Walmart Builds a Secret Weapon to Battle Amazon for Retail’s Future

21 March 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Epiphany Davis arrived at work in lower Manhattan on a recent morning, consulted her cellphone and set off by foot in search of products ordered via text message by wealthy New Yorkers.

From her company’s loft-like headquarters, Ms. Davis walked to a health food store to get SmartyPants Kids vitamins, but the variety was out of stock. Checking her cellphone often for instructions, she walked to a grocery store for a single bag of Guittard milk chocolate chips. She rode the subway to a Nespresso store for three boxes of coffee pods, then walked to Bloomingdale’s to pick up a $245 navy blue MZ Wallace backpack.

Ms. Davis works for Jetblack, a personal-shopping company targeted at mothers launched last summer by a surprising newcomer to the field— Walmart Inc. A few hundred shoppers in New York City pay $600 a year to order anything by text message except for fresh food. Members were invited by Walmart, or referred by current members, and need to have a doorman to join.

Their orders go to Jetblack headquarters where dozens of agents sit at computers and field requests, from reordering diapers to making suggestions on high-end cribs, organic snacks and yoga attire. Couriers fetch the items and bring them back to a Manhattan delivery hub, where they are wrapped in black packaging and hand delivered, usually the same day.

It’s a labor-intensive operation that loses money. But making money isn’t the goal, at least not right away.

. . . .

Walmart is using Jetblack’s army of human agents to train an artificial intelligence system that could someday power an automated personal-shopping service, preparing Walmart for a time when the search bar disappears and more shopping is done through voice-activated devices, said Jetblack CEO Jenny Fleiss.

“It’s the tech of the future, right? It’s not what everyone is doing today,” said Ms. Fleiss, who previously co-founded apparel rental company Rent The Runway. The CEO said it could be five to seven years before the system is mostly automated and less reliant on humans. “This is a long journey,” she said. “And I think we were aware of that going in.”

Walmart is competing with Amazon, which has $233 billion in annual sales, including web services. In addition to Prime, the online giant has same-day grocery delivery from Whole Foods stores in some cities, plans to open dozens of small physical grocery stores and has sold millions of Echo speakers that let shoppers skip stores and websites altogether, and shop for products or request music with their voice.

Walmart is the world’s biggest retailer by revenue, with $514 billion in annual sales, but e-commerce makes up only a small percentage. That’s out of sync with where retail is growing fastest. Across the U.S., online shopping accounted for 9.7% of total retail sales last year and grew 14.2% from the previous year, according to the Commerce Department.

. . . .

Jetblack is a small piece of Walmart’s online investments, but it is one of the biggest gambles Walmart is making to attract wealthy shoppers and burnish its tech credentials.

Walmart primarily views the company as a research hub on AI and voice shopping. Some pieces of the business “could very readily be applied to the broader ecosystem in time,” she said. Jetblack’s software is learning to make agents more efficient, already suggesting language to use for many text interactions, said Ms. Fleiss.

Jetblack’s goal is that over time, through these interactions, the computer algorithm will learn to respond to requests with humanlike nuance but machine efficiency.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The World’s First Genderless Ai Voice Is Here.

20 March 2019

From Fast Company:

Voice assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are women rather than men. You can change this in the settings, and choose a male speaker, of course, but the fact that the technology industry has chosen a woman to, by default, be our always-on-demand, personal assistant of choice, speaks volumes about our assumptions as a society: Women are expected to carry the psychic burden of schedules, birthdays, and phone numbers; they are the more caregiving sex, they should nurture and serve. Besides, who wants to ask a man for directions? He’ll never pull over at a gas station if he’s lost!

But what many people–myself included–have missed in the gender criticism of personal assistants is that it was even binary to begin with, as so much of the world identifies outside that schema. This oversight is exactly what Q is trying to fix. Q claims to be the world’s first genderless voice for AI systems developed by the creative studio Virtue Nordic and the human rights festival Copenhagen Pride, in conjunction with social scientist Julie Carpenter. The project had no client; it was born from a design exploration inside Virtue Nordic and snowballed from there.

. . . .

. . . .

Now, voice assistants are often gender-specific for a reason. Companies test these computer voices on users and listen to the results of those tests. At Amazon, users preferred Alexa as a woman rather than a man. That relatively small sample set was extrapolated to represent Alexa for everyone. Research has shown, too, that men and women alike report female voices being more “welcoming” and “understanding” than male voices, and it’s easy to understand why these would be qualities any company would want in their always-listening voice assistant. But these companies and researchers only tested male and female voices. And testing a narrow set of options on a limited number of users isn’t the best way to build representational technology.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

 

How Printers Can Capitalize on Book Publishing Trends in 2019

20 March 2019

From Printing Impressions:

As technology continues to disrupt and transform the book market, publishers are responding by changing business models that affect how media is produced, distributed and consumed in the book publishing industry. As dramatic technology shifts continue, book publishers, authors and printers need to adapt to benefit from new opportunities.

With the start of another year, book publishers and manufacturers are evaluating what the future might hold.

. . . .

For those in the printing industry, Walter highlighted that there was modest growth in print book sales in 2018 with volume climbing 1.3% — in a year where there were no major blockbuster bestsellers like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Harry Potter.” Walter expects the market to remain relatively flat but stable. The key is the migration to more and more digitally printed books.

. . . .

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) is a leading book industry trade association that offers standardized industry best practices, research and information. O’Leary said one of the biggest issues facing the book market is the management of the supply chain and shared results of BISG’s year-end “State of the Supply Chain” survey. O’Leary highlighted that the three top priorities respondents were focused on in 2019 when it came to supply chain management were:

  1. Making data-driven decisions
  2. Timely, high-quality metadata to improve discovery and sales (At its most basic level, metadata is how people find your book. This includes the ISBN, keywords, the author name, pub date, BISAC code, reviews, author bios and more. )
  3. Keeping up with new technologies to improve workflow and supply chain management

. . . .

IBPA CEO Angela Bole explained that three publishing models continue to exist: traditional publishing; self-publishing, where authors can be assisted or unassisted by vanity press organizations; and hybrid or partner publishing.

Bole says that in 2019, the industry will experience the rise in hybrid publishing — a gray zone between traditional publishing and self-publishing that is still being defined. Bole described hybrid publishing as publishing companies behaving like traditional publishing companies in all respects, except that they publish books using an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves, and in exchange return, a higher-than-standard share of sales proceeds to the author. In other words, a hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales. Hybrid publishers provide a range of services for the author such as:

  • Vet submissions.
  • Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBN(s).
  • Publish to industry standards.
  • Ensure editorial, design and production quality.
  • Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights.
  • Provide distribution services.
  • Demonstrate respectable sales.
  • Pay authors

Link to the rest at Printing Impressions

PG won’t spend time venting, but he will suggest that traditional publishing is already author-subsidized in that authors receive only a small percentage of the money generated by their books while publishers receive a significantly larger share.

Why Brexit Might Hit British Academic Publishers Hardest

20 March 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Scholarly research has always been a global affair, which is why, explained a panel of stakeholders at the London Book Fair on Tuesday, Brexit may hit the U.K. scholarly publishing community hardest of all.

“Brexit will rewrite rules governing partnerships with European colleagues,” noted Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally, who moderated the discussion. “If the nature and even the timing of Brexit remain unclear, one may still confidently predict that Brexit will mean important changes for the U.K.’s scholarly publishing industry.”

. . . .

“I think at the moment the most significant consequence comes purely from the currency exchange,” said Outsell’s Hugh Logue, noting that the prospect of leaving the E.U. has hit the pound hard, something acutely felt by academic researchers, whose funding is fixed. “When they are buying equipment or other consumables, those are already 20% more expensive.” And that has a “knock on effect” for scholarly publishers, he said, because when trimming costs, scholarly publications are often the first cut.

. . . .

Meanwhile, Logue said he has also heard “anecdotally” of British lead scientists being dropped from projects because “the likelihood of getting renewed funding is diminished.” Further, the issue of immigration looms as one of the biggest challenges of Brexit, he said, adding that around one-in-six researchers in the U.K. comes from outside the country.

. . . .

“I actually think at this stage it’s a psychological thing,” observed Tim Britton, formerly of Springer Nature. “Would you move your family here? Would you build a house here?” Britton wondered. “If I was coming out of Berlin having just finished my post-doc, would I come to London? Absolutely not.”

Britton said that the “psychological effect” on researchers, “which is impossible to measure” could potentially have a far bigger impact than any of the actual policies Brexit may eventually settle on, making it harder for U.K. institutions, including publishers, to recruit and retain the best talent.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

 

My Job Is Not to Frighten Children

19 March 2019

My job is not to frighten children, but sometimes addressing fears and concerns within the safe boundaries of a picture book can fill me with an awesome responsibility to be as truthful and transparent as possible.

~ Debi Gliori

Not Your Kid’s Picture Book Anymore

19 March 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

There are picture books that engage, transport, amuse, intrigue, enchant, comfort, or even haunt adults, but that don’t connect with the children who are their purported audience. This would be absolutely fine—picture books are a unique and endlessly variable art form—but it can be hard to overcome customers’ resistance to buying them for themselves. As one of my bookselling colleagues said recently, people will spend $40 on glossy coffee table art books they’ll look through once or twice, but are reluctant to buy themselves an $18 picture book they can’t stop leafing through in the store.

I’ve had more than a few customers over the years pore through picture books, then sadly place them back on the shelves, saying, “I love this, but I don’t have little children in my life anymore.” Good news, my friends: Picture books are not just for children, especially now.

Why have we come to a place where picture books are relegated to the landscape only of the very young? It was not always thus. We didn’t used to hurry children away from picture books into beginning readers and chapter books at age six, the way most parents do now.

. . . .

Parents often dismiss picture books as an entire class—not registering their relative complexities, subtleties, and nuances. They don’t want to spend money on books they think are beneath their children’s intellectual capacities. Even in the span of time I’ve been a bookseller (22 years), I’ve seen word counts shrink and parents push their children out of picture books younger and younger. They may not understand that the language in picture books may be much more sophisticated than the chapter books they are eager for their kids to read.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here are some of the picture books mentioned in the OP. Each has Look Inside enabled to provide an expanded view of the images and design. If clicking on the cover doesn’t work, I’ve included a text link below each cover.


The Stuff of Stars

.

The Fox and The Star
.

The Journey

Patreon Introduces New Tiers for Creators. Can It Avoid Another “Fiasco”?

19 March 2019

From Fast Company:

In 2017, Patreon rolled out a new fee structure. Today’s it’s known internally at the company as “the fiasco.” A revolt from creators and patrons prompted it to retreat almost immediately.

Today, Patreon, which is valued at a reported $450 million, is trying again. It is announcing Patreon Lite, Pro, and Premium as a means to tailor fit its services to the needs of the platforms’ 100,000-plus creators. “We wanted to make sure and do right by the creator base that’s been with us for all these years,” says Wyatt Jenkins, SVP of product at Patreon. “I’ll talk to a painter with 50 patrons and then later in the afternoon, I’ll talk to a media company with 25 employees that makes over $1 million a year. So it’s pretty clear that [Patreon is] not one product anymore.”

Every creator with an existing Patreon account will automatically be grandfathered into the Pro tier with no changes being made to their account. Essentially, this new system is giving creators the option to pare down with Lite (which is meant to be the easiest onboarding option for creators who just want a page with no tiered benefits for patrons) or upgrade with Premium (which charges an additional $300 per month charge in exchange for services like team accounts and a dedicated partner manager). Patreon’s cut–5% in Pro and 9% in Premium, respectively–will also be locked in for existing accounts but will increase to 8% and 12% for new ones created after these membership plans officially launch in May.

. . . .

In addition to the tiered membership, Patreon also announced changes to its processing fee structures: Pledges over $3 will be charged 2.9% plus 30¢ per payment. Anything below $3 will be charged 5% plus 10¢ per payment–the latter being a direct response to 2017’s “fiasco.”

Patreon’s 2017 changes to its fee structure were met with instant backlash because the processing fee was heaped onto the patrons instead of being taken out of the creator’s account (with no ability to opt in or opt out). In addition, the proposed fee of 2.9% plus 35¢ disproportionately affected anyone pledging between $1 and $3. As TPR Jones accurately summed it up in his tweet at the time: “Pledging $100 to one creator will now cost $103.25, which is reasonable. Pledging $1 each to 100 creators will now cost $138, which is not reasonable.”

. . . .

“Creators don’t want somebody in between them and their fans,” says Jenkins. “What I learned and what Jack learned and the way we’re doing this new rollout out is the business relationship is between us and creators. We are a membership platform that empowers a strong relationship between creators and their fans.”

. . . .

The primary complaint comes down to a lack of flexibility in even this three-tiered offering. Qaadir Howard started his Patreon account about two years ago in response to YouTube’s exorbitant cuts in their payouts and its demonetization of non-family-friendly content. In reviewing Patreon’s new offerings, Howard isn’t particularly moved to upgrade his account to Premium, even though he, like many other creators, could benefit greatly from the services offered with it.

“I don’t know if I’d be willing to pay $300 for it–that’s a car note,” Howard says. “I think they should have it where it’s more à la carte: Let me pay for the thing that I want instead of it just being a flat $300, and maybe I need only one thing.”

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Facebook Axes Age, Gender and Other Targeting for Some Sensitive Ads

19 March 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc. is removing age, gender and ZIP Code targeting for housing, employment and credit-related ads as part of a settlement with advocacy groups and other plaintiffs.

The new actions—and just under $5 million in payments—settle five discrimination lawsuits filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Communications Workers of America and others, the company said.

“There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a blog post that will be published on Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokesman.

Facebook has faced pressure on targeting around such ads for years, sparked by a 2016 report from investigative-news site ProPublica, which said it had been able to buy ads targeted to house hunters that excluded certain groups based on ethnicity. While Facebook didn’t allow targeting specifically by race, it lets advertisers seek consumers by criteria it calls “ethnic affinity.”

Soon after that report, Facebook said it would no longer let marketers target housing, employment and credit-related ads by ethnic affinity.

The company will now add further restrictions on targeting such ads to U.S. consumers. Geographic targets, for example, will have a minimum 15-mile radius from any specific address or city center, according to Facebook. And the “Lookalike Audience” tool, which lets advertisers try to find Facebook users who resemble the customers they already know, won’t incorporate factors such as age, religious views or Facebook Group membership when targeting these ads.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG will note that placing an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal will guarantee reaching a specific type audience that will be overrepresented in certain personal and household characteristics, including housing type, employment, income and creditworthiness and that advertisement will not reach many members of groups that do not share such attributes.

Ditto for television commercials shown on Meet the Press and Wall Street Week (now Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street). On the other hand, an advertisement placed in Successful Farming, Sports Illustrated or American Rifleman magazines will reach entirely different audiences with different demographic profiles.

Is ethnicity verboten when trying to deliver a message to a particular group for which it may be valuable? If that is the case, where should The Chicago Defender, Essence, HelloBeautifulHyphenThe Brazilians and Khaas Baat be classed? Can these publications ethically try to find people who resemble the customers they already know?

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