Will Amazon Soon Challenge Jet, the Hot Discount Shopping Site from a Former Employee?

6 July 2015

From re/code:

The last time the companies run by Jeff Bezos and Marc Lore squared off, there were fireworks. We’re about to see what happens the second time around.

The first time, Amazon instigated a pricing war with Lore’s company, Diapers.com, ultimately pressuring it into a $550 million sale to Amazon. It wasn’t exactly the outcome Lore was hoping for, but was a pretty good exit nonetheless. Now, as Lore’s new, members-only shopping site Jet.com preps for its public launch, there are some signs that Bezos once again doesn’t plan to sit aside idly.

In the last few months, Amazon has been offering discounts on different products as exclusive deals for members of Prime, its two-day shipping and streaming media program. Last week, reports surfaced showing that Amazon was giving special discounts on video games to Prime members.

. . . .


But the timing of the current set of discounts across multiple product categories could have to do with the fact that Jet, which is operating in private beta currently, is also a membership program built on the idea of discount pricing. For $50 a year, Jet is promising its members the best prices on the Web thanks to a complex system of discounting by stripping costs out of the order fulfillment and shipping process of e-commerce.

Link to the rest at re/code and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

PG says competition is good  for customers and Amazon is a very tough competitor. Someone will beat Amazon some day, but PG hasn’t seen any indications that Amazon has become fat, slow or complacent yet.

Colouring books stifle creativity says Roald Dahl illustrator

6 July 2015

From The Australian:

Sir Quentin Blake, whose most recognisable work was for Roald Dahl’s children’s books, said that he was “completely against” the use of colouring in as a way of teaching children to draw because it limits the imagination.

He said the most important thing for children and adults was to get them to think about what they wanted to draw and give them the opportunity to do it.

Asked whether he recommended that teachers give children pre-prepared drawings to colour in, Blake, 82, said: “I’m completely against that. We do [have colouring-in outlines] on my website as a joke — it’s a small entertainment. I think you have to plunge in and do what you want to do. I think kids need to look at a lot of pictures and to find out what is exciting in them.”

He believes that there is a place for colouring books “but only as long as they are part of a more interesting diet”.

. . . .

Johanna Basford, who has created a range of colouring books for adults, agreed that colouring-in had to be part of a “varied diet” of creativity. She added: “But I think for some people, a blank sheet of paper is too daunting and they don’t want to do it. Colouring can be a good way [IN]for them. It gives them a confidence to pick up pens and pencils again and they start drawing.

“I think children enjoy colouring but I think they would just as quickly pick up a pencil and draw something. They don’t hesitate. Colouring books can encourage adults to make that first step.”

Link to the rest at The Australian (link may break on a paywall)

India’s Leader Maps Out a More Robust Digital Future

6 July 2015

From The New York Times:

Standing alongside some of the titans of Indian industry and senior ministers in his cabinet, Prime Minister Narendra Modiannounced the start of a “Digital India week” at a packed stadium in the capital last week, highlighting his government’s push for greater Internet connectivity and services for more of the country’s people and a desire to jump-start Indian manufacturing in electronics.

With an analogy, he evoked the image of a small child, once enthralled with a pen, or a pair of glasses in an adult’s pocket, now captivated by a mobile phone.

“That means that he may or may not understand anything else, but he can understand digital power,” he said on Wednesday. “Time demands that we understand this change, and if we don’t understand this change, then we will be left in a corner and the world will move far away and we will be left watching.”

The statement was not, analysts said, needlessly overwrought. India has lagged behind much of the world in digital infrastructure. It ranked 115th on its average connection speed in the first quarter of this year, according to a study by Akamai Technologies. Just over 100 million subscribers, in a population of more than 1.2 billion, have broadband connections, data in April from a government regulatory body showed.

. . . .

 India also represents great opportunity in the digital economy because of its bulging population and a fast-growing market for electronic goods. Mr. Modi noted that imports of electronic goods were second only to oil.

. . . .

[T]he Digital India campaign includes a commitment to providing citizens with access to health care, education, banking, insurance, pension and agricultural services through a network of “common service centers” that are supposed to be open in 250,000 villages across the country by 2019.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Jan for the tip.

B&N Finds New CEO at Sears Canada

6 July 2015

From Shelf Awareness:

In connection with Barnes & Noble’s spinoff of its college operations as Barnes & Noble Education–which likely will take place by the end of August–Ronald D. Boire, current president and CEO of Sears Canada, will become CEO of Barnes & Noble, Inc., which will consist of the company’s retail and Nook operations. His appointment is effective September 8. At the same time, current B&N CEO Michael P. Huseby will become executive chairman of B&N Education.

. . . .

Before becoming head of Sears Canada, Boire was executive v-p, chief merchandising officer and president, Sears and Kmart Formats at Sears Holdings. Earlier he held other executive positions, including president and CEO of Brookstone; president, North America, of Toys R Us; executive v-p, global merchandise manager for Best Buy; and worked at Sony Electronics for 17 years, where he was, among other positions, president of Sony’s personal mobile products company and president of the consumer sales company.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Writers Are Going Cuckoo For KU

6 July 2015

From TechCrunch:

If you haven’t been following the Indie writing market I don’t blame you. It’s pretty crazy right now. After Amazon decided to tweak the royalties payouts to reflect how much readers actually read the books they downloaded as part of the Kindle Unlimited service writers have gone into an absolute tizzy over what’s fair and not fair and what it means to get paid for writing.

First, a bit of background. Kindle Unlimited, as you know, is essentially Amazon’s all-you-can eat digital service. If you subscribe to it you get access to thousands of ebooks for free as long as they are part of KDP Select, a service that Amazon offers authors. KDP Select isn’t amazingly valuable but it does allow you to “give away” your book for a brief period – a trick that used to get Indie fiction to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists (but no longer) – and set up pre-orders. I’ve gone back and forth about the service but now my books are part of it.

KU also has a pool of cash that it pays out to writers. Right now that pool is about $11 million. This means that popular authors get a lot of that money and everyone else gets a little – a long as someone reads you. But the news that is leading is that Amazon is paying Indie authors $0.006 per page read on the Kindle which sounds far worse.

This means many Indie authors are losing money now but a few aren’t. That’s the bottom line. There are two ways to make money in Indie publishing and neither of them are lucrative for the long tail. First you can write one or two amazing, long books and hope people buy them. Let’s call this the Wool model. Then there is the equally enticing Write, Publish, Repeat model that encourages writers to upload lots of small chapters and give them out for free via KU. As I’ve noted before, both of these models are potentially lucrative as long as the quality is there. However, if you subscribe to the W,P,R model, the fact that your “books” are 10 pages long will hurt you in the new KU market.

. . . .

Ultimately, writers need to face the sad (or, for some, happy) fact that Amazon is changing the way books are sold. Whereas the old method of proposal, advance, distribution, and substandard PR push has worked for most of this century, it was always inefficient. Publishers never knew what would sell, distributors didn’t care what sold, and PR people didn’t know how to sell more. Now that all of this work is in our hands I find it empowering and a bit frightening.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to JR for the tip

Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world

5 July 2015

From The Guardian:

In 1959, if you were walking the sand dunes near Florence, Oregon, you might have encountered a burly, bearded extrovert, striding about in Ray-Ban Aviators and practical army surplus clothing. Frank Herbert, a freelance writer with a feeling for ecology, was researching a magazine story about a US Department of Agriculture programme to stabilise the shifting sands by introducing European beach grass. Pushed by strong winds off the Pacific, the dunes moved eastwards, burying everything in their path. Herbert hired a Cessna light aircraft to survey the scene from the air. “These waves [of sand] can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave … they’ve even caused deaths,” he wrote in a pitch to his agent. Above all he was intrigued by the idea that it might be possible to engineer an ecosystem, to green a hostile desert landscape.

About to turn 40, Herbert had been a working writer since the age of 19, and his fortunes had always been patchy. After a hard childhood in a small coastal community near Tacoma, Washington, where his pleasures had been fishing and messing about in boats, he’d worked for various regional newspapers in the Pacific northwest and sold short stories to magazines. He’d had a relatively easy war, serving eight months as a naval photographer before receiving a medical discharge. More recently he’d spent a weird interlude in Washington as a speechwriter for a Republican senator. There (his only significant time living on the east coast) he attended the daily Army-McCarthy hearings, watching his distant relative senator Joseph McCarthy root out communism. Herbert was a quintessential product of the libertarian culture of the Pacific coast, self-reliant and distrustful of centralised authority, yet with a mile-wide streak of utopian futurism and a concomitant willingness to experiment. He was also chronically broke. During the period he wrote Dune, his wife Beverly Ann was the main bread-winner, her own writing career sidelined by a job producing advertising copy for department stores.

. . . .

Dune (400 pages in its first hardcover edition, almost 900 in the paperback on my desk) was rejected by more than 20 houses before being accepted by Chilton, a Philadelphia operation known for trade and hobby magazines such as Motor Age, Jewelers’ Circular and the no-doubt-diverting Dry Goods Economist.

. . . .

Though Dune won the Nebula and Hugo awards, the two most prestigious science fiction prizes, it was not an overnight commercial success. Its fanbase built through the 60s and 70s, circulating in squats, communes, labs and studios, anywhere where the idea of global transformation seemed attractive. Fifty years later it is considered by many to be the greatest novel in the SF canon, and has sold in millions around the world.

. . . .

This setup owes something to the Mars stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, as well as the tales written by Idaho-born food chemist Elmer Edward “Doc” Smith, creator of the popular Lensman space operas of the 1940s and 50s, in which eugenically bred heroes are initiated into a “galactic patrol” of psychically enhanced supercops. For Smith, altered states of consciousness were mainly tools for the whiteous and righteous to vaporise whole solar systems of subversives, aliens and others with undesirable traits. Herbert, by contrast, was no friend of big government. He had also taken peyote and read Jung. In 1960, a sailing buddy introduced him to the Zen thinkerAlan Watts, who was living on a houseboat in Sausalito. Long conversations with Watts, the main conduit by which Zen was permeating the west-coast counterculture, helped turn Herbert’s pacy adventure story into an exploration of temporality, the limits of personal identity and the mind’s relationship to the body.

Every fantasy reflects the place and time that produced it. If The Lord of the Rings is about the rise of fascism and the trauma of the second world war, and Game of Thrones, with its cynical realpolitik and cast of precarious, entrepreneurial characters is a fairytale of neoliberalism, then Dune is the paradigmatic fantasy of the Age of Aquarius. Its concerns – environmental stress, human potential, altered states of consciousness and the developing countries’ revolution against imperialism – are blended together into an era-defining vision of personal and cosmic transformation.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

It was a wrong number

5 July 2015

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

Paul Auster, first line from City of Glass

Rockets, robots, and reckless imagination

5 July 2015

From The Herald (of Pakistan):

When I was a boy, I had a ‘family teacher’ who came to our house. This gentleman taught several of my cousins, my siblings and me for years. He was a hard-working man, not sparing the rod (or electric wire for that matter) and taught us many things: learn by rote, regurgitate on paper. Don’t worry about understanding what the essay says or implies; memorise it. Reading storybooks is a waste of time better spent ‘rattafying’ blocks of text. Stories in magazines such as Bachon Ki Dunya, Bachon Ka Baagh and Jugnoo, or involving Amr Ayyar, Tarzan, Chan Changloo or Chaloosak Maloosak zipping off in their space ship to exciting new worlds are especially no-no.

Fantastic tales are stories for children, we were told. To be discarded as one grows up, if not before.

My parents supported my teacher’s methods because they thought he was right. I grew up in a joint family (read tribal) system, and our elders were (are) old-fashioned. Education must be instilled into our youth with a vengeance, as children are incapable of learning any other way, they believed. A bit of caning, a dash of slapping, a flourish of the chappal — and all would be well.

Of course, they were wrong.

Of the children my respected teacher taught – 20 or so – for more than a decade, hardly any put their education to use. Not one pursued a professional career: entrepreneurship, media, arts, civil service, education, public health or law — or if they did, it was at for-profit colleges to ‘get degreed’ for societal purposes. Nearly all of my cousins ended up joining their respective family businesses: garments, shoes, shopkeeping, construction or renting out farmland.

I expect many readers are familiar with such stories. How many years are wasted all over Pakistan studying everything but learning nothing? Why does it happen?

My answer: The students and my respected teacher had no imagination.

Lack of imagination meant they had no vision and no conviction. They weren’t even interested in the possibility that any of the three attributes might be useful.

Is it a shock to anyone that Pakistan has been in the grip of an existential crisis for the last 60-some years? Outlining the root causes and effects of it is outside the scope of this article, but I will take a moment here to make a (seemingly) preposterous claim: Encouraging science fiction, fantasy, and horror readership has the potential to alleviate or fix many of Pakistan’s problems.

. . . .

There are innumerable advantages to reading fiction, but my focus in this article is on speculative fiction, often understood to be science fiction, fantasy, and horror. (Hereon, I will use science fiction as an umbrella term to include all aspects and sub-genres of speculative fiction, including hard and sociopolitical science fiction, fantasy of all sorts, magical realism, slipstream, surrealism, fabulism, the uncanny and horror).

The literary tradition of science fiction (or fantastika, using literary critic John Clute’s term) is ancient; some might say it goes all the way back to the Epic of Gilgameshwritten in The Land Between the Two Rivers (Mesopotamia). From more recent times – the last two thousand years – we can include Ovid’s Metamorphosis, quite a bit of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, Dante’s Inferno and, from the Islamic world, Alif Laila Wa Laila (A Thousand and One Nights), Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, Talism Hoshruba, Shahnameh by Firdousi, and so on, all the way to present day novels and short stories.

. . . .

I think most science fiction writers, readers and critics would agree with this: Science fiction is the literature that explores the boundaries of knowledge. While I won’t go into details here, that definition is mostly applicable to speculative fiction’s sub genres, including magical realism, fantasy and horror; it’s just the class of knowledge that changes within each.

. . . .

Except in the rarest of circumstances, no child is born without curiosity, hope and imagination. Much like self-preserving reflexes and instincts, these are evolutionarily designed to help the infant anticipate and respond to stimuli, seek out, learn, worry, and delight. We know from scientific studies that imagination and pretend-play aid in cognitive and social development. They not only arm the child to deal with the real world, but also play a part in establishing the identity of the child as separate from others, teaching them divergent thinking (a thought process that generates creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions), cognitive flexibility and self-regulation, which include reduced aggression, civility and empathy.

Any of those sound like a good idea to teach your average Pakistani?

. . . .

Mimetic fiction often reports much and resolves little. Science fiction in its imaginative glory seeks to report and resolve and recreate a world filled with possibility. It provides us with so many lenses to look at the world around us, lighting up minds with revelation — until one exclaims that they have had a vision of a brave new world, or another jumps up screaming eureka! and runs naked down the street, letting the sun of discovery and hope beat down on their naked shrivelled skin.

. . . .

We Pakistanis are living in a country that has become the perfect dystopian setting, and we are so visionless and inured to the grim dark that we simply do not care. Reading escapist, fabulist or symbolical fiction is one way to regain hope, mutual tolerance and empathy.

Link to the rest at The Herald

Non-fiction publishing in the UK is in fine health, actually

5 July 2015

From The Guardian:

In his article last week, Sam Leith deplored the state of mainstream trade publishing, saying it was “getting dumber by the day”, in contrast to the university presses which are apparently enjoying a “golden age”.

I hate to criticise Leith, because he chooses to publish his serious, lively and illuminating non-fiction with Profile Books, of which I am the managing director. I am also his editor, and like any good editor, when one of my authors is wrong, I must correct his facts.

First, I admit it: all publishers produce some stinkers. That is because we take risks and we make mistakes. We survive, even thrive, if we get it right often enough. But just like theatres and film studios, we end up backing both winners and losers. And the bad books, the poorly-judged ideas, the authors who aren’t up to it, are – or should be – quickly forgotten, because their words will never change the world or win over readers.

. . . .

It’s true that the success of Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Pinker and co has spawned a crop of imitations – some of which are impressive and intelligent, and others which are less so. But to suggest that this is makes up the majority of trade publishing houses is like looking at the success of Fifty Shades of Grey and saying that contemporary literary fiction is dead. One imagines that Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith and Kazuo Ishiguro would disagree with that idea, just as I think that Owen Jones, Helen Macdonald, Atul Gawande and Margaret Macmillan would disagree with Sam’s contention here.

It’s also true that these are tough times for publishing. But far from luring publishers into putting out ever-blander mash-ups of previous ideas, it’s forcing us to be better, leaner and more competitive. Now, more than ever, there’s no space for dead wood on a list, and we have to be more selective about the quality of the books we publish.

. . . .

There is a good reason why trade publishers get more review coverage than university press titles – and despite what Sam says, this is the case even in his own journal, the Spectator – and why our authors appear far more at literary festivals and in the media. We much more work into publicising and marketing them, and we also make sure that the books are in the bookshops. When did anyone see a British university press book on the front tables at Waterstones? Or in a good independent bookshop? In part this is because university press books are often eye-wateringly expensive, because they do not expect to sell many, and are therefore off-putting to readers and booksellers.

The presses themselves are hardly in great shape. In the UK there are only two university presses of any significance: Oxford and Cambridge.

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

3 Secrets of Sentence Length Power

5 July 2015

From JohnKrone.com:

1.Sentence length in stories, effect absorption of the lines. Sentence length in ads affect sales. Sentence length in blogs, affect opt-ins and return visitors. Here’s why.

Readers have a limited amount of “working memory” to comprehend each sentence.  Children or adults have the similar memory limitations. We all do.  So most readers regardless of what they’re reading, prefer short sentences.

The “Optimal Recognition Point” ORP, is a specific point in each word that our eye seeks, for that word recognition. Our eye then moves to the next word. The eye movement is called a “saccade”. This process continues until our eye encounters the period. At this point, it assembles the words to form a meaning of the sentence.

. . . .

Since readers have a limited amount of working memory, and they must store the sentence contents until they reach the period, it creates a length limit.  Inside the readers brain. They can’t help it. So what happens when we exceed the length limit?

Memory decay. The meaning of the sentence starts to diminish.

. . . .

2. Surveyed readers preferred 8 words in a sentence.

Here’s  a surprise though. Most writers average 17 words per sentence.  Here’s a good way to remember how expression size affects the reading experience. Imagine I give you a math problem (7 x 15) + (2 x 4 ) = what?

The way you read a math problem is similar to how a reader tries to find the point in a sentence.   The meaning or the “point”, is what they’re after.  No meaning can be concluded until the end of the sentence is reached.

 That creates a potential problem, if we lose site of that fact. Because they don’t know where it’s going, they must store the whole line while they read.  They must store the entire sentence in their “working memory” until they reach the period.  A long sentence is like a long math problem. (8 x 13) + ((55 x 5) *18) + (79 – 26) = what?  The longer the problem the more overwhelming it becomes to the brain. There’s actually a term for it, micro stress.

Link to the rest at JohnKrone.com and thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

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