Friday, February 03, 2012

Weekend Reading: The New and Out of Date Edition

Before I start: Jen? Are you out there? You won the free copy of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret... but I don't have your email address! Get it to me by Tuesday, Feb. 7, or I'll have to draw another winner, which would make me sad.


In honor of Facebook's upcoming IPO, I'm finally getting around to posting some links I've gathered about the "new economy" and other related techie things. But, since they have been languishing in my upcoming posts list for quite awhile now, they are already all out of date. Still, there is some good reading here.

First of all, Jeff Atwood writes on Coding Horror about why you shouldn't buy a tech book- even the one he helped write. In fact, he argues that you shouldn't write one, either. I found his post really thought-provoking, particularly in thinking about what content does best online. I agree that tech content is one area that really works best online- but how to pay people for producing it? That is always the problem with these new economy issues, isn't it? How to get people to pay for the value they are getting from your work.

(Incidentally, Jeff (@codinghorror) and his wife Betsy (@betsyphd) are now the proud parents of twins. I have never met either of them in real life. I follow @codinghorror, but have never conversed, and I know @betsyphd only through Twitter- and we "met" completely independent of the fact that I follow her husband's blog and twitterstream. But I am so happy for them! Jeff wrote a great post on parenthood, which I featured in an earlier weekend reading post. And I've been following along on twitter as @betsyphd ended up on bedrest. So heartfelt congratulations on the arrival of the twins!)

One model that is often promoted as the solution for the "but how do you make any money off of that?" problem is the "freemium" model, in which your site or content is free for most, but premium users (i.e., people who pay) get something more. Pandora comes to mind as a website that seems to be making that work. But here's a post from someone who had a different experience. I think this just highlights how hard it is to make money online- models that work for some sites fail entirely for others. There is no guaranteed formula, not just for getting rich, but even for for getting any return on the time you've invested. I know, I know... this is true in the "old economy," too. But it seems like there is more guidance available for how to run a successful old-style business. Maybe that's just because the new-style business models are all so, well, new.

Wired had an interesting piece that touches on the fact that now is a time in which people are experimenting with business models. It was primarily about the Amazon vs. your local independent bookstore flap that blew up back before Christmas.  I particularly like this line:

"Amazon didn’t happen to your local independent bookstore; America happened to your local bookstore, from television to Waldenbooks."

It really underscores the fact that the technology is just part of the equation in figuring out how to keep any business afloat these days. The technology is changing what is possible, but it (and other forces) are also changing what people want. No wonder it is so hard for people to figure it out. Maybe you really do just have to get lucky.

Or, already be famous. Remember back when we were all talking about how Louis C.K. decided to make a download-only comedy special (nevermind the potential pirates) and made $500,000 selling it, with no middleman? Well, last I checked, he's made over $1 million. This clearly demonstrates that the content distribution world is changing. But I wonder how much of his experience translates to people who don't already have his name recognition? I would guess not much, even with sites like Kickstarter helping out.

And of course, there are heavyweight middlemen in the new economy, too. I was intrigued to see Amazon start to sign up authors directly. I wonder where that will lead?

Phew. That turned out to be longer than I thought it would be. I guess that's what happens when I let links pile up for months. Tell me what you think about all of this in the comments. And/or tell me whether you think I should sign up for GoodReads, LibraryThing, both, or neither. I'm uncharacteristically on the fence about this, and have been for a long time. But I love books and I love lists, so it seems I should be on one or the other site. Should I? Which one? Help get me off the fence!


  1. #2 is VERY pro-library-thing and very anti-goodreads.

    Let me see if I can dig up her rant.

  2. I use Good Reads, though I have never been able to muster the enthusiasm about it that others have. I like it, don't get me wrong, but I don't spend a ton of time there. I will say, you can win/get free copies of books sometimes if you get involved in the community--publishers love to use it as a testing ground for new books.

    I like the keeping track of what I'm reading aspect, but I had to make a concious decision to not try and input all the books I've read in the past. It was making me crazy to try and really making me want to stay away (I used to read anywhere from 3-6 books a week. It was...too much to try and input). But it's been great for getting recommendations as I've found people with similar tastes.

    I feel like I'm not giving you much to work with. But GR isn't a bad thing, it just depends, I think, on what you're hoping to get out of it.

  3. I love LibraryThing and have used it since maybe 2005 or 2006. Never tried GoodReads since I was already invested in LibraryThing. The guy who started it is super-nice.

    If you want to get e-copies of new books, you can sign up at, too.

  4. We've all had strep here, & I'm not at my best, but I feel like I need to make a small point about Amazon v indie bookstores, & not just because I work, part-time, at an indie bookstore, though I do.

    Before I launch into a comment that'll be longer than I intend, (2 parts, b/c I'm so long-winded!) please know that I am hoping here to be clear & non-rant-y. I'd like to provide a couple of alternative points-of-view to think about, but I don't expect anyone to necessarily agree with all this or anything. I hope you find in the following something worthy to add to your thoughts on a matter, as I so often do when I read your blog & your followers' comments.

    Amazon's price model for books is unsustainable. Their continual underpricing of the Kindle tech, plus their bizarre profit structure for ebooks AND for printed books seems to me to be completely devoid of thinking about who produces content (writers), who shapes content (book designers, file writers, whether working on e- or print products), not to mention storage space, copyright, & even who controls the material once it's purchased.

    If you are interested in the above thoughts on price structure, here's an article that explores how the publishers have gotten in over their heads at Amazon:

    But though I stand by my above musings, I don't think those are necessarily reasons for anyone besides me not to buy at Amazon. They employ a lot of workers, & they even pay sales tax in my state, so despite any ranting-sounding above, I don't think they are evil or anything.

    My main beef with Amazon, & one that has arisen only in the past year or so, is similar to my beef with WalMart, & it's perhaps best explained in the article below, a Gourmet article from many years ago about organic milk:

  5. Part 2 (I'm embarrassed about the length. Please feel free to delete me if this is rudely long.)

    The whole article (at end of my part 1, above) is interesting, & when I read it that year when it came out, I learned a lot about how retail works on a larger scale than I understood before. But the line that applies to Amazon is at the end, & it's about the way that WalMart, by being such a huge section of the distribution market & by being so devoted to deep discount pricing, ends up controlling not just what they sell but what is available to anyone at all. Now, I'm glad WalMart & Amazon make so much available at low prices, & I know many people who couldn't afford the basics without WalMart to rely on. But I also know that on the whole Americans pay way less than actual cost for many basics like food & gas & we pay incredibly low prices for many luxury goods, too--iPods, Kindles, & avocados in winter (for my area) should cost way more than they do. I think that, yes, we'll need to renegotiate a lot of how we think about business--electronic v. paper media consumption included. But I'm not sure I want to put all my eggs in ANY one basket, whether it's buying food only from WalMart or buying text--or electronics--only from Amazon. There's a reason why good agriculture practices reside in diversity; if one strain goes down, you have other crops, other bloodlines, to rely on. And, frankly, if Amazon decides, suddenly & bizarrely, that we shouldn't read, say, any George Orwell or something, I'm glad to know that I can pop round to my local bookstore & dig up a copy. And, yes, the library, too, but if there's only Amazon to buy books from, then where will the library get books Amazon doesn't have?

    I know many people make a lot of money off of Amazon's affiliate programs. More power to them. Many people also do not know that there is a U.S.-wide program that connects internet users to their local indie bookstore, & that local indies such as mine sell ebooks for use on non-kindle readers (Amazon's locked that tech down possibly harder than Apple locks down their stuff, & that's pretty hard), and that that same program offers affiliate rewards for click-through purchases from local bookstores in the same manner.

    I have no problem with Amazon or WalMart, I have no immediate problem with their low prices in the short term, either. What I have a problem with is their relentless &, I believe, feckless pursuit of ubiquity & domination of their markets with no thoughts for the dangers of monopolies or the long-term health of the markets or their suppliers.

    Thanks for letting me sound off here. I hope I rose to a decent level of discourse & discussion--I generally feel out of the loop, & I'm always so impressed by your blog, Cloud, & by the thoughtfulness & rigorous discourse your commenters bring to the conversation. I hope I haven't let the side down & that, even if you disagree with my overall points, there's been something interesting to think about nonetheless.

  6. Thanks for commenting, @Eta! Differing viewpoints are always welcome here, as long as they are reasonably respectful- and yours was entirely respectful (and interesting!) so I'm glad you posted.

    One thing: I can read PDFs on my Kindles. So any eBook that comes as a PDF, I can get. Its just that an eBook formatted for Kindle is a nicer experience (on the Kindle).

    About the affiliate program- I don't make big bucks with Amazon. I've maybe made $50 over the entire time I've done it (about two years, I think, with an Amazon-imposed hiatus in the middle when they were fighting with CA over sales tax). But that is $50 more than I've made via the Powell's affiliate program. I LOVE Powells, and shop there anytime I'm in Portland. But my association with their affiliate program (which, btw is way better than Amazon's on many levels) didn't make anyone any money. Of course, I don't try very hard to make money with either affiliate program.

    I shop at Amazon, because they have just about everything I want to order online, from books to DVDs to Princess bandaids to toys to watches. It is just easier and faster for me to do a lot of shopping there right now, and right now, easy and fast are important to me when it comes to shopping. I don't want to have to hunt around for different sites for all those things, and give all of those sites my credit card details to store and potentially lose to hackers.

    I love browsing a real bookstore, though, and I suspect that once my kids are old enough to reliably behave in one, we'll go to one from time to time. We go very infrequently now, mostly because it is not a very enjoyable experience, since I spend most of my time trying to keep Petunia out of trouble.

    In terms of Amazon preventing some books/ideas from getting published: it seems to me that this is an area that is quite different from the areas Walmart has influenced, because the actual thing being produced (ideas) can be disseminated in so many ways, and the electronic way doesn't have manufacturing costs to drive down. I don't know much about how the publishing industry works now, but it seems there are already middlemen influencing what books I can easily obtain, and that the electronic book is changing things to make it more feasible for some people to bypass those middlemen, although it is making Amazon the new middleman. I know that most authors still do better with a traditional publisher, but I also think that we're just at the start of a restructuring and I, for one, have absolutely no idea how it will all shake out.

    With all that said- do I love Amazon? No. I think they should collect sales tax everywhere.

  7. I've got a lifetime membership with LibraryThing - been using it for years and loving it. I've never even looked at GoodReads - so that either means that I'm lazy, or that LibraryThing just works.

    I get a lot of books from the library, and sometimes I'll be looking for a particular story but not remember exactly what book it was in. Usually scanning through the covers in LibraryThing lets me figure out which book it was, and you can tag books as being library books, so it has saved me a whole lot of frustration.

  8. I'm way behind on my blogs so am just catching this. In the event that you have not decided on a book social network, my opinion is that you should try both to see which one suits you better. I tried LibraryThing, Shelfari, and GoodReads and found myself liking GoodReads the most. The GoodReads UI is more appealing and intuitive to me, but what really drew me to the site was that I have a large number of friends who also use it. I really like being able to hear what all my friends are saying about the books they are reading.


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