The Future of the Future

“The timeline of innovation for the defining technology of our new age is barely a line at all,” writes David Weinberger in Slate. “The Internet happens, and all hell breaks loose. The future no longer works the way we thought it did. The spikes become not just continual but frequently simultaneous and radically unpredictable.”

“We are stepping into a future that is new not just in what it contains but in our picture of how it works. The future seems less like the product of a clockwork’s relentless ticking than the result of uncountable tiny pieces, each simultaneously affecting every other in ways that cannot be fully understood afterward, much less predicted beforehand. Plus, some of those small pieces are on the Internet actively inventing new futures together.”

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Shopper’s Dilemma

Quartz: Everlane, an online clothing company, is letting customers choose which of three prices they want to pay. In each case, the cheapest price covers just the cost of producing the item and shipping it, and doesn’t factor in any of the overhead costs of Everlane’s 70-person staff. The middle price covers all costs, including staff, meaning Everlane breaks even. And the highest price covers all costs while giving Everlane a profit, which the company says allows it “to invest in growth.” So here’s the moral dilemma: If Everlane has what you want, which price will you choose to pay?

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Year of Pinterest

Quartz: Pinterest’s value is inherently tied to the fact it’s a natural fit for retailers. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, which respectively focus on sharing moments from the past and present, Pinterest is all about the future—specifically the things people want in the future. In its early days, it gained traction among women who used the digital scrapbook to “pin” photos and collect ideas for their weddings, dream vacations, and home-decorating projects.

Because of Pinterest’s aspirational nature, merchants are eager to work the social network to get in front of potential customers. A survey conducted by Shopify in May found that 96% of Pinterest users go to the site to research products before buying.

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Bookstore People

“There are people who really need bookstores, people who I have come to know well,” writes Annie Hartnett in Salon. “There’s the elderly woman who comes to every reading and sits in the front row. A professor visits in the afternoon to tell dirty jokes and he often brings challah to share. There is a therapist who works next door, and he buys and reads more novels than I would think is humanly possible or financially responsible.”

“Bookstores are for people who aren’t always listened to, or for people who don’t always have someone to talk to. Bookstores often attract people who are otherwise introverted, or people who don’t realize how much they need a social connection. It’s a comforting environment to socialize, an easy place to strike up a conversation.”

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BookBub

Publishers are cutting e-book prices to entice people away from other “digital temptations,” reports Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in The Wall Street Journal (12/29/15). Usually, an e-book costs “about $12.99 to $14.99,” but some titles can be had for as little as 99 cents — and sometimes for free — via sites like BookBub.com. “What publishers are saying is that they’d rather you read our book than play Angry Birds,” says BookBub CEO Josh Schanker. BookBub plays its part by promoting the discounted e-books to some 7 million of its daily email subscribers.

BookBub doesn’t directly sell the e-books; it simply offers links to Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble, which pay it a referral fee of five or ten percent of the retail price. It also earns “a fee from publishers and self-published writers, who pay to have their works included in the daily emails.” This, of course, results in increased sales of the books. It can also bring broader exposure and potential “buzz” to books that might otherwise languish in obscurity. BookBub anticipates “about $30 million in retail sales” this year.

The question is “whether consumers who are dedicated to reading bargain books will ever spend as enthusiastically to buy full-priced titles.” “It’s a trade-off,” says Brendan Rudnicki of RobinReads.com, a BookBub competitor, along with BookGorilla, and TheFussyLibrarian. “Everybody wants visibility and they are willing to discount to get it,” Brandon says. Steven Zacharias, CEO of Kensington Books admits the allure is powerful. “We know we might be shooting ourselves in the foot,” he says. “But I can’t resist because it’s such a good way to stimulate sales.”

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