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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Shaughnessy

Ecosystem thinking and strategy

The diagram below is of the Amazon book ecosystem. The revelation to me as I was researching it is how many of those companies are private entities and how few belong to Amazon or who have formal relationships with Amazon (by the way to get the most out of this article do follow the links!)

This was the ecosystem just before Amazon began the Createspace - KDP integration. I'm having some interesting conversations with people about ecosystems these days - those boxes in the green/blue are entities owned by Amazon. The others are owned independently but vital to Amazon's success as a bookseller. That's quite an interesting insight into how a business ecosystem works.

What you see is that Amazon owns Audible and a chunk of the audio creation industry, as well as the main book lovers, site Goodreads, as well as Kindle, and a few other booksellers like The Book Depository.

But what makes Amazon work is the presence of entities like book arbitrage companies. These are companies or individuals that go deep into the Amazon search listings to find books that they can resell on Amazon for a higher price (often a much higher price). In other words, they compensate for the poor state of listings and search facilities.

This tendency of ecosystems to become self-improving is a feature Nick Vitalari and I pointed out in what was the original platform and ecosystems book: The Elastic Enterprise.

They are also characterized by business relationships that are not dependent on legal contracts. For example, Upwork is a major source of labour that is skilled in Amazon listings, reviews, and sales (Amazon VAs), just as Alibaba is, a major source of goods for the wider Amazon platform.

I have been mapping several ecosystems over the past year or so in preparation for a new book. Amazon is a kind of accidental ecosystem. Chinese companies are much more proactively working within them.

You can see a sketch of the Airbnb ecosystem here on LinkedIn (another example of the serendipitous ecosystem), from last year. and here on Disruption Hub. I have also written about the Google search ecosystem and the origins of platforms in Platform, Disruption, Wave.

Many companies are looking to identify their ecosystems - something we do in our Flow workshops. Drop me a line if you need to know more.


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