NYT's Thomas Friedman Said Amazon.com Would Never Catch On

Now that Amazon.com is thriving and Borders is using its empty shelves to advertise air guitars, it's hard to imagine anybody thinking Amazon wouldn't succeed. But New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was willing to crawl out on a limb.

Blogger Laurence Jarvik dug up a 1999 column, in which Friedman explained why Amazon.com was overvalued, overhyped and generally over. Friedman explained that "For the cost of one share of Amazon.com, you can be Amazon.com." He pointed to a guy named Lyle Bowlin, who was starting his own internet bookstore for the low cost of about $US150 a month, and doing gangbuster business. He explained:

I tell you this not because they're an immediate threat to Amazon.com, but to underscore just how easy it is to compete against Amazon.com, and why therefore I'm dubious that Amazon and many other Internet retailers will ever generate the huge profits that their stock prices suggest.

In a followup column, Friedman addressed the skeptics who felt like his takedown of Amazon (and his glorification of Lyle Bowlin) were overblown. In all caps, he told the doubters, "YOU'RE WRONG." And Friedman explained that Bowlin's success somehow proved that "there is still a deep hunger out there for that old-style, Main Street feeling, built on human contact. This suggests that the really successful retailers in the Internet Age will be those who can combine the efficiency of cyberspace with the intimacy of the backyard barbecue."

As Jarvik notes:

Lyle Bowlin's internet bookshop, hyped by Friedman (reportedly a family relation of some kind) went out of business. But Amazon didn't. It's trading today at $US179 per share. Amazon not only dominates the book business, it is a major player in the rapidly growing cloud computing field. Amazon is currently valued at approximately $US80 billion.

One title you won't see on a Thomas Friedman book, I imagine: Money Talks, B.S. Walks.