Shakespeare & Co: Amazon Isn’t Its Problem

Wall Street Journal: “Soon after Dane Neller bought Manhattan bookseller Shakespeare & Co. last May, he shut the doors and built the bookstore where he wanted to shop … After Mr. Neller got done tinkering … the store, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, had a distinctly different look. Space inside the store dedicated to books has been cut by nearly 40% to 1,200 square feet.”

“Mr. Neller … is also chief executive of a company that makes a desk-sized device called the Espresso Book Machine, which prints new paperbacks in five minutes or less. An $85,000 unit is featured prominently at Shakespeare & Co. ‘It’s the secret sauce,’ says Mr. Neller. ‘The machine enables a bookstore to have a much smaller footprint’.”

He “says book sales from September through the end of March are up 10% compared with the same period when the store was under different ownership” and “attributes the gains to better-chosen titles, increased store traffic attracted by the store’s new cafe and the Espresso machine … ‘Amazon isn’t my problem,’ he says. ‘My customer is here because they care about more than price. They want to be greeted, they want a sense of community, and they have a craving for culture’.”

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Cutting The Cord: Not Just for the Poor Anymore

The Washington Post: “Low-income Americans are still one of the biggest demographics to rely solely on their phones to go online.” However, “even people with higher incomes are ditching their wired Internet access at similar or even faster rates compared with people who don’t earn as much.”

“In 2013, 8 percent of households making $50,000 to $75,000 a year were mobile-only. Fast-forward a couple of years, and that figure now stands at 18 percent. Seventeen percent of households making $75,000 to $100,000 are mobile-only now, compared with 8 percent two years ago. And 15 percent of households earning more than $100,000 are mobile-only, vs. 6 percent in 2013. Stepping back a bit, as many as 1 in 5 U.S. households are now mobile-only, compared with 1 in 10 in 2013. That’s a doubling in just two years.”

“This suggests that having only one form of Internet access instead of two may no longer be explained simply as the result of financial hardship — as might be the case for lower-income Americans — but could be the product of a conscious choice, at least for wealthier people, who are deciding that having both is unnecessary.”

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App-arel: The Internet of Evrythng Wearable

Quartz: “Avery Dennison will attach special labels, sometimes including sensors, to clothes when they’re manufactured. The firm counts Nike, Under Armor, Hugo Boss, and others among its clients. These labels function as unique identifiers for each piece of clothing, and the data is stored in a platform developed by Evrythng … a London internet of things startup.”

“Unique identities pave the way for brands to write apps that can account for a specific item of clothing, so a pair of sneakers might advise you how best to recycle it when it’s worn out; or you might be able to verify that those yoga pants are indeed made of organic cotton. You might also track down whether your shoe size is available in a particular store. ‘The internet of things is still at the margins in the way it hits consumers’ lives; now you have billions of everyday objects with identities in the cloud,’ says Andy Hobsbawm, a co-founder of Evrythng.”

“Evrythng says its platform is different because of its granularity–giving an identity to each product, and not classes of products, as is common with QR codes–and because it formats the data so it can be manipulated with popular programming languages … Evrythng stresses data privacy and security. It says brands will control what data gets accessed by whom, and that it has safeguards in place to ensure data is adequately protected.”

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Conversational Commerce: Meet The Chatbots

The Washington Post: “While a Web browser might once have been our front door to the Internet and apps often play that role today, experts say that bots could soon become our primary digital gateway … The case for a bot-centric future goes like this: Smartphone users have proved they are only willing to download and spend time in a limited number of apps. So companies might be better off trying to connect with consumers in the apps where they are already spending plenty of time. And proponents say that a bot can potentially provide greater convenience than apps and Web searches because it can understand natural speech patterns.”

“Because bots are designed for one-to-one conversation, they may ultimately find their most logical home in messaging apps, which are seeing explosive growth in users and are the digital-communication channel of choice for Generation Z … It is against that backdrop that big retailers and Silicon Valley are racing to develop ways to use bots within messaging apps to deliver customer service or to enable browsing and buying … In retail industry jargon, this is coming to be known as “conversational commerce,” and brands are betting on it because of some distinct advantages it could provide in connecting with shoppers.”

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Steve Case: The Internet’s Third Wave Is Here

The “third wave” of the Internet is upon us, writes AOL co-founder Steve Case in The Wall Street Journal. “The First Wave was about building the Internet,” he writes. “This phase peaked around 2000, setting the stage for the Second Wave, which has been about building apps and services on top of the Internet.”

“Now the Third Wave has begun. Over the next decade and beyond, the Internet will rapidly become ubiquitous, integrated into our everyday lives, often in invisible ways. This will challenge industries such as health care, education, financial services, energy and transportation.”

“Take education … entrepreneurs are revolutionizing how instructors teach and students learn … Or look at health care … the real action to improve America’s medical system is coming from entrepreneurs. They are inventing better ways to keep us healthy, and smarter ways to treat us when we get sick.”

“The world is changing for all of us, and a new playbook is required.”

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Introducing the Meat-O-Mat!

The Wall Street Journal: “Attached to a laboratory-like plant in this upstate community is a neon-lit vending machine dubbed the Meat-O-Mat, where customers can buy locally raised meat whenever they like. If Joshua Applestone has his way, carnivores will flock to it the way that banking customers visit the ATM. His invention is stocked with pork chops, dry-aged burger patties, bratwurst meatballs and his beloved pork roll, a deli meat native to New Jersey. Customers swipe their credit cards, push a button, slide the door open and retrieve their hormone- and antibiotic-free selection.”

“Mr. Applestone and his partners at Applestone Meat Co., the attached plant, are attempting to develop a new, meat-centric business model. For the past two years, they have been exploring ways of making high-quality cuts available at lower prices by slashing labor costs and considering offbeat distribution methods like the Meat-O-Mat. ‘We’re going for a highway-roadside-attraction type of approach,’ said Samantha Gloffke, the company’s general manager and a part owner. ‘The goal is to make sustainability really exciting.'”

Mr. Applestone envisions them stationed at supermarkets, football stadiums and picnic sites, places where you might welcome the convenience of buying something to toss on the grill. ‘Think about it at any music festival,’ he said. ‘Anywhere someone brings a cooler, you no longer have to bring fresh meat. How much is peace of mind worth?'”

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MIT & Target Take Aim at Truth in Produce

The Washington Post: Imagine a scanner the size of a grain of rice, built into your phone. You go to the grocery store and point it at something you want to buy. If it’s an apple, the scanner will tell you what variety it is, how much vitamin C it has and how long it has been in cold storage. If it’s a fish, you’ll learn whether it’s really orange roughy or just tilapia being passed off as something more expensive. If it’s a muffin, the device will tell you whether there’s gluten in it.”

“Although you won’t be able to do it tomorrow, this isn’t some kind of distant Jetsonian vision of the future … TellSpec and SCiO, are working on handheld scanners designed for consumer use … Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers, is collaborating with MIT and business design firm Ideo in a venture called Food + Future coLab, based in Cambridge, Mass., which has the broad mission of helping consumers better understand their food.”

Target “is putting industrial-strength scanners in its distribution centers … According to Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer, ‘We’ll deliver better freshness, quality and shelf life,’ because produce that’s old or inferior — or not what the label promises — will never make it to the floor.”

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A.I. Design: ‘The Next Big Thing’

“The tech industry’s new architecture is based not just on the giant public computing clouds of Google, Microsoft and Amazon, but also on their A.I. capabilities,” The New York Times reports.

“There is going to be a boom for design companies, because there’s going to be so much information people have to work through quickly. Just teaching companies how to use A.I. will be a big business,” says Diane B. Greene, the head of Google Compute Engine.

She adds: “We may build an A.I. system to figure out all the ways businesses can use this. The relationship between big companies and deep machine intelligence is just starting.”

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Netflix Throttles Customers For Their Own Good

The Wall Street Journal: “Netflix, a leading proponent of open-Internet rules, has been lowering the quality of its video for customers watching its service on AT&T or Verizon Communications wireless networks” Netflix says the throttling is in the best interests of its customers because it protects them “from exceeding mobile data caps … Watching two hours of HD video on Netflix would consume up to 6 gigabytes of data, Netflix says. That is an entire month’s allowance under an $80 a month Verizon plan.”

“Netflix said it doesn’t limit its video quality at two carriers: T-Mobile and Sprint Corp., because ‘historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies.’ When customers exceed their data plans on Sprint or T-Mobile, the carriers usually slow their network connections, rather than charge overage fees.” Jim Cicconi of AT&T says the carrier is ‘outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent.’ Jan Ozer, a consultant … said Netflix’s strategy is a smart one,” but suggests they should be more “upfront” about it.

“The issue came to light after T-Mobile US Inc.’s chief executive last week said Verizon and AT&T customers were receiving lower-quality Netflix streams. The carriers denied throttling Netflix videos. The fact that Netflix, not the carriers, is responsible for the lower quality illustrates the dilemma mobile-app makers face with data caps.”

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The Uber Model Isn’t Uber Great for Others

“Investors saw Uber’s success as a template for Ubers for everything … But Uber’s success was in many ways unique,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “For one thing, it was attacking a vulnerable market. In many cities, the taxi business was a customer-unfriendly protectionist racket that artificially inflated prices and cared little about customer service.”

“The opportunity for Uber to become a regular part of people’s lives was huge. Many people take cars every day, so hook them once and you have repeat customers. Finally, cars are the second-most-expensive things people buy, and the most frequent thing we do with them is park. That monumental inefficiency left Uber ample room to extract a profit even after undercutting what we now pay for cars.”

“But how many other markets are there like that? Not many. Some services were used frequently by consumers, but weren’t that valuable — things related to food, for instance, offered low margins … Another problem was that funding distorted on-demand businesses. So many start-ups raised so much cash in 2014 and 2015 that they were freed from the pressure of having to make money on each of their orders … The lesson so far in the on-demand world is that Uber is the exception, not the norm. Uber, but for Uber — and not much else.”

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