symmetrical, down to the dueling computer terminals that allow her to work side-by-side with an assistant, who scours Internet boards for new markets. It’s a lean, effective operation, considerably more advanced and potentially more lucrative than the typical entrepreneurs of Laima’s lot. That lot would be babysitters, lawn mowers, paper routers, and burger flippers. Laima Tazmin is a 15-year-old freshman. The assistant is her mom, Lora. “Laima is the top kid I have personally ever worked with, and that’s out of 9,000,” says Steve Mariotti, founder and president of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). “I’ve never met a kid like that.” It was an NFTE instructor who introduced Laima, who was then in sixth grade (she was thoroughly self-taught in HTML by that point), to the world of small business. “He taught us we could turn our interests and hobbies into ideas for companies,” says Tazmin. She parlayed her love of computers into a business plan that initially won a regional competition and then, after a bit of tweaking, bested plans from high school and college-age kids to win her the “Young Entrepreneur” contest sponsored by Fleet Bank. That netted her both $2,500 and a taste of media exposure. Money doesn’t seem to be the force behind Tazmin’s march toward the wunderkind hall of fame. Rather she has a sincere desire to build a viable company that can more or less sustain itself when she hits some lucky college campus in 2007. Essentially, she sees herself setting up a “network of associates” (other college kids) to do her grunt work. To that end, she has burned through every program NFTE offers and is now the guinea pig in an “Executive Incubator” that offers Deutsche Bank director Joe Carvin as a mentor. “Laima has the technical skills, creative ability, and seriousness of purpose,” says Carvin, “and she’s in an industry where young people can have a competitive advantage.” To think she took her baby steps toward becoming a mogul on Communist soil. Laima was born in Cuba, the daughter of a Russian mother and a Cuban father who left the family portrait years ago. Lora brought Laima and her older brother Arlin, who is now 26, to the United States via the Soviet Union in 1995. It’s the American dream played out with a tinge of adolescent angst, or it would be if Laima weren’t so preternaturally calm. On top of her quiet confidence, Laima has incorporated Buddhist meditation into her daily routine, which explains her Taoish nuggets like “Failure is a step to success.” She is the polar opposite of the high-strung, ready-to-snap-and-go-ballistic type A’s who water the lawns of prep schools with their tears over a B-plus. She is a sunny, charming, well-adjusted young girl who just happens to have a copy of the Idiot’s Guide to Making Millions on the Internet on the same bookshelf as the latest Harry Potter, a Shrek DVD, and Hello Kitty memorabilia. “I find Laima to be extraordinarily poised beyond her years,” says Tom Phillips, one of her (10, at the moment) clients, who owns a communications consulting firm and hired her to give him a Web presence. “Her work is great.” The accolades pour in from all corners, including her fellow students, who recently voted her class president, just another application-builder in her heavily scheduled young life, which is filled with: studying; shaking it as a member of the school’s hip-hop dance team; hardwiring desktops; playing tennis and basketball; volunteering for a cyber-project that lets war veterans tell their stories digitally; speaking on behalf of NFTE; writing a novel; and oh, yes, running a successful business. If she seems too good to be true, remember that teenagers have a way of defying expectations. So maybe she won’t become Bill Gates, but she’ll definitely be Laima Tazmin. “I want to direct my own life,” she says with a knowing grin. “Entrepreneurship is about planning for the future, and I want to develop my creativity to have freedom. I want to grow myself.”–Patrick J. Sauer Patrick J. Sauer is a staff writer. Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com because “optimism is essential” Betsey Johnson, Betsey Johnson for her stylish life Russell Simmons, Rush Communications for his powerful example Scott Cook, Intuit because he learns, and teaches Sergey Brin & Larry Page, Google for their integrity. And, well, for Google David Neeleman, JetBlue for creating an airline fit for humans Tom Stemberg, Staples for doing it exactly right Jack Stack, SRC Holdings for going naked Judy Wicks, White Dog Enterprises because she’s put in place more progressive business practices per square foot than any other entrepreneur Davin Wedel, Global Protection because he’s a lifesaver Pat McGovern, International Data Group for knowing the power of respect Steve Jobs, Apple Computer, Pixar because we like to be seduced Lance Morgan, Ho-Chunk because a man must make his own arrows–Winnebago proverb James Goodnight, SAS for saying no to Wall Street (repeatedly) and yes to the people who really matter Stella Ogiale, Chesterfield Health Services for doing good while doing well Rhonda Kallman, New Century Brewing for seizing opportunity– again and again Laima Tazmin, LAVT because she’s a lot like other kids–and then again… Laura & Pete Wakeman, Great Harvest Bread for living a little –no, a lot Andra Rush, Rush Trucking for rolling up her sleeves Kathleen Wehner, Cirrus Aviation for refusing to quit Frank Venegas, Ideal Group because he parlayed a little bit of luck into a lot of good fortune for others Dan Wieden, Wieden + Kennedy because he’s a true independent John Sperling, Apollo Group because he stirs the pot, and apparently always will John Stollenwerk, Allen-Edmonds for his commitment to U.S. workers. We also love the shoes Mel Zuckerman, Canyon Ranch for showing the way
I got my laptop to boot up into Windows. This sounds idiot proof, but it’s not. My laptop opens by default into Linux. Certainly you’ve heard of Linux. It’s a computer operating system, an alternative to Microsoft and their Windows operating system. Technology is full of differing approaches. But Microsoft v. Linux goes beyond a simple disagreement. It’s a Hatfields-and-McCoys feud, a drama of honor and justice, a fight for the way things ought to be. You’ve got your Hatfields–Windows XP, 98, NT and Millennium–and across a gurgling Appalachian creek, your McCoys–the Linux clan. It’s not hard to find the Linux homestead. Wander two hills over and take a right at the old well. You’ll know the place by the flag of the pudgy, somnambulant penguin that hangs next to the satellite dish. Even in Appalachia, geeks gotta have their toys. From the outside, the Linux house looks like a decrepit shack. But appearances can be deceiving. Open the creaking front door, and you discover an opulent interior that stretches out spaciously. (It’s like the phenomenon of Doctor Who’s Tardis: On the outside, a tiny police call box, yet inside, a sprawling timeship.) But wait! The Linux house feels oddly familiar. Do you hear the words “see-ment pond” echoing in the marble foyer? Waddaya know! It’s Chez Clampett, the mansion that Jed bought after he discovered the bubblin’ crude, and they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly Hills. Along with a stash of killer hardware. In the kitchen, Suzy May–she’s Elly May’s minimally-clad sister–and her posse of programmers discuss SuSE Linux 8.0. Jethro relaxes out by the pool with his buddies. He wears a scarlet fedora hat tilted at a jaunty angle–he’s the poster man-child for Red Hat Linux. Granny stands out on the patio boiling some clothes in a huge cauldron. She loves Caldera Linux and 802.11a wireless networks. And here’s Harry Potter in a Mandrake Linux magician’s hat! Before you can say “muggle,” he’s run off to join Uncle Jed and the Slackware Linux crowd. They’re watching Star Trek re-runs and eating Cheetos in the rec room. You’ve landed in paradise–if you’re a programmer or that strange breed of consumer known as the computer hobbyist. If you’re neither, the Linux lair might seem pathetic. But you’d be wrong. This is war, the Hatfields and McCoys duking it out for the future of the operating system. Some would even call it a holy war, with Bill Gates as the Antichrist and Linus Torvalds, writer of the Linux kernel, as the Messiah. (At the very least, Bill and Linus ought to face off on MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch.) The key difference between Linux and Microsoft has to do with the open source movement. Let Granny explain with this homespun analogy: “Say yer known far ‘n’ wide for yer squirrel stew. Now Ethelanne Stafford asks ya for the recipe. Are ya gonna tell her ‘Nope, ya can’t have it ’cause it’s a secret?’ That she’s gotta come to ya for the stew, and pay for it? “Why that ain’t neighborly t’all!” Microsoft has their squirrel stew, which the Linux camp would deride as a cholesterol-laden mess with millions of lines of bloated code. In contrast, Linux is spa cuisine. It’s lighter and healthier, the flavor clarified through an economy of hacking. A programmer can change the code because he got the complete recipe–for free. Linux is a Stone Soup for the soul of the new machine. You make your changes, I make mine, and it’s a brighter, better operating system for us all. Except for me. I use Windows, something that I’m not particularly proud of. At times, I’m actively upset by my Windows “habit,” especially after I’ve had to restart my computer five times in three hours. But you can’t discount the prevalence of Microsoft’s Office software. I’ve compromised with my husband, a Linux man: My machine boots up into either system. Our “you like to-may-toe and I like to-mah-toe” approach doesn’t work seamlessly. Like today, when I was pushing to meet a deadline. My laptop got confused, so it took 15 precious minutes to boot into Windows. Things could be worse. When my toddler son starts to program, he may decide that he wants an entirely different system, one that some 19-year-old wiz in Helsinki is just now dreaming up. Then we’ll be a triple-booting family. And I might decide to boot the computer entirely and return to pen and paper. Nancy Peponis, a principal of Luminosa Consulting, focuses on marketing and business strategy. She can be reached at email@example.com. Copyright Â© 2000-2002 MarketingProfs.com All Rights Reserved
Unsolved Mystery By drawing attention to its appetite for expansion and red ink, America’s leading E-tailer has cleverly concealed its grand plan from public view. Until now By now, surely everyone knows that Amazon.com isn’t actually in the book business. Nor is it in the business of peddling videos or pet supplies. Software? Please. Auctions? Get real. Sure, the giant E-tailer provides those offerings, having serviced cybershoppers to the tune of an estimated $1.4 billion last year. But with losses that would bury multiple businesses (more than $550 million, accumulated over the past five years), it’s abundantly clear that Amazon isn’t even aiming to become a viable retail business. The challenge, then, is to define what it is. It’s unprofitable, of course, but that’s just the superficial answer. The tsunami of red ink, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has long maintained, is part of the plan. On to the deeper question, then: What on earth is the plan? Theories abound. Internet analyst Evan I. Schwartz — whose 1997 book, Webonomics: Nine Essential Principles for Growing Your Business on the World Wide Web, ranked as a number one business best-seller on Amazon.com — insists that Bezos’s enterprise, with its investments in fledglings like Drugstore.com and Pets.com, is “becoming a venture-capital company, and this is how they’re going to become profitable.” For his part, James McQuivey, the astute research director at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass., believes that Amazon.com’s broad positioning is its way of preparing for a surge of new on-line-shopping households, 11 million this year alone. “Until 2001,” he says, “I’m buying the argument that it has to lose money to make money.” But such pedestrian interpretations fail to match the measure of Bezos’s vision. He is, we’re convinced, after something grander. All the talk — of profitability or its absence, of endlessly expanding product lines or investment in new business areas — amounts to an elaborate distraction, one that Bezos has created to keep his grand plan concealed. And his smoke screen has worked beautifully. Until now. Come with us beyond the pithy sound bites. Join us as we slip behind the numbers. Examine the evidence we’ve gathered. Those brave enough to connect the dots will find themselves staring at possibilities so plainly convincing, they seem eerily familiar. To wit, five solid theories as to what Amazon.com is really up to. 1. Today the World, Tomorrow the Country What do Steve Forbes, H. Ross Perot, and even “The Donald” Trump have in common with Amazon’s Bezos? Like them, Bezos has at times seemed bent on world domination. And just as they have all toyed with turning high-profile business success into political power, Bezos will soon reveal his so-called business to be a platform for a slightly more focused ambition. He’s out to run the country. Sure, none of them has actually won an election, but it’s easy to see why. They’re all out of touch, relics of a bygone era when CEOs believed companies needed profits. Bezos brings a refreshingly modern vision with a platform that holds that prosperity is an attitude, a way you choose to operate regardless of the bottom line. Casting himself as a latter-day Perot, he plans to crank up the espresso machine, throw the flip charts into the Volvo, and ride a populist wave into the White House. “We’re going to be unprofitable for a long time. And that’s our strategy,” Bezos told Inc. in 1997. What debt-strapped citizen could resist clambering aboard that bandwagon? He’s got a brazen cockiness that’s quintessentially American — and an inscrutability that’s quintessentially electable. All that remains is a choice of running mate. He’s got options: go the traditional route to balance the ticket, tap Bill Gates, and vie for the predictable profitability vote; or follow the model of Jesse “The Governor” Ventura, defy the system, and capitalize on sheer popularity. To that end we understand Bezos has been pursuing someone even more skilled at wizardry than he is. Would someone please tell him that Harry Potter is fictional? 2. It’s for Prophet, Not for Profit One day soon, America will sprout a host of billboards featuring a stark white background with a lonely line of bold text stretching across it that asks: “Depressed about the lack of security in E-commerce? For books about consumer insecurity, click here.” In the bottom left corner will be a logo, bright blue with a swirl of soothing yellow-gold — Amazonetics. It’s simple. It’s beautiful. Amazon isn’t unprofitable — it’s evolving into a nonprofit. Any day now, it’ll be notifying the IRS to reclassify it as a not-for-profit, thereby exempting it from paying taxes. Like L. Ron Hubbard before him, Bezos will turn a seemingly secular publishing venture into a religion. In the case of science-fiction writer Hubbard, that transformation culminated in a book called Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. In Bezos’s case, it all started with a virtual-bookstore-cum-electronic-mall. “We’re trying to change the world and maybe improve it in a small way, and maybe even a little more than a small way,” Bezos told the New York Times last March. As founding principles go, it’s not much, but what it lacks in clarity, it makes up for in chutzpah. 3. The Ultimate Product Line: Potential Drink deep and don’t worry. There’s plenty to go around. Amazon.com is our Miracle Elixir, our oasis shimmering in the distance. It’s in the business of being a desirable idea, the embodiment of unlimited potential. It’s a hair-loss-treatment product suggesting that high school cheerleaders will suddenly find themselves unable to resist paunchy middle-aged men. Let myopic analysts clamor for Bezos to define Amazon. He knows that his company’s success lies in his singular ability to continue to conjure the possibilities of all that it might become. It’s the mandate we’ve handed him: to establish his company as the icon of all that Internet commerce could mean. Amazon will continue to work that way only as long as Bezos can energize the illusion by unfolding one possibility after another. So far, he shows no sign of letting up. Eric Von der Porten, manager of a hedge fund that is basing its investment on the belief that Amazon’s stock will fall, describes Bezos’s work as “pumping smoke and flashing lights, saying, ‘Look at all this cool stuff we’re doing. Just don’t look behind the curtain.” According to this theory, Amazon can expand indefinitely, beyond even the loose boundaries of the Web. If Bezos is as good as we adjudge him to be, don’t be surprised if you see Amazon buying a sports franchise — the Boston Red Sox, say. Or investing in Rogaine. 4. Taking the Middle Ground — and Dominating It Once a valued presence in the American economy, the middleman has lost ground lately, accelerated by the proliferation of buying opportunities on the Web. Every day another manifestation of that “middle” class gets squeezed: the auto dealer, the insurance salesperson, the stockbroker. But the nature of the competition is to consolidate. The winner, the ultimate middleman, would mediate transactions in a variety of areas. Develop a trusted brand and people will buy from you, no matter what you sell, the theory goes. From the beginning, Amazon touted its ability to act as an efficient intermediary in Internet-based transactions. The virtual store boasted of its lack of physical location, its disdain for retail space. You order from Amazon, and the company buys the item and sends it to you. “Their core competencies are ease of use and customer service,” notes author Schwartz, whose most recent book is titled Digital Darwinism: Seven Breakthrough Business Strategies for Surviving in the Cutthroat Web Economy. “They can expand into anything.” Bingo. Unlike other Web giants, Bezos ultimately aims to be the essential middleman not only in every E-commerce transaction but also in every human transaction. Best man at every wedding. Marriage counselor. Basketball referee. Midwife. And you thought portal sites were ambitious. 5. Seattle’s Best If we are correct in our thinking — and there’s no reason to believe we aren’t — Bezos has been carefully planning and executing this one from the day he started Amazon in 1995. First, create an enormous virtual bookstore that is the very model of self-promotion to prove that book sales alone can’t sustain any company of real heft. Second, branch out into other areas of on-line sales to reinforce the unfriendliness of the Internet to (profitable) commerce. Witness: In the second quarter of 1998, riding the buzz of its brand-new music store, Amazon registered operating losses of $18 million. By the second quarter of 1999, buoyed by expansion into videos and investments in Pets.com and Drugstore.com, that loss ballooned to $122 million. Third, stay in the book business long enough to change the market dynamic and plow all those pitifully puny stores under. With all that accomplished, things will really get interesting. Then you’ll see Bezos wearing dark glasses and a trench coat, skulking around Seattle with real estate agents and looking for the perfect piece of property. Then he’ll disappear. Vanish. Only the particularly savvy will discover, months later, in a small storefront in a lonely block in downtown Seattle, a quaint-looking shop called Bezos Books. The smartest of those sleuths will connect that shop with the man who used his grand vision not only to prove the futility of E-commerce but to establish himself as a bookseller, a devotee working tirelessly to get his product into the hands of book lovers. It’ll be a smash. And Bezos will have realized his ultimate dream — to reinvent the small independent bookstore. Ron MacLean, a freelance writer based in Jamaica Plain, Mass., now aspires to figure out what business Starbucks is really in.