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Jeff Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is out with his annual letter to shareholders this morning, but a large portion of the letter isn’t in his own words. Instead, in an unusual approach, Bezos provides a long list of quotes from authors, merchants and developers who have benefitted from the company’s Amazon Web Services, Fulfillment by Amazon, and Kindle Direct Publishing.

For anyone who has been following the news coverage of the company lately — led by a Seattle Times series critical of Amazon’s role in the community — the letter reads like a pointed defense of Amazon’s value, not just to its shareholders but to the world at large.

Bezos, whom Forbes recently named America’s Best CEO, writes that the company “creating powerful self-service platforms that allow thousands of people to boldly experiment and accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible or impractical. These innovative, large-scale platforms are not zero-sum – they create win-win situations and create significant value for developers, entrepreneurs, customers, authors, and readers.”

He adds, “I am emphasizing the self-service nature of these platforms because it’s important for a reason I think is somewhat non-obvious: even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation. When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried, because there’s no expert gatekeeper ready to say ‘that will never work!’ And guess what – many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity.”

Apart from defending the company’s value, the letter’s reference to gatekeepers slowing innovation will be read by many as a none-too-subtle dig at Apple, whose tight control of its platforms contrasts with Amazon’s traditionally hands-off approach.

Bezos writes, “Amazonians are leaning into the future, with radical and transformational innovations that create value for thousands of authors, entrepreneurs, and developers. Invention has become second nature at Amazon, and in my view the team’s pace of innovation is even accelerating – I can assure you it’s very energizing. I’m extremely proud of the whole team, and feel lucky to have a front row seat.”

Read the full text here. Bezos concludes by attaching a copy of his 1997 letter to shareholders, with his favorite line: “Our approach remains the same, and it’s still Day 1!”

The release of the letter coincides with the filing of Amazon’s proxy statement this morning, showing Bezos’ total salary holding steady at $81,000 in 2011. Amazon’s founder owns 19 percent of the company, and doesn’t receive stock awards.

According to the filing, Amazon also spent $1.6 million on security and travel-related expenses for Bezos, bringing his total compensation to $1.68 million, the same as the year before.

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