Shoes, books, and the Amazon mystique

Nike has announced that it will no longer sell shoes on Amazon:

Nike will stop selling its products through Amazon and instead focus on what it called “more direct, personal relationships” with customers, company officials announced Tuesday. 
 
Anyone looking for Nike can still purchase items on the company website, its app, or at one of the thousands of brick-and-mortar stores where Nike has retail partnerships. The Nike-Amazon partnership was a pilot program that began more than two years ago and is no longer part of Nike’s wider sales strategy, company officials said.

CBS News

The article goes on to explain that Nike is focusing on a “go direct” strategy with its customers.

Here’s my personal perspective: I buy lots of stuff online, and I love Amazon.

Most consumers love Amazon. From the perspective of the buyer, Amazon is extremely easy to do business with–especially if you’re a Prime member. 

But sellers are divided. As Amazon’s market share has grown, the online retailing giant has become increasingly demanding with vendors.

I don’t sell shoes, of course. But as an indie author, I can’t help noticing a shift in the mood among other indie authors. The hottest controversy among indie authors at present is the issue of Kindle Unlimited.

If a title is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, there are some real advantages: the opportunity to earn money from KU page reads, and an (arguably unfair) sales rank advantage. (For sales ranking purposes, Amazon counts each KU download as a sale.)

The downsides of Kindle Unlimited are: Amazon exclusivity (required by the terms of KU), and the potential cannibalization of sales.

(Not to mention contributing to the monopoly power of a single online retailer.)

Nike has made its decision. The debate among indie authors will continue…

Why social media sucks for authors

Every now and again I rail against social media in this space. 

I have my reasons: Social media has poisoned our political discourse. What happens on social media has become a source of chronic anxiety for teenagers and twentysomethings. 

Social media sites aren’t about “creating community” or “fostering dialogue”. They’re about capturing the lion’s share of expression on the Internet, so that Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey can monetize your attention. 

Social media is a corporate money-grab. That’s all it is. 

But how is social media especially disadvantageous for authors? Let’s focus in on those points below (in no particular order):

1.) No one goes on social media to buy a book. 

Most people are on Twitter to kvetch about politics. Facebook users are there to find out if that mean girl from Central High School, class of 1996, is still hot, or if she’s gained weight like her mother did at forty.

Instagram is where guys go to look at hot women, and where hot women go to show off.

Oh, and celebrities. Jennifer Aniston recently joined Instagram, and she almost broke the site.

Speaking of Jennifer Aniston, here’s an example of what’s big on Instagram:

Jennifer Aniston Shares a Sexy Photo of Her Open-Back Dress on Instagram: ‘Jen in Black

Now, does that sound like a great venue for selling your historical novel set during World War II?

2.) Organic discovery is declining across all social media platforms. 

This is by design. The reason is simple. If you’re a business of any kind (and an author is a business, for our purposes here), social media sites want you to purchase ads.

Why? Social media sites have virtually no other source of income (other than selling user information to advertisers, as we’ve recently learned). 

If your announcement of your new book organically reaches your 3,500 Facebook followers, Mark Zuckerberg makes no money from that. If you buy a Facebook ad and give Zuckerberg $0.30 for every person who clicks on the post, however..

Well…you do the math. 

3.) It’s easy to get in political trouble on social media.

Social media is filled with snark and political vitriol. 

I don’t shy away from politics and current events. About 25% of the content on Edward Trimnell Books can be classified as political and social commentary. I genuinely enjoy exploring issues in the news. 

When I post on my own site, though, I usually think before I post. When commenting on a particularly sensitive topic, I take the time to clarify my position. I reread. I edit. I say to myself, “Naw…someone is going to twist my words, if I post that.”

I’ve made it a rule never to write a blog post when I’m actively angry about something in the news—that is always a recipe for looking like a jackass (at least, for me it is).

Such caution is far more difficult to maintain on social media, which is by nature reactive and real-time. The formats of social media posts (especially Twitter) are biased toward brief, bumper-slogan statements (280 characters).

If you’re an author, you won’t be on Twitter anonymously, but you’ll be arguing with lots of people who are on Twitter anonymously, and who will therefore say anything. They don’t care about the consequences. 

In frays like this, with that Tweet button right there, it is easy to post something that you will later regret. 

Social media sites like Twitter have recently caught flak for censoring conservatives. Basically, if your political views fall anywhere right of Joe Biden, then most of what you say is probably “hate speech” by Twitter’s yardstick. 

But perhaps you have the “correct” (i.e., fashionably leftwing and progressive) political views. You have a COEXIST bumper sticker on your Prius. You wear a rainbow bracelet everywhere during LGBTQ Pride Month, even though you’re straight. You honestly believe that banning plastic straws in American fast-food restaurants is going to offset all the raw pollution that they’re spewing out by the second in New Delhi. You would describe Greta Thunberg as “wise beyond her years”.

Well, that doesn’t get you completely off the hook. You can get in trouble, too, on social media. 

Chuck Wendig, a far-left science fiction writer, was fired from his Marvel Studios gig (as a story developer for the brand’s Star Wars comics) because of what he said on Twitter in October 2018.

This happened in the aftermath of the contentious Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Wendig went off on Republicans in profane and borderline violent language. Since Twitter is generally a leftwing environment, Wendig assumed this would be okay. But someone from Marvel Studios saw the tweets, and they weren’t okay with what Wendig said. So they canned Wendig. 

Chuck Wendig, because of his politics and his contrived edginess, is a polarizing figure. People either love him or hate him. My guess is that Wendig was egged on by his supporters, and goaded by his detractors. In the heat of the moment, he simply went too far. 

That’s easy to do on social media. Especially Twitter.

4.) Social media is declining, anyway.

The time people spend on Facebook has been declining for several years now. Twitter is losing traffic so rapidly that it has become unattractive to the advertisers it so desperately needs to stay afloat. 

Social media really took off around 2005, with YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter all launching within a period of just a few years. 

But the Internet thrived long before any of these sites existed. There’s no reason to believe that it can’t thrive without them. Social media isn’t important or necessary. Social media has convinced us that it’s important and necessary.

Perhaps social media is a trend that—like so many trends throughout history—is characterized by a natural rise, peak, and decline. Predicting the future is a fool’s game, but there is evidence to support the notion that social media is on the way out. As anyone who was online before 2005 can tell you, online expression does not require social media. 

So this raises the question for you as an author: Do you want to invest (either time or money) in shrinking platforms?

What should you do, then?

Believe it or not, people actually marketed books online before social media, too. Here’s how you can market your books without Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites:

1.) Your author website/blog

There is a current groupthink in the (indie) author community that “websites don’t sell books”. 

Au contraire. Bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi got his start when an editor saw the serialization of his first published novel, Old Man’s War, on his blog, The Whatever

Trad-pubbed science fiction authors Cory Doctorow, the aforementioned Chuck Wendig, and Charles Stross all maintain regular blogs/websites. 

Look up their Alexa rankings sometime. With all that traffic, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t leveraging at least some of it to sell books. 

Rather than “blogs and websites don’t work”, maybe it’s more accurate to say that indie authors have never learned how to leverage author websites and blogs. 

2.) Mailing list:

I hate mailing lists as a consumer. You aren’t going to get my personal email address unless you can promise me a weekend with the Swedish National Women’s Volleyball Team in return. 

But lots of authors still swear by them. A mailing list, like an author website, is something that you own, that is yours forever. You can’t be deplatformed from your own mailing list.

3.) Ads on the retail sites:

For most authors, this is mostly Amazon, i.e., AMS ads. The bidding market for AMS ads has become overheated in recent years. But at least the traffic on Amazon is there to buy books—not to look at Jennifer Aniston’s black dress.

Healthcare and the general election

We are one year out from the 2020 US presidential election. (So now would be a good time to visit Alpha Centauri, in advance of all that.) 

Writing in New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait reveals how the Democratic Party is determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory:  

Almost two-thirds of the people who supported Trump in 2016, and then a Democrat in the 2018 midterms, plan to vote for Trump again in 2020.


Perhaps some of that movement represents a desire by voters to check Trump’s power and restore divided government. But the poll contains substantial evidence that Trump’s party lost the midterms for the hoary yet true reason that Republicans took unpopular positions, especially on health care, and ceded the center. Rather than learn the lesson, Democrats instead appear intent on ceding it right back to them.

Jonathan Chait, NYMag

This is shaping up like 1988 all over again. In 1988 the Democrats ran a leftwing ideologue (Michael Dukakis) and got creamed in the general election.

The Democrats have genuine opportunities to make a centrist appeal in 2020. But the Democratic Party of 2019 isn’t much interested in the sensible center.

Take healthcare, for example…

Many Americans (myself included) fault the GOP for failing to do anything—after three years in power— to make health care more affordable. (The GOP too often takes the position that until a problem affects a substantial number of millionaires, it isn’t really a problem.) 

In my county in Ohio, there are two insurance providers in the private, individual healthcare plan market. There should be a dozen—given that everyone needs health insurance. 

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the two leading candidates of the Democratic Party, have both proposed a government takeover of private health insurance.

This is Soviet-style central planning. The “Medicare for all” proposal amounts to little more than a redux of policies that were tried unsuccessfully throughout the twentieth century, in various places. 

Our healthcare system sucks today. It will really suck if we turn it over to the federal government. 

So what do we need?

What we need is something akin to the federal government’s breakup of the Bell System in the early 1980s. 

Prior to 1982, there was a widespread recognition that a market failure had occurred in the long distance telephone service market. The government responded by restructuring the market to make it more competitive. 

The government didn’t try to take over phone service. Very important!

Our health insurance ills could be fixed by either a Democrat or a Republican with a knowledge of economics. But the Republicans aren’t practicing economics nowadays, and the Democrats don’t seem to grasp the basics of that dismal science.

Victoria’s Secret, Men’s Health, and liking what we like

The Victoria’s Secret brand is under fire. In an era of dogmatic gender neutrality, expressions of the overtly feminine or the explicitly masculine now “problematic”. 

The annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which had been held for years, has been cancelled this time around amid various “controversies”, including—most curiously—“allegations of cultural appropriation”. 

So Victoria’s Secret has made a concerted effort to become more “woke” as a brand. To walk in the footsteps of Nike, one supposes. 

Among other changes, the company has recently hired plus-size and transgender models. 

But this may be too little, too late. The mere acknowledgment of gender has become synonymous with hate speech in some quarters. So the acknowledgement of the specifically beautiful or the specifically feminine must be hate speech, too.

Men’s Health and idealized masculinity

But wait a minute…I’m just a guy! Who am I to even be talking about this in the first place?

Okay, fair enough. Let’s not talk about Victoria’s Secret. Let’s talk about….Men’s Health

Men’s Health was launched in 1987. It has the widest circulation of any magazine brand produced for a specifically male readership. 

Men’s Health is a bit like Cosmopolitan for guys. Topics covered in Men’s Health include fitness, nutrition, career advancement, and sexuality. 

You’ve no doubt seen those Men’s Health covers in the supermarket. Those guys with the washboard abs, those rippling “six-packs”.

Why put incredibly fit guys on the cover a fitness magazine aimed at men?

Because Men’s Health is selling aspirations, that’s why. 

I’ll never be a Men’s Health cover model.

It’s true. I’ve been working out for more than 30 years. I’m not obese. I’m actually in pretty good shape. But that’s a relative term. I definitely do not have that much sought-after six-pack. 

I realize, furthermore, that I’ll probably never have a six-pack. 

Would it be impossible for me? Who knows? I suspect, however, that my genes and my endomorphic body type are conspiring against me. No matter how many sit-ups I do, or how meticulously I count my carbs, I have my limits. 

Sylvester Stallone—literally my dad’s age—still has a better body at seventy-three than I do at fifty-one. What’s up with that?

Here’s the hard truth: I’m never going to fulfill the Men’s Health ideal. 

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Welcome to CANNES!

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Old enough to be my dad…still in better shape than me….

So why don’t I protest?

Nevertheless, you won’t find me protesting outside the magazine’s headquarters, badgering Men’s Health to be more “inclusive”. 

I understand (as anyone with common sense would) that men who don’t meet the Men’s Health ideal aren’t banned from reading the magazine. In fact, I would suspect that the majority of Men’s Health readers don’t meet the Men’s Health ideal.

Just look at those guys on the cover. Now ask yourself: Does the average man in the suburbs look like that with his shirt off?

I sure don’t.

The purpose of benchmarks is to inspire.

Ideals—or benchmarks—exist for a reason: They give us something to aspire to. When I’m working out in the gym, I prefer to be surrounded by guys who are more fit than I am. They give me a standard to compete against. 

Men’s Health would experience a dramatic drop in sales if men like me were featured on the cover. This bothers me not at all. I’m not exactly chopped liver, but I’m not some idealized adonis of an alpha male, either. 

So what?

Cosmopolitan and feminine aspiration

If men have their aspirational masculinity, well, women have long pursued a version of aspirational femininity, too.

Let’s revisit Cosmopolitan. The magazine has pretty much always been under female management. When Helen Gurley Brown became chief editor of Cosmopolitan in 1965, it was a boring, indistinguishable copycat of Reader’s Digest. Brown refocused the magazine on single career women and their concerns. 

You probably don’t know any men who read Cosmopolitan. But your husband or your boyfriend almost certainly notices the covers when he’s in the grocery store buying shaving supplies or a pound of sirloin. The women on Cosmopolitan covers are predictably beautiful, and often scantily clad. Most men would like to sleep with a Cosmopolitan cover model.

And ladies, you aren’t exempt from this sort of thing: I would be willing to bet that there are also a few women out there who have favorably noticed the models on Men’s Health, even if they have no interest in articles with titles like, “Perfect steaks, pool sex + energy drinks explained.”

We aspire to the ideal of the opposite sex.

Is it “patriarchal” for Cosmopolitan—a magazine run by women, targeted at women, to promote an image of femininity that men find attractive? 

When Men’s Health promotes an image of the masculine that women find attractive, are they openly discriminating against the “average” guy?

No—and no. Both magazines are giving their readers exactly what they want. 

Here’s a politically incorrect, but unavoidable truth: Most of us seek to meet the ideals of the opposite sex. Very early in life, we identify the attributes that the opposite sex finds attractive, and we say, “I want to be like that! I want attention from the opposite sex! Gimme that!”

Yes, I realize that there are exceptions. Some of us are gay—or transgendered. Nothing wrong with that, if that’s the way you’re wired up.

But most of us aren’t wired up that way. The vast majority of us are heterosexual and cisgendered. 

And so what do we aspire to, for our own self-image? We aspire to what the opposite sex finds attractive. 

This is why Men’s Health, a magazine for straight men, has photos of hunky guys on its covers. This is why Cosmopolitan covers feature women who could have stepped out of the pages of Playboy.

We like what we like. 

Let’s break this down to brass tacks: Most women are more attracted to tall guys with muscles over short guys with beer guts. Most men are more attracted to traditional lingerie models than women who are obese…or women who possess male genitalia. 

That’s just the way it is. 

Why should this be controversial? This is normal human sexuality. Everyone grasps this. It’s common sense. But political correctness specializes in subverting common sense.

The limits of inclusion

Here’s another politically incorrect truth: Not everything in our culture has to celebrate everyone. Not everything is going to be completely “inclusive”. 

Not all of us are model material. As I’ve already admitted, putting a shirtless photo of me on the cover of Men’s Health wouldn’t be a great marketing strategy for the magazine.

Victoria’s Secret isn’t “the patriarchy”.

Victoria’s Secret isn’t an expression of “patriarchy”, any more than Men’s Health is an expression of “feminism”. 

Victoria’s Secret is another female-managed, female-centric brand, much like Cosmopolitan. The Victoria’s Secret brand was founded in 1977 by a husband and wife team. For much of its history, the company has had a female CEO, Sharen Jester Turney.

Victoria’s Secret markets its products to women. The brand’s fashion shows aren’t put on for the benefit of horny dudes. Over 70% of the attendees at the shows are women.

Similarly, walk by any Victoria’s Secret store at your local mall, and you’ll find that the shoppers are 90% female. There is a Victoria’s Secret store at the mall near my house. I have yet to walk by and see the store packed with a crowd of hooting and hollering males, slobbering over the latest Zebra Lace Teddy.

Some brands sell aspirational benchmarks. Nothing wrong with that.

Idealized forms of the masculine and the feminine exist. They always have. So what?

The recent move to include plus size and transgender models in Victoria’s Secret marketing campaigns wasn’t a marketing decision. It was a bow to the diktats of political correctness.

Victoria’s Secret has thrived by selling an idealized image of femininity. Men’s Health has thrived by selling an idealized version of the masculine.

These brands wouldn’t have become so successful if millions of consumers didn’t identify with such aspirations. 

Aspirational benchmarks are inevitable outcomes in any competitive environment. And nothing is more competitive than sexual selection. This goes all the way back to Darwin…and your first junior high dance. 

By definition, aspirational benchmarks are exceptional. Aspirational benchmarks do not and cannot represent the specific realities of every one of us, all the time. Nor should they be shamed for refusing to try. 

I’ve discovered Gary Vaynerchuk

Aka Gary Vee. Vaynerchuk, like Neil Patel and Pat Flynn, is one of those Internet marketing gurus. 

Gary Vee is profane, blunt, and extremely insightful. 

Unlike many marketing gurus, Gary Vee actually succeeded in a “normal” business before becoming Internet-famous.

In other words, he’s sold more than just his own advice. While still a teenager, Vaynerchuk leveraged the Internet to expand his parents’ wine business to a national level. 

Vaynerchuk was born in the USSR. He was only three when he and his parents emigrated to the United States in the late 1970s.

(Vaynerchuk is Jewish, so I assume this was at least partly a result of Jimmy Carter’s laudable efforts to convince the Kremlin to grant exit visas to long-persecuted Soviet Jews.)

I won’t attempt to encapsulate all his advice in a single blog post. Nor–I should note–do I have an affiliate relationship with him, or any relationship at all.

If you have a business and you’re interested in better leveraging the Internet and social media, he is work checking out, IMO. 

The Apple Store business model is broken

Here’s what’s wrong…and how Apple can fix it.

This past week I took my 73 year-old father to the Apple Store in the Cincinnati area with the intent of purchasing at least one (and probably two) items. My dad was in the market for a new iPhone and a new laptop. 

We arrived twenty minutes before the store opened. A young Apple Store associate entered our information in a tablet before the store opened. (Like the government in Logan’s Run, Apple Stores seem to eliminate every member of their band over the age of thirty. I have never been waited on there by anyone much beyond that age.) 

Great! I thought. This is going to be fast! Whiz-bang efficiency!

But I was wrong. It wasn’t fast. 

To make a long story short, we spent 90 minutes waiting around the store. We stood. We paced. We looked at the few items that you can view without the help of a sales associate. (And there aren’t many of those.)

And then, finally, we gave up. We left without buying anything. At the time of our departure, we were told that we would be waited on in…about twenty minutes.

That was probably an optimistic assessment. I think it would have been more like an hour: There were around two dozen other customers waiting around for service, just like us. 

I saw several of them walk out in frustration, too.

Apple: great products, sucky retailing

I am a ten-year member of the Cult of Mac. 

I personally haven’t used anything but Apple products since 2010, when a final malware infection of my Dell PC, loaded with Windows XP, convinced me that enough was enough.  

So I bought an iMac. The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, I’ve owned two iMacs, two MacBooks, four iPods, and three iPhones. 

I’ve become an evangelist for Apple products. I’ve converted not only both my parents, but at least two or three of my friends. 

Apple products really are something special. But boy, those Apple Stores sure do suck.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Widespread complaints

A May 2019 article in the LA Times is entitled, “How the Apple Store has fallen from grace”. Focusing on an Apple Store in Columbus, Ohio, the article could have been written about my recent visit to the Apple Store in Cincinnati: 

Web Smith’s recent experience at his local Apple store in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, has been an exercise in frustration.

There was the time he visited the Easton Town Center location to buy a laptop for his 11-year-old daughter and spent almost 20 minutes getting an employee to accept his credit card. In January, Smith was buying a monitor and kept asking store workers to check him out, but they couldn’t because they were Apple “Geniuses” handling tech support and not sales.

“It took me forever to get someone to sell me the product,” said Smith, who runs 2PM Inc., an e-commerce research and consulting firm. “It’s become harder to buy something, even when the place isn’t busy. Buying a product there used to be a revered thing. Now you don’t want to bother with the inconvenience.”

There are many similar stories in the media of late, as well as customer complaints on social media. 

Cult of Mac members still largely love their iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones, iPods, and Apple Watches. But they increasingly dread the next trip to the Apple Store.

So what went wrong? And what needs to be done? 

An obsolete concept of the pre-iPhone era

The first Apple Stores debuted in May 2001—going on twenty years ago. Back then, they showcased only the computers, which had a minuscule market share at the time, compared to PCs made by Dell and Gateway. 

iPods were added in October 2001, but these, too, were specialty products when they debuted. For geeks only. 

The real tipping point was the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, and the subsequent ubiquity of smartphones. 

In 2001, a relatively small percentage of the population owned an iMac or a MacBook. In 2019, 40% of us own iPhones. The iPhone is a mass-market product. But it’s still being retailed as if it were a specialty item.

And when you visit an Apple Store in 2019, you’ll find that 70% of the traffic to these upscale boutiques is iPhone-related. Many are there for routine password resets. 

This is traffic that was never imagined or accounted for in 2001, when the Apple Store concept was launched.

Zen over function

Apple Stores don’t look like ordinary electronics retails stores. Steve Jobs was a devotee of eastern Zen practices, and the Apple Store resembles a Japanese bonsai garden. There is an emphasis on minimalism, and lots of blank space. 

The downside of that is that you can’t do much to serve yourself, as you could in a Best Buy or a Walmart. 

You basically walk into the store, and an employee puts you into an electronic queue. Then you wait around. 

But you have a very clean, zen setting in which to wait. 

Uncomfortable stores

Speaking of those long waits….

Apple Stores do look nice. But they are not comfortable places to spend an hour waiting for a salesperson. Which is almost inevitable. 

There are few stools, and it’s clear that the stools were selected for their  sleekness, not their comfort. 

There aren’t any plush bean bags or sofas to sit on. Heavens no! That would detract from the zen.

Inefficient use of staff

Too many Apple Store employees are exclusively dedicated to crowd control—to herding you into virtual line. 

This is because you can’t serve yourself in an Apple Store. Go into a Best Buy, and there are clearly defined areas for looking at computers, at cell phones, at peripherals. There’s a line for service in every Best Buy. A line for returns. 

Normal retail, in other words. 

There are no clearly defined areas within the Apple Store. Customers are all milling about, most of them doing nothing but waiting to be attended on. 

Many of these customers are frustrated and growing impatient. They want to know how much longer they’ll have to wait. This means that at any given moment, at least a quarter of the Apple Store employees you see on the floor are directing this vast cattle drive. 

They aren’t selling any products, they aren’t helping any customers. They’re just managing the virtual line. 

That amounts to a big waste of the Apple Store’s manpower—and of the customers’ time.

Decline of staff quality

Apple stores were once staffed by highly knowledgeable sales personnel. That was in the days when the stores only carried computers, and hiring was very selective.

Those days are gone. Now that it’s all about selling a gazillion iPhones, Apple Store employees are no longer specialists. Despite the pretentious name “Genius Bar”, geniuses are in short supply on the sales floor nowadays. You’re going to be served by run-of-the-mill retail sales staff. And their expertise, helpfulness, and attitudes vary greatly.

Not enough stores

There are about a dozen AT&T stores within a twenty-minute drive of my house in suburban Cincinnati.

Guess how many Apple Store there are…

One. In the Cincinnati area, we are served by a single Apple Store at the Kenwood Towne Centre.

And for those readers in Los Angeles and New York, who maybe think that Cincinnati is a one-horse cow town: There are 2.1 million people in the Greater Cincinnati area. It’s the 29th largest metropolitan area in the United States. 

And we have one Apple Store.

There are only eight Apple Stores in all of Ohio, and a total population of 11 million. That means one Apple Store for every 1,375,000 Ohioans. 

But it could be worse: There are only three Apple Stores in the entire state of Wisconsin. Kentucky has only one Apple Store.

But there are only twenty-two Apple Stores in the entire State of New York. AT&T has more retail locations than that just in Cincinnati. 

No wonder the stores are packed. I made my aforementioned trip to the Kenwood Towne Center Apple Store with my dad on a Friday. Granted, Friday is typically a busier retail day than Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. But this was during the middle of October—not exactly a peak shopping season. The back-to-school rush is already over. The Christmas shopping blitz won’t begin for another six weeks. 

And at 9:40 in the morning—twenty minutes before opening time—there was already a crowd outside the Apple Store.

The Apple Store needs to be refocused on function rather than branding

As an Apple employee quoted by the LA Times notes, Apple Stores are “mostly an exercise in branding and no longer do a good job serving mission shoppers”.

The “mission shopper” is the shopper who goes into the store with a specific purchase in mind (versus someone who is still torn between a Mac and a PC, or an iPhone and an Android). 

These are customers who could largely serve themselves. If only that were possible. But due to the philosophy of the Apple Store, there is minimal “clutter” at these boutique shops. In other words, these are retail shops with minimal merchandise on display. 

Apple Stores need to become more like Best Buys: There should be clearly defined areas for looking at each category of merchandise, and clearly defined areas to wait for technical support. 

As I mentioned above, most of the traffic in the Apple Store seems to involve iPhone support. The iPhone customers definitely need their own area of the store. 

This probably means abandoning the whole boutique concept. At present, Apple Stores are small but mostly empty spaces in high-rent locations. That is, again, all very zen and cool-looking. But it doesn’t happen  to be a great way to purchase a new MacBook, or to get your iPhone unlocked when you’ve forgotten the passcode.

A broken model in terminal need of repair

 The Apple Store might have been a workable retail model in the pre-iPhone era, when Mac devotees really were an exclusive tribe. The Apple geeks of 2001, with their tattoos and soul patches, may have appreciated the gleaming but empty Apple Stores. 

But the Apple customer base has changed and expanded since 2001. When you factor in iPhones, Apple is now a mass-market brand. (And Apple now owns 13% of the home computer market.)

 Having become a mass-market brand, Apple needs to adopt the more efficient practices of a mass-market brand. 

That means dropping the boutique pretentiousness that makes Apple Stores great places to photograph, but horrible places to buy stuff. The hoi polloi of 2019 are not the rarified Apple geeks of 2001. 

We don’t want or need a zen experience. We just want to get quickly in and out of the Apple Store with minimal delays, like we can at every other retail shop.

Warren’s war on Big Tech

Elizabeth Warren has declared her intention to break up Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

But what exactly does that mean?

Google

You already have plenty of other choices. There’s Bing, Yahoo! and many others.

Here’s a list of at least 14 search engines that you can use instead of Google, right now….no action from Elizabeth Warren or the federal government required.

Amazon

You already have plenty of other choices here, too .

Did you know that you can order stuff from Walmart online? You can!

Nor is Walmart your only non-Amazon choice. Take just about any product that you would ordinarily purchase on Amazon and Google it. Excuse me!– Bing it!–and you’ll find alternative sources.

No action from Elizabeth Warren or the federal government required!

Why do you purchase so much stuff from Amazon? Admit it: It’s because Amazon provides excellent customer service and competitive prices. Shopping on Amazon is a pretty seamless, and overall pleasant, experience.

What’s to stop other retailers from doing the same?

More to the point…What the heck is Elizabeth Warren going to do about any of it? Is she going to make Barnes & Noble more competitive?

Oh, give me a break. I’m in the book business, folks. And I can tell you that Barnes & Noble has screwed the pooch with every opportunity they’ve gotten since the dawn of the e-commerce era. B&N is still stuck in 1995. And they were great in 1995. Today–not so much.

Facebook

My general loathing for social media is documented throughout this site. I don’t only despise Facebook. I also detest Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, and Snapchat.

But here’s the thing: Facebook is a freakin’ website. How is Elizabeth Warren going to break up a website?

No one forces anyone to go to Facebook, or any other social media site. Nor is what social media provides in any way essential to daily life.

But as long as you’ve got millions of people who will go bonkers over the prospect of following a Clinton-era actress on Instagram, social media has a market. Never underestimate the stupidity of the masses.

***

In summary: 

1.) There are already at least 14 alternatives to Google.

2.) People use Amazon because Amazon makes buying stuff online cheap and convenient.

3.) Social media is idiotic, but so are lots of the people who are obsessed with it.

I don’t love Big Tech. The very sight of Mark Zuckerberg makes me cringe. But the government can’t change the consumer preferences that led to the dominance of Google, Amazon, or Facebook.

Our preferences created these monopolies, to the extent that they exist.

Do you want Elizabeth Warren telling you where you can buy lawn furniture?….Or where you get to see photos of Jennifer Aniston?

That’s what the Warren War on Big Tech is all about, at the end of the day: the government (i.e., a future President Warren) picking winners and losers.

Very fake Facebook: Did Facebook lie about video stats?

Facebook (just like Reddit, Twitter, etc.)  exists for a single purpose: to sell ads

I maintain an author page on Facebook, in addition to my personal profile. Every time I log on to Facebook, the platform encourages me to buy ads.

Facebook has been pushing video ads in particular over the past few years. I mean, really pushing them.

It now appears that Facebook sold these ads based on inflated video stats. As a result, Zuckerberg’s brainchild has now settled a class action lawsuit for $40 million.

If you own a business, you have to rely on social media, the saying goes. 

And indeed, it would probably be unwise to completely ignore Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. Social media is a sewer, but it is still a force on the Internet–for now. 

Never forget, though, that these companies are ultimately flight-by-night operations that are clinging to the dying business model of social media.  The aim of companies like Facebook is to squeeze as much money from advertisers as they can, for as long as the party lasts. Because they know that the party won’t last forever.

And never, ever–no matter what–make the mistake of building the entire public face of your business on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This is a fatal mistake, whether you’re an author, a musician, or a plumber in Boise, Idaho.