Tag Archives: Amazon

TRUMP WATCH: Defying China on Trade

Just published on Impakter. Here’s the opening:


In a single tweet on 5 April, Trump gave a double whammy: against China, reminding everyone that he’s fighting China on trade, and against Amazon’s “chief lobbyist”, the hated “Fake News Washington Post”:

Not bad for a single tweet. To anyone wondering why the Washington Post’s headline is characterized as “phony” when the news about the levying of trade penalties is real enough, the answer is fairly simple.  Trump has recently engaged in an unprecedented flurry of tweets against Amazon, “ranting obsessively about it”. To the point where one is justified in wondering whether he has a personal grudge against Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post.

Maybe he does, but the truth is that the Washington Post has been very good at unearthing uncomfortable news about him. For example, they were the ones who discovered he had given highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador in the course of a visit to the White House back in May 2017.

Trade War or Trade Talks?

That’s the real question. Are Trump’s threats of trade penalties the opening salvo of a coming trade war? Or, more simply, trade talks?

Trump has just ordered the US Trade Representative to consider coming up with levies on $100 billion more of Chinese goods (that immediately sent US stock futures tumbling). This came on top of a Chinese announcement on Wednesday that China would levy a 25 percent tariff on about $50 billion of US goods (including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft). But the US had started it all, issuing on Tuesday a list of tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese products.

Tit for tat – and a clever tit from China…

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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TRUMP WATCH: A SWIPE AT AMAZON, BUT WHY?

This is the latest Trump Watch article on IMPAKTER – two others were published earlier this week: one about Trump’s obsession with his Border Wall (here) and the other about his thundering silence following last week-end’s March for Our Lives (here) – a silence that I found truly disturbing. 

So now, here is the opening of my latest article in the Trump Watch series:

TRUMP WATCH: A SWIPE AT AMAZON, BUT WHY?

Everybody is getting worked up over Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, but Trump has a grudge against another tech giant: Amazon.

On Thursday he lashed out:

So why this bizarre obsession with Amazon? Because Bezos, the founder of Amazon, owns the Washington Post, one of the papers Trump fears and hates? Maybe.

But there’s another good reason why: Clearly, Trump has no intention to wade into the on-going Facebook-Analytica scandal. Hot stuff, and it could burn him. The fact that the Trump campaign used Analytica’s “psychographs” to sway election results is deeply embarrassing, and it doesn’t help that to do so it used private data stolen from some 50 million American Facebook users. Moreover, Cambridge Analytica has reportedly still not deleted all the user data as promised.

To read the rest, click here. 

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Don’t Be Evil: The Other Side of the Tech Industry

Another one of my articles published on Impakter:

HOW TO ADDRESS THE TECH WORLD’S MORAL BLINDNESS

Who leads the tech world and what is their impact on the economy? Put together two remarkable statistics:

  • Of the ten richest men in America, only three are not tech billionaires: Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers;
  • Tech firms represent 21% of the 500 largest American firms, yet they employ only 3% of the workforce (Guardian, 2017);

and you get an exact description of the New Golden Age.

We’ve moved from the Robber Barons of the 1900s to the tech billionaires of the 2000s. Same concentration of wealth, same political and economic power, same income inequality, same moral blindness – with one big difference that hurts the working class: compared to the Robber Barons and the manufacturing giants of the 1950s, they create very few jobs.

Worse: The ‘frightful fives’ – Apple, Google (Alphabet), Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook, as noted by the New York Times’ columnist Farhad Manjoo –  are gobbling up start-ups, buying out the most successful rather than allowing healthy competition to develop. This puts the very process of innovation at risk. Instagram, WhatsApp, DeepMind are some of the better-known examples.

The rise of tech is affecting not just the economy, but our politics and culture too, twisting and straining the moral fibre of our society. In his 2016 speech at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Obama somberly noted that “technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us”. And he reminded us that “the scientific revolution that led to the splitting of the atom requires a moral revolution as well.”

The moral revolution certainly has not arrived in Trump’s America, focused for now on its America First agenda, denying climate change and trying to rebuild the coal-based manufacturing of the 1950s instead of addressing the real challenges of the future. Challenges that stem from tech industry AI products, robots and supercomputers, displacing jobs and ruining the middle and lower classes.

Tax havens are a big part of the story.

After the Panama Papers, we now have the scandal of another offshore firm, the Appleby files. Among Appleby’s long list of ultra-rich clients, including 31,000 Americans, we find a range of businessmen, pop stars and royals, including George Soros, the financier and philanthropist, Carl Icahn, the equity investor, Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, Madonna, Bono and even (for the first time) Queen Elizabeth II.

Inevitably, we find tech titans like Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

IN THE PHOTO: FROM LEFT TO RIGHT, PAUL G. ALLEN, GEORGE SOROS, BONO AND QUEEN ELIZABETH. SOURCE: COLLAGE FROM PHOTOS IN WIKIMEDIA COMMONS 

 

While bashing the tech industry on moral grounds has become fashionable, how useful it is in curbing it is debatable. After all, the tech industry has changed our lives, sometimes for the worse, to be sure, but also for the better. And the industry has many friends and supporters, not to mention ample lobbying power both in Washington and Brussels. And so long as the industry is making money, criticism, however right and morally grounded, will fall on deaf ears.

There are other ways to curb the tech industry and ensure it becomes a responsible citizen.

To read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Platform Capitalism: The New Economy of the Future?

My latest article, just published on Impakter Magazine:

BOOK REVIEW: PLATFORM CAPITALISM BY NICK SRNICEK, PUBLISHED BY POLITY (DECEMBER 2016) 120 PAGES

Platform Capitalism

Platform capitalism is the latest buzzword, replacing what used to be called “eco-systems”. It is also sometimes confused with the “gig economy” or the “sharing economy”, enthusiastically embraced by politicians as the answer to the Great Recession.

Uber, AirBnB, TaskRabbit and the like are viewed as saviors, providing jobs to those who wouldn’t have any or rounding off the pay of those who make too little. Their apps create a digital space where service providers and users meet; the needs of the latter are satisfied by the former while the app owners take a fair percentage off every transaction.

THE BLESSED AGE OF POST-CAPITALISM?

Technology enthusiasts see platform capitalism, created by the digital revolution, as a benign form of capitalism ushering in a new blessed age where people come into their own, workers find instant demand for their services and consumers get what they want at the tap of a button on their smartphone.

Before we go on, let’s get one piece of semantics out of the way: Platform capitalism should not be confused with the “sharing economy” (insofar as it exists at all). Platform capitalism has nothing to do with “sharing” in the sense of an exchange of goods or services at no cost to those engaged in the exchange. Platform capitalism is capitalism pure and simple: You pay for the goods and services you get, nothing is free – even if transaction costs tend to be lower online. Lower but still substantial: Uber, for example, creams off 25 percent of every taxi ride. The difference is that it’s not done through an exchange of cash in the real world, it is done digitally.

And, according to the proponents of platform capitalism, there is an added advantage: The middleman is cut out, costs to users are thus automatically reduced. This is the capitalism of the future, they enthuse. Thanks to the digital revolution, we are into the age of “post-capitalism”.

Not true, argue the critics: The basic exploitative nature of capitalism has not changed. Middlemen are replaced by new gatekeepers. “Many of the old middlemen and retailers disappear but only to be replaced by much more powerful gatekeepers,” complained one disgruntled German blogger.

Is platform capitalism heralding a bright new future or is it just the latest form of exploitative capitalism?

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Filed under Book review, Digital Revolution, Economics, non-fiction, politics, Startups, Tech

Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon

The cat is out of the bag, finally we know exactly how many self-published authors make it big: 40.

Yes, that’s not a typo.

40 self-published authors “make money”, all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don’t. This interesting statistic, recently revealed in a New York Times article, applies to the Kindle Store, but since Amazon is in fact the largest digital publishing platform in the world, it is a safe bet that self-published authors are not doing much better anywhere else.

“Making money” here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years. Yes, 40 authors have managed that, and have even gone on to establishing their own publishing house, like Meredith Wild. Her story is fully reported in the New York Times, here, and well worth pondering over. And wondering what “making money” really means.

That story reveals some further nuggets about the current fluctuating state of the publishing industry: it seems that last year, a third of the 100 best-selling Kindle books were self-published titles on average each week. Conversely, that means legacy publishers only raked in two-thirds. Perhaps this is not such a surprising result, given their habit of pricing e-books at stratospheric levels, from $12 to $16 or more compared to self-published authors who deem that $3 to $5 is the “right” price…One has to wonder why publishers do this, even at times pricing e-books more than their own printed versions of the title. Perhaps they are afraid of digital?

The digital market is indeed scary, primarily because of its dimension: over 4 million titles today in the Kindle Store, compared with 600,000 six years ago (again, the data is from the same article). This means “book discovery” has become the number one problem. How can your book stand out in such a vast crowd?

There are many answers in the industry (and savvy marketing certainly has big role), but some of the more ground-breaking solutions come from the successful self-published authors themselves, like Meredith Wild and a few others that have (more or less) followed her example, like Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, H.M.Ward, C.J.Lyons. They have struck deals with Ingram Content Group, a major book printer and distributor, thus getting their novels in bookstores, big-box stores and airports. Because,let’s face it, when you’re selling big in the digital market, you don’t want to lose out in the printed one: 36% of book buyers still read only print books (according to a 2015 Codex Group survey – for more about how print books hold their own, see this article).

What does this mean in terms of the future of the industry?  According to David Montgomery of Publishing Technology:

“There isn’t one book market anymore: there are two, and they exist in parallel. One continues to be dominated by major publishers, and increasingly uses agency pricing as a strategy to support print book sales. The second publishing market is almost exclusively made up of e-books, and is driven by Amazon-published and KDP content sold at a substantial discount to the product produced by traditional publishers.”

And he foresees a growing divide in 2016 between the two markets. Yet the success of Meredith Wild and the other authors like her suggests that something else might be happening: self-publishing could be encroaching in a territory that used to be seen as exclusive to legacy publishers.

Time to celebrate? Not yet. There is a caveat and it’s a big one: only 40 such authors are likely to bridge the divide. In fact, writing is a poor man’s occupation. As Publisher’s Weekly noted in an article published last year: the majority of authors earn below the poverty line. The statistics are grim:

Given that a single person earning less than $11,670 annually sits below the poverty line, 56% of respondents would qualify, if they relied solely on income from their writing. The survey also indicated that not only are many authors earning little, they are, since 2009, also earning less. Overall, the median writing-related income among respondents dropped from $10,500 in 2009 to $8,000 2014 in 2014, a decline of 24%. (highlight added).

That’s way below the poverty line! Small wonder that most authors depend on another job to survive…

So if you’re not selling your books, take heart, you’re not the only one. If you’re considering becoming a writer, think twice, it won’t make you rich. To be honest, if I could do my life over, I wouldn’t go into writing (though I love story-telling), I’d go into…film making! That is the art of the future, people don’t read books, they go to the movies, they binge on TV series, they play video-games. And in all these – movies, TV, games –  good story-tellers are more needed than ever

No, the art of writing is not dead, it is just undergoing a change of venue!

 

NOTE: This was published over a year ago and has garnered more comments than any of my blog posts has ever done before and I warmly thank my commentators including those who didn’t agree with my reading of the data – no doubt this avalanche of comments is a testimony to the (high) number of writers (self-published and non) wondering where they stand and what they can expect from a writing career. Bottom line: if you enjoy writing, just do it and don’t worry whether it’s going to bring in the bacon or not. One thing is will do for sure: it will make you happy. And that’s worth far more than any money you might ever make…Happy writing!

 

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2016: The Year of the Writer?

There are signs that after the dramatic 2009 digital disruption that brought in the self-publishing tsunami, the publishing industry is stabilizing. And Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a best-selling author and dispenser of cool, much sought-after advice has even decreed on her blog in a year-end post, that 2016, is going to be “The Year of the Writer”.

Kristine Kathryn Rush’s blog, click here

Hooray! Or is it too early to celebrate? KK Rusch notes that in 2015 a lot of indie writers suffered from burnout (disclosure: my case too). But she has words of wisdom to soothe the pain:

If you’re destined to be a career writer, you’ll come back to it—or rather, it’ll come back to you. One day, a story will pop into your head, a story that needs to be told. I just got an e-mail from a long-time published writer who said that very thing. For the longest time, he thought he was done writing, and now he’s turning his attention to a new novel.

So nice to hear I’m not the only one (and yes, now too I’m turning my attention to a new novel).

So why this high rate of burnout in 2015? Simple: because of marketing pressures:

  1. You have to market your book in every possible way, Twitter, Facebook, book tours, Goodreads, you name it – exhausting;
  2. You have to write your next book in the series – yes, it’s a series of course, the best way to keep your readers glued to your books – and you have to do it as fast as you can, you’ve heard that best-selling authors come out with a new book every three months (yikes, how do they manage that?) – even more exhausting, especially if coupled with (1) above.
No surprise then that authors collapse.
But as KK Rush says, why do it? The solution to burnout is simple: write what you want. And, as she notes:

It does take courage to write what you want. To follow your own creativity and see where it will lead you. To walk down a path that doesn’t exist yet.So maybe I should modify my conclusion and call 2016 the Year of the Courageous WriterBecause we’ll be seeing a lot of courage in print this year.

Ready to be courageous? Ready to do your own thing?

Well, maybe not quite yet. Also, there are many ways to deal with burnout. For example, you could step sideways – move into non-fiction. That’s what I did: since 2014, I’ve moved into a lot of non-fiction writing (mostly articles about the United Nations) and working as Senior Editor for Impakter – and it’s been a wonderful experience, I’ve come across a lot of new, hugely talented young writers contributing exciting articles to Impakter.

Impakter – The United Nations section, click here to see.

Meanwhile the number of readers on Impakter has grown exponentially, to the extent that it has become a lead magazine for Millennials, even exceeding the New Yorker…That has made my experience with burnout as a fiction writer a lot easier to bear!

But KK Rush does not stop there in her predictions. She has just published a fascinating analysis of what went wrong: “Business Musings: The Reactive Business Model“. What she is arguing is that traditional publishers, starting in the 1970’s, have been “reacting” to surprise best-sellers by imitating them.

In order to survive commercially, they’ve churned out as fast as they could books that are as close as possible to the surprise best seller. And now, indie writers have fallen in the same trap, writing in the genre that supposedly “sells”, following as closely as they can the example set by best-selling authors. And you get a slew of would-be Hunger Games, slavishly applying what KK Rusch calls the “reactive business model”. And she predicts:

More and more indie writers will leave the business if their business plan is based on the Reactive Business Model.Traditional publishers have forgotten that they used to partner with writers. Writers created the material and publishers published it to the best of their abilities. Because traditional publishers are owned by large corporate entities, the pursuit of profit has become the mantra, and if an imprint isn’t profitable in the short term (five years or so), it gets absorbed, replaced, or dissolved.
Indie writers don’t have to follow that model—and shouldn’t. They need to go back to the old model.

And of course, the “old model” – the reason writers abandoned traditional publishing and went down the road of self-publishing in the first place –  is exactly that:

Write what you want to write. Don’t think about marketing until the project—whatever it is—is done. Then consider how to market the project. Be creative in the marketing too. Don’t just imitate what was done before.

Wise words, no doubt about it. And when writing your next book, she warns:

 “Don’t act like traditional publishers and manipulate your next book to be like someone else’s success. […] Move forward in your career. Don’t look back. Following the Reactive Business Model is by definition looking backwards.

Definitely good advice.

I would only add: don’t worry about marketing at all.

I know, this may sound counter-intuitive in a time when book discovery has become incredibly difficult given the large number of available titles – more than 4 million in the Kindle store alone.

The theory that the “cream rises to the top” and that the best books will be inevitably discovered has proved wrong time and again. A book, to be properly launched, needs strong marketing. A push. And of course, be ready to do it when the time comes but don’t overdo it, and especially not at the expense of your writing time.

You can always do some more book promotion later, if and as needed. It may take longer for you to be recognized, but at least in this digital age, indie writers have an advantage over traditionally published authors of the past: their books don’t disappear from book stores after three months, digital versions stay in the cloud forever, they have a so-called “long tail” that is (eventually) working for them.

This simple technical fact ensures that your books remain available on Amazon and other platforms as long as you, the author, don’t retire them.

So hang on in there!

And Happy 2016!

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Amazon Has Done It Again for Self-Publishing!

The wonderful case of Swedish self-published author Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin is there to prove it! Thanks to Amazon, this author, a psychologist who has founded a psychological coaching company and published several “help” books in various genres since 2006, has hit the jackpot.

News came out in this summer that something strange was happening on Amazon’s printed books best selling list: big best-sellers from established authors (like Harper Lee‘s Go Set a Watchman) were being displaced from their top position by a book for children from an unknown Swedish author with the weird title The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep – a book specially designed to lull restless children to sleep.

The news were repeated in the press both in America and in the UK (for example, here and here, both pieces dated August 15) and now the New York Times has just learned that in September Mr. Forssen Ehrlin had landed a juicy deal for multiple books, including re-issuing his first book unchanged (but on better quality paper), with one of the Big Five: Penguin Random House no less.

The interview he gave to NYT is an eye-opener. Curious? You can read it here.

So what is the secret of Forssen Ehrlin’s success?

To begin with, a huge number of readers’ reviews – now already over 900 on Amazon.

Next, a well-orchestrated presentation. The NYT felt the illustrations looked a little “amateurish” – perhaps they do, but Penguin Random House is (wisely) maintaining them and (I personally think) they have a lot of charm, and obviously a lot of readers have felt the same way. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Also, an attractive, professional author website. Take a look here and see for yourself. The site is as much about the author as it is about his books, well balanced, convincing.

Last but not least, an unique sales pitch. The author presents himself as a trained psychologist and life coach, someone “in the know”, who can help parents in the delicate task of relaxing their children at bedtime. His book meets a broadly perceived problem, et voilà, you have a best-seller on your hands, with desperate parents loading up on the book!

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this story is the fact that this is NOT A KINDLE SUCCESS STORY. It’s a Create Space success, Amazon’s service for self-publishing printed books. 

We’ve been used to read about Amanda Hocking, Bella Andre and Hugh Howey –  they all made it first by hitting the Kindle’s best selling lists.

Carl-Johan has done it differently, with a printed book.

And, not content to break new ground format-wise, he’s done it genre-wise too. This is not a romance, this is not a thriller or science-fiction, it’s a children’s book.

Congrats Carl-Johan, well done!

 Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin’s website (Screenshot)

PS. This story can also be construed as another confirmation that the digital format is not particularly adapted to children’s books. Mr. Forssen Ehrlin was wise to choose a printed book format, that is what parents want to do with their children, sitting on their bed after dinner, thumbing a book…

Your views?

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