The Funnel Theory of Book Reviews

15 August 2017

From The Writing Cooperative:

I read books.

Many, many books….about 125 a year.

Some are pre-release review copies. I read them and post my honest review on amazon, Goodreads and wherever else the author has specified. My favorite guidance from an author was to post my most forthright and honest review prior to release date because any review is better than none.

During a dynamic seminar by Gabriela Pereira, she talked about her stance on book reviews: she doesn’t do them. She is also a prodigious reader with wide-ranging interests and deep expertise. Her view is that if she posted reviews, they would have to be what she thought of the good, the bad, and the ugly — and she doesn’t want to do that. If she did not post negative book reviews along with the positive ones, she reasons that you won’t be able to trust her integrity, intelligence, and discernment: when every book is brilliant, no book is brilliant — obscuring the truly remarkable, important books of brilliance. (Plus, she is a profoundly kind, compassionate, and encouraging person.)

. . . .

While I finish reading approximately 125 books a year, that is not the total number of books that I eagerly borrow from the library or clutch to my chest in bookstores, swap meets, and other venues.

Many, many books don’t make the cut.

The cut is not a well-developed, profoundly considered benchmark. A book makes the cut when I am lost in the story, captivated by characters, laughing out loud in quiet public spaces, or weeping through every tissue. It is a lively experience, me and the words on the page, the story enticing, inspiring, and urging me to think, to feel, to imagine differently than I ever have before. This relationship with the book extends to all genres, all types of fiction and nonfiction alike.

. . . .

My book reviews tend to be positive, because I don’t read books that don’t work for me. It’s a big world with all kinds of readers; what doesn’t draw me in may be the best possible experience for someone else. Let them read it, review it, and attract readers who like that kind of story.

Link to the rest at The Writing Cooperative

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Amazon opens ‘Instant Pickup’ points in U.S. brick-and-mortar push

15 August 2017

From Reuters:

Amazon.com Inc is rolling out pickup points in the United States where shoppers can retrieve items immediately after ordering them, shortening delivery times from hours to minutes, the company said on Tuesday.

The world’s largest online retailer has launched ‘Instant Pickup’ points around five college campuses, such as the University of California at Berkeley, it said. Amazon has plans to open more sites by the end of the year including one in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Shoppers on Amazon’s mobile app can select from several hundred fast-selling items at each site, from snacks and drinks to phone chargers. Amazon employees in a back room then load orders into lockers within two minutes, and customers receive bar codes to access them.

The news underscores Amazon’s broader push into brick-and-mortar retail.

. . . .

 Instant Pickup prices may be cheaper than those on Amazon.com, MacDonald said. He declined to detail how the items are priced, however.

Link to the rest at Reuters

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Amazon: AI To Drive Competitive Advantage

15 August 2017

From Seeking Alpha:

Everyone who follows the tech space knows that artificial intelligence (“AI”) is one of the hottest area of investment. From my anecdotal experience, if you ask market participants to list who they think is the current leader in AI, most will say Google, then followed by perhaps Microsoft  or NVIDIA. Being labeled an “AI” company helps these stocks attract incremental investors. However, it surprises me how few market participants recognize Amazon’s leadership in AI.

In my view, though impossible to quantify exactly, Amazon’s AI investments and capabilities should sustain and increase its competitive advantage over time, leading me to believe that the stock has a much longer runway than what investors are giving it credit for. If I am correct, this also means bad news for Amazon competitors – this is particularly true in the retail space where competitive have invested little in AI technology by comparison.

Unlike tech peers, Amazon does not tout its AI capabilities to investors, which is likely the main reason why Amazon is not as closely associated with AI.

. . . .

When people think of Amazon, they think of retail disruption, logistics, and AWS. Few recognize what a giant Amazon is in AI for the simple reason that they do not talk much about it to investors. First one all, in its typical highly-efficient style, Amazon opened up their Q2 call without prepared remarks, so unlike Google, Microsoft and NVIDIA, there is no opportunity to brag about their AI capabilities.

. . . .

According to Paysa, who analyzed “millions of data points”, Amazon is far and away the biggest spender on AI talent. Amazon is spending at almost double what Google is spending, who came in at #2, followed by Microsoft at #3, Facebook at #4 and NVIDIA at #5. We can also see Amazon’s commitment to AI through Jeff Bezos’s letters and interviews. For example, in Jeff Bezos’s latest letter to shareholders, Bezos wrote:

“These big trends are not that hard to spot (they get talked and written about a lot), but they can be strangely hard for large organizations to embrace. We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence… At Amazon, we’ve been engaged in the practical application of machine learning for many years now… much of what we do with machine learning happens beneath the surface.”

Amazon’s AI capabilities should increase its competitive advantage on multiple fronts. For example, Amazon said Kiva robots have cut operating expenses by about 20%, or roughly $22 million in cost savings for each fulfillment center. AI also drives Amazon’s product recommendation engine, which should lead to higher conversion rate and better customer satisfaction. Amazon is also leveraging AI to get into customers’ homes through Alexa (which is the software in home devices such as the Amazon Echo), which should increase purchase frequency. Lowering costs, increasing customer satisfaction, and increasing traffic are all essential elements of Amazon’s flywheel strategy.

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

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A bookseller’s advice for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

15 August 2017

From a Los Angeles Times op-ed:

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest people with a net worth north of $90 billion, recently asked his Twitter followers for suggestions regarding philanthropic giving. He wanted their ideas on how to help the world become a better place. “I’m thinking I want much of my philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now — short term — at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.”

As a bookseller, I’d like to offer a suggestion: Stop hawking books on Amazon at such drastically slashed prices.

Mr. Bezos, your strategy was brilliant. You offered up books at unbeatable prices and threw in free shipping as well. The public was hooked. You broadened your inventory and offered other items. With the convenience of shopping 24/7 from one’s own computer, you transformed retail. And it brought you immense wealth.

Years later, you continue to sell books at a heavy discount, often at half the list price. For us brick-and-mortar booksellers, this master business plan you devised has been devastating. Independent bookstores across the country were forced to close their doors. Where once neighborhood bookstores abounded there are now many communities that have none.

. . . .

There is no way we can come close to matching your undercut prices. If we were to sell books at the rates you do — at or below what we buy them for from publishers — we would have no money to pay our rent, our staff or our utilities. It just can’t be done. Believe me when I tell you, no one gets rich running a bookstore – the profit margin is modest at best. To just break even after expenses is to run a successful store.

We do it anyway because selling books is a calling. Booksellers are devoted to the written word. They find immense pleasure in finding just the right book for a customer in search of something to read. A good bookseller can do this even if the customer is looking for a genre that the bookseller is not well versed in. That’s the art of bookselling.

Books are not just a commodity, like a car battery or jacket or pair of boots. They tell our stories and are the basis of our culture. They let us travel to worlds we would never otherwise see. They open our eyes and make us better for the things they reveal. Books let us escape our problems or help us to solve them; they inspire us. They present new, different perspectives, make us think and invite dialogue.

Link to the rest at Los Angeles Times

PG absolutely agrees with the OP that books are tremendously beneficial to individual readers and to our collective culture.

That’s why Jeff Bezos has performed an incredible public service by pushing book prices down so more people can afford to purchase books and build their personal libraries rather than relying upon remote and underfunded libraries. Undoubtedly, our culture has been greatly enhanced by the dedication of Mr. Bezos to such an honorable pursuit.

High book prices are stealing knowledge from those who can least afford such losses and would most benefit from lower prices.

PG notes the author of the OP works for Vroman’s Bookstore, located in Pasadena, California. The median home value in Pasadena is $755,100. San Marino, California, a ten-minute drive from Vroman’s, has a median home value of $2,249,000.

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Amazon Could Probably Conquer Drugstores, Too

14 August 2017

From Bloomberg View:

Can Amazon do to the pharmacy business what it’s done to … well, everything else?

Rumor has it they’re thinking about doing just that. They’ve reportedly created a new general manager position to look into such an expansion. In May, when those rumors started floating, Bloomberg’s own Max Nisen explained why they might find the business attractive:

CVS Health Corp.’s mail-order drug business brought in more than $10 billion in revenue in the first quarter alone. If Amazon is thinking of going after the broader pharmacy benefit management (PBM) business — and that’s a possibility, given it reportedly hired someone to create an internal PBM — then it’s looking at a sector that brought in more than $200 billion in revenue last year.

The chief executive officer of CVS appears to be unworried, however. In a recent earnings call, he told analysts, “There are many barriers to entry when you’re looking at pharmacy.”

. . . .

Over the years, I’ve listened to a lot of earnings calls with CEOs whose businesses were being threatened by Amazon. Those CEOs all had one thing in common: They were quite sure that the Amazon juggernaut was never going to roll into their business. Their business was special, you see.

. . . .

However, a whole lot of the pharmacy business comes not from acute conditions, but from chronic disease. And prescriptions for chronic disease are actually more convenient to get over the internet than by trundling down to the pharmacy every month.

Of course, many of the folks using those prescriptions are elderly, and therefore may be less comfortable with the web than younger people. But by the same token, they also find it harder to get around and benefit more from a mail-order business. And while there is already a lot of activity in the mail-order pharmacy space, Amazon has a couple of competitive advantages there: free guaranteed two-day shipping if you have Prime, and the ability to pick up a pair of socks and a television set while you’re getting your blood pressure meds.

So I don’t find it plausible that these barriers to entry are high enough to keep Amazon from causing CVS and Walgreens a whole lot of pain. Nor do I believe that their relationships with providers and drug companies are going to keep Amazon out of the market. Relationships can be built. Amazon represents enormous consumer reach and convenience. Providers and drug companies will have good reason to build them.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg View

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Last Lines

14 August 2017

PG is in a last lines mood today. Following are a few of his favorite last lines from books. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

~

He knelt by the bed and bent over her, draining their last moment to its lees; and in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear.

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

~

Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.

Don DeLillo, White Noise

~

But that is the beginning of a new story — the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his transition from one world into another, of his initiation into a new, unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is over. —

Fyodor Dostoyevsk, Crime and Punishment

~

I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.

Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

~

It’s done. This may not be my final country. I can still taste the bear in the back of my throat, bitter with the blood of the innocent, and somewhere in my old heart I can still remember the taste of love. Perhaps this is just a resting place. A warm place to drink cold beer. But wherever my final country is, my ashes will go back to Montana when I die. Maybe I’ve stopped looking for love. Maybe not. Maybe I will go to Paris. Who knows? But I’ll sure as hell never go back to Texas again.

James Crumley, The Final Country

 

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What Happened to the Negative Music Review?

14 August 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

If you rely on reviews to decide what books to buy, movies to watch or restaurants to visit, you may have noticed something strange when it comes to pop music: Negative reviews have become extremely rare.

Between 2012 and 2016, Metacritic, a website that aggregates critics’ reviews for music, films, television and video-games, gave just eight out of 7,287 albums a “red” score—a designation that means reviews were “generally unfavorable” or worse.

Movies, by comparison, garner many more negatives: So far this year, Metacritic has given 39 out of 380 movies a red score. For albums, not one out of 787 albums aggregated thus far this year has received a red score.

“It’s actually news at this point when an album does get a bad review,” says Dan Ozzi, a writer at VICE’s music site, Noisey.

The dearth of negative music reviews is due to a number of factors. In the digital era, outlets covering music have become decentralized with fewer dominant players and more outlets running reviews. That’s helped create a new power dynamic between pop stars and the press—one where stars are less dependent on critics and critics are more eager to please artists.

Reviewers generally herd together—especially in praise of megastars like Adele, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift—instead of dissenting or championing less-known artists. With shrinking staff, growing competition and limited space, publications may simply not write about a bad album at all, says Jim Merlis, a veteran publicist who has worked with Nirvana and the Strokes.

A recent album by Radiohead was excessively praised by critics, notes freelance critic Joseph Schafer. “A Moon Shaped Pool,” which includes old songs that the band had performed but had not previously recorded, appeared on many year-end lists. “The band’s first album in five years was half a B-sides collection and half boring,” Mr. Schafer says, who didn’t review the album. “This record was lazy, why didn’t people call the band out?” Radiohead declined to comment.

“It can sometimes feel like there’s less of an appetite for [serious] criticism, or the culture has decided it’s unimportant,” says Amanda Petrusich, an assistant professor at New York University who teaches music writing and contributes to the New Yorker. “It makes [criticism] feel like just an extension of public relations.”

. . . .

Meanwhile, megastars like Drake, armed with huge social-media followings, can generate publicity themselves; there’s little upside to giving interviews or forwarding advance copies to critics. Some artists—Beyoncé and her sister Solange, for example—have taken to interviewing each other.

. . . .

Public shaming on social media can dissuade critics from being negative. While discussions between critics and angry artists once were private, now they are public, with pop stars sometimes haranguing critics on Twitter. Even without an artist prodding them, fans can attack a writer online. A critic being paid $75 for a quick review may seek to avoid being berated for a week on the Internet, critics say.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

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Getting started with the Libby app to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from your library

14 August 2017

From Overdrive:

Our new Libby app is the easiest way to get started with digital books and audiobooks from your public library. Libby is available for Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod touch), and Windows 10.

. . . .

Step 1

Install the Libby app from your device’s app store.

Step 2

Open Libby and find your library. You can search by library name, city, or zip code.

Step 3

Browse your library’s collection and borrow a title. When prompted, sign in with a valid library card.

Step 4

Borrowed titles appear on your Shelf and download to the app automatically when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, so you can read them when you’re offline.

From your Shelf, you can:

  • Tap Open book or Open audiobook to start reading or listening to a title.
  • Tap the cover image, then Send to Device to send a book to Kindle.

Link to the rest at Overdrive

PG says this looks a lot simpler than working your way through most library websites.

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Instagram Is Eating Dining

14 August 2017

In comparison with the post that follows this one about rural poverty in the US, here’s a distinctly first-world commentary about promotion via social media.

From Fast Company:

Increasingly, the stylish places that serve you food are being designed to cater to your feed.

. . . .

There are two lines at Cha Cha Matcha, a small cafe on a busy corner of NoLita in Manhattan. The first one is where you wait to buy matcha, a whipped green tea drink that is de rigeur among food-trend fetishizing millennials, in the manifold formats the cafe has on offer. (Latte, cappuccino, lemonade, splashed with coconut milk if that’s your thing, for about five bucks a cup.)

The other line is a little harder to describe, but is something akin to those groups of kids at Disneyland waiting to take a picture with their favorite animated character, except a lot more fashionable and marginally better behaved. They’re all waiting in front of a neon sign that hangs in back of the store, the words “Matchas Gracias” glowing in bright pink cursive. One by one they crane their hands just so, grasshopper-green drink backlit by the sign, trying to get the perfect photograph.

If you live in New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco—or, increasingly, London, Paris, and any other self-styled stylish city—you’ve seen similar people strike similar poses outside similarly unique restaurants, cafes, and bars over the last few years. “Influencer” is the catch-all term, a descriptor that is either highly covetable or dripping with irony, depending on who you talk to. But most of the people snapping away outside places like Cha Cha are only aspiring to that label, or maybe they’re just heavy Instagrammers, like any one of us —which means they’re not getting paid to shoot, filter, edit, tag, geotag, share, and like. What they represent to Cha Cha—and, really, what any customer with a smartphone and half an Instagram habit represent—is free advertising.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

https://www.instagram.com/p/BWqKX4lARXJ/?taken-by=chachamatcha
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Current Vibe @ Cha Cha = 🌴🌴🌴🌴🌴☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️

A post shared by Cha Cha Matcha (@chachamatcha) on


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Boom Bam Boom

A post shared by Cha Cha Matcha (@chachamatcha) on


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Here’s a link to all the chachamatcha hashtags

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Looking into the Glass Castle

14 August 2017

From Book Riot:

Books analyzing the epidemic of poverty and addiction in forgotten mine towns and the backwoods of Appalachia are pretty popular right now. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis  and Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America are proof of this uptick in books providing real world insight onto poor white America and how they got here.

But rewind twelve years, and there’s a new book receiving lots of buzz in the publishing world that is different from what we’ve seen before. A heartrendingly raw and honest memoir, Jeannette Walls shared with the world the story of her impoverished and nomadic childhood. From the moment this book was published, it just felt like we’d see a film adaptation. Today, it’s not unusual to see the rights to a story purchased by a major studio well before the date it’s set to hit bookshelves. But The Glass Castle‘s film adaptation took a little longer. Plagued by a few false starts and stops, a revised screenplay and an evolving cast, it was over a decade from the moment The Glass Castle saw its first of 261 weeks on the bestsellers list until the day people could watch Rex, Rose Mary, and the three red-headed Walls children on the big screen.

. . . .

I recently had the immense pleasure of speaking to Jeannette Walls. A slight hint of a Southern twang, a ready laugh, and a warm demeanor, Walls is everything you’d want the protagonist of The Glass Castle to be.

. . . .

Since she originally wrote the story of her family, we have started a national conversation surrounding poverty and addiction within Southern rural, white populations. West Virginia especially, has received a lot of attention regarding the demise of the coal industry and the uptick of the opioid epidemic.  How does she think that books such as Hillbilly Elegy and White Trash speak to the experience of living in those circumstances?

“You know each person has a different story and I think it’s really problematic when you start talking about putting people in pigeonholes. I mean, I think it’s very useful in terms of sorting out the chaos of the world. But you can take one neighborhood in 93 Little Hobart St. Welch, West Virginia and there are ten families who live there and there are ten different stories.  And I think that’s what we have in our stories. Each story is unique. And I know that there’s been some bruised feelings in West Virginia- ‘we’re not all like the Walls family!’  Well, I never said you were. We were uniquely challenged. We could’ve been born in Monaco. We could’ve been born in Paris. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t some sort of socioeconomic thing with us… it was Rex Walls!”

Ultimately, it seems like Jeannette Walls believes that storytelling and the empathy it creates might be exactly what stops us from “othering” the people these books are supposed to educate us on.

“That’s why I love storytelling.  And I appreciate people trying to get at it, to understand Appalachia. It’s funny. After my sister wrestled with mental illness, I started reading a lot of books on mental illness. Readers, who are actually so much smarter than I am, kept on saying ‘I think your father was bipolar’. And at first, I really resisted the idea… ‘no, Dad was just a drunk’. And then I started reading a lot about mental illness and bipolar disorder and I realized they were probably right. The more books that I read, the more I believe we just don’t understand anything. But the books that were most illuminating were the memoirs. Not the books written by the scientists or the psychologists; it was the people who had gone through it. So that’s why I’m such a big fan of storytelling. I think the most important thing is empathy. And it’s less about ‘those people’. Because I think we’re all ‘those people’.”

. . . .

“My book was challenged. It was actually taken off the reading list in a very upscale school in a Dallas suburb. And one of the teachers there felt it was too upsetting and challenging to the very affluent students. And the other teachers, the parents and, God bless them, the students, said ‘we need to hear stories like this. We need to know that people exist in circumstances like this’. I went and spoke at the school and afterwards, a couple of the kids came to me and they shared their stories. Because us poor people have not cornered the market on suffering and there were people with parents who have pill addictions or someone who was very affluent but lost the position. So people have challenges. So I think that that’s what storytelling is about.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

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