Monthly Archives: May 2017

Apple Is Manufacturing a Siri Speaker to Outdo Google and Amazon

31 May 2017

From Bloomberg:

 Apple Inc. is already in your pocket, on your desk and underneath your television. Soon, a device embossed with “Designed by Apple in California” may be on your nightstand or kitchen counter as well.

The iPhone-maker has started manufacturing a long-in-the-works Siri-controlled smart speaker, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple could debut the speaker as soon as its annual developer conference in June, but the device will not be ready to ship until later in the year, the people said.

The device will differ from Inc.’s Echo and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Homespeakers by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple’s product lineup, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss products that aren’t yet public.

Introducing a speaker would serve two main purposes: providing a hub to automate appliances and lights via Apple’s HomeKit system, and establishing a bulwark inside the home to lock customers more tightly into Apple’s network of services. That would help combat the competitive threat from Google’s and Amazon’s connected speakers: the Home and Echo mostly don’t support services from Apple. Without compatible hardware, users may be more likely to opt for the Echo or Home, and therefore use streaming music offerings such as Spotify, Amazon Prime Music or Google Play rather than Apple Music.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

PG says competition keeps competitors sharp and is great for consumers.

Print sales might be rallying, but don’t get complacent

31 May 2017

From The Bookseller:

In many ways, the worst thing to happen to book publishing has been the persistent strength of print books and the drop in sales of ebooks. Namely, the stalling of the digital transformation of the industry.

Yeah, I did say that. Let me explain.

Some might say that book publishing has weathered the transformation very well and is in a strong position. The numbers would tend to agree with that. Print sales up a notch, new bookshops opening, children’s book sales going from strength to strength. Time to put the kettle on then, sit back and put our feet up, yes?

Well, I tend to agree with Andrew Keen, the Internet critic and author who spoke at FutureBook in December. To paraphrase, he said publishing had come through the digital transformation mostly unscathed. However, he went on to say that this was down to good luck and not by any strategic play.

. . . .

During the early stages of the transformation, publishers threw money at a variety of digital initiatives: apps, ecommerce platforms, their own community websites… even buying the odd start-up. But big publishers spent big and lost big. I could easily list 10 initiatives that were launched with much fanfare, to be left unloved for 18 months and closed with a whimper. The intent may have been there, but the commitment certainly wasn’t. And further, their structures, people and processes did not allow for successful innovation at any scale.

But what does this matter if print sales are up and ebook sales are down? We’re fine, right?

Well yes, if we anticipate no further transformation happening. Or put another way, if we hope nobody else enters the industry looking to disrupt it; if no companies come along with new business models for books; if readers do not change how or what they buy; if no new technology emerges to offer readers a different experience, and if – a big if – Amazon, Google et al don’t come up with yet more game-changing ideas. That’s a future dependent on a lot of unlikely ifs.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Fashion is about dreaming and making other people dream.

Donatella Versace

Amazon’s Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores Are Not Built For People Who Actually Read

31 May 2017

From The New Yorker:

On Thursday, Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in New York City, in Columbus Circle. It is situated on the third floor of the Time Warner Center, a baffling place that, on any given weekday, seems populated exclusively by tourists, sharply dressed professionals taking two-hour lunch meetings, and people with the aura of those C.G.I. figures in architectural renderings—people who are there just because they’re there. The books in the Amazon bookstore—assembled according to algorithm—feel like that, too. They exist far less to serve the desires of the reader than to serve the needs of Amazon, a company whose twenty-year campaign to “disrupt” bookstores has now killed off much of the competition, usurped nearly half of the U.S. book market, and brought it back, full circle, to books on shelves.

The Columbus Circle location is Amazon’s seventh bookstore, so far. It is reminiscent of an airport bookshop: big enough to be enticing from the outside but extremely limited once you’re inside. The volumes on display are spaced at a courteous distance from one another, positioned with their front covers facing out. Greeting customers, front and center, is a “Highly Rated” table, featuring books that have received 4.8 stars or above on, among them Trevor Noah’s memoir, Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook, a book by the couple on the TV show “Fixer Upper,” and a book about kombucha. Other offerings are determined by digital metrics such as Goodreads reviews, Amazon sales, and pre-orders, and by input from the curators at Amazon Books. The store, in other words, is designed to further popularize, on Amazon, that which is already popular on Amazon.

. . . .

It will be clear by now that I am not the ideal customer for the Amazon bookstore in the Time Warner Center. This doesn’t stem, necessarily, from my dislike of Amazon itself. I support the company’s terrible labor practices by making active use of my Prime membership, and I’m generally happy to buy books anywhere—the Barnes & Noble near my old office; Greenlight, my local indie; or, if I need something obscure quickly, Amazon. But a central draw of Amazon’s online bookstore is its limitless selection, and it’s odd to see the company’s brick-and-mortar outpost offering such a limited mix.

. . . .

The store’s biggest shortcoming, though, is that it is so clearly not intended for people who read regularly. I normally walk into a bookstore and shop the way a person might shop for clothes: I know what I like, what generally works for me, what new styles I might be ready to try. It was a strange feeling, on Thursday, to do laps around a bookstore without feeling a single unexpected thrill. There were no wild cards, no deep cuts, no oddballs—just books that were already best-sellers, pieces of clothing I knew wouldn’t fit me or that I already owned.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

What Frank Deford Meant to Sportswriting

31 May 2017

From The Ringer:

No one ever described Frank Deford as modest. He wrote sentences and tucked handkerchiefs into his lapel pockets with the aim of getting attention. But as he gazed over his career, Deford, who died Sunday, understood the particular legacy he had carved out. He would be seen more as a great sportswriter rather than a great writer, full stop.

Deford thought out loud about this (again, no one accused him of modesty). And he decided — though he was more talented than many writers who pass through the gates of The New Yorker — that he was more or less comfortable with the slur. So a sportswriter Deford remained, and a sportswriter he always will be. One of his collections was called The World’s Tallest Midget.

The first thing to know about Deford is that he came from Baltimore — or, more precisely, escaped from Baltimore, like John Waters and James Wolcott would after him. “At Princeton, Deford was expelled for a year after being caught with a woman in his dormitory,” Michael MacCambridge reported in his history of Sports Illustrated. When Deford went for a postgrad interview at Time Inc., he denounced Henry Luce’s mothership: “Time is group journalism.” He wanted a real byline at SI.

. . . .

The first thing Deford did for Sports Illustrated was inform the magazine of the existence of basketball, which was still in the sub-basement of American sports. He pitched a profile of Bill Bradley — Bradley had been a freshman at Princeton when Deford was a senior. Deford noted in his memoir that no one at SI had heard of Bradley. The piece got his ticket punched. “Why, I was as much a prodigy in my line as Bradley was in his,” Deford wrote.

. . . .

Deford’s prose style was inviting, easygoing, never seeming to try too hard. From “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was” (1984):

Robert Victor Sullivan, whom you’ve surely never heard of, was the toughest coach of them all. He was so tough he had to have two tough nicknames, Bull and Cyclone, and his name was usually recorded this way: coach Bob “Bull” “Cyclone” Sullivan or coach Bob (Bull) (Cyclone) Sullivan. Also, at times he was known as Big Bob or Shotgun. He was the most unique of men, and yet he remains utterly representative of a time that has vanished, from the gridiron and from these United States.

Link to the rest at The Ringer

Don’t Immediately Trust Mainstream Sites on Publishing Stories

30 May 2017

From Jane Friedman:

Over the last month, there have been a couple publishing stories receiving wide play across mainstream news sites such as The Guardian, Vox, Huffington Post, and others. While such outlets may be respectable and have the ability to get most stories right, in the publishing industry, two problems often come into play:

  • A lack of understanding of industry statistics—and an inability to put them in their proper context
  • Knee-jerk judgment regarding anything Amazon does

Publications with business models that predominantly rely (or did rely) on print also have the “nostalgia” problem—where they’re particularly prone to latch on to any story that indicates a possible resurgence of print or decline of digital.

. . . .

A lawn-mower vendor or a light bulb manufacturer could have told you this was probably coming. In every part of Amazon’s far-flung retail operation, third-party vendors “compete with Amazon”—that’s Amazon’s own language—to be the default sellers of items in a product’s buy box—the box that contains the purchase button and indicates the seller and purchase price.

This wasn’t the case for non-used books, however, until earlier this spring, when Amazon introduced this same capacity for third-party vendors to be made the seller in the buy box of new books. This change has kicked up a firestorm of complaint in the publishing community.

Let’s start with Amazon’s statement to the press on this: “We have listed and sold books, both new and used, from third-party sellers for many years. The recent changes allow sellers of new books to be the ‘featured offer’ on a book’s detail page, which means that our bookstore now works like the rest of Amazon, where third-party sellers compete with Amazon for the sale of new items. Only offers for new books are eligible to be featured.”

At the heart of the matter for publishing people is the question of “new.” If that book is in fact new, then it will have been bought from the publisher (or an official wholesaler/distributor) by the third-party vendor. Thus, the vendor’s payment will have paid the publisher and thus the author.

So, the question is: Are these new books really new? Are they being sourced legitimately? Amazon says it’s working hard to be sure that books offered as new are actually new. In this seller forum thread, you can see a third-party seller (called “tomepusher”) working through a long exchange with other vendors. His listings have been removed by Amazon, he says, “because of complaints about used items sold as new.” In the course of this exchange, you see the vendor being told by colleagues that he should have an invoice “directly from the publisher” as protection, to prove the books were legitimately bought new, if Amazon inquires.

And the retailer isn’t the only one inquiring. Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch has reported that Penguin Random House is asking Amazon re-sellers “specifically how and from whom you are acquiring our books.”

Coverage from Publishers Weekly has included a precise definition from Amazon of new as “brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition. The dust cover and original protective wrapping, if any, is intact. All supplementary materials are included, and all access codes for electronic material, if applicable, are valid and/or in working condition.”

As is frequently the case, reaction to Amazon’s application of its standard buy-box policy to books is probably overheated. It’s not clear yet how much actual impact this may have on revenues for authors and publishers if third-party sellers are indeed held to dealing in actual new books.

That said, at the heart of the disturbance is a mystery as to how third-party vendors can sell new books at the low prices they charge (and still make anything) and how they’re obtaining the books they say are new. If anything, this development will lead to a healthy tightening of some publisher’s own sales policies—particularly as it relates to advance review copies, hurts, and remainders—as well as to tighter controls on what books are sold as new on the Amazon platform.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG says this is another example of publishers believing they have a divine right to overprice their books. Barnes & Noble discounts books online and in stores and has done so for years.

There are vendors (and not a few) that have figured out how to make money on razor-thin margins in all types of consumer products. Why should books be special?

The moment

30 May 2017

The moment you make a mistake in pricing, you’re eating into your reputation or your profits.

Katharine Paine

When tweeters attack: why do readers send authors their bad reviews?

30 May 2017

From The Guardian:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s a simple enough rule that most of us learned as young children. So why is it that some readers seem incapable of holding back from telling an author that they didn’t like their book?

It is a lesson one reader might have heeded before addressing the writer Nina Stibbe with some feedback on her 2013 novel Love, Nina: “My #bookgroup really not loving #lovenina. Voted it 1.3 (out of 10). Our lowest EVER score in 5 years and 60 books. Sorry @ninastibbe.”

Aside from the score – how on earth did they reach that .3? – the “sorry” makes it sound like Stibbe was on tenterhooks for her feedback. She wasn’t. But she did retweet the comment, much to the amusement of fellow writers who then shared their experiences of similar reader over-shares. The Latte Years author Philippa Moore’s experience was typical. “I was tagged in an ‘I won this book, didn’t like it, gave it to my mum’ Instagram post once,” she said. “I was like WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW THAT?”

. . . .

Every author I know has been tagged by readers like this. Usually the reader announces they have reviewed the author’s latest novel. Only it’s a vicious review, awarding two stars (one for arriving on time). Why would they announce that to the author?

Crime writer Alex Marwood says snippy comments directed at her come through her Facebook page, which is meant to be for fans. One reader kindly told her she was “a craptastic author”. Another delighted in telling her about a scathing Amazon review (since removed), which Marwood later printed off and framed.

What is telling is that in almost every case – including that of Stibbe – the reader removes their original comment soon after it has reached its target. Could sudden self-awareness be at work? It is as hard to fathom as it is to know why they tagged the author in the first place.

Link to the rest at The Guardian


30 May 2017

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

revirescence, n.

. . . .

The action, quality, or fact of growing fresh or new again; return to a youthful or flourishing condition; an instance of this.

. . . .

1838 L. V. Vernon-Harcourt Doctr. Deluge i. 8 The Greeks expressed a strong opinion of the vitality and power of revirescence in the olive.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

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