Monthly Archives: May 2016

Delivery Service Brings Groceries to Your Fridge When You’re Away

31 May 2016

Not exactly about books, but certainly about ecommerce.

From The Wall Street Journal:

In Sweden, groceries and fresh food can be delivered in your absence and directly to where they belong: your kitchen and fridge.

A Scandinavian courier company, PostNord AB, and supermarket chain, ICA AB, are testing the new service with about 20 households in the Swedish capital, promising that messengers will remove their shoes and unpack online deliveries, even when customers are away.

The pioneering service hinges on a new add-on lock, which customers must install on their doors and which messengers can open with their smartphones. Made by Swedish startup Glue AB, the lock allows residents to decide remotely when to allow access to their homes.

Kiku Mlosch, a 29-year-old German product manager living in Stockholm who has agreed to help test the delivery system, said she enjoys not having to wait at home and isn’t too concerned about security.

“Maybe I wouldn’t lay out my diamond ring,” she said, adding, however, that other people, including a cleaning lady, have access to her home when she is absent. “It’s quite a controllable risk.”

. . . .

The Swedish experiment is part of a global race aimed at solving one of the main headaches facing retailers and logistics companies from Inc. to United Parcel Service Inc.: elusive customers. Without having to juggle the conflicting schedules of customers reluctant to sit at home, PostNord says it can organize more efficient delivery rounds and cut costs.

In-home, in-absentia delivery could help the logistics industry meet a continued surge in online commerce. This year, 8.6% of total retail sales world-wide will happen over the Internet, amounting to more than US$2 trillion in sales, according to digital marketing research firm eMarketer—a rise of 23% compared with 2015.

. . . .

“It eliminates failed delivery attempts, which usually cause lots of friction,” he said. The cost of failed deliveries of goods ordered online was estimated at £771 million (US$1.13 billion) for 2014 in the U.K. alone, according to IMRG, an online-retail association.

To get around the problem, the logistics industry has been mostly focusing on halfway solutions, such as collection points or lockers. But those aren’t suited for fresh-food deliveries, and force customers to take on the final leg of their orders, often causing frustration.

. . . .

At €249 (US$277), the Glue smart lock features a small electronic motor that is to be placed over the existing lock on the inside of the door. Users can hand out access passes, possibly limited to a particular time period, to visitors, family members or delivery people, through a smartphone application, while being updated on the exact position of the lock through built-in sensors.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon

31 May 2016

We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.

Jeff Bezos

Spoiler alert: spoilers make you enjoy stories more

31 May 2016

From The University of California:

Indie Authors Are Responsible for the US eBook Decline

31 May 2016

From Good EReader:

Over the course of the last two years the modern bookstore has been undergoing a resurgence in sales. The publishing industry have all reported that e-book sales are down between 2-6% year on year and 12% across the board. The funny thing is,  publishers  for the most part are making more money, primarily due to higher e-book prices, but most are seeing a modest increase in print sales.

Why are bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble enjoying a robust increase in book sales? I think the main reason is because they only stock physical books by new authors that the publisher is really hyping and of course, perennial bestsellers by recognizable authors. Simply put, it is far easier to discover a great book in a bookstore, than try and find one online. So why are digital sales truly down? The answer is too many e-books being self-published by indie authors.

Independent and self-published authors release more books on a monthly basis than the trade houses do. This creates an influx of new titles that fall by the wayside and pollute the search engine results,  so it is almost impossible to casually browse and find something good.  E-Books are immortal, so they never go out of print. Like cobwebs constructed of stainless steel, they will forever occupy the virtual shelves of e-book retailers. Every month there are more and more books for readers to choose from and there are now fewer eyeballs split across more books, this is the real reason why e-book sales are down across the board.

. . . .

Spamming out e-books is obviously working for indie authors right now. In two short years, the market share of paid unit sales between indie and Big 5 e-books has more than inverted. The Big 5 now account for less than a quarter of e-book purchases on Amazon, while indies are closing in on 45%.

. . . .

The big reason why indies are enjoying more success right now is because their titles are priced anywhere between .99 and $5.99, while major publishers tend to charge between $9.99 and $18.99.

. . . .

Indie authors might be doing well right now selling their under priced e-books, but the Amazon is making more money right now selling physical books. This is driven by steeply discounted hardcovers and paperbacks, which in many cases were priced even lower than the e-book editions. Things are going so great for print right now that in 2015 Amazon generated more revenue selling physical books than e-books.

I think indie authors days are numbered selling digital content online because of big new trends in the publishing industry that they are unable to capitalize on. One example are adult coloring books, which many credit them with saving the traditional publishing industry’s overall 2015 sales figures.

. . . .

Some of the brightest minds in the publishing industry also agree that there are too many indie e-books being published right now and this is leading to a decrease in overall digital sales in the United States.

. . . .

Chuck Wedig mentioned in a recent blog post “The sheer number of releases is an issue all its own. It becomes increasingly hard to stand out merely by publishing a book in either form. It’s like trying to get a droplet of water to stand out in an entire goddamn ocean.”

. . . .

Some people just don’t see why people should self-publish at all.  Andrew Franklin, founder and managing director of Profile Books, blasted authors who self-publish. “The overwhelming majority of self-published books are terrible—unutterable rubbish, they don’t enhance anything in the world.” He ranted on by saying, “These books come out and are met with a deathly silence, so the principle experience of self-publishing is one of disappointment. I was very shocked to learn you can buy Facebook friends and likes on social media. That is what passes for affirmation in what I think is the deeply corrupt world of self-publishing.”

Link to the rest at GoodEreader and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG says too much choice is a terrible problem. That’s why nobody buys anything from Amazon or reads anything on the web.

Why do teens prefer printed books to e-books? ‘We just do!’

31 May 2016

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

The Guardian has an interesting essay by a teen writer from the Guardian children’s books site entitled “Why teenagers are so resistant to e-readers.” (The writer posts under a handle and doesn’t give a gender, so I’m just going to assume she’s female so I can use a pronoun that looks less awkward than “they”.) It’s interesting enough, but when you read the thing, it’s actually kind of mistitled. It could better have been called “Why this teenager still loves paper books.”

She’s not even necessarily resistant to e-readers herself—she spends a paragraph singing the praises of the Kindle for being able to store so many books in such a small space. But then she calls attention to a recent survey showing that 16-24-year-olds prefer paper books—64% directly preferred print books, and 20% didn’t mind them.

People have their different reasons for this. For me personally, one of the many reasons I’m still more than happy to splurge most of my money in Waterstones is not only the smell of new books (intoxicating though that is), but also the feeling of actually holding a book, and being able to actually have a page turner. You can’t smell a Kindle – you’re holding plastic – and tapping an e-ink screen to turn a page isn’t really the same being able to turn a page.

Beyond that, she says, the assumption that everything modern teens do is filtered through digital media is precisely that—an assumption. It doesn’t necessarily hold true for everyone, and there’s still plenty of room for respecting tradition.

. . . .

Why does the kid who wrote this article prefer printed books? She just does. (Well, she cites the smell of books, but I still have a hard time imagining we’ve raised an entire younger generation who goes around huffing books the way they used to sniff tubes of model glue.) I could make sweeping generalizations, such as a rebellion against the preferences of the older generation who’ve taken to Kindles like ducks to water, or perhaps after staring at screens all day at school and for social networking they want to take a break and stare at words that are fixed in place on their pages.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Maybe it’s time to take the plunge and become self-published like me

31 May 2016

From The Independent:

Authors, like artists, live with rejection. We meet it when trying to get published. We meet it trying to stay published. We write, and then others decide if our work is good enough to be let out into the world. Or at least, that’s how it used to be.

In 2001, I gave up my PR business to write a novel. I had no agent, no publisher, no experience. I didn’t even have an idea. In retrospect, it was crazy. But then, maybe sometimes craziness is exactly what’s required to change your life. I wrote the novel in six months, sent it out to publishers and agents and prepared for rejection.

It came!

Thankfully, I also received feedback on my writing. I edited the manuscript and sent it out again. I got to work on a second novel so that the next batch of – inevitable – rejections wouldn’t stop me writing. I told myself that it didn’t matter if I never got published. Of course it mattered.

The edits worked. That first novel was published. Three more followed.

. . . .

Meanwhile, the world of self-publishing was being born. For the first time, authors could reach readers directly and globally. The fact that royalty rates were higher meant lower prices to the reader. This transformation in publishing was exciting to watch.

. . . .

By now, the publishing rights to my first four novels had reverted to me. I decided to have a shot at self-publishing. To mark my new adventure, I reinvented myself. Choosing the pen name Aimee Alexander (my children’s names combined), I began to edit my original novels, a process that proved surprisingly necessary. So much had changed in the few years since they had been published. The way we use language had altered. Society too had become more liberal, tolerant. I had become more demanding of my characters.

. . . .

As an author, I had never really had much control over the publishing process. Now I controlled everything – the content, the look, the promotion. I also had access to data I never had before. On any given day, I could check where in the world my books were selling and in what numbers. When I did a promotion, I could see the results almost immediately.

. . . .

My story is one of many. The publishing industry is rapidly evolving, offering new and exciting opportunities for authors. Rejection need no longer dominate our lives. There is something uplifting and energising about taking control, making the decisions and creating forward momentum.

Link to the rest at The Independent

Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel

31 May 2016
Comments Off on Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel

From The New York Times:

Basma Abdel Aziz was walking in downtown Cairo one morning when she saw a long line of people standing in front of a closed government building.

Returning hours later, Ms. Abdel Aziz, a psychiatrist who counsels torture victims, passed the same people still waiting listlessly — a young woman and an elderly man, a mother holding her baby. The building remained closed.

When she got home, she immediately started writing about the people in line and didn’t stop for 11 hours. The story became her surreal debut novel, “The Queue,” which takes place after a failed revolution in an unnamed Middle Eastern city. The narrative unfolds over 140 days, as civilians are forced to wait in an endless line to petition a shadowy authority called The Gate for basic services.

“Fiction gave me a very wide space to say what I wanted to say about totalitarian authority,” Ms. Abdel Aziz said in a recent interview.

“The Queue,” which was just published in English by Melville House, has drawn comparisons to Western classics like George Orwell’s “1984” and “The Trial” by Franz Kafka. It represents a new wave of dystopian and surrealist fiction from Middle Eastern writers who are grappling with the chaotic aftermath and stinging disappointments of the Arab Spring.

. . . .

Science fiction and surrealism have long provided an escape valve for writers living under oppressive regimes. In Latin America, decades of fascism and civil war helped inspire masterpieces of magical realism from authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. In Russia, the postmodern novelist Vladimir Sorokin has published disturbing and controversial futuristic novels that surreptitiously skewer the country’s repressive government.

Dystopian themes are not entirely new in Arabic fiction. But they have become much more prominent in recent years, publishers and translators say. The genre has proliferated in part because it captures the sense of despair that many writers say they feel in the face of cyclical violence and repression. At the same time, futuristic settings may give writers some measure of cover to explore charged political ideas without being labeled dissidents.

“These futuristic stories are all about lost utopia,” said Layla al-Zubaidi, co-editor of a collection of post-Arab Spring writing titled “Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution.” “People really could imagine a better future, and now it’s almost worse than it was before.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Terrence and others for the tip.

In Flanders Fields

30 May 2016

In the United States, today is celebrated  as Memorial Day, in remembrance of those who died serving in the nation’s armed forces.

One of the most famous poems to come out of World War I was written by Canadian physician, John McCrae.

In April 1915, McCrae was stationed in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in an area called Flanders, during the bloody Second Battle of Ypres. In the midst of the battle, McCrae’s friend, twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed by artillery fire and quickly buried in a grave not far from the front line. Due to the absence of a chaplain, McCrae conducted Lieutenant Helmer’s funeral service. After seeing the field of makeshift graves blooming with wild poppies, he wrote his poem “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Here’s a photo of British soldiers during World War I from a recently-released book of photographs made from glass plates found in the attic of a farmhouse in France just a few years ago. The bracelets on the wrists of two of the men are identity tags primarily used to identify the dead.


The name of the book is The Lost Tommies.

A few years ago, PG and Mrs. PG visited an American military cemetery in the beautiful Tuscan countryside outside of Florence, where some of the soldiers who died during the Italian campaign in World War II are buried.


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