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.
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.
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.
I was sickened this morning, while reading an NBC story via Pulse about the “traumatic amputations” and legs being blown off at the Boston Marathon, to see an awful ad placement that illustrates both the pros and cons of content-specific advertising.
Set right into those paragraphs describing the extent of the horrific lower leg injuries, we have an ad for colourful boots. Even the wording – and perhaps it’s my sense of humour here that is sick – left me aghast in the context of bombs going off (“POPS of color”) and parts of limbs being lost (“up to 90% off”).
Surely, surely, if we have tech geeks with the brilliance to come up with ad specific advertising (which I am generally very pro), there can be some kind of mechanism to ensure more appropriate placement of ads within content of a sensitive nature?
Perhaps it starts with the advertiser? Should this one be putting pressure on NBC, considering how poorly this reflects on them? (Because, illogically and unfairly, it does initially seem to cast them in the poor light, rather than NBC, or would you not agree?)
Or does it start with us? Should I be complaining to NBC now instead of whinging publicly?
Or perhaps – and I do think there is merit in this argument, much as I don’t like it – I don’t have a right to feel offended by a mismatch that helped pay for the content that I obviously found of sufficiently good quality to keep me reading to and beyond the third para? Content that I received for gratis.
C’mon code dudes: surely there’s an easy solution that short circuits even the need for an ethical debate on this?
By Derek Botha
[Note: Derek is a client of Moonshine Media. Hearing him enthuse about the journey of publishing his first book, I asked him to note his thoughts down. After all, he will never publish a first book again, but it’s a path many others might stumble or skip down. – Dominique]
Some years ago, after having retired for a short while, I immersed myself in research on an issue that had been a big part of my life’s experiences. The research activities eventually formed the bases of considerations of becoming some form of larger publication as the writings were becoming too long and complex to be presented in a journal article.
I was not sure how the writings would reach the public domain, but, as time went on, I decided that I would publish them as a book. This decision meant restructuring and reformatting the work into chapters, and rewriting a substantial portion of the work that had already been drafted. A coherent story-line was also necessary, although a work of non-fiction. It was my main aim to get what I had written ‘out there’ – to be available to be read by those who may be interested. It was not my intention to publish for financial gain – I felt that what I had to say had not been said at all, that I needed to say it, and that it was important information. In other words, I wanted my story to be available to be read as it would be of value to my readership.
I was proud of my efforts at research and writing on a topic in a field in which I had trained and worked – mental health. As the topic had been significantly ignored, dishonoured, dismissed and neglected, it was my belief that my writings would make an important contribution to this aspect in the mental health field. At that stage I had spent just over five years involved in intense researching, writing and publishing a few related academic articles. As the writing of a draft manuscript was drawing to a close, I mulled over these aspects. I was under the impression (as a first-time author), that all I needed to do was to ‘phone a publishing house or two, advise them of the focus and content of my writings, and they would be enthusiastic to publish my writings which I considered were of merit. I eventually decided to contact a large national publisher, as well as reputable international publishers who published works in the mental health field, and email to them my book proposal. This process was met with varied responses – from no replies, to indicating that the nature of my book did not form part of their publishing plans for that year. The large national publisher attempted to find overseas publishers because local publication alone was seen to be not financially viable. All such efforts were not successful as the book was not the equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey in the non-fiction field, that is, it would not add significant and immediate value to the financial wealth of a publication house. I was getting quite despondent, and was concerned about whether or not my committed efforts would ever be published.
The national publisher suggested that I consider following the self-publishing route by ‘putting’ the book on Amazon.com. I had no idea what self-publishing meant, nor entailed, so I looked it up on the internet and found numerous overseas (USA and UK) places (institutions, companies, persons, etc.) who were offering a multitude of publishing related menu-like services for prices that, for a South African, were extremely high. In addition, I did not feel comfortable making payments upfront, given the geographic distances, and the fact that browsing the internet had indicated that some of these overseas ‘publishers’ were being investigated by USA police authorities for various criminal activities, such as money laundering. I felt that I could not allow my works, my writings, my creation to be exposed to such institutions. I had a sense that I would be offering my creation to untrustworthy and possible criminal elements who would have little or no appreciation of the intrinsic value of my efforts, commitment and writings. In addition, if I had to submit my creation to remote, far-away, unknown persons and processes, I would be not be an integral part of the activities of preparing my writings for presentation to potential readership.
Consequently I started browsing the internet to find a source of assistance in South Africa, and ‘phoning persons in South Africa whom I thought could help me. I had researched and written all the work to date and wanted assistance with the publishing, marketing, distribution and sales of my book. I did not want to merely hand over to another all that I had done, and then be removed from my writings so that another would be responsible for creating yet another book in a string of their publications. In other words, I had conceived the idea, had undertaken all the research and the writing, and now wanted to be an integral part of the processes that were needed to bring about the ‘birth’ of my creation.
After some weeks of ‘phoning around and browsing the internet, another first-time author suggested that I contact a small publishing organisation called Moonshine Media. I did so, and then consulted with the owner of this organisation, Dominique le Roux. She undertook to manage the publication process, during which she would commission reputable local service providers for each specific activity in the process, and I would still be involved with such matters as various decisions, working on amendments to the script, and so on. I was satisfied that her organisation could offer me what I wanted and needed. And so I apprehensively began my journey into the unknown – but a journey that I looked forward to and undertook with excitement and enthusiasm as I was to be an integral part of the processes, and would be involved with all the activities that then followed.
Part of the requirements of my previous employment involved research, writing and publishing articles in scholarly journals. As I had been exposed to editing processes that came with that activity, I thought that that rather limited process would be repeated, but over a longer period. In spite of my excitement and enthusiasm, I was not prepared for the level of commitment and amount of work that was needed from me in this new venture. Fortunately I had retired and had much of the day as discretionary time to attend to my responses to the copy editor. However, the committed, thorough and professional copy editing undertaken by the copy editor resulted in all this discretionary time, and substantially more, been used to keep up with her suggestions and questions. This process continued every day for about a month, and involved the exchange of over seven hundred emails between the copy editor and me – it was exhausting. However, I felt totally included and that I was being held partially responsible for preparing the writings for publication. I would not have been satisfied with any lesser commitment and involvement in the editing process.
I was then consulted in regard to the cover design and it’s colour. Again I felt included in this process and experienced the ways of thinking and working of these professionals.
The time-consuming and highly focused activity of type-setting was undertaken by Dominique and an assistant. I was again consulted during this process, and was amazed at the care, thoroughness and preciseness that was needed to accomplish this task successfully.
I had some thoughts on how the indexing task might be undertaken, although I did not know exactly what was required. I was aware that it could be a time-consuming process, involving a lot of thorough work with minute accuracy. In a short time I was presented with a very comprehensive, appropriate and easily accessible index, as well as supportive comments from the well-renowned indexer who was commissioned by Moonshine Media.
At that stage I thought that all the preparation for the book had been completed, and it was in a state to be presented to a printer. However, I was informed that proofreading was still required. I was not sure what to expect, but was again a party to the proofreading activities. This allowed me to experience the final responses from a professional who had not been involved with any stages of the preparation of the book so far. The high level of professionalism to which I was exposed by the proof-reading process really brought home to me the amount of commitment and thoroughness that is required to prepare the final draft of a book. Again, I was required to respond to a ‘barrage’ of questions and suggestions. I found it very rewarding to feel that an ‘outsider’ could be so committed to working with my writings in such a professional way – and again bring me into the process of preparing my book for publication.
My book was eventually e-published in about six months from the time of the first consultation with Dominique when she indicated an interest in the book, and a willingness to undertake the management of its publication, both in South Africa (hard copy) and on the internet (Amazon.com).
My involvement in every activity of publication made me feel that I was part of the whole process, and that my work and writing was being honoured by all those who assisted and contributed to its publication.
– Derek Botha, author of No Labels – Men in Relationship with Anorexia
Sorry, I can’t help myself. After how many years in the business, I still just love, love, love that moment when you unwrap that single proof copy of a new book from the printer, and feel the weight of it in your hand, and you page carefully through it, possibly remembering to breathe…
Today another book was born. That book is called ‘Shame – Confessions of an Aid Worker in Africa’, written by Jillian Reilly. Authored and funded by Jillian, it was produced by a specialist team of experienced professionals all passionate about what they do, and obsessed with creating great products of high quality.
THAT is what independent publishing is.
Yes, we are using the tools of self-publishing to get this book to the international market – in this case, Lulu for print on demand, and KDP for producing the Kindle edition. But those are just print and distribution service providers. The actual work in producing the book – the editing, design, typesetting – was not done on the cheap, and no corners were cut. [Full disclosure, in case this hasn’t been abundantly clear already: my small company, Moonshine Media, helped Jillian with the strategy and production management.]
I am so proud of Shame.