Even Cute Puppets Loathe Geek Squad

Thanks, MrHogg. My feelings exactly. My Best Buy strike (driven by my horrible experience with the Geek Squad) took a one-day hiatus when I couldn’t find a power cord for my Mac. It was torture walking through that place, and it gave me greater resolve to continue my strike. I would imagine Best Buy has lost thousands from me since its moron driver called the police on me for videotaping him (and then Best Buy couldn’t muster an acknowledgement of the episode much less an apology).

Robert C. Buckingham is an angry loser who reviews books for a living

The Future of Book Publishing (or “what I found while procrastinating writing my book”)

Holy crap. Check out this former editor who’s gone all foaming-mouth, Huffington-like crazy about the digital impact on traditional media and publishing. Now sit down and read this, because you might just learn something important. Sit. Sittttt. Good boy.

Richard Nash is the kind of guy that would either enthrall you over a 2nd martini or bore you to terminal, self-induced intoxication. There can be no middle ground. I suppose for me, I’d be leaning over listening with violent interest until the third martini, at which point I’d use the gesture my kids adopted from a recent Warner Brothers classic: Bugs Bunny is confronted by a poor sap that says, “pardon me, can you help out a fellow American who’s down on his luck?” Bugs reaches into his pocket, pulls out his thumb, and shouts “hitt daaaa rooooadddd.”

Some excerpts from his “Book Publishing 10 Years in the Future” are so profound I need another cup of coffee to understand them. I added some quotes because otherwise it’s as hard to understand as a Dennis Miller rant, boasting obscure references that make you feel smart if you bat 20% (which is not how the sporting kids are scoring these days).

  • In 2020 we will look back on the last days of publishing and realize that it was not a surfeit of capitalism that killed it, but rather an addiction-to-a-mishmash of Industrial Revolution practices that killed it, including a Fordist “any color so long as it is black” attitude to packaging the product, a Sloanist “hierarchical management approach to decision making,” and a GM-esque “continual rearranging of divisions like deck chairs on the Titanic based on internal management preferences rather than consumer preferences.”
  • In 2020 some people will still look back on recent decades as a Golden Age, just as some now look back on the 1950’s as a Golden Age, notwithstanding that the Age was golden largely for white men in tweed jackets who got to edit and review one another and congratulate one another for permitting a few women and the occasional Black man into the club.
  • In 2020 the disaffected twentysomethings of the burgeoning middle classes of India, China, Brazil, Indonesia will be producing novels faster than any of us can possibly imagine.

So there’s Nash’s Dystopian third phase of publishing evolution (the first two I lift from “The Last Lecture“):

  1. Buy an Encyclopedia, written by invite-only guests and largely unedited.
  2. Democracy takes over with Wikipedia. Turns out it’s more accurate and self-healing than Britannica.
  3. Whoops. Wikipedia forgot that profit thing, but the pleas from the founder are charming. Along come the $5 per hour researchers that mass produce content, QA it on the cheap, and dollar-store dispense it (or fund it with porn ads).

I almost feel like it’s treason for me to reference his power puke on publishing since I’m working on a book with a major publisher. But what else am I going to do to entertain myself while I procrastinate? Geez I hope they don’t read this.

So here’s the thing, though. Any sap could write “Beyond Viral Video” like I am, but don’t we factor in the author when we buy content? Would I have purchased Randy Pausch’s book-on-tape without the story behind him, his death, his hope, his dreams and his family?

Damnit, Nash. I’m not going to buy a self-help book written by a guy that used to answer the phones for Dell am I?

Maybe he’d encourage me to find my inner Buddha, which conflicts with my religion-du-jour: “listen to the voice of your inner African American grandmother.”

Cable’s Fate as FCC Pushes for Internet-TV Access: Impact of Comcast/NBC

David Lazarus of the LA Times writes about the FCC’s role in shaping broadband enabled television (remember that computers are in 74% of homes, but televisions in 99%). In the wake of Comcast’s impending takeover of NBC Unviersal, Lazarus writes:

If federal regulators have their way, the next big thing on the tech horizon will be a brave new world of Internet-ready, work-with-any-network set-top boxes, offering consumers unprecedented multimedia options through their TVs, not just their computers. And if this plays out as the Federal Communications Commission envisions, the world as cable companies know it will radically change, making the potential synergies of the Comcast-NBC deal all but obsolete.

Mind you, I’m no fan of bloated “synergy” deals like AOL Time Warner, but that “all but obsolete” statement sounded to me like an incredible generalization. Given Comcast’s legitimate concerns about its sustainability as an intermediary between content and customers, it seems like Comcast’s ownership of a network would make it far from obsolete… regardless of an FCC move.

Comcast NBC Universal logo

Most of us who watch this space are more progressive about our technology, but I won’t soon forget a conversation I had with a Verizon employee who I asked to install a card into my TiVo. He was struggling with this process, and explained to me that almost all Verizon employees use Verizon’s horrible box. It’s partially because it’s easier and less expensive, but I’m willing to bet few know they have other options.

So if the cable-subscribing masses passively use the box Comcast provides, then Comcast can effectively advantage NBC content… giving it the premier stations and placement. Consider when you’re in a hotel, that before you can channel surf you’re forced invited to watch one of the $15 movie rentals (a price at which you could buy a DVD anywhere else). An analogy would be if YouTube owned two-dozen partner channels and gave them top billing on YouTube’s homepage and “related videos.”

Done right, vertical integration produces some advantages to the company and lower costs to the consumer (by eliminating the middle-man and reducing overlap between players in a supply chain)… think Walmart. Done wrong, it’s a price-gauging monopoly that abuses its power by, for instance, requiring a Comcast subscription to access NBC content (unlikely). The NY Times covers this scenario in an editorial. Indeed many attempts at synergy result in customers getting screwed and a remarkably unfocused company. I worked for a web-strategy group acquired by Qwest (the Denver-based telcom) and saw no advantage to a telcom owning a web-services group.

Back to the consumer and what he/she experiences… if Comcast installs a device that makes television-viewing and web-surfing easy, then it has a non-trivial advantage. It can run ads around television web-viewing so it capitalizes wherever  the consumer is going (free or paid). It can make Hulu a pain in the ass to watch. It also has the ability to prompt viewers to purchase on-demand NBC content or provide upsell offerings as subscriptions (with the click of a mouse).

Conclusion: Comcast/NBC strikes me as far more powerful than Vertizon or a stand-alone ISP/cable company. If you own the technology and content then you can profit from ads or upselling content. It’s kinda like the kid in the neighborhood that owns the only football. He’s probably going to get invited to each game, and the game is temporarily over if he decides to go home because he’s mad. Of course if he abuses this role, at some point the other kids will purchase their own football and tell that kid to piss off forever.