Monthly Archives: November 2017

The evolution of the media landscape (and why you probably won’t finish this article)

19 November 2017

From Method:

At a time when many sectors are ripe for disruption, the publishing industry has been doubly affected. Not only is publishing itself being disrupted by new technology, media and changing consumption habits, but the advertising industry, on which it has relied for so long for a business model, is also under disruption. Failure to act quickly and foresee these changes has left publishing searching for a viable alternative model.

It’s a race to the bottom where eyeballs and clicks are the prizes. Fake news, bot-generated articles, echo chambers and walled gardens make up this new media landscape. How did we get here and how can we expect things to evolve next?

. . . .

While the printing press has benefited from improvements and technological advances over the years, from mechanization to digital presses, the most drastic innovation in publishing came with the advent of the World Wide Web. Where Gutenberg had made the replication of content possible, the Web democratized the distribution, lowering the barrier to the access of information further than ever before.

. . . .

[W]e are now at a point where the Web is instant, pervasive and has more content than anyone could ever consume in a number of lifetimes. Yet the publishing industry is still wrestling with some fundamental questions: How do we profit from published content? How do we uphold quality and integrity amid a tidal wave of user (and bot) generated content? How do we ensure that readers can still have shared experiences rather than retreat into tailored, targeted, personalized bubbles?

. . . .

Content is becoming more and more disposable and nowhere is this more visible than in the advertising-driven sites vying for the eyeballs and clicks of the low attention span reader. The 24-hour news cycle has made us hungry for stories throughout the day, we demand an endless stream of news. With this constant barrage of content, inevitably quality and due diligence fact checking often suffer in the rush to output more and more stories. The fight for clicks is a race to the bottom in terms of quality and this can be seen in successful sites like Buzzfeed and the Mail Online — now the most popular news website in the world.

Link to the rest at Method

Devoted to Service

19 November 2017

A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.

Henry Ford

This Key Metric Means Amazon’s Strategy is Working — For Now

19 November 2017

From The Motley Fool:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) segment continues to grow in importance for Amazon’s overall bottom line. For example, in Amazon’s third quarter, AWS’s operating margin (segment net sales minus operating expenses) came in at $1.17 billion, up from $861 million in the year-ago quarter. Better yet, these results were on total revenues of just $4.58 billion.

Amazon’s North American retail segment, on the other hand, reported revenues of $25.45 billion and operating income of just $112 million (down from Q3 2016’s $255 million).

. . . .

But it’s important for investors to keep in mind that, beyond AWS, Amazon’s segments are extremely low margin. In fact, Amazon’s international division actually lost $936 million in Q3 2017. Until it scores a win with another one of its businesses, Amazon will be dependent on AWS.

. . . .

AWS’ rise over the past 3 years has been meteoric. Formed just ten years ago, it was broken out from the rest of the company’s results in the first quarter of 2015. As part of that report, investors learned that for the previous year (FY 2014), AWS generated operating income of $458 million. Just two years later, in FY 2016, AWS generated a staggering $3.1 billion in operating profits on revenues of $12.22 billion.

. . . .

Compare these results to the part of Amazon we are all familiar with: its domestic retail operation. Its North America segment generated $360 million in profits in 2014 and $2.36 billion in FY 2016. Decent, but nowhere near AWS’s level. Last years results were at $79.79 billion in revenue.

When you buy shares of Amazon you own the whole company, but AWS’s ability to generate billions in operating cash flow remains an increasingly pivotal contributor to the company’s bottom line. The Amazon bull case revolves around the idea that Bezos & Co. will continue to disrupt any business they believe they can compete in. Only when Amazon attains dominant market share and operational scale in a given market will the company consider harvesting profits. Bezos said as much in his first letter to shareholders in 1997.

Link to the rest at The Motley Fool

10 years, 10 books — a look back at Kindle best sellers

19 November 2017

From Amazon Charts:

It was 2007, the year Prince rocked the Super Bowl in the rain, Bob Barker hosted his final episode of The Price Is Right, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowswrapped up the saga of a boy wizard fighting the ultimate evil. It was also the year Kindle was born. Happy 10th birthday to Kindle, which gave us the ability to read countless books instantly and hold an entire bookshelf in the palm of the hand. Here are the Most Sold Kindle books for each year since Kindle was launched:

The Handmaid’s Tale

2017: It’s Margaret Atwood’s year — we’re just living it. The Handmaid’s Tale saw fantastic spikes in sales, and the TV adaptation won eight Emmy Awards. Atwood’s cautionary Tale, in which women are forced into roles as servants, reproductive hosts, or soulless hausfraus, has as much punch today as when it was published in 1985.

. . . .

The Help

2011: Kathryn Stockett hit a nerve with her book about a group of black domestic workers in 1960s Mississippi who contribute to an anonymous tell-all that puts them in unspeakable danger. But while the danger may be unspeakable, the characters find their voices in their secret book, and Stockett found hers in The Help. The book got a boost from the 2011 movie adaptation, which won an Oscar for Octavia Spencer’s performance.

. . . .

The Pillars of the Earth

2007: Ken Follett was already a best-selling suspense author before publishing The Pillars of the Earth in 1989, but that mighty historical novel (more than 1,000 pages!) set in twelfth-century England took him in an entirely new direction. Nearly three decades later he’s just published the third book in his Kingsbridge series, A Column of Fire, which sits high on Amazon Charts’ Most Read fiction list. This one weighs in at 927 pages, which is still tough to carry — unless, y’know, you have a Kindle.

Link to the rest at Amazon Charts

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Theory: The Prime Universe Doesn’t Exist

19 November 2017

From Inverse:

In science fiction, sometimes a cliffhanger can take place on an actual cliff, like the ending of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Other times, like the mid-season finale of Star Trek: Discovery, the cliffhanger drops a starship into a parallel universe.

If the USS Discovery is now in the Mirror Universe, as some fans have posited, then an interesting question presents itself: Which universe did the Discovery and its crew originate from?

Most fans would tell you that Discovery is supposedly set in the “Prime” Star Trektimeline, but what does that mean? And does the Prime Universe even exist?

. . . .

In 2009, director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman made a brilliant or terrible decision, depending on who you ask. Instead of being forced to follow the chronology of the original Star Trek series, they created a splinter universe formed by the invasion of a time-traveling angry Romulan named Nero. Of every reboot that ever rebooted, 2009’s Star Trek is the slyest, acting as, technically, both a sequel and a remake at the same time. And in terms of fully fleshed out parallel universes within Star Trek, Abrams’ resulting “Kelvin Universe” is most prominent.

In an attempt to qualify this there’s even a moment in 2009’s Trek where Spock (Zachary Quinto) says, almost directly to the camera, “Nero’s presence has altered the flow of history, thereby creating a new chain of events that cannot be anticipated by either party…whatever our lives might have been…our destinies have changed.”

Link to the rest at Inverse

PG says a parallel universe could explain so much about recent events.

Stoop Stories

18 November 2017

From Aeon:

So I’m posted up, sharing a sandwich and a cigarette with a friend in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in America, and my phone buzzes. On the other end is one of my old professors asking me to tell one of my wild childhood stories at the Stoop Storytelling Series, at Center Stage in downtown Baltimore.

A stoop show, I thought: kind of like what I do on the corner in my own neighbourhood every day. I’m always surrounded by stoops, Baltimore stoops made of cracked and chipped marble steps where all we do is tell street stories: who’s getting money, who’s going to jail, who murdered who, whose album is hot, who is that girl, who’s driving what, and who’s coming home from jail.

This would be easy, the same thing, but in someone else’s neighbourhood. I agreed to it like I agreed to the last 15 opportunities that fell in my lap. I’d recently written ‘Too Poor for Pop Culture’, an essay that went viral and made me semi-relevant on the internet and the man to know on the local scene. I’d learnt that exposure and platform are key, so I looked forward to the event.

The day of the show rolled round and I was backstage with my fellow cast members and storytellers. These guys were Easter-sharp, with starched button-ups and wingtips; the women matched them in pumps and flashy adult versions of their prom dresses.

Obviously, I missed the dress code memo because I walked in wearing a black hoodie and some black Air Jordans.

. . . .

The hostess gave me an amazing intro and welcomed me to the mic. I walked up and said: ‘This ain’t the stoop I’m used to. There’s no pit bulls, red cups or blue flashing lights, but I’ll make it work!’ I paused, took a look at the crowd and honestly felt like I wasn’t in Baltimore.

My black friends call it Baldamore, Harm City or Bodymore Murderland. My white friends call it Balti-mo, Charm City or Smalltimore while falling in love with the quaint pubs, trendy cafés and distinctive little shops. I just call it home.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Baltimore

18 November 2017

Anyone can love a perfect place. Loving Baltimore takes some resilience.

Laura Lippman

Boston Is a Literary City Too

18 November 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Imagine that your city hosts a book festival that attracts authors of international acclaim and readers of virtually every genre. Exhibitors representing publishers, writing centers, universities and colleges, writing groups, and booksellers (not to mention the best local grilled cheese company) fill a beautiful, historic square in town, and their booths have lines throughout the day. Tourists mix with locals walking, biking, and popping out of the subway stations nearby. Most events—whether in a church, a hotel, or the historic library; whether featuring a bestselling YA author or a scholar-activist—are standing room only.

The next day, you open your city newspapers and see nothing about the festival. Did it happen? Was it just a book lover’s dream?

The Boston Book Festival took place in Copley Square, in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, for the ninth time on October 28. Around 200 authors appeared throughout the day, and attendees filled around 18,000 seats and standing room, to boot. Speakers included Geraldine Brooks, Daniel Handler, Chris Hayes, Lisa Ko, Dennis Lehane, Claire Messud, Eileen Myles, and Jacqueline Woodson.

Local media in Boston primed the pump ahead of the event, with pieces in the Boston Globe and on NPR, but once it happened there was radio silence. I suspect many people who participated in it in whatever way, like I did, are frustrated, as I am.

. . . .

How often can a fan of the stylish New York Review Books’ reissued paperbacks meet someone in marketing from the company? In what other space can writers watch agents consider new work, as they do at the massively popular Writer Idol event held each year at the Festival? Not covering this unique space sustains the myth that the walls between readers, writers, and gatekeepers are high and getting higher.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Although PG doesn’t live in Boston, the spine-tingling adventure of watching agents consider new work isn’t a compelling draw for him. Perhaps the newspapers felt the same way.

Luck and Prosperity

18 November 2017

From author Joey Loi via Medium:

Finally, in the distance, lights emerge from behind the low early morning fog. Seventy four salt-skinned men and twenty eight salt-skinned women look eagerly onwards. Together they bob with the ocean, up and down, up and down, to the tune of God’s will and the mercy of men who captain Chinese fishing vessels. The boat drifts towards the lights, pushed by indifferent water, aided only by a ragged canvas sail that never wanted to carry this weight. Cruel, holy water. It holds out a ticket to those desperate enough to reach for one, but promises nothing. These drifters no longer hear the water, they hear only whatever it is that makes those lights glow.

Among the black hair and raw sour stench, Chon sits restlessly on the white-stained damp deck. His crossed legs are propped up by his arms folded elbow-in-hand over his knees, his two younger sisters flanking his sides. Kin skin sticking to kin skin. Two hours ago, they were instructed to dump anything that could suggest that their boat left from China: a radio with Chinese labels, local newspapers used to wrap three day old buns. They wouldn’t qualify for refuge if the Hong Kong government discovered they hadn’t come directly from Vietnam.

He’s exhausted and can’t sleep. Chon lifts his head and squints toward the shore, anxiously scanning for ships coming to turn them away. He’s heard it happen to his drifting countrymen before. Fortune can be taken away as arbitrarily as it is given. But his sleep-deprived concentration fails, and he succumbs to wonder — have we made it?

Link to the rest at Medium

PG stumbled across this piece and ended up reading it because he was engaged by the the opening excerpted above.

Annie Proulx Gave One of the Best National Book Award Speeches

18 November 2017

From Annie Proulx’ acceptance speech for the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters via Vulture:

Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well…

. . . .

We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data. Everything is situational, seesawing between gut-response “likes” or vicious confrontations. For some this is a heady time of brilliant technological innovation that is bringing us into an exciting new world. For others it is the opening of a savagely difficult book without a happy ending.

. . . .

The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on. The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.” Darwin: They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds—nothing that ended unhappily. If he happened on something like that, enraged, he flung the book into the fire. True or not, I’m ready to believe it. Scanning in his mind so many times and places, he’s had enough with dying species, the triumphs of the strong over the weak, the endless struggle to survive, all doomed sooner or later. He’d earned the right to happy ending, at least in fiction, with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last. Thank you.

Link to the rest at Vulture

Vulture comments, “The least suspenseful part of the National Book Award ceremony can be the most fun: the speech given by each year’s winner of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Winners of that lifetime-achievement prize tend to be over 80, and to expound passionately on the general theme of “kids today.””

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