Archives for posts with tag: jeff bezos

In the modern world, no one can nonchalantly claim to be “not tech savvy”. There are only those who choose to keep up, and others who don’t.

Oh no! It’s a think piece! I might have to think while reading! Someone save us from thinking! Save us all!

The issue is far more complex, of course. Many people, practically speaking, don’t have a choice. For non-disabled populations in countries with ample infrastructure, however, the choice is very real, and becoming more vividly clear every day.

Beyond Disruption

A time of technology-driven social change is nearly upon us, and it will alter the way that we see and experience our world. The word “disruption” is an antiquated cliche compared to the imminent mutation of our collective memetic DNA.

Immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) and various “augmented reality” (AR) techniques can blend human-made interfaces with our awareness of the natural world. These new media are poised to change the cultural landscape with heavy promotion from brands like VR headset maker Oculus Rift (acquired by Facebook) and wearable AR devices like Microsoft Hololens and the inevitable Google Glass 2.0.

And then there’s Magic Leap:

Mass media (marketing, advertising, and other types of propaganda) influences our reality via journalism and social activism, or conversely, pop-culture consumerism and mass apathy.

Imagine a world where media messages literally take on a new dimension, pouring themselves from the screen into the space all around us, innocuously befriending us while seductively whispering their carefully crafted suggestions into our ears.

The urge to comply will become nearly irresistible. That world is coming, and once it penetrates our sensorium and envelopes our thoughts, there will be no turning back.

Media itself is neutral; it has no moral component. The most persuasive messages, however, connect to our deepest drives and strongest desires; they prey on the power of our values, hopes and fears.

Considering how the 2D TV shows are used to constantly pound viewers’ minds with endless advertising, you might quickly realize that televisionland imbued with artificial intelligence and 3D sex appeal may not be such a harmless place.

There’s so much exciting new territory to explore — film, media, systems design and programming, data visualization. It goes far deeper than acting in a hit movie, racking up Internet popularity points, or aspiring to be a hot Instagram model or the next big Hollywood star. Several industries may be born within the next decade surrounding these new media, from NASA Mars Rover simulations and 3D printing, to sustainable city planning and architectural design.

No one really knows what direction these technologies will take. That’s what makes it such a fascinating area of study; there are so many possibilities that we haven’t even begun to explore…

Right now, most technological innovations on the Internet depend not on building a science-fiction future, but rather old-fashioned persuasion taken to an instantaneous worldwide scale.

Mass persuasion has another name. This is the shadowy art and psychological science known as “marketing”.

Internet Marketing

Marketing is an essential, yet oft-misunderstood creature within the continuum of creativity.

Internet marketing is its own discipline, separate from any other. In related realms, acting is separate from screenwriting, screenwriting is distinct from directing, and directing is dissimilar to the role played by a film producer. Marketing, too, has its own set of rules.

As in most areas of life, you tend to get what you pay for. If you see marketing as a peripheral aspect of your work, you’ll pay for it by obtaining generally subpar results. Vice versa is also true — in some cases. Remember that a marketer’s job is to sell their services to you, not necessarily to help you succeed in marketing yourself and/or your products to the world.

When it comes to marketing, there are at least three general options:

1. Hire a pro. Pay as much as it takes to receive the best quality and highest return on investment.

2. Study and learn until you attain the skill (and most importantly, obtain the level of results) comparable to a professional marketing team. This will require about the same amount of time as learning any other skill to an undergraduate level or beyond.

3. Wait for Lady Luck (or Scooter Braun) to bless you when the right person or people happen to stumble upon your self-made marketing attempts. Unless you plan on being the next Justin Bieber-like Youtube superstar, this may not be an efficient or effective route to professional recognition.

In any of the three options, you are spending money (option 1) or time (option 2). Or, you might as well play the lottery and hope for the best like other improbable popstar phenomena who were “discovered” essentially at random (option 3).

According to Silicon Valley hype, Youtube and most social media sites seem like ideal places to spread the word about your work. After all, they’re free and easy to use. Before going all in for the free-and-easy route, one question might change your mind.

Ask yourself: what does Youtube really want?

Youtube (owned by Google), and any Internet service that pretends to be “free” or “cheap”, is almost certainly collecting your personal information and selling it. The Internet runs on real computers, and yes, this includes “The Cloud”. Someone has to pay the electricity bill for the free ride that you’re enjoying by using their machines. Likewise, Internet companies care more about their users in the aggregate rather than any individual user.

Lightning in the Cloud

As long as they can drive more eyeballs to Youtube overall, Google can gather more data, serve more advertising, and make more money. None of their profit motive has anything to do with helping you compose or promote an effective marketing campaign. This principle applies across all “free” social media giants including Facebook and Twitter. The number of “Likes” and upvotes and pageviews can be a completely misleading metric that means the social network is doing well, while signifying next to nothing about your ability to succeed while using that service.

Marketers will try to sell you on the idea that the social media numbers game translates to results in the real world. If that were true, artists wouldn’t be in up in arms about how services like Youtube and Spotify pay abysmally small fees for gargantuan amounts of playback.

Resist the social media numbers game. It’s a rigged gamble that plays on users’ narcissistic need for attention while in the meantime, the website takes the money (and by the way, they now own all of the personal data that you’ve so willingly “shared” with them).

No Bigger Picture: Society Is In Each of Us

This blog entry is part of the “big idea” of studying media’s effects on society. Society, of course, is comprised of individuals like you and me, most of whom are attached to the idea of being “special” in some way or another. Narcissism is the thumbscrew that compels people to overshare on social media sites, to buy items that they don’t need or even want, and to ignore the implications of companies like Facebook that try to make the idea of personal privacy into last season’s passe fashion accessory.

Over the past few years, an ongoing project has been underway to look at these issues. More specifically, the purpose has been to create an alternative to the small cartel of media companies that dominate nearly all of today’s social Web: Google, Facebook, and Apple, among a small number of others (Yahoo still fits, but only because they own Tumblr and a stake in Alibaba).

What if independent artists and creators could build an Internet marketing platform that was effective, ethical and profitable? What if that approach could run like a non-profit or a utility, rather than as a for-profit corporation? What if the creators could retain 100% (or at least, the lion’s share) of the profits from the exposure received while using this new service? And what if this could all be achieved without harming anyone’s human right to the privacy of their personal data?

The borderline human-rights abuses openly engaged in by companies like Apple and Amazon (with the requisite amount of impassioned CEO denials and public relations spin, of course) only make the case more urgent.

In the age of the Internet, the few who control the networks also control the messages that the rest of us are immersed in all day and night. Website and smartphone interfaces are precisely designed to show and hide information, creating an illusion of choice that carefully guides our eyes and fingertips. Using the power of the Internet and emerging technologies, though — from simple browser pop-up blockers to proxy servers and privacy-enhancing VPNs — it doesn’t have to be that way.

We don’t have to succumb to some dystopian near-future scenario, even though that’s the path down which we’re being (mis)led. The average person is expected to be a comfort-seeking, attention-starved sheep craving fifteen seconds of cheap fame at any cost to their long-term digital identity. This is one of the many moments when conforming to average or “normal” behavior is a very bad idea.

Society Is a Hologram As One Part Contains All

The Internet was originally conceived as a nuclear-proof way to connect people around the globe. As sending and receiving payments becomes easier by the day, it only makes sense that individuals can work for each other and get paid for it directly — without the lumbering, meddlesome moneychangers and middlemen who may have been a necessary evil in a previous era.

How can anyone learn to function in such a new world order? How can we cope in a mediated universe, constantly nudged and cajoled into new consumeristic behaviors by beautiful, intelligent machines and their facelessly Macchievillian corporate makers?

Merely coping may no longer be an option. Technology moves so quickly that its effects can pass from system to system like an epidemic of the seasonal flu. Our personal and professional wellbeing is increasingly at stake as we become inextricably enmeshed in the technology that enables us. There is no such thing as a “non-physical” person, but plenty of people ignore their health and eventually suffer the consequences. Immersive technologies extend the metaphors of autobiographical personhood and consciousness in ways that are invisible, and often lie outside our ability to completely control. If we decide to be “not computer savvy”, we are not only trying to live in a bygone past; we choose to abdicate the health of our digital selves to those who want to craft our stories in their image.

In this case, the outcome is holographic: the bigger picture and the smaller one are identical in detail. The only difference is the scale at which we are willing and capable of seeing it. And that scale becomes the warden of our perceptual prison, or the shimmering key to our cultural liberation. Each person shares the responsibility of learning how to design, program and continually refine our process and path to freedom. Freedom is fragile and we have no choice but to learn a little more each day in order to nurture and intelligently evolve it. The alternative is nothing short of enslavement in a world where our choices have been planned in advance and served to us by pretty, empty interfaces built and controlled by unseen hands.

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An incredible gratification awaits both authors and readers when everyone finally figures out a workable alternative to Amazon’s always-predatory pricing schemes. The window of opportunity is closing as Amazon finds new ways to choke pennies from every transaction while phrasing it as a “win-win” for everyone.

Just Listen to Jeff

Imagine that, according to Amazon, your three hundred-page novel is worth approximately three dollars and forty cents. Then you’re informed that the best way to gain more sales is to cut your price to $0.99.

How does that evaluation take place?

First, Amazon has to convince you that your work is worth less than four dollars.

Then Amazon tells you to reduce your price to less than one dollar, on the “reasoning” that your bargain-bin pricing will “make up for itself in sales”.

Is it true? Yes. But only because you first accepted a system that gives you no other way to distinguish your work aside from gouging the price.

Welcome to Amazonland, Where You Work For (Nearly) Free

That’s the problem with selling based on “percentage of margins” and telling yourself to be excited at “percentage of increase”. You’re accepting a system that gouges you from the start, then feel proud when it gouges you further and each buyer essentially rewards you for cutting out your own eye. Yes, it’s a “”win win” — until you realize that you just lost $2.41 per sale and gained zero repeat business unless you keep discounting your work in order to keep “winning”.

Price-cutting schemes only make sense if you can create repeat customers by contacting them in the future with offers that make up the prior loss. You’ll slowly bleed to death as a writer if you believe that readers will automatically search you out six months from now (or whenever your next work is published), solely because they liked your previous story. If you don’t have name-brand recognition (i.e. mass marketing and professional PR from a traditional publisher), you’re just another e-book writer-wannabe living a delusion fueled by Amazon’s easy-upload platform.

That’s fine, if you’re just writing as a hobby. Maybe your work really is worth less than a dollar and three bucks really is an inflated amount. But if your work is worth more than bargain-basement prices, accepting Amazon’s price-cutting scheme (designed to benefit them, not you) ultimately creates readers who become well-conditioned cheapskates waiting for the next sale (and posting about it to their friends on sites like Reddit), and writers trapped in the basement of endless downward bargaining.

Amazon can hold your head under the water for as long as they want, because you don’t really have a choice. That’s the real reason why a viable alternative is so important.

Bezos Monopoly Logic

Defenders of price-cutting often use the dysfunctional old “work hard, be smarter than everyone else, and you’ll magically come out ahead” argument, applied to Amazon.

Sorry, but, no.

First off, gouging your own prices for “special visibility” is a bad idea. You’re undercutting yourself for the sake of finding readers who already devalue your work. If they wouldn’t buy it at the regular price, the problem won’t be solved by slashing the price — to the contrary, the problem worsens because people learn to wait until they can snipe your book at a bargain rate.

Secondly, you’re using Bezos Monopoly Logic with jargon like “we have to keep the margin low”. Meanwhile, who sets the margin? Amazon.

Amazon drives the price point into the ground by automating everything to the extreme, abusing and demeaning the workers toiling in their distribution centers, and decimating the market by conditioning their customers to seek the lowest price just as ruthlessly as Amazon sets that price. They’ve even got customers to parrot Besosspeak about “keeping margins low” and aiming for “as little money as possible” in order to beat the “competition”. There is no competition doing anything like Amazon’s predatory pricing policies. Why? Because Amazon took the first-mover advantage in the 1990s and built out a massive infrastructure to destroy every market sector they entered. It’s been their purpose from day one, which is the real reason why their margins are so low. The problem isn’t “competition”. The problem is Amazon, competing against itself to create margins that absolutely no one can make money from unless they’re Amazon. That evolutionary process is also known as wholesale destruction, not creation of value for anyone but Amazon.

Biting The Bezos Bullet

In the Bezos model, the customer “wins” at the expense of the author (and everyone else selling on Amazon). When prices are low, authors’ work is devalued. This forces everyone to accept an artificially deflated market value for their work. Authors trade the traditional publishing system’s journeyman wages for the Amazon system’s crooked marketing scheme. Both of them screw the author. In the long run, Amazon may be the worse option, as the only way to gain visibility is through cutting your price and hoping for the best.

I’m glad that some think it’s nice for authors to make less money while customers save on every book, but the ease of “publishing” (i.e. basic formatting, then uploading to Amazon’s cloud) is part of the problem, not the solution. Actually, the problem is that Amazon doesn’t have an effective way of separating hobby-writers from people whose work is worth more. That’s the initial confusion that leads people to mistakenly believe that they have to gouge their prices in order to get anyone to notice their work. Price is perception, not “objective reality” — so if everyone is dumped in the bargain bin, better writers have no means of clawing their way out, while mediocre writers get to feel special for getting to “publish” at all. That makes it less likely for anyone to do well — or even to be found in the first place — unless they find an alternative to Amazon (which is what we need regardless in order to escape an otherwise-inevitable monopoly).

The second problem is Amazon itself, which uses the lie of a “democratic self-publishing system” to justify cutting all prices to the bone in order to drive more readers to their website. If you think Amazon exists to make you happy, you’re deluding yourself. Their profit model is based on creating a monopoly by decimating prices on everything.

In the short term, yes, that’s awesome for the customer. When customers are lured into Amazon’s web over the long term, you see physical locations closing, mom-and-pop stores of all kinds are destroyed, and the Amazon monopoly can do whatever they want because everyone has to play by their rules. And very soon it will be too late for anyone to get a foothold and change things because the startup costs of fighting Amazon, combined with customers’ blind expectation of basement-level pricing, will have become impossible to reverse in favor of a pricing model that fairly compensates producers and creators without over-compensating the digital middleman.

Workers of the World… Prepare For Mandatory Overtime (Pay Increase? Optional.)

I’ve found that non-creative people often have a hard time imagining that creative work actually has any value at all. So here’s a comparison that speaks directly to the nine-to-five mentality:

An analogy to this is the average worker taking on overtime hours in order to make extra holiday money. If everyone in the office does the same, eventually the boss sees the bump in productivity and is loathe to lose it. In a tight job market, the boss might not raise wages — instead, he or she decides on a new rule called “mandatory overtime” that all workers are forced to obey. The value of overtime becomes folded into the daily work expectation and you no longer have control over your time. The forty-day workweek becomes a de facto forty-five hour week.

Then a recession called Amazon hits and you suddenly have to work a hundred-hour week just to keep your job. And then, since you have no leverage as a worker, Boss Amazon decides that they will no longer pay you for overtime, since they have to “keep the margin low” in order to “beat the competition”. You can’t see the competition because the competition is actually the shareholders for Amazon, seeking an endless green arrow soaring off the top of the balance sheet. There are no other jobs in a monopoly economy, because the actual competition has already been destroyed. So your only option is to work harder for Boss Amazon and pray that your wages won’t be reduced to zero — at which point you’ll have no choice but to accept outright slavery.

Dodging The Win-Win Head-Fake: Creating Alternatives To Amazon

This is why price-cutting is possibly the worst way to get more sales, and why Amazon is possibly the worst offender in its crusade for a monopoly in all areas that it enters. Since we know that markets tend to crush competition on the way to monopoly (and customers will happily enjoy lower prices regardless of the predatory reasons for those prices), maybe antitrust legislation is the only way to stop Amazon from eating the world. In the meantime, I hope that authors can somehow show readers that the lowest price isn’t always the best deal, especially when the author loses, the customer “wins”, and Amazon ultimate owns everything and everyone in its path.