Disruptive Innovation

Internet Publishers vs. Newspapers

7 June 2016

From Business Insider:

Newspapers are dying and the internet is rising.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently highlighted a stark indicator that this generational shift in the nature of media is happening: Since October of last year, there have been more people employed in internet publishing than by traditional newspapers.

. . . .

According to the BLS, “In June 1990, there were nearly 458,000 people employed in the newspaper publishing industry; by March 2016, that figure had fallen to about 183,000, a decline of almost 60 percent. Over the same period, employment in Internet publishing and broadcasting rose from about 30,000 to nearly 198,000.”

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Link to the rest at Business Insider

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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 Amazon.com 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)

The first great works of digital literature are already being written

23 May 2016

From The Guardian:

It’s an unfortunate feature of working as both a novelist and a games designer that I end up sitting through a lot of panels, round-tables, conferences, discussions and other exercises in head-nodding where digital people try to get to grips with storytelling, or where story people try to understand the digital world.

Both these types of event have their aggravations. When digital people run workshops or colloquia or jams (there are infinite names for the basic principle of bringing people together in combination with coffee) about storytelling, they often seem not to notice that quite a lot of very clever people have been thinking very hard about stories for, oh, the past 3,000-4,000 years. I’ve heard people suggest that maybe stories have a “pattern” or “structural ordering” that holds together their parts, without apparently realising that a lot of people have written about this, from Aristotle on.

And let’s not even get on to the people who say things like “data is a story”, “products are a story”, “your robo-vacuum cleaner has a story to tell you”. No it isn’t, no they’re not, and no – unless artificial intelligence has come on much faster than anticipated – it doesn’t.

But more aggravating even than this are the forums, summits, breakout sessions and seminars on “digital literature” run by exceedingly well-meaning arts people who can talk for hours about what the future might be for storytelling in this new technological age – whether we might produce hyperlinked or interactive or multi-stranded novels and poems – without apparently noticing that video games exist. And they don’t just exist! They’re the most lucrative, fastest-growing medium of our age. Your experimental technological literature is already here; it’s the noise you’re trying to get your children to turn down while you pen your thoughts about the future of location-based storytelling.

When I bring this up with arts and literary types, I often get the sort of “oh come, come” response that can only emerge from someone who has no familiarity whatsoever with what video games are, have been, and can be. “You can’t claim that Grand Theft Auto has literary merit,” they say. Maybe you can – plenty of people have – but no, I wouldn’t cite GTA as fascinating experimental literature any more than I’d cite robo-Godzilla-fighting blockbuster Pacific Rim as an example of avant-garde film-making (it’s fun though).

But are there video games experimenting with more interesting storytelling than any “digital literature” project I’ve seen? Yes, certainly. And if you want to think of yourself as well read, or well cultured, you need to engage with them.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Sean and others for the tip.

This dark side of the Internet is costing young people their jobs and social lives

22 May 2016

From The Washington Post:

It was group discussion time at reSTART, a woodsy rehabilitation center about 30 miles outside Seattle. Four residents sat around the living room and talked about their struggles with addiction, anxiously drumming their fingers on their legs and fidgeting with their shoelaces. One young man described dropping out of college to seek treatment for the crippling problem that brought them all here: compulsive Internet use.

It is easy to scoff at the idea of Internet addiction, which is not officially recognized as a disorder in the United States. Medical science has yet to diagnose precisely what is going on in the brains of the addicted, and there is no clear definition of what entails an Internet addiction. Yet a growing number of parents and experts say addiction to screens is becoming a major problem for many young Americans, causing them to drop out of school, withdraw from their families and friends, and complain of deep anxieties in social settings.

. . . .

“It’s not as obvious as substance addiction, but it’s very, very real,” said Alex, a 22-year-old who had been at reSTART for five days with a familiar story: He withdrew from college because he put playing games or using the Internet ahead of going to class or work. (Like the other patients, he declined to reveal his full name, for fear he would be stigmatized as an addict.)

. . . .

Those who say they suffer from Internet addiction share many symptoms with other types of addicts, in terms of which chemicals are released into the brain, experts say. The pleasure centers of the brain light up when introduced to the stimulus. Addicts lose interest in other hobbies or, sometimes, never develop any. When not allowed to go online, they experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, depression or even physical shaking. They retreat into corners of the Internet where they can find quick success — a dominant ranking in a game or a well-liked Facebook post — that they don’t have in the real world, experts say.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Julia for the tip.

The Tech World As We Know It Is About To Be Rewritten

17 April 2016

From Medium:

I had a sharp moment of clarity in the summer of 2007. After standing in line for four hours at an Apple Store outside of Boston on the day the first iPhone came out, I finally had one in my hand. It felt like a stereotypical Hollywood dream sequence; a long road stretching to the horizon and all of the traffic lights go green at the same time. I imagined I could see a map of how the next five years would unfold. How the whole world would rewrite itself around this new device. We built Evernote by betting on that map.

I hadn’t had a similar sense of certainty since then, but it’s happening again now. This time, it’s around conversational UX’s — bots for short — and the world is going to be rewritten again.

. . . .

What are bots? Think of them as interactive services that provide a conversational experience and contrast them with traditional “static” apps. In a static UX, you have to learn how to operate each control; push this tab to go here, then swipe left, then push the little ‘i’ button, and so on. In a conversational UX… you just have a conversation. This doesn’t necessarily mean speech input and output, or texting, although it’ll often include those elements. It means that the product understands what you want to do and responds dynamically. Some of these bots will have their own apps, and others will live inside of Slack and Facebook and other messaging channels. Some will be accessible through voice devices like the Amazon Echo. The best bots, I think, will be hybrids with multiple interaction modalities. You talk to a bot in whichever way is most natural, and it responds in the most efficient way possible. Think less Turing test and more R2D2. Bots don’t have to pretend to be human; they just have to be fast and effortless.

. . . .

Anything that involves collaboration, communications, consumption, organization, etc. will probably become a bot. I think bots will replace 80% of what we use at work and half of what we use at home.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says talking machines have, of course, existed in the world of science fiction for a long time. It’s interesting to think about how they might work in a contemporary world – the interaction of the bots of two lovers, for example. Do the bots have to figure out how to be compatible? What if they’re not?

Someone has probably written the definitive SF story about bots and the people they manipulate.

Stop Wasting Time in the Attention Economy

13 April 2016

From Digital Book World:

For many people, web browsers and phone screens have grown to become the main sources of information. To that end, there’s a constant and massive stream of media arriving on our screens. We live in a cutthroat attention economy.

As a result, every product will get more persuasive over time. Facebook must become more addictive to compete with YouTube. In return, YouTube must become more immersive if it wants to compete with Facebook. And we’re not just talking about “cheap” amusement like Candy Crush or cat videos; in their quest for our attention, these services also compete with studying, exercising, cooking and reading to our kids.

Media today threatens our fundamental agency. Maybe we are “choosing” to engage with these services, but we are choosing from persuasive menus driven by companies whose goals seemingly aren’t aligned to ours. As Tristan Harris further argues, there is “time spent” and “time well spent.”

Consider that the average teenager now spends more than 40 hours a week in front of a screen—almost three times as much as 10 years ago. Regardless of whether you think it’s all good or bad, hundreds of millions of young people are now spending almost 30 percent of their entire waking life in front of a digital screen. It’s hard to overstate the vast consequences—for the relational bonds of families, for our aspirations and anxieties, for our political beliefs, and ultimately for our understanding of reality itself.

. . . .

Nowadays, online discovery is mostly managed by recommender systems, which are widely integrated into applications. Some well-known examples include Facebook’s News Feed, movie recommendations on Netflix and Amazon, and of course Google Search, which these days is mostly a recommendation engine, too.

. . . .

By only being introduced to content algorithmically deemed “worth your attention,” these systems also heighten the risk of harmful “my side” bias. This ubiquitous bias is the conviction that your belief system and that of other in-group members is always correct and righteous, and that other peoples’ belief systems are always misguided and wrong-headed.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG says new stuff happens.

‘Transformation’ at Digital Book World: Wide-Eyed and Learning

9 March 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

Almost a bit shell-shocked, the tone of this year’s Digital Book World Conference + Expo (DBW) in New York City has an air both of resignation and of bafflement to it.

That’s not to say that the official two days  of the event haven’t opened with plenty of expertise onstage and in the audience, far from it. As ever, the grand ballroom at the Midtown Hilton is busy with key players, promising startup entrepreneurs, observant media watchers, and resilient business people.

But conference director Mike Shatzkin’s theme of “transformation”—of an industry now long upended by the digital dynamic—is apt in a curiously palpable sense. Brightly lit glowing panels form the stage backdrop this year, placing speakers in a considerably lower light and immersing the program in a gleaming, backlit conference aquarium.

. . . .

“This is a conference that’s not just about digital books, but about how our entire industry is interacting with a digital world.”

. . . .

It’s worth listing some of his inflection points in a fast constellation of change. Since 2010, Shatzkin told the audience:

  • Borders has closed
  • Barnes & Noble has fewer stores, fewer books
  • Half of bookstore shelf space is gone
  • Apple has launched the iBookstore
  • We’ve seen the start of “agency pricing”
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook has gained market share
  • The DoJ has intervened
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook has lost market share
  • Amazon’s Kindle has lost share, and then has come back

By contrast, some of the current market’s highlights Shatzkin pointed to include:

  • A massive indie writer community exists, perhaps hundreds making a living [at writing]
  • Possibly half of ebooks are indie
  • Indie prices are inching up, but still push overall prices downward
  • Publishers are trying to push ebook prices up
  • The erosion of print sales appears to have slowed
  • Big publishers’ ebook sales have declined; but overall ebooks are up

. . . .

We paddled on to the challenges that Shatzkin tells us are facing the industry now:

  • Publishers need to create platforms for engagement
  • Author brands need more publisher collaboration efforts
  • Will any publisher ever routinely offer a “digital audit”?
  • Do publishers have the “complete” list of marketing opportunities?
  • A need to understand the indie author sales profile and share
  • Developing sophisticated email marketing
  • Grasping strategies of The Four Horsemen
  • Can anti-trust “save” publishers from big players?

. . . .

Rodale’s Naples was there to recommend that publishers embrace failure for what they can learn from it . . . try, try again, adding:

“I’ve been shocked at how little has changed over the years inside a publishing house…One thing that shocked me when I worked with a startup was the culture…20 times faster than in publishing.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Dana for the tip.

Netflix Caused 50% of U.S. TV Viewing Drop in 2015

5 March 2016

From Variety:

Netflix is leaving an indelible mark on the TV biz — and while the streaming giant isn’t dealing a fatal blow to the industry, it is seriously cutting into traditional television ratings.

In 2015, Netflix accounted for about half of the overall 3% decline in TV viewing time among U.S. audiences, according to a new study by Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson. The analyst calculated that based on an estimate that Netflix’s domestic subs streamed 29 billion hours of video last year (Netflix said members worldwide watched 42.5 billion hours in 2015). That would represent 6% of total American live-plus-7 TV viewing reported by Nielsen (up from 4.4% in 2014).

Moreover, Nathanson predicts Netflix’s total streaming hours as a percentage of TV viewing will continue to rise to about 14% by 2020. “Currently, Netflix is a source of industry pain, but not necessarily a cause of industry death,” he wrote in the note.

. . . .

In comparing TV viewing of Netflix vs. non-Netflix households, broadcast networks took the biggest hit in 2015. CBS viewing among Netflix subs was 42% lower than non-subs, with Fox at -35%, ABC at -32% and NBC at -27%, according to Nathanson’s analysis.

. . . .

Other studies have compared Netflix’s viewing to traditional TV. The service was on track to attract a larger 24-hour audience than each of the major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) some time in 2016, per an analysis last summer by FBR Capital Markets.

Link to the rest at Variety and thanks to C. for the tip.

Print’s dead — but so is digital

15 February 2016

From USA Today:

The Financial Times, in a considered piece the other day, has, if there was any doubt, pronounced the newspaper business deader than a doornail. But its more advanced point was pronouncing the digital news business at the point of death, too.

In the past six years the print newspaper business in the U.S. has shrunk by more than half, in the U.K., according to the FT, by one-third, precipitating the announcement last week of the closing after 30 years of the print edition of Fleet Street upstart the Independent. But the effort to reinvent the business online — in the mantra of publishing, “digital is the future” — presents, if possible, an even bleaker picture. Despite the online world’s crowing about advertising growth, and the belief of many publishers that online ad revenue would surely replace offline, the per-view price of a digital ad continues to drop, and ever-more ad dollars are concentrated with Google and Facebook. Now, to boot, there are ad blockers: nobody ever has to see a digital ad.

. . . .

The passing enthusiasm for paywalls as an alternative revenue stream has, other than for a few must-have titles, produced scant revenue as well as falling readership and a collapsing brand awareness for many newspapers.

. . . .

In other words, while neither consumers nor advertisers will pay enough for news to cover its costs in print form, they won’t cover the costs in digital either. Immediacy and efficiency and searchability and connectedness have not proved to be any more valuable than the slow delivery of yesterday’s news.

. . . .

At present, the FT concludes, there is no viable economic model for a written news product.

Link to the rest at USA Today and thanks to Shelly for the tip.

Technology disruption tends to squeeze costs out of products and services that experts regarded as low-cost already.

While PG grew up loving to read printed newspapers and still receives a couple of physical papers each morning, he’s an outlier and, on many days, doesn’t read them. Sometime soon, he’s likely to look at a renewal notice and decide to spend his money elsewhere. PG’s internet provider is set up on autopay so he’s never so much as a day late with his payment.

But, of course, newspapers aren’t special snowflakes like printed books.

Book It, Baby

18 January 2016

From TechCrunch:

Remember e-books? Those were the days, weren’t they? Those crazy few years when the fad of reading on a Kindle swept the nation. Now, of course, that fit of mass hysteria is behind us. E-book sales are falling, down more than 10% in 2015 — YA down 44%! — while used bookstores are coming back. Yes, that’s right; print is regaining its regal primacy; e-books are dead. Right?

You look suspicious. How strange. It’s almost as if you think that because those numbers come from the Association of American Publishers, they might indicate something rather different from the death of the e-book; they might be a signifier of the rise of smaller publishers not tracked by the AAP, and/or, the growth of online reading via eg Wattpad or Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Author Earnings argues that what we’re really seeing is that AAP publishers “have seen their collective share of the US ebook market collapse.” Mathew Ingram in Fortune adds, rhetorically, “Isn’t a drop in sales just a natural outcome of the publishers’ move to keep e-book prices high?”

Somehow I don’t think Amazon is running particularly scared. They added three million new Prime members this Christmas season, who can use Amazon’s Kindle Owners Lending Library to check out free books. Those don’t count as e-book sales. Neither does Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription service. I’m only one data point, but I’ve published eight books . . . and I can tell you that, for me at least, the ratio of “books read through Kindle Unlimited” to “Kindle copies sold” is about 8:1.

. . . .

I understand that publishers mostly want e-books to fail, largely because Amazon controls even more of the e-book market than the dead-tree market.

. . . .

So why doesn’t this status quo feel great? Because it provokes intense anxiety in everyone: publishers, authors, and readers.

Well, publishers, obviously, have to deal with the Amazon devil, whether they like it or not; and they have to worry about the cannibalization of their industry by micropublishers, online publishers, etc. Their share of the pie is shrinking (although it’s not going away.)

For authors, there used to be a well-known and well-understood path to success. A winding mountain path full of cliffs and high winds and deadly monsters, but a path nonetheless. Now publishing is more like a trackless jungle. You have to somehow find your way through it with no map, no compass, a really crappy knife, and a vague sense that the moss might grow on the north side of the trees, while hoping that you don’t walk under any leopards.

As for readers — they no longer know where to go to read the next book that transforms how they see the world. Buy a book on Amazon? Physical or e-? Or go to Smashwords, because you’ve heard they’re better for authors? Trek out to a physical bookstore? Check out something from Kindle Unlimited and/or the Kindle Lending Library, for free, before you commit your money? Surf through Wattpad or Feedbooks? It’s the anxiety of choice.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Elaine for the tip.

With his reader hat on, PG thinks this is a great time to be alive and reading. He finds lots of great ebooks at attractive prices and discovers new authors (and new sub-genres) all the time.

And he can do this on his computer, his tablet or his phone at a time of his choosing. What’s not to like?

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