Jeff Bezos once famously declared that, in the service of innovation and its long-term success, Amazon is “willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.” He was being a bit modest there; Amazon is not merely “willing” to be misunderstood, it often tries to actively sow widespread misunderstanding. This works it its advantage; if competitors don’t know what Amazon is up to, if they can’t even figure out where and how it aims to make money, they’ll have a harder time beating it.
But all this misunderstanding can’t be an unalloyed good. Amazon is so opaque, with so many mysterious businesses and revenue streams, that you’ve got to wonder whether the people who work there even understand what it’s up to. In business, simplicity often wins. Selling me a device to get me to buy a membership in order to get a book for free. Is Bezos crazy like a fox? Or is he just plain crazy? We have no idea.