Bezos Interview: Publishing and Fire Phone

I recently read this interview of Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos.  It’s pretty interesting.  Some thoughts:

eBooks / Publishing

I had always assumed that the print/book industry was really struggling – similar to the music industry.  However, Bezos’s quote of, “…the facts are wrong. Publishers are having unparalleled profitability, and the book industry is in better shape than it ever has been, and it’s because of e-books” is interesting.  

It’s also interesting that they take such a long-term view for the Kindle.  As Bezos states, “The vision for Kindle is every book, every imprint, in any language, all available in 60 seconds.”  That’s quite a mission.  They are definitely doing really well so far. 

The Amazon Phone

He admits that it’s a flop but contends that it’s just the start of them being in that business.  He states, “The Kindle is now on its seventh generation. The Kindle Voyage, the new premium product, is just completely killer. Fire TV, Fire TV Stick — we’re having trouble building enough. Amazon Echo, which we just launched. So there’s a lot of activity going on in our device business. With the phone, I just ask you to stay tuned.”

I wonder how many times they plan on iterating on the phone.  He talks about bold bets with things like Kindle, AWS and third-party resellers, but building a phone and competing against Apple, Android (they aren’t using core Android), Samsung and others is entirely different.  While audacious, i’m not sure I see how they can differentiate. 

Drones

He did an interview with “60 Minutes” and showcased their drone delivery system.  It was awesome.  He was asked about it here.  As you’d expect, he thinks the main thing holding it back is the regulatory issues, saying, “The most interesting part of this is the autopilot and the guidance and control and the machine vision systems that make it all work. As for when, though, that is very difficult to predict. I’d bet you the ratio of lawyers to engineers on the primary team is probably the highest at Amazon.

I think it’s the same for self-driving cars (I have a bet they’ll be here by 2023).  It totally works right now but the world is just not ready for it.  There are so many unanswered questions, such as: if someone gets killed or severely injured by a self-driving car, who’s liable?  Is it the person who bought the car, the company that built the car? Is there some level of insurance that you can get?  

Anyway, some good thoughts in there.  It’s worth a read.

 

 

Yahoo! is on it’s way back

I had pretty much written Yahoo off.  I thought they were dead.  They hadn’t done anything new and interesting for over 5 years.  Their webpages looked like crap.  They were just treading water.  That all changed lately.  Specifically in the past 6 months, they’ve done some things that really make me think they’ll be a player in the future.

First, let’s talk about Flickr.  I’ve always used it as my default photo service where i store all my photos online.  It used to be the best (in 2003-2006) and then it got abandoned.  I still kept putting my photos there because i was locked in, but i knew it was dead.  They added one small feature a year. I had seen that playbook at AOL.  It means it’s only a matter of time before it’s time to leave.  Then something magical happened.  They pushed out a new iPhone app for it that was actually decent.  Then they updated it to make it really slick.  Then they announced 1 terabyte of free storage.  Then they announced automatic iPhone uploads of photos.  Whoa.  All of the sudden, it was one of the best photo apps on my phone.  All in about a 6 month period.

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Second, they released a new News Digest app that is basically The Week magazine but a daily app.  It aggregates 8 to 10 recent news stories and sends them to you twice a day.  Once you’ve read the morning stories, you have to wait for the evening delivery. It’s beautifully made and is really easy to consume.  It’s not the main way I get mainstream news.

Finally, they launched a new Tech site that claims to be different than current tech sites.  The premise being that all tech sites today are focused on the top tier tech enthusiasts and people who care a lot about Silicon Valley.  Yahoo Tech will be focused on the other 90%. People who want to know what the best TV is, not which Palo Alto exec just changed jobs.  I think that’s a great idea.

So, it’s good to have another player back out there.  Someone is building new things and innovating.  I’m excited.  It seems that Yahoo! is indeed earning the exclamation point on their name.

 

Happy Holidays: My Holiday Reading

I did a lot of couch reading this holiday and as a result found some good stuff on the interwebs and thought I’d share…

1. The Paul Rudd & Conan video

Paul Rudd has been going on Conan O’Brien’s show for 20 years.  Each year he brings a clip to promote a new film. Apparently, every time he brings the same video clip every time. Here’s a video showing all of them. This is pretty hysterical. 

2. Bill Gates’s Good News of 2013

Here’s a post from Bill Gates about the good things that happened this year. Gates is out there solving real problems and he has such a unique perspective of how things are improving on a global level. This is worth reading.  For instance, he lets us know:

Half as many children died in 2012 as in 1990. That’s the biggest decline ever recorded. And hardly anyone knows about it! 

3. Billy Joel at MSG

Billy (now age 64) hasn’t released a record since 1993 and hasn’t toured since he wrapped up his last gig in 2010, but he’s still changing the music business. He recently signed a deal with Madison Square Garden to play a concert there every month. A good article in businessweek.

4. Maria Bello’s Modern Family

I’ve always loved Maria Bello as an actress.  She has an interesting personal life too. She’s penned a good essay in the NYTimes about her children and romantic situation.  It’s good and worth a read.

   

5. NYTimes and New Yorker vs. Buzzfeed and Gawker

The online advertising world is changing.  Sites like Gawker and Buzzfeed are grabbing lots of traffic and some good ad dollars.  This article looks at how publications that try to be more exclusive (and thus have less traffic) are trying to compete.  Hint: it’s not going to work out well for them. 

6. Be Nice to Cats

We have two cats and love them (most of the time) and I loved this video of a mean old woman getting karma right in the face.

7. Pregnant Virgins

Here’s an Interesting study here of 8000 women about how they got pregnant.  Almost 1% of them said they got pregnant with no men involved (and no in vitro or other reproductive technology).  Here’s to immaculate conception.

Happy Holidays everyone.  (note: if you want to regularly get my links, follow me as @MikePLewis on twitter)

YouTube and Walmart

I recently read a post about advertising on online video.  It’s a good post but probably too detailed for most people.  One thing in the post that stuck out is how big Walmart is and also how big YouTube is.  It got me thinking.  Pretty interesting stuff about two behemoths of our time.  Here are some details: 

Walmart is ginormous: 

  • 8% of every dollar spent in America is spent at Walmart  
  • They have more than 4,000 locations and sell more than $34 billion / month.
  • If Walmart were a country it would be the 19th largest in the world.

YouTube is also huge:

  • 1 billion monthly uniques hit the site
  • 40% of the online population uses YouTube every month
  • 6 billion hours of watched video a month. That’s enough for every human on earth to watch 150 videos a year. 
  • 63% of all videos watched in the US are on YouTube

 

The point of the article is that if you’re in the online video business, it’s foolish to try to do anything without thinking about YouTube. Similarly, it’d be foolish for a retailer to not want to sell their product through Walmart. 

 

 

From the front lines of the publishing industry

I got this email from a friend of mine who works in the newspaper business.  It’s tough times for those folk and it’s only going to get worse. I thought his email was a good look at what’s actually happening.  Here it is:

I can now check off “fired” from my bucket list. That’s right, after four years as a features reporter at the New York Daily News, I have been canned. No surprise. It was a long time in the making. Five months, to be exact. But the swiftness and finality of the act still threw me for a loop.The day after my arch-nemesis – a fashion editor whose idea of a good article is “50 purses under $50” – became my fifth managing editor, she called me into a side office and told me, “This isn’t working out. We’re terminating your employment here effective immediately.”

I wanted to tell her she was an awful manager, a poor editor and a vile individual. But all I said was, “OK,” before my buddy, the janitor, apologetically led me out of the building and left me standing on Sixth Ave. No exit interview. No parting gift. Not even a shot of whiskey.

I couldn’t help but try to do the math. 723 articles, 63 celebrity interviews, 106 Best of New York columns, three editor-in-chiefs, five managing editors and countless sleepless nights added up to nothing more than standing on Avenue of the Americas with a handful of crumpled papers, two half-filled legal pads and a cup of cold coffee.

So I started walking. I guess I was looking for a bar, but before I could find one (it’s tougher than you think to find a good bar in midtown) I walked pastValducci’s Pizza Truck on 51st and 5th Ave. And right there on the side of the truck was a huge, laminated copy of an article I wrote that named Valducci’s as one of the best Sicilian slices in New York.

The math suddenly became much clearer. My articles weren’t about lifting my spirits, but those of the people I wrote about. Sure, my articles were no longer valued by my editor at the newspaper, who didn’t care about a pizza pies unless Lindsay Lohan threw them up, but it certainly meant a lot to small business owners like the Vallerio family of Staten Island, who have been slinging pies since 1999. I didn’t let down the newspaper. The newspaper let down the readers. Honestly, would you rather discover the best place in NYC to find a Sicilian slice or read about how Britney Spears forgot to wear underwear and showed the world her Sicilian slice?

Anyway, I think the lesson here is that sometimes you go looking for a drink but instead find some perspective. I’ll be okay. The newspaper, well, that’s a different story. In the meantime, if you hear of a gig for a decent writer, shoot me a line.

The good news is that companies are hiring up ex-journalists like hot cakes to help run their content marketing departments so folks like this won’t be on the street for long. 

The wonder of film and the absence of Ebert

Ebert is the manI loved Roger Ebert.  Not just his writings, but everything he did as a journalist and movie lover.  I read his reviews, his books, his twitter stream and his newsletter.  If I watched a film and loved it, i would then immediately read Ebert’s review to see if he loved it too.  He had a great way of thinking about  a film and describing why it worked and why it didn’t that went beyond his “thumbs up” rating. Each review was more essay than review and that gave us a glimpse into the mind of Ebert as much as it did the quality of the film.  

I always loved this quote from Ebert that he wrote in his book where he talks about the tediousness of watching movies every day and the shift to DVD’s and Video-On-Demand: 

What I miss though, is the wonder.  People my age can remember walking into a movie palace where the ceiling was far overhead, and balconies and mezzanines reached away into the shadows.  We remember the sound of a thousand people laughing at once.  And screens the size of billboards, so every seat in the house was a good seat.  “I lost it at the movies,” Pauline Kael said, and we all knew just what she meant. 

When you go to the movies every day, it sometimes seems as if the movies are more mediocre than ever, more craven and cowardly, more skillfully manufactured to pander to the lowest tastes instead of educating them.  Then you see something absolutely miraculous, and on your way out you look distracted, as if you had just experienced some kind of a vision. 

That is what we all love about movies.  I know that feeling of walking out of a theater after just having my socks knocked off.  That happened to me in a New Hampshire theater for “Saving Private Ryan” or as a teenager with “Pulp Fiction.”  That feeling of being blown away is just incredible and what sustained Ebert.

His passing left a big hole in the film world for me.  There are great critics like AO Scott, but I don’t know anyone else who can make me see a film differently or appreciate a film the way Ebert did.  He will be greatly missed.

Finally, I ask you, my readers, do you know of anyone who I should turn to now? 

Bet: Quora vs. Foursquare

If you were given 1% of a company, which one would you take between Quora and Foursquare?

I asked this question two years ago (in 2011) and was pro-foursquare. I then re-asked a year ago when Foursquare was really crushing it and was the darling of the industry. Now, reports have come out that they were unable to raise another round at a higher valuation, were forced to do convertible debt, and only did $2 million in revenue last year.  So, the shine is rubbing off.  Would I still choose them over Quora?  The answer is ‘yes’ although it has less to do with Foursquare and more to do with Quora.

Lately, i’ve become really down on anything advertising-supported.  Basically, i think that business model is in the tanks and is only going to get worse.  Nobody clicks on ads on the web and the rates are in constant decline.  If you’re planning on building a business around it, you better have massive scale – and even then you’d be better off selling something else.

Foursquare could be the next Yelp, and while that’s a disappointment for some, I see that a rosier future than where Quora is headed.  Although i have to say that the margin is much smaller today than it was 1 and 2 years ago when we last did this poll.


Which company would you rather have 1% of?

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The Cover of NYTimes is an Instagram Photo

As if journalists weren’t having a tough time.  Today’s cover of the New York Times is further proof that the cost-structure of journalism is crumbling.  The cover is an image of Alex Rodriquez and the photo was done from an iPhone and the Instagram app. 

Back in the day, you used to have to develop your own photos.  Then came digital photography and with that you needed to have some photoshop skills to make the photo look really professional. Now Instagram handles it all, and it looks great.  Obviously, an iPhone can’t handle a lot of circumstances, but now lots of people have the skills needed to make beautiful shots that are worthy of the cover of a newspaper. 

Netflix vs. HBO

What’s the future of tv network or service?  It’s probably a subscription service that:

  1. Has exclusive content
  2. Is available on all the devices you own (TV set, mobile devices, iPad, etc.)
  3. Has a library of great content – both old television shows and movies
  4. Offers on-demand viewing of all it

Who’s leading the effort here? It seems to be HBO and Netflix.  Netflix is great for #2, #3, #4 whereas HBO is great for #1 and #3.  It seems to be a race for HBO to get on more devices and for Netflix to get more exclusive shows. 

 

Diane and I just watched the entire season of House of Cards and loved it.  We plowed through all 13 episodes in two weeks.  That’s how we watch most shows (on-demand) and not in HBO’s weekly format.  It’s only a matter of time before they all go that way. 

For me, I’m putting my money on Netflix.  First off, because it’s not part of Time Warner which seems to be stuck in the ways of the past.  Second, because Netflix has been pretty aggressive on all fronts and their winning here seems more likely than HBO figuring out the web and devices. 

Thoughts?

WWTDD on the Blog

Back in 2008, Qloud got acquired by BuzzMedia and Toby and I were assigned to running the product and engineering divisions of the company.  Buzz owned at the time around 50 blogs around music and celebrities such as Stereogum and TheSuperficial. I wasn’t that familiar with many of the blogs, but i quickly realized that some of them were really good and pretty funny.  

Probably my favorite of the bunch was a blog called WWTDD which stands for “What Would Tyler Durden Do” which is named after the main character in Flight Club.  The site is not what you would call an example of journalistic excellence. He would post a picture of a celebrity – often a very good looking woman – and usually make fun of her.  The difference here is that he’d do it in a really funny and clever way.  He did this all day, every day, 365 days a year.  It was sort of incredible. 

I’m writing about this because the writer of WWTDD wrote a blog post yesterday that the days of doing what he does are over. He doesn’t think it works anymore.  He writes: 

When I wrote Superficial and then co-created Tyler, there were like 3 other sites (Pink is the new Blog, Perez, called Page 666 at the time, and Defamer). Now every dickhead who’s ever gotten an “LOL” on a message board thinks he can write a website, and almost every single one follows that exact model that I created.

And it does not work anymore. It simply does not. It’s 2013 and that old shit is not good enough. I know what to do and I have been begging to change things. It’s frustrating, and I apologize to people who read the page as I got more and more bored and annoyed.

Unfortunately he doesn’t say what the new model is but he implies that it’s coming. I really quite curious. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.