Monthly Archives: August 2017

A Generic Millenial Ad

30 August 2017

Not exactly about books, but a short writing break.

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Hong Kong, Criminal City That Knows No Night

30 August 2017

From The Literary Hub:

Hong Kong—the “Fragrant Harbor” or the “Barren Rock”? The Cantonese named it the former; the early British colonialists in the mid-19th century the latter. Captured by the Royal Navy after the First Opium War (1839-1842) and politically cauterized from the mainland of China by a most unequal treaty signed in the face of British gunboats. Hong Kong Island was to be England’s in perpetuity, with Kowloon and the New Territories (that are essentially part of the Chinese mainland) leased for 99 years. In 1997 those 99 years came to an end, Britain surrendered the territory in the “Handover,” and Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control becoming a “Special Administrative Region” of the People’s Republic.

One of the most densely populated cities in the world, stunning banks of high rises surround a harbor above which rises the Peak, once home to only the most senior of Colonial officials and now only the wealthiest of tycoons. Across Victoria Harbor, Kowloon is raucous, always busy and thanks to the city’s obsession with neon, never dark as you pass through Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok and Kowloon’s other districts. Away from the hustle and bustle the islands of Lantau, Lamma and dozens of smaller oases have beaches and coves to explore, while the more sparsely populated New Territories extend to the border with mainland China at Lo Wu.

The quintessential Hong Kong of densely packed streets and the rhythmic cacophony of Cantonese contrasting with verdant islands and unexpected countryside is perhaps best captured in John le Carré’s sole Asian outing, The Honourable Schoolboy (1977). The Hong Kong weather “burns hot and clear and breathless” as Jerry Westerby wanders from the legendary Foreign Correspondents’ Club to his safe house on Cloudview Road in down-at-heel North Point. Le Carré, as ever, hits all the marks—the FCC, the American Club, snobby cocktail parties, the “Peak Mafia” of HSBC bankers, the Governor, senior military commanders, ruddy-faced club stewards and the odd resident OBEs and CBEs of the British community trading on past glories. Then down to noodles in the backstreets of Kennedy Town and compromising indiscretions in the Girly Bars of Wan Chai. The novel still stands as perhaps the most intricate description of post-war colonial Hong Kong in literature.

. . . .

Things get really murky in Hong Kong crime after the Handover in 1997. Christopher West’s 1999 Death of a Red Mandarin sees Inspector Wang of Beijing’s Public Security Bureau despatched south to ascertain just how a senior Communist Party official ended up a handcuffed corpse, floating in Hong Kong harbor. Wang is faced with the most politically sensitive of cases—the official’s body is hauled out of the water on the eve of the Handover. West has also written several other policiers featuring Chinese cop Inspector (Second Class) Bao Zheng, set in Beijing and well worth reading.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

3 Simple Steps to Silencing Your Inner Critic

30 August 2017

From Medium:

During a recent creative strategy session, I witnessed what psychologist Carl Jung referred to over a century ago as “an inner critic or judge who immediately comments on everything.”

I had given a team of young executives a thought challenge as a right-brain warmup exercise. Although they were unsuccessful in landing on the elegant solution within the time allotted, one individual pulled me aside during the session break to tell me, rather sheepishly, that the solution had immediately popped into her head, but she hadn’t raised it with the group.

I was keen to know why she had remained silent.

“It just seemed easy and obvious,” she began, “but I’m not very good at these kinds of things, so I figured my idea was too simple, and couldn’t possibly be right. I almost said something, but the stress got me.”

She had rather tragically surrendered to her inner critic, and in so doing squelched her creative instincts to the detriment not only of herself, but also her team.

Nearly everyone has experienced this inner critic, and there is a good reason for it: scientists now know the neurochemical reaction that triggers it is integral to the adrenalin-fueled threat-protection system in our brain which not only governs our fight-flight-surrender response but also enables us to learn from our mistakes.

Think about the first time you experienced the emotional sensation of stress from being socially rejected or ridiculed: you quickly learn to fear and thus automatically avoid similar and potentially stressful situations of all kinds.

But while the threat-response allows us to learn from mistakes and keeps us feeling safe, secure, and certain, it can go too far. In fact, fMRI studies have shown that our threat-protection system is triggered even when there is no actual external threat, but just us being self-critical. Researchers at Kingsway Hospital in the UK concluded that if we are overly self-critical, we may attack ourselves, put others down, or seek some form of escape to, as they put it, “flee from the knowledge of our own faults.”

. . . .

But while neuroscience may have the explanation for our inner critic, and for what I experienced in my creative strategy session, it does not seem to have a fix. One does exist, however.

. . . .

Step one is for her to first realize that she had already made an unwarranted assumption when the solution popped into her head: that something bad will happen if she shares it with the team. In this case, that bad thing is rejection.

Step two would be for her to then come up with a few reasons why her idea might not be rejected: her team may have misunderstood or misinterpreted the problem, her team was suffering from groupthink, the idea simply hadn’t dawned on anyone else yet, or they just plained loved her solution immediately.

Link to the rest at Medium

Target is plotting a big move away from AWS as Amazon takes over retail

30 August 2017

From CNBC:

Target is plotting a big move away from AWS as Amazon takes over retail.

Target is struggling mightily to compete with Amazon in retail, but it’s finding other ways to fight back.

The discount retailer is scaling back its use of Amazon Web Services, according to sources familiar with the matter, as the company aims to take greater control over its infrastructure and stop financing its chief rival. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods is the latest sign of how deep the e-commerce giant is moving into all forms of retail.

Microsoft Azure is among the rival cloud vendors vying to nab Target’s cloud business, said the sources, who asked not to be named because the plans are confidential. Google and Oracle are also beefing up their cloud offerings.

Like all big box stores, Target is being trounced by Amazon, which is selling more items for cheaper and delivering them faster. Target’s annual revenue is lower than it was five years ago –though the company has sold off its credit card business and pharmacy division during that stretch — and the stock has lost 23 percent of its market value in the past 12 months.

. . . .

While there’s little Target can do to impede Amazon’s dominance in retail, the emergence of other cloud providers at least allows the company to spend its computing and storage dollars elsewhere. According to one source, Target is planning to aggressively move e-commerce activities, mobile development and operations away from AWS through the end of the year and probably into 2018.

Link to the rest at CNBC

PG says it’s not just people in the traditional book business who suffer from Amazon Derangement Syndrome.

Switching cloud services providers, particularly when you have a lot of data and applications living in the cloud, is not a cost-free exercise.

In addition to sucking up IT hours (or paid consultant hours), the resources devoted to this silly attempt to undercut Amazon could be used for doing things that might actually please current customers and attract new ones.

PG just checked the Target website and easily concluded it’s not in the same league as Amazon’s. Spend money improving the online customer experience and you might sell more to your customers or even (gasp!) attract some Amazon customers to the Target website and stores.

No Target customer knows or cares which cloud service provider Target uses. This is the ultimate insider snark play. PG can almost hear Target IT managers snorting at each other in the break room.

If some Target PR drone hadn’t decide to pitch the story to CNBC, nobody outside of Target and cloudworld geeks would have known or cared that Target was switching from Amazon.

Now a few more people know, but nobody cares.

The World’s 50 Largest Publishers, 2017

29 August 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Although total revenue of the world’s 50 largest book publishers topped $50 billion in 2016, last year was not an easy one for global publishing giants. Less than half of the top 50 publishers posted revenue gains in 2016, with the balance reporting sales declines. One of the companies that had the toughest year was Pearson, which had a 15% decline in sales, to $5.62 billion. Even with the drop in revenue, Pearson continued its longtime reign as the world’s largest book publisher, according to the Livres Hebdo/Publishers Weekly annual ranking.

. . . .

Sales in the educational market, particularly in the U.S., were down in 2016 compared to 2015, and the downturn meant declining sales for publishers and also led some companies to restructure. Pearson underwent a companywide reorganization in 2016 that it said was in response to changes in the educational publishing market. The move eliminated about 4,000 employees. Earlier this year, the educational publisher said it intended to cut about 3,000 more positions. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which was the 14th-largest publisher in 2016 but saw a 3% decline in revenue, announced this spring that it will eliminate between 8% and 10% of its workforce of 4,500 in 2017.

. . . .

Bertelsmann’s 7% decline in 2016 revenue was due entirely to a drop in sales at Penguin Random House. The lack of a big new bestseller hurt results at the company, and it divested some smaller divisions in the year. The decline at PRH was offset in part by a sales increase in Bertelsmann’s education division.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

You may smoke

29 August 2017

“You may smoke, sir. I like the smell of tobacco.”

I lit the cigarette and blew a lungful at him and he sniffed at it like a terrier at a rathole. The faint smile pulled at the shadowed corners of his mouth.

Raymond Chandler

Eminem’s Legal Battle Against New Zealand Political Party Spills Into U.S. Court

29 August 2017

From The Hollywood Reporter:

When New Zealand’s National Party used in a television ad campaign a song that sounded much like Eminem’s 2002 hit “Lose Yourself,” it got sued. Earlier this year, a High Court in New Zealand held a two-week trial where Eminem’s music publisher aimed to demonstrate the political party’s ad campaign amounted to a copyright infringement. The outcome is still in limbo, but in the meantime, two companies are now engaged in a separate fight over responsibility for the hefty legal costs associated with what happened.

Beatbox Music Pty is suing Labrador Entertainment, doing business as Spider Cues Music Library.

Spider Cues, according to its website, has licensed musical cues for a wide range of television shows, commercials feature films including The Incredible Hulk, Cinderella Man, The Bourne Supremacy and more.

According to the complaint, Beatbox became a sub-publisher for its licensed territory pursuant to a 2009 agreement. The defendants allegedly represented and warranted that all musical compositions provided were “exclusive and original work.”

. . . .

“Labrador failed to direct Beatbox to remove any music tracks found in the existing Music Library (which had already been circulated to clients) which, on information and belief, Labrador knew or had reason to know that such tracks allegedly potentially infringed the rights of third parties,” states the complaint.

Apparently, one of the tracks was titled “Eminem esque,” which was then used by the National Party in its ad campaign.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter

PG says don’t infringe one of Eminem’s copyrights.

Even in New Zealand.

He has lawyers and he’s not afraid to use them.

What if Barnes & Noble went bankrupt?

29 August 2017

From Nathan Bransford:

I should emphasize from the start of this post that as of this writing there are no signs that Barnes & Noble is close to bankruptcy.

And yet in publishing circles, the prospect of Barnes & Noble going the way of Borders is sort of like a doomsday conversation that is impossible to resist. It’s the rare business lunch that does not at least reference this nightmare scenario.

But what would really happen if Barnes & Noble bit the dust?

I turned to publishing sage Mike Shatzkin, who has been involved in the book business for decades and has advised some of the biggest players in the publishing industry.

. . . .

Nathan: Barnes & Noble has an uncertain future as a print bookseller, as its revenues decline and it transitions toward diversifying its products toward games and toys. It didn’t take long for B&N to go from being the bad guy in You’ve Got Mail to the equivalent of the little shop on the corner everyone is rooting for. What impact is this going to have on publishers?

Mike: These three sentences open up a world of things for publishers to be thinking about.

There are two big shifts taking place in the book business that are not favorable for Barnes & Noble.

1. More and more printed books are being purchased online and fewer and fewer are being purchased in stores. The takeaway: sales of books in stores in total are likely going down.

2. More and more book titles are being delivered to the market with motivations other than pure commercial intent and fewer and fewer are being delivered by publishers trying to make a profit from publishing books. The takeaway: sales of books issued by those not overtly trying to profit will steal markets and mindshare and reduce margins for the publishers trying to run businesses.

. . . .

What would the landscape look like if B&N exited the book business entirely or, god forbid, went bankrupt?

Without Barnes & Noble, the business models of most of the publishers we know are severely challenged.

Although publishers would almost certainly have some warning about either a bankruptcy or an exit from the book business — neither would happen “suddenly” without at least a bit more “gradually” than we’ve yet seen — the absence of B&N would be a painful blow to the core business model of trade publishing. For about 100 years, the core proposition for mainstream publishers doing fiction and non-fiction for consumers has been “we put books on shelves”. That’s the proposition to the authors, as well as the service to consumers.

. . . .

So were it to happen that the chain that supplies probably about ⅔ of the available shelf space for most titles were to disappear, the business model itself would be broken. The incentive for authors to shift to a self-publishing model, where they get a lot more per copy for ebooks and specially ordered POD books, would strengthen. And it would be pretty compelling in any case where the author brand was powerful or the author did most of the marketing of the book.

So publishers would be hurt at the revenue end and the IP supply end of their chain, which is the entry and the exit.

. . . .

Were a bankruptcy to occur, the stock in B&N, even the books that were not yet paid for, would be owned by the company in receivership and the the amounts owed to the publishers would be in a queue for payment along with what is owed to other creditors.

. . . .

B&N’s share of the business keeps declining. They are losing share to Amazon and to independent general bookstores consistently. And bankruptcy for them is certainly not imminent. So the chances are that when the day comes that they go bankrupt, they’ll be 10% or less of most publishers’ business.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG says not all bankruptcies are the same. Some are “successful,” at least from the standpoint of many of the stakeholders and some are “unsuccessful” and almost everybody except bankruptcy counsel and business liquidators gets a bad deal.

Managing a business organization through a bankruptcy requires real skill and if inept management lead to the bankruptcy, inept management will likely screw up the bankruptcy if it tries to remain in charge through the often lengthy business bankruptcy proceedings.

Barnes & Noble has hosted a rapidly-revolving door for top managers during the past few years and PG doubts that talented managers will be more attracted to a BN that is in bankruptcy. Any managers who can bail out of BN for other jobs are quite likely to do so.

If BN stores develop a bankruptcy vibe (see half-empty Sears stores), a great many of BN’s best customers will stop shopping there. Who’s going to bring children into a creepy-feeling bookstore when they have an Amazon app on their phone?

A lot of the knick-knack manufacturers whose products fill up the front of a Barnes & Noble store are small companies who haven’t any experience with a bankrupt customer and don’t want to spend a lot of money on their own bankruptcy lawyers. Many are likely to cut off sales completely. Others will demand payment up front and refuse to ship without it. Overnight, Barnes & Noble will transition from their biggest customer to their biggest headache.

As far as major publishers are concerned, PG predicts that the big conglomerates that own those publishers will quickly exert greater control. Bertelsmann doesn’t want losses from Penguin Random House screwing up the quarterly results any more than absolutely necessary. Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck will clamp down hard on Macmillan. Ditto Hachette Livre. The US managers at the Big Five will experience intense micromanagement from different time zones.

One proven cost-reduction method that these conglomerates understand is to reduce personnel costs. A few senior management types may hang on, but employees with high salaries provide the most bang for the firing buck, so decades of experience, relationships, etc., will walk out the door at the Big Five.

To be clear, PG doesn’t wish business failure on any organization and, especially, those individuals who rely on that organization for their livelihood. He doesn’t make these gloomy prognostications with any joy.

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