Amazon.com achieved an entertainment coup of sorts when it managed to persuade Bob Dylan and Norah Jones to perform for a party to celebrate its 10th anniversary, not only separately, but also for a duet. The pairing of two such disparate artists would have been unimaginable until last Saturday’s concert, but Amazon’s ability to link the two is indicative of the company’s sense of imagination and innovation, the foundation of its success.

To labour the point, Amazon generates add-on sales by highlighting the behaviour and tastes of its customers to one another, through reviews and recommendations. A bias toward Dylan and against Jones might be reversed if we see that other Dylan fans are buying Jones’ music and vice versa. Equally a bias toward a best-selling product or well-reviewed item may reinforce that product’s success against better, but more obscure brands. It can cut both ways, but Amazon doesn’t need to care.

Amazon first started as an internet retailer for books, well before there was much faith in the ability of the net to form the basis of a good business model. It survived the tech collapse, and has moved from strength to strength. It’s also gone beyond books to music and movies and is even starting to turn a profit.

Dylan and Jones sang “I Shall Be Released,” a track from Dylan’s “Basement Tapes,” and while it spoke of a message popular during the 1960s, the title is also suggestive – in the more practical era of the 21st century – of how Amazon has freed retailing from physical and geographical constraints as well as enhanced the power of the customer in terms of choice as well as the sheer enjoyability of shopping.

The performance in Seattle was attended by some 2,500 of Amazon’s employees, but in true Amazon style, it was also broadcast live to the rest of the company via its website. If anything, Amazon has demonstrated that imagination in one area can easily be applied to another.

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