Amazon

The Amazon Effect Hits Fifth Avenue

7 May 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Global retailers once seemed to pay whatever it took to lease space on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.

The section of the avenue that stretches about 10 blocks from Saks Fifth Avenue at East 49th Street to the southeast corner of Central Park is one of the city’s major tourist attractions, boasting luxury brands like Gucci, Rolex and Tiffany & Co.

Real-estate brokers said that for years many major retailers were willing to accept thinner margins or even absorb losses at a Fifth Avenue location because the prestige and marketing power of the address was worth the cost.

But the rise of e-commerce has made it tougher for fashion houses and other retailers to justify sky-high rents when sales at the Fifth Avenue store—or for the company overall—have been in a slump.

The result: It isn’t only outdated malls and poorly-located shopping centers in the American heartland that are struggling. One of the world’s most-trafficked and premier shopping corridors is feeling the strain, too.

“A lot of these Fifth Avenue stores are emotional brand statements and almost churches to the brand,” said Oliver Chen, a senior equity analyst at Cowen Inc. But rent expense matters too, he added.

. . . .

On those prime blocks the availability rate, which reflects vacancies and expiring leases that haven’t been filled, reached 25% in the first quarter. That is down only slightly from 27.5% in the fourth quarter—the highest availability rate since Cushman began tracking the Fifth Avenue strip in 2006. In the first quarter of 2018, the availability rate was 17.4%.

. . . .

In recent months, other apparel retailers such as Gap Inc. and Tommy Hilfiger have closed their flagship stores along Fifth Avenue to focus more on their e-commerce platforms as part of a new strategy to have fewer stores, the companies said. Tommy Hilfiger also closed its store on Collins Avenue in Miami as it reshapes its retail strategy in North America.

Ralph Lauren Corp. also closed its flagship Fifth Avenue store in 2017.  The space has remained vacant since.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Amazon wants to pay the New York Times and BuzzFeed to expand so it can reach more shoppers outside the US

7 May 2019

From Vox:

Amazon has a pitch for some US-based publishers: Expand overseas. We’ll make it worth your while.

The world’s dominant e-commerce player is in talks with big American publishers, including the New York Times and BuzzFeed, about deals that would reward them for expanding their international presence, specifically in consumer-oriented shopping sites.

Amazon already pays internet publishers that refer shoppers to the company via “affiliate links” embedded on their site, but it thinks that business could grow significantly if US publishers had more readers outside of America.

. . . .

It’s also an indicator that even though Amazon dominates online commerce, it still thinks it needs help getting shoppers inside its giant site. While Amazon is the place shoppers go to find something specific — it is increasingly challenging Google in the search results race as shoppers head directly to Amazon to look up a specific item — affiliate links can drive shoppers to stuff that Amazon is particularly interested in selling or that shoppers may not have known they could get from Amazon.

Link to the rest at Vox

How to Fight the Commoditization of Books

28 April 2019

By Mark Coker via Publishers Weekly:

The mere thought is at once repulsive and terrifying: books as commodities. After all, a book is the original divine creation of its author, right?

We typically think of commodities as undifferentiated products such as corn or wheat. To a consumer looking for flavor and nutrition, one kernel of corn is the same as another. Though higher-quality corn can command premium prices, the price ceiling is ultimately determined by what the market is willing to pay for a given product.

In this respect, books are similar to any other commodity. Books are delivery vehicles for reading pleasure. Although each book is unique, the primary reason readers purchase books—reading pleasure—can be measured and commoditized.

If we divide the hours of reading pleasure one book offers by its price, we can create a simple metric: cost per hour of reading pleasure. This metric allows one book’s pleasure-delivery potential to be compared to another’s.

Readers are unlikely to consciously intellectualize their cost per hour of reading pleasure. Yet this metric guides consumer behavior much as gravity guides water to flow downhill. In a marketplace of interchangeable options for pleasure, consumers will gravitate toward the best-quality option with the lowest price, whether that quality is measured by brand, average review, or word of mouth.

How low can prices go? With agricultural commodities, the price floor is ultimately determined by the cost of production. If farmers can’t turn profits at the given market rate for their products, they stop producing those products. When farmers stop growing, supply decreases. This then causes prices to stabilize or increase to the point where new growers are incentivized to enter the market.

For decades now, most writers—even traditionally published writers—have maintained day jobs to make ends meet. This means authors are personally subsidizing the publishing industry by continuing to write books that don’t pay the bills.

Would we expect farmers to work for free? Certainly not. Yet many writers will continue writing even if there’s no money in it. Though one writer may write for the joy of writing and another to afford groceries, both require readers. And price is often the determining factor for finding readers.

. . . .

Kindle Unlimited causes significant devaluation on two fronts:

1. Amazon is training the world’s largest community of readers to expect five-star reading experiences for what feels like free. This makes readers reluctant to pay for books, which harms sales.

2. Because Kindle Unlimited decouples book price from author compensation, it means that Amazon has stripped authors of pricing power and can pay them less.

. . . .

2. Don’t underprice: readers will pay for quality. The e-book sweet spots for quality bestselling full-length indie fiction are typically $3.99 and $4.99, and $7.99 to $9.99 are good prices for quality nonfiction.

3. Avoid exclusivity. When indie authors make their books exclusive anywhere—even for a short time—it undermines their ability to build readership at other stores. Exclusivity makes the author vulnerable to exploitation when a single retailer controls the author’s access to readers. True independent authors publish, price, and promote with complete freedom.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says it’s a bear competing with Amazon.

The market value of an item is what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller for a book.

If market demand is elastic, the supply will adjust itself to the demand created by prospective purchasers.

PG suggests that Kindle Unlimited is wonderful for less-known authors because buyers don’t have to risk any money to see if they like what the author has written.

The factors governing the ebook market is different than the printed book market because, in the ebook market all the author’s (or publisher’s) costs to create the product are incurred upfront. Once an ebook is created, for the author, the direct costs of selling one ebook are the same as the direct costs of selling one million books.

Amazon incurs some per-unit ebook costs in the form of server time, credit card processing fees, etc., but for someone who is already running the world’s largest server farm selling zillions of different products, the incremental costs of selling a single ebook are the tiniest drop in an enormous ocean. For the cost of sending a single printed book to a customer who takes advantage of free Prime shipping, PG suspects Amazon could sell and deliver hundreds of ebooks to customers.

On a couple of specific points Mark makes in the OP:

Because Kindle Unlimited decouples book price from author compensation, it means that Amazon has stripped authors of pricing power and can pay them less.

Authors are not stripped of anything with Kindle Unlimited. They can price their ebooks pretty much any way they want to on Amazon, subject only (as far as PG knows) Amazon’s overall $200 max price for ebooks on KDP.

If PG writes a wonderful ebook for which he decides to charge $99 for each copy, he can do so. If a purchaser believes PG’s written ramblings are worth $99 or more, PG has demonstrated he has the pricing power to sell his book for $99 to an unknown quantity of readers numbering greater than one.

Pricing power in an open market is determined by supply and demand. Does the purchaser want $99 more than she wants PG’s book or does she want PG’s book more than $99? If PG prices his book at $1.00, the purchaser’s decision analysis is the same with $1.00 substituted for $99.

With respect to Amazon and authors, if Amazon can attract the kinds and quantities of books its customers are willing to purchase by paying an author 50 cents, why would a rational author expect that Amazon should pay more?

Traditional publishers and bookstores are a far less sophisticated system for determining optimum pricing than Amazon is. Their pricing decisions are pretty much a shot in the dark. For one thing, they’re dealing with thousands of different books and authors. They’re not set up to find the optimum price for any single book because they can’t pay as much attention to sales results for a single book as the author of that book can.

If Author A writes a 300-page romance novel that 50,000 readers are willing to pay $8.99 to acquire and Author B writes a 300-page romance that 50,000 readers are willing to pay $1.99 for, how likely is it that the publisher/physical bookstore will price each book at an optimal manner? If the publisher/bookstore releases each romance at a retail price of $4.99, Author A and Author B will both have lower royalties than each would have had with optimal pricing.

Whatever pricing power publishers and traditional bookstores have does not benefit any individual author. Rather these players use their pricing power to maximize prices from a large group of books. Ultimately, they don’t care if Author A sells many more books priced at $4.99 than Author B sells for the same price so long as the total take from all books, including those from Author C through Author Z, meet the store’s and the publisher’s sales and profit objectives.

PG says some authors will always make more money from their books than other authors do. However, Amazon has developed a much, much more sophisticated and powerful system for determining the optimum sales price of an author’s books than any publisher or bookstore has.

If the author permits Amazon to set the price of a book at zero under Kindle Unlimited and the author is satisfied with the amount of royalties the book generates, is the author treated unfairly?

The author is not permanently locked into Kindle Unlimited (unlike an author dealing with a traditional publisher), so the author is free to withdraw the book from Kindle Unlimited (and KDP Select) every 90 days and engage in more price experimentation through Kindle or through Smashwords.

World Book Day

20 April 2019

Amazon Crossing, Amazon’s imprint for translations of books around the world, is celebrating World Book Day by giving away ebook versions of several of its best works.

The list includes mysteries, historical fiction, biography, true crime and “Book Club Fiction” (a new term for PG).

The nine books Amazon Crossing is featuring will be free until April 24.

Here’s a link to the page.

The books being featured are:

















Amazon’s E-Commerce Adventure in China Proved Too Much of a Jungle

18 April 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

 Amazon.com Inc. is checking out of China’s fiercely competitive domestic e-commerce market.

The company told sellers on Thursday that it will no longer operate its third-party online marketplace or provide seller services on its Chinese website, Amazon.cn, beginning July 18. As a result, domestic companies will no longer be able to sell products to Chinese consumers on its e-commerce platform.

The decision marks an end to a long struggle by America’s e-commerce giants in the Chinese market. The firms entered the Chinese market with great fanfare in the early 2000s only to wither in the face of competition from China’s faster-moving internet titans.

. . . .

In a statement, Amazon said it remains committed to China through its global stores, Kindle businesses and its web services.

Amazon China’s president will leave to take on another role within the company, the company confirmed. The China consumer business team will report directly into the company’s global team.

. . . .

When Amazon first entered China in 2004 with the purchase of Joyo.com, it was the largest online vendor for books, music and video there. Most Chinese consumers were using cash-on-delivery as their top form of payment. Today, Amazon China chiefly caters to customers looking for imported international goods like cosmetics and milk powder and is a minuscule player in the booming Chinese e-commerce market.

Amazon China commanded just 6% of gross merchandise volume in the niche cross-border e-commerce market in the fourth quarter of 2018, versus NetEase Kaola’s 25% share and the 32% held by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Tmall International, according to Nomura Securities Co.

“Everyone has merged with someone,” said Chris Reitermann, chief executive for Asia and Greater China at Ogilvy, which advises Alibaba. “It became clear that as a Western internet company you wouldn’t be able to succeed at scale without a Chinese partner.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

Heike Geissler’s Grim Account of the Amazon Workplace

17 April 2019

From The Literary Hub:

Midway through Seasonal Associate, Heike Geissler describes a day off from the Amazon warehouse. It is spent at the Leipzig Christmas market, drinking mulled wine, and then at the fine art museum, strolling through the galleries, looking at paintings, and taking her first deep breath since getting hired for the holiday rush.

I’m thinking of this rare, tranquil moment in her book as Geissler and I visit the Guggenheim Museum on a brisk March day. I find her waiting out front, wearing a wool hat low over her face, angular and framed by blunt brown bangs. We shed our coats to bask in the warmth of Hilma af Klint’s lush, floral paintings, to take a photo together in the reflective surface of a Robert Mapplethorpe assemblage. In Seasonal Associate, art and literature serve as scarce reprieves from the dull work of the warehouse—unpacking, scanning, counting, imputing—a way to restore the creative potential “buried behind your fatigue.” Geissler knows this struggle first hand.

“When I was working at Amazon, there was no time for reading. I was too exhausted,” she told me over an impromptu lunch at The New Amity Restaurant. We split the coleslaw and pickles that came with my BLT and drank many cups of coffee.

. . . .

“There are plenty of nonfiction books written by journalists who embed themselves in bad industrial situations for a limited time, but no one has given a subjective, and literary account of 21st-century flex-time industrial work,” wrote Chris Kraus, writer and co-editor of Semiotext(e), over email.

Geissler, the daughter of a postmistress and a steel worker, grew up in East Germany and now lives in Leipzig, where, in 2010, she worked as a seasonal associate. Eight years earlier, at the age of 25, she won the prestigious Alfred Doblin prize for her debut novel, Rosa, which was met with wide critical acclaim. Less so her metafictional second book, on the difficulty of writing a second book. She then published a children’s book with an illustrator friend, relishing the freedom to experiment and collaborate. But she didn’t interview at Amazon looking for a good story.

“I needed money,” she told the audience at her New York Goethe Institute event. The mother of a young son (she now has two), writing and translating were not paying the bills.

Geissler did, however, take notes on her daily experiences in the warehouse, later assembling them into a manuscript. It was rejected by five German publishers before she decided to pull it. Instead, she re-edited and recorded herself reading several chapters out loud and put the audio files on her website. She wanted to speak to the listener directly, so she supplemented the first-person narration with a second person address.

. . . .

This means that reading Seasonal Associate feels disconcertingly immersive. You, the reader, are the one experiencing the monotony of training day, the draft that comes in from the loading dock, the flu that inevitably develops, the relief of the sick day, and then the dread of returning to work. Meanwhile the first personal narrator serves as a guide to your experience at the warehouse, the version of Geissler who has already experienced everything you are about to: the casual misogyny of the managers, the hands cut up and then wrapped, the half-hearted attempts to spend time with family after a long shift.

. . . .

At the warehouse she is spoken to like a child and treated like a “tool gifted with a voice no one wants to hear.” Everything that makes her an individual is an annoyance to her employer, who will not hesitate to automate her work as soon as it becomes cost-effective.

“There’s this whole narrative of your working life, the narrative of suffering,” Geissler said. “I’m always curious about how people live, what they have to do for money and we can change or improve that. The struggle must be to strive for better working conditions, for the best working conditions.”

. . . .

Amazon has embedded itself in consumer culture on both sides of the Atlantic. I think of the products that pass through Seasonal Associate: punching bags that come in multipart packaging, hair dryers, novelty mugs, and of course, books, thousands of books stacked up, health books, vampire books, and, in ironic twist of events, books of a writer Geissler once knew, a man who supports his family with his books, while she supports hers by boxing them.

. . . .

“There’s a large level of precarious work that creates the conditions by which you are buying a book for $9.99,” says Alex Shepard, writer at The New Republic, who has written about Amazon for the magazine. The promise of well-paid, white collar jobs in urban centers also depends on “ruthlessly cutting costs at every level. Not just in their supply chain, but in the supply chains of the companies that sell on their platform as well.”

. . . .

At her Goethe Institute event, the audience asked Geissler questions about not just Amazon, but also the possibilities of socialism, the rise of the far right, and the decline of labor rights, even in Germany, which has a strong tradition of unions and workers’ councils. German writer Kevin Vennemann, who wrote the afterword to Seasonal Associate, tells me that German readers responded to Seasonal Associate as a critique of a particularly American brand of capitalism now affecting work culture in Germany too, leading to strikes and ongoing issues with workers’ councils. In this context, Geissler has been read as a strong, new voice amid rapidly changing political and economic norms.

. . . .

“She reemerged with this book as a writer who takes a firm political stand and has theoretical tools for analyzing late capitalist working conditions. It’s rare for that kind of book to be embraced on a larger scale within German literature,” says Venneman.

. . . .

In Seasonal Associate, Geissler writes that she wishes she had done more to disturb the peace while still an employee, that she had resisted the urge to play by the rules, ingrained in her since childhood. Damaged the products. Stuck an insult inside a package. Slowed down the supply-chain. Instead, she writes, she and her co-workers took out their frustrations on each each other.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG says, in case you missed it, the author of the OP and the author of the book would like you to buy Seasonal Associate.

And, as indicated, you can buy Seasonal Associate at Amazon!

As a matter of fact, if you’re a warehouse worker, you’ll almost certainly pay less for Seasonal Associate at Amazon than anywhere else. That way, you’ll be able to buy the book and have more money left over for basic necessities.

PG says Seasonal Associate falls into the literary genre of slumming.

“I’m an intelligent, refined and educated person who spent time with the proles and this is what it was like. I hated it!!! You can’t imagine the scope of the squalor and filth. You can thank your lucky stars that you’re not a prole and have to live like that. And, while I was a Seasonal Associate, I met some proles who said they don’t like squalor and filth, but they can’t afford to go to graduate school.”

“But now I’ve been there, done that, wrote the book. I knew my publisher would want some authentic prole color from real proles for Seasonal Associate, so I got it and I’m finished with the prole scene except for talking about it in my book interviews.”

“For my next book, I think I’ll write about the empty lives of the filthy rich who live on yachts and sail around the Mediterranean with no thought for the poor. That will be a nice change from being a Seasonal Associate.”

As the author of Seasonal Associate learned, warehouse work (and a lot of other jobs involving manual labor) is physically hard work. The OP doesn’t say whether the author had ever had a job involving manual labor before, but, if she had not, then her being sore and tired after work is to be expected.

From his own experience doing manual labor significantly heavier than the author’s, PG suggests that you become physically accustomed to the work after a couple of weeks, but going home sore lasts longer than that. Eventually, your body adapts. However, if the author is in her thirties and has spent several years writing books, absent a serious and continuing workout program, her body would take longer to adapt.

This is information that anyone with experience in manual labor would understand. A Seasonal Associate without such experience would be surprised and might come to the erroneous conclusion that everybody’s work experience was the same as her own, even if they had worked in the Amazon warehouse for several months or years.

As to “late capitalist working conditions,” if capitalism is going to disappear, what will replace it?

“The possibilities of socialism” are mentioned.

That certainly worked out well for the workers’ paradise formerly known as the German Democratic Republic. East Germany was so wonderful that its citizens kept leaving paradise for West Germany. They were probably worried about the potential for adverse effects from too much of a good thing. By 1961, one in five East Germans had fled the country. That left fewer people for the Stasi, the East German secret police, to watch.

The mortality rates for both men and women were significantly better in West Germany than in East Germany. As one example, reported suicide rates were about 60% higher in East Germany than in West Germany prior to reunification. These differences persisted over a period of about 20 years despite the fact that most observers believed the reported East German health statistics were substantially massaged prior to publication.

Mortality from heart diseases and alcohol abuse was also materially higher in the East than in the West. Much of the difference between other causes of death in West Germany vs. the Worker’s Paradise was the marked superiority of West German medical facilities and a chronic lack of medical supplies in East Germany.

PG has calmed down and will stop now.

How Grifters Gamed Amazon to Sell the ‘Mueller Report’ Already

16 April 2019

From The Daily Beast:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on the Trump campaign will be released Thursday, the Justice Department announced Monday. Like all public reports, the document will be free to read.

That hasn’t stopped people from trying to sell Mueller report books on Amazon for months.

Amazon’s book listings are an SEO cesspool where grifters try to peddle ebooks on every trending topic. In recent months, self-published works on the anti-vaccination and QAnon conspiracy theories have soared in Amazon’s ratings. So as readers clamored to see the full Mueller report, publishing houses and self-published authors rushed to sell books on the still-unpublished document.

Alan Dershowitz, the celebrity lawyer and frequent Fox News guest, has not read the Mueller report yet. No one has, aside from Mueller’s team of investigators and Attorney General William Barr. But for more than a month, Dershowitz and the publishing house Skyhorse have been selling a book with the full text of the report, plus a foreword from Dershowitz.

. . . .

“There has never been a more important political investigation than Robert S. Mueller III’s into President Donald Trump’s possible collusion with Russia,” a product description for Dershowitz’s book reads. “His momentous findings can be found here.”

Of course, Dershowitz can’t write a foreword for a report he hasn’t read, and Skyhorse can’t publish the still-unreleased report’s text. Instead, Skyhorse has advertised the book on Amazon for more than a month, moving its anticipated release date back as weeks pass. The publisher now advertises as “placeholder” release date of April 30. (It was originally March 26.)

The flexible release date hasn’t stopped buyers from pre-ordering Dershowitz’s book. Amazon currently lists it as the “#1 Best Seller” in “federal jurisdictional law” category.

. . . .

Melville House, a Brooklyn-based publisher, is one of several outlets to reformat these reports as books worth buying. The publisher did brisk business selling physical copies of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, repackaging the dense report as a readable paperback. Melville House is one of several publishers promising to sell physical copies of the Mueller report as soon as it can get the text through the printing presses.

But the crush of Mueller report titles on Amazon can leave smaller publishers scrambling to differentiate their reprints of the public report. One such book promises to be an “exclusive edition of Robert Mueller’s full-length report” and “the first to contain” a selection of accompanying documents. Other Amazon titles offer breathless praise for the yet-to-be-seen document. “History may judge The Mueller Report as the most important document of our time,” reads the product description of a Mueller report book with introductions by two former congressmen.

. . . .

Empty gag books like these, which hope to climb Amazon’s charts by latching on to popular search terms, are relatively common. In 2017, a blank 266-page book called Reasons to Vote for Democrats reached the top spot on Amazon’s book charts.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast

PG thinks Amazon is tarnishing its brand by not working to stem this sort of activity. It has to be hurting legit indie authors.

The Golden Age of Youtube Is Over

13 April 2019

From The Verge:

The platform was built on the backs of independent creators, but now YouTube is abandoning them for more traditional content.

. . . .

Aanny Philippou is mad.

He’s practically standing on top of his chair as his twin brother and fellow YouTube creator Michael stares on in amusement. Logan Paul, perhaps YouTube’s most notorious character, laughs on the other side of the desk that they’re all sitting around for an episode of his popular podcast Impaulsive. Anyone who’s watched the Philippous’ channel, RackaRacka, won’t be surprised by Danny’s antics. This is how he gets when he’s excited or angry. This time, he’s both.

“It’s not fair what they’re doing to us,” Danny yells. “It’s just not fair.”

Danny, like many other creators, is proclaiming the death of YouTube — or, at least, the YouTube that they grew up with. That YouTube seemed to welcome the wonderfully weird, innovative, and earnest, instead of turning them away in favor of late-night show clips and music videos.

The Philippou twins hover between stunt doubles and actors, with a penchant for the macabre. But YouTube, the platform where they built their audience base, doesn’t seem to want them anymore.

. . . .

The Philippous’ story is part of a long-brewing conflict between how creators view YouTube and how YouTube positions itself to advertisers and press. YouTube relies on creators to differentiate itself from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, it tells creators it wants to promote their original content, and it hosts conferences dedicated to bettering the creator community. Those same creators often feel abandoned and confused about why their videos are buried in search results, don’t appear on the trending page, or are being quietly demonetized.

At the same time, YouTube’s pitch decks to advertisers increasingly seem to feature videos from household celebrity names, not creative amateurs. And the creators who have found the most success playing into the platform’s algorithms have all demonstrated profound errors in judgment, turning themselves into cultural villains instead of YouTube’s most cherished assets.

. . . .

YouTube was founded on the promise of creating a user-generated video platform, but it was something else that helped the site explode in popularity: piracy.

When Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.6 billion, the platform had to clean up its massive piracy problems. It was far too easy to watch anything and everything on YouTube, and movie studios, television conglomerates, and record labels were seething. Under Google, YouTube had to change. So YouTube’s executives focused on lifting up the very content its founders designed the platform with in mind: original videos.

The focus on creator culture defined YouTube culture from its earliest days. The platform was a stage for creators who didn’t quite fit into Hollywood’s restrictions.

. . . .

Between 2008 and 2011, the volume of videos uploaded to YouTube jumped from 10 hours every minute to 72 hours a minute. By 2011, YouTube had generated more than 1 trillion views; people were watching over 3 billion hours of video every month, and creators were earning real money via Google AdSense — a lot of money. Jenna Marbles was making more than six figures by late 2011. (In 2018, a select group of creators working within YouTube’s top-tier advertising platform would make more than $1 million a month.)

By 2012, creators like Kjellberg were leaving school or their jobs to focus on YouTube full-time. He told a Swedish news outlet that he was getting more than 2 million views a month, boasting just over 300,000 subscribers.

. . . .

Between 2011 and 2015, YouTube was a haven for comedians, filmmakers, writers, and performers who were able to make the work they wanted and earn money in the process. It gave birth to an entirely new culture that crossed over into the mainstream: Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl series would eventually lead to HBO’s Insecure. Creators like the Rooster Teeth team and Tyler Oakley went on tour to meet fans after generating massive followings online. YouTube had reached mainstream success, but in many ways, it still felt wide open. Anyone could still upload almost anything they wanted without much input from YouTube itself.

. . . .

Behind the scenes, things were changing. YouTube had begun tinkering with its algorithm to increase engagement and experimenting with ways to bring flashier, produced content to the platform to keep up with growing threats like Netflix.

In October 2012, YouTube announced that its algorithm had shifted to prefer videos with longer watch times over higher view counts. “This should benefit your channel if your videos drive more viewing time across YouTube,” the company wrote in a blog post to creators.

This meant viral videos like “David After Dentist” and “Charlie Bit My Finger,” which defined YouTube in its earliest days, weren’t going to be recommended as much as longer videos that kept people glued to the site. In response, the YouTube community began creating videos that were over 10 minutes in length as a way to try to appease the system.

. . . .

In 2011, YouTube invested $100 million into more than 50 “premium” channels from celebrities and news organizations, betting that adding Hollywood talent and authoritative news sources to the platform would drive up advertising revenue and expand YouTube to an even wider audience. It failed less than two years later, with what appeared to be a clear lesson: talent native to YouTube was far more popular than any big names from the outside.

. . . .

Then, suddenly, creators started encountering problems on the platform. In 2016, personalities like Philip DeFranco, comedians like Jesse Ridgway, and dozens of other popular creators started noticing that their videos were being demonetized, a term popularized by the communityto indicate when something had triggered YouTube’s system to remove advertisements from a video, depriving them of revenue. No one was quite sure why, and it prompted complaints about bigger algorithm changes that appeared to be happening.

Kjellberg posted a video detailing how changes had dropped his viewership numbers. He’d been getting 30 percent of his traffic from YouTube’s suggested feed, but after the apparent algorithm update, the number fell to less than 1 percent. Kjellberg jokingly threatened to delete his channel as a result, which was enough to get YouTube to issue a statementdenying that anything had changed. (The denial sidestepped questions of the algorithm specifically, and spoke instead to subscriber counts.)

These perceived, secretive changes instilled creators with a distrust of the platform. It also led to questions about their own self-worth and whether the energy they were spending on creating and editing videos — sometimes north of 80 hours a week — was worth it.

. . . .

YouTube was exerting more control over what users saw and what videos would make money. Once again, the community would adapt. But how it adapted was far more problematic than anyone would have guessed.

. . . .

By the beginning of 2017, YouTube was already battling some of its biggest problems in more than a decade. YouTube’s founders didn’t prepare for the onslaught of disturbing and dangerous content that comes from people being able to anonymously share videos without consequence. Add in a moderation team that couldn’t keep up with the 450 hours of video that were being uploaded every minute, and it was a house of cards waiting to fall.

YouTube had come under fire in Europe and the United States for letting extremists publish terrorism recruitment videos to its platform and for letting ads run on those videos. In response, YouTube outlined the steps it was taking to remove extremist content, and it told advertisers it would be careful about where their ads were placed. It highlighted many creators as a safe option.

But neither YouTube nor Google was prepared for what Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg — one of YouTube’s wealthiest independently made creators — would do.

. . . .

In mid-February 2017, The Wall Street Journal discovered an older video from Kjellberg that included him reacting to a sign held up by two kids that said, “Death to all Jews.” The anti-Semitic comment was included in one of his “react” videos about Fiverr, after having pivoted to more of a variety channel instead of focusing just on games.

His video, along with reports of ads appearing on terrorist content, led to advertisers abandoning YouTube. Kjellberg was dropped from Disney’s Maker Studios, he lost his YouTube Red series, Scare PewDiePie, and he was removed from his spot in Google Preferred, the top-tier ad platform for YouTube’s most prominent creators.

“A lot of people loved the video and a lot of people didn’t, and it’s almost like two generations of people arguing if this is okay or not,” Kjellberg said in an 11-minute video about the situation. “I’m sorry for the words that I used, as I know they offended people, and I admit the joke itself went too far.”

The attention Kjellberg brought to YouTube kickstarted the first “adpocalypse,” a term popularized within the creator community that refers to YouTube aggressively demonetizing videos that might be problematic, in an effort to prevent companies from halting their ad spending.

Aggressively demonetizing videos would become YouTube’s go-to move.

. . . .

The January 2017 closure of Vine, a platform for looping six-second videos, left a number of creators and influencers without a platform, and many of those stars moved over to YouTube. David Dobrik, Liza Koshy, Lele Pons, Danny Gonzalez, and, of course, Jake and Logan Paul became instant successes on YouTube — even though many of them had started YouTube channels years before their success on Vine.

YouTube’s biggest front-facing stars began following in the footsteps of over-the-top, “bro” prank culture. (Think: Jackass but more extreme and hosted by attractive 20-somethings.) Logan Paul pretended to be shot and killed in front of young fans; Jake Paul rode dirt bikes into pools; David Dobrik’s friends jumped out of moving cars. The antics were dangerous, but they caught people’s attention.

. . . .

Jake and Logan Paul became the biggest stars of this new wave, performing dangerous stunts, putting shocking footage in their vlogs, and selling merchandise to their young audiences. Although they teetered on the edge of what was acceptable and what wasn’t, they never really crossed the line into creating totally reprehensible content.

. . . .

It wasn’t a sustainable form of entertainment, and it seemed like everyone understood that except for YouTube. The Paul brothers were on their way to burning out; all it would take was one grand mistake. Even critics of the Pauls, like Kjellberg, empathized with their position. Kjellberg, who faced controversy after controversy, spoke about feeling as though right or wrong ceased to exist when trying to keep up with the YouTube machine.

“The problem with being a YouTuber or an online entertainer is that you constantly have to outdo yourself,” Kjellberg said in a 2018 video. “I think a lot of people get swept up in that … that they have to keep outdoing themselves, and I think it’s a good reflection of what happened with Logan Paul. If you make videos every single day, it’s really tough to keep people interested and keep them coming back.”

Still, Logan Paul was small potatoes compared to YouTube’s bigger problems, including disturbing children’s content that had been discovered by The New York Times and more terrorism content surfacing on the site. Who cared about what two brothers from Ohio were doing? The breaking point would be when Logan Paul visited Japan.

. . . .

Logan Paul’s “suicide forest” video irrevocably changed YouTube.

In it, Paul and his friends tour Japan’s Aokigahara forest, where they encountered a man’s body. Based on the video, it appears that he had recently died by suicide. Instead of turning the camera off, Paul walks up to the body. He doesn’t stop there. He zooms in on the man’s hands and pockets. In post-production, Paul blurred the man’s face, but it’s hard to see the video as anything but an egregious gesture of disrespect.

Within hours of posting the video, Paul’s name began trending. Actors like Aaron Paul (no relation), influencers like Chrissy Teigen, and prominent YouTubers called out Paul for his atrocious behavior.

YouTube reacted with a familiar strategy: it imposed heavy restrictions on its Partner Program (which recognizes creators who can earn ad revenue on their videos), sharply limiting the number of videos that were monetized with ads. In a January 2018 blog post announcing the changes, Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s head of business, said the move would “allow us to significantly improve our ability to identify creators who contribute positively to the community,” adding that “these higher standards will also help us prevent potentially inappropriate videos from monetizing which can hurt revenue for everyone.”

. . . .

The only people who didn’t receive blame were YouTube executives themselves — something that commentators like Philip DeFranco took issue with after the controversy first occurred. “We’re talking about the biggest creator on YouTube posting a video that had over 6 million views, was trending on YouTube, that no doubt had to be flagged by tons of people,” DeFranco said.

“The only reason it was taken down is Logan or his team took it down, and YouTube didn’t do a damn thing. Part of the Logan Paul problem is that YouTube is either complicit or ignorant.”

. . . .

[B]y the middle of 2018, lifestyle vloggers like Carrie Crista, who has just under 40,000 subscribers, were proclaiming how the community felt: forgotten. “YouTube seems to have forgotten who made the platform what it is,” Crista told PR Week. In its attempt to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, she said, YouTube is “pushing content creators away instead of inviting them to a social platform that encourages them to be creative in a way that other platforms can’t.”

Even people outside of YouTube saw what was happening. “YouTube is inevitably heading towards being like television, but they never told their creators this,” Jamie Cohen, a professor of new media at Molloy College, toldUSA Today in 2018.

By promoting videos that meet certain criteria, YouTube tips the scales in favor of organizations or creators — big ones, mostly — that can meet those standards. “Editing, creating thumbnails, it takes time,” Juliana Sabo, a creator with fewer than 1,000 subscribers, said in 2018 after the YouTube Partner Program changes. “You’re just prioritizing a very specific type of person — the type of person that has the time and money to churn out that content.”

Individual YouTube creators couldn’t keep up with the pace of YouTube’s algorithm set. But traditional, mainstream outlets could: late-night shows began to dominate YouTube, along with music videos from major labels. The platform now looked the way it had when it started, but with the stamp of Hollywood approval.

. . . .

The RackaRacka brothers are tired.

“We loved it before when it was like, ‘Oh, you guys are doing something unique and different. Let’s help you guys so you can get views and get eyes on it,’” Danny says. “I’d love to go back to that. We have so many big, awesome ideas that we’d love to do, but there’s no point in doing it on YouTube.”

Link to the rest at The Verge

The OP is a very long article. PG has excerpted more than he might have from an article with a different topic, however.

While reading the article, PG was struck by parallels between how dependent indy videographers were on YouTube and how dependent indy authors are on Amazon.

A year ago, PG doesn’t believe he would have had the same response. The amateurism and arrogance demonstrated by YouTube management in the OP contrasted greatly with the maturity and steady hand at the top levels of Amazon. Amazon has not made many dumb mistakes. Amazon has also treated indy authors with respect and generosity beyond that shown by any other publisher/distributor/bookstore in the US (and probably elsewhere).

This is not to say Amazon is a perfect company or that it hasn’t made some mistakes, but Amazon has demonstrated good business judgment, done a pretty good job of fixing its errors and hasn’t changed the way it operates in a manner that has harmed indie authors in a serious way.

Obviously, Jeff Bezos, his attitudes, judgment and approach to dealing with others has imprinted itself up and down the corporate hierarchy at Amazon. That sure hand on the corporate helm has caused PG to trust Amazon more than he does any other large tech company.

Additionally, Amazon has been leagues beyond any other organization in the book publishing and bookselling business in attracting smart adults as managers, making intelligent business decisions, treating partners well and managing the business as if it wanted long-term success as a publisher and bookseller (see, as only one example of business as usual in the publishing world, Barnes & Noble).

However.

PG admits his faith in Jeff Bezos’ solid judgment took a big hit with the disclosure of Bezos’ marital misconduct and divorce.

This struck him as an immature example of the runaway hubris that has brought down quite a few large companies, particularly in the tech world.

PG is old-fashioned in his belief that the behavior of a virtuous individual will manifest itself in all parts of that individual’s life. He understands the common explanation for such behavior in terms of a person being able to segment his life into business and personal spheres and continue in public excellence while making serious mistakes in private behavior.

PG also understands that marriages can fail for a wide variety of reasons and assigning blame for such failure (if there is blame to be assigned) is impossible for someone who is not privy to the personal lives of each party. That said, PG suggests at least a separation, if not a divorce, would be a more standup approach by a mature adult exercising good judgment to a marriage that has declined to the point of a breakup.

A secret affair that is leaked to the press is not, in PG’s admittedly traditional eyes, up to the standards he has come to expect from Bezos. The general reaction PG has seen in the press leads PG to believe he is not alone in his opinion.

« Previous PageNext Page »