July 11, 2013

The founders of Amazon’s Diapers.com unburden themselves, walk out of their mess


When you think weird-colored baby crap, think Amazon!

The co-founders of diapers.com and soap.com have walked away from their oh-of-course-that-exists web retail empire suddenly and together.

Marc Lore and Vinit Bharara, CEO and COO respectively of Quidsi, whose component brands also include beautybar.com, wag.com, yoyo.com, and afterschool.com—sites predominantly focused on helping parents contain, clean up after, or distract from the feces of their cute gestational mistakes—have written that they’ll be taking time off “before beginning the next chapter.”

Amazon bought the Jersey City based turd-trapping conglomerate in April 2011 for $500 million in cash, assuming an additional $45 million in debt. Amazon’s own Maria Renz has been filling in as crap-corralling CEO since July 1st. According to Danielle Kucera at Bloomberg, employees at Quidsi have known about the transition since April.

Presumably the co-founders of Amazon’s premiere poop-sack retailer were induced to stay on at the company for the past three years with dramatic pay incentives and punitive early-withdrawal contracts. Presumably some major threshold with those was reached after two years, at which point the heads of Amazon’s shit-sponge flagship pulled up stakes together.

There is nothing wrong with selling diapers. Babies poop a lot, and after a while just catching it in your cupped hands gets tiresome. Diapers.com and the people who work there provide a valuable service. I have a few qualms about the sort of imperatively fun team-spirit-ey soul-co-opting efforts on display on Quidsi’s site, but that sort of labor-masking rhetoric is entirely commonplace by now.

My point here is just this: I would prefer to buy books from a bookseller. It is a tired and obvious point, but that label does not now, if it has ever, apply to Amazon. Amazon sells books. Amazon also sells diapers. And soap. And warehouse organizing robotic solutions. And server space to the Pentagon.

One of the reasons that books hold such a special place in our communities and in our culture generally is that they are an object of taste and expertise. They are various enough and gnostic enough to deserve specialization. It is one of the most satisfying paradoxes of these things, these largely uniform rectangles we’re churning out. They withstand a profession.

Diapers.com, soap.com, and all of the Quidsi sites are interesting because they are, precisely, successful use cases for massive impersonal (though they try very hard to cute themselves up) distribution solutions. Amazon is diapers.com. And casa.com. And plungers.com, which if it isn’t a thing, surely should be. Amazon is just these, but unsuccessful, because while diapers are plungers are soap they are not and cannot be books. Books can withstand and so deserve more consideration.

I like to imagine that Bharara and Lore left their empire for just these reasons. More likely, they just chafed, after two years, at having a boss. Get it? Chafed? You get it.


Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.