Please head on over to its new home at my website-and-blog combo. Love to have your feedback.
Extremely moved by the death of Malik Bendjelloul – he of Searching for Sugarman fame and Oscar.
“Amazon are undoubtedly the most important player in the book world today. Whether print books or e-books. They really are the central platform around which the whole publishing industry is operating these days. Publishers think about Jeff Bezos kind of like how they might think about God – as a very distant, inaccessible figure who is all powerful and all knowing.”
That was Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director at Profile Books, being interviewed on “Amazon’s Retail Revolution“, part of the Business Boomers series, which aired last night (21st April) on BBC Two in the UK and quoted in The Bookseller.
A key statistic that the documentary highlighted: More than half of Britain’s online retail spend goes to Amazon, working out at £70 for every man, woman and child in the country.
I am nearly finished reading (okay, listening to) The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon and, though author Brad Stone doesn’t paint Bezos as a Mr Nice Guy, he does reflect a brilliant one. Eminently unlikable much of the time, by the sound of things, and prone to nasty outbursts known as “nutters”, but certainly not one whose success has fallen into his lap. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
The book “shows Bezos to be a sponge for information, and a fearless inquisitor, approaching even seasoned competitors to soak up knowledge from them, explains Adam Lashinsky in his CCN Money article ‘The Uncomfortable Truth about Brad Stone’s Amazon Book’, adding as an aside that “This is one of the many qualities Bezos shares with Jobs, and reading this book is another opportunity to lament that Jobs isn’t still around so that we could watch these two gladiators go after each other.”
All of this and more – especially as I am labouring to help establish a new startup in the book world – is why Jeff Bezos is on my #unlikeablementors list. “If you aren’t up to speed on the Bezos playbook, then you aren’t current with what it takes to start or run or a business,” as Lashinsky puts it.
“As language barriers break down and cell towers rise, there will be no end to the number of new voices, potential sources, citizen journalists and amateur photographers looking to contribute. This is good… The effect of having so many new actors involved, connected through a range of online platforms into the great, diffuse media system, is that major media outlets will report less and validate more… The role of the mainstream media will become primarily one of an aggregator, custodian and verifier, a credibility filter…” — Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen in The New Digital Age (John Murray)
Very interesting to read about some new video games being developed (and there’s the thing: this is still at development stage and we have not seen the market response) that tell important stories using real documentary footage.
In ‘Are Video Games the Future of Storytelling’, Meghan Ahearn references Marcus Bleasdale and his work to create a video game about the impact of mining conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Washington Post, one of the most influential publications in the world with a track record of quality journalism and 47 Pulitzer Prizes, is worth $250 million. Tumblr, the microblogging site on which users republish other people’s mildly amusing pictures and vast amounts of pornography, went for $1.1 billion. Price is not the same as value.
Simon Allison in his Daily Maverick ‘First Thing‘ newsletter.
I feel winded by the force of the venom (see below for links) directed at a 28-year-old Brooklyn-living Bulgarian who could or should be held up as a role model and pioneer. A woman leading a simple life, working damned hard at something she dearly loves. A woman who gives away the refreshingly-positive and deeply-detailed result freely, but yet dares to ask for donations, and who has made a few crucial mistakes for which she will apparently never be forgiven. (Chief of which, of course, is being successful.) Of course, that woman is Maria Popova — she of the yellow-and-black, Milton Glaser-inspired, love-infused Brain Pickings.
Sent out every Sunday, the newsletter of the blog’s weekly highlights is a tome, a rabbit hole. Press on that link, and I’m lost in Wonderland for hours. I don’t have the time to read more than a fraction of the heavily-linked content, and so always wondered where the author found the time to create it. And there’s the rub: Maria Popova claims to have no other life, but her tally of hours for the creation of this product are certainly a tad exaggerated. And she’s supposedly vehemently anti-advertising (or at least highlights the ‘ad-free’ nature of her product), though had neglected to mention the Amazon Affiliate program she benefits from until her detractors made a song and dance about it. Rightly so, certainly, but such an emotional reaction!
The snarkiness. The irritation with her success. The sheer crabs-in-a-bucket nature of it all. At a time when we desperately need fresh media business models, why are we so quick to pull down the success stories? (I’ve written with frustration about this before, and the sordid outcome of that event didn’t change my mind about the principles I was flailing to articulate.) Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk, ‘The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong’, highlights many of those same double standards and hypocrisies. Our confused equation of frugality with morality… Our irrational thoughts on who should be hailed for profiting and who should be slandered… On when we should talk about money and when we shouldn’t…
Yes, crabs. In a bucket. Tall Poppy Syndrome all over again: we can’t get out of this, but we sure as hell won’t let her.
Crabs. Lice. It was all so sexy to begin with. Then they feed on your blood. They cause you to itch. They’re contagious…
It doesn’t have to be like that: passion-based knee-jerk responses reeking of sloth, avarice and envy. Surely we can find a more nuanced point of view in which we acknowledge that our heroes make mistakes. That a saint is also a sinner? That role models should be lauded while yet noting where they could do better? That pointing out their failings does not make us any more successful?
I believe criticism is very important. But it should be done with the aim of taking the discussion forward; it should reveal the critic’s interest in the subject, and should suggest further application of the knowledge. To use two very over-traded analogies: this is not about pulling a fellow crab down, but being the giant who lends their shoulder for others to stand on. Two writers have impressed me with their abilities to do so on this story. Felix Salmon of Reuters, and Tom Bleymaier of On Advertising. Salmon outlines the entire story and its issues from a fact-based and rational point of view while yet divulging his personal thoughts. His journalistic integrity, despite this being clearly branded an opinion piece, stands strong. Tom Bleymaier, whose tone still undermines his argument slightly, makes a detailed and transparent commentary that achieves the dual task of stopping me hitting Popov’s ‘donate’ button, and inspires me to analyze the nuts and bolts more carefully.
Now I’d like to see both Salmon and Bleymaier’s heroes. To be inspired by those they hold in high regard. To find those giants on whose shoulders they stand. And I look forward to seeing those who will come after, and the heights they will reach.
Dominique’s Reminders to Self:
- Don’t tear down the role models; learn from them.
- Criticism is important and exciting, but channel the energy towards creativity rather than destruction and disease.
- Fight the haters by focussing on what can be, rather than on what should have been.
LINKS TO ARTICLES ON POPOVA
My trail: Google, Wikipedia, then follow the ‘criticism’ citation. That’s how I quickly found this post by a person who’d put effort and negativity in criticism. Who chooses to focus on what they dislike. Who does it all without the courage to reveal their own name. Sad, don’t you think? Sad to me because I think the anonymous writer makes some important points, especially with regards to highlighting the Federal Trade Commission’s ‘truth in advertising’ principles. (“If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.”)
A simple, fairly superficial Q&A with Popova in The Observer which lead to an outpouring of negative responses.
An article in The New York Times on Popova.
Popova’s talk at Tools of Change in Feb 2013.
Stoicism. Journalists need more of it. That was my Pop Idols epiphany last week. (Thanks to Derek Sivers and his great reading list that catalyzed my further exploration of this subject.)
The short answer: all change.
The short term: no money.
Key insight: Good journalism has always been subsidized.
That’s my quick-and-dirty summary of a report into the state of the multimedia and visual storytelling industry recently released. But don’t let that put you off. What’s also clear is that there is some hope for the visual storyteller. The way ahead might be murky, but some will find a route through it.
In his hour-long presentation to a World Press Photo gathering in April, report author Dr David Cambell summarized the key findings. Listening to the podcast of that presentation, I found Campbell’s clear, measured presentation of the information primarily pragmatic, yet imbued with elements of hope — both for the future of journalism and for the ability of news gatherers and individual practitioners to earn a living from their craft.
Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post Industrial Journalism: download the full research report.
There’s something brewing in my head. A triumvirate of ideas that speak into passion, people and the power of media.
It starts with this image, now embossed on my heart. Two people embracing. Two factory workers. Bangladesh.
In a far-off shopping mall, destruction is lighter: my trousers are torn from use and my shirt has a coffee stain. I justify a shopping spree. I am delighted by the fashions. And then I see the label: “Made in Bangladesh”. I go cold.
But, but, but! I walked past Mango and Top Shop! Sanctimoniously! I had wanted nothing to do with brands that employ workers in the kind of appalling conditions that lead to that building collapse. This is Zara. Surely this is safe?
Google to the rescue. Answer: apparently not safe.
And so I leave the garments, turn on my heel and head home to do some research. The results appal me. There is report after report of death and destruction in the likes of Bangladesh. Many fires and tragedies. Many international brands initially claiming non involvement until their labels are found at the scene of the crime. Look at those brands’ websites, and they inevitably trumpet their work on behalf of the worker.
So how do I know what I can buy with a clean conscience? And what is the reward for the brand that does invest in its workers? The answers are surely one and the same. How about a ranking that is easily accessed: a fashionista’s fishms or Standard and Poor’s? An at-a-glance reference that gives me the green light (or not) about a store, a brand, a line of clothing. Info that I can act on and that gives credit to the brand.
And winning that green light, surely, brings kudos to the brand? Literally gives them credit too, we would hope and assume. If we, the media, make their good rankings known, will it not bring them more business? We play our role: we give them editorial; we serve our readers’ interest and we maintain integrity. All that’s left to chance is whether the consumer will act with responsibility.
Surely a love for fashion and a love for people are not mutually exclusive? Surely there’s good business in businesses doing the right thing? And surely there’s an important role for media in bringing these together?
Now all we need is that organization that will do the research and, with integrity, authority and transparency, make it available in a simple format.