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12.13.2012

The Scandal of the Charity Business: Donors Beware!

Charity show
Charity show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The charity business is the unsavory side of humanitarian assistance. A recent Arte TV investigation (aired on 11 December 2012, click here) revealed the extent of the scandal in Germany, France and the United States. The film lasts 100 minutes and is in French and German only, but here are the highlights, you don't want to miss them:

- fund-raising activities tend to gobble up most of the donations, in some cases up to 100% and not a penny arrives at destination!  In Germany, only some 230 charity funds out of a total of 580,000 have been classified as bona fidae institutions by the German Central Institute of Social Questions. They base their judgment on whether those charity funds make their budget public or not (most of them don't) and whether less than 30% of their budget is spent on fund-raising. 

In France, there is no similar oversight institution, control is in the hands of  the Cour des Comptes (Controller Court) that doesn't see it as its mandate, and more generally French Justice. As of now, 17 French charity institutions are under investigation. And this has been going on for 3 years now, with still no verdict in sight. Meanwhile these organizations continue to raise money and, interestingly, they refused to talk about their business. In the film, we see how, along with the cameramen of Arte TV, a French journalist (Etienne Gingembre of the Revue Economique, Le Capital), repeatedly  tries to reach them and is every time rudely turned away. 

In America, the situation is better: charity funds must make their budget public and there is an organization, the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (see article below) that provides guidance to donors and helps them avoid scams. 

This said, the fact remains that there is no government oversight or law about what percentage should go to beneficiaries. That 30% limit which sounds so reasonable is simply not respected. Hundreds of thousands of charitable organizations manage to fall through the cracks and avoid investigation while donors keep giving and lining up the fund-raisers' pockets!

- the number of charitable foundations has exploded and they compete with each other to raise funds, mostly via mailing: as a result, they invest increasing resources in communications, PR and mailing out requests for donations. Arte TV dug out the extraordinary story of the St Joseph charity (run by a Catholic priest) in Dakota, US aimed at taking care and educating some 200 local American Indians. Bottom line, because of the costs of fund-raising, they run a huge budget, some $40 million/year! In other words, to give an education to 200 children, $200,000 are spent every year on each child!

- the massive mailing campaigns yield an amazingly low rate of return: somewhere between 0,5% and a maximum of 2% of the requests are answered, and average donations are puny (between $15 and $20). This means that requests and pamphlets that are both costly to print and to mail have to be sent in the millions to give any results, and the campaigns have to be repeated several years (up to 3 or 4 years) to give results in terms of donations!

- a whole mailing industry has arisen in the charity business, in parallel to the charity funds, effectively pocketing the donations or at least leaving very little for charity. They make some charitable organizations look like mail boxes!

- the strategies to request donations verge on the immoral as a result of the acute competition between charity organizations. While Christmas cards included in the mailed request are considered "normal", even acceptable, the inclusion of physical gifts like a writing set, a small wooden carved bison (a St Joseph's gift), a false "silk" scarf etc are close to unacceptable as they induce in the donor guilt feelings for having received such a gift, thus inspiring him to give more than he intended. 

When one brave German journalist tried to draw attention to the fund-raising hubris with both a website (Stefan Loipfinger who ran CharityWatch.org on the web) and a book ( Die Spendenmafia: Schmutzige Geschäfte mit unserem Mitleid, published in 2011), he found himself under violent attack, accused of calumniation and brought to court. In the Arte TV film he reports that his family's safety has been directly threatened and by February 2012 he had to close down his website!

- the humanitarian aid community lives in a state of denial: instead of cleaning up the charity industry and setting rules of behavior and calling for oversight systems, the problems are swept under the rug. As a result, the bad sheep threaten to overrun the good ones and could bring down the whole system. 

Moreover, recession and austerity are bound to hurt the fundraising business. In America, there is talk among both the Democrats and Republicans to tighten up on current tax exemptions on donations, thus putting an end to fundraising hubris. In Europe, government support (where it exists, e.g. in the UK) could come to an end. Furthermore, there's evidence that the ultra-rich gives less today than in 2007, before the start of the recession.

Better Business Bureau logo.
Better Business Bureau logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Under the circumstances, it would seem urgent for the humanitarian community to wake up and address those issues! 

Meanwhile, if you're thinking of giving this Christmas, beware! Take a little time to double check on exactly what your favorite charity is up to!


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12.10.2012

The Challenge of Designing a Unique Book Cover

A lot can be learned about effective cover design - the kind that will grab attention from even the most distracted reader - by looking at how the well-known British poet Oscar Sparrow went about selecting a cover for his upcoming poetry anthology (6 poets, American and English, including...me, the only continental European! Bet you didn't know I write poetry!)

Consider the challenge: it's a double one. First the cover must reflect the depth and breadth of an anthology, always something difficult to express through a single image. Second, everybody knows that poetry is not a fast-selling genre and to zero in on an arresting poetic image is especially difficult. When was the last time you read a poem? Okay, I won't make you blush, we all have our small, private failings...

Let's return to the cover, here it is:



What do you think of it? I love it! I didn't design it - Oscar Sparrow did it with publisher Gallo Romano Media's expert support - so I feel quite entitled to give my opinion. Let me be clear: I had no say in its design, except for final approval which of course I was happy to give. 

Now, why does this cover work? First, it goes beautifully with the title without however substituting it. Remember the first rule about effective design: either show the word with a picture or write it, don't do both! "Freeze Frame" as a title could have been rendered in a number of ways - including the film clip that was finally chosen. For example, a suggestive image reflecting the "Freeze Frame" poetry could probably have been selected. But how to accommodate the diverse style of each poet?  A tall order! 

The chosen solution is both economic and elegant. Just by glancing at the authors faces through the color filters, you visually and instantly get the message: this is going to be a book of poetry like no other, the authors are so different from one another! Three men, three women, six colors, six sensibilities, six totally different personalities...

Do share in the comments below your reaction to this cover. Does it work for you? Are you curious now about this book?

You are probably wondering about the title. It reflects what Oscar Sparrow sees as a trend in contemporary poetry...but that's for another blog post and I will leave him to explain it!

In the meantime, look for this anthology, it will be coming out soon in three versions: printed on paper (yes, the old-fashioned way), digital and audio. 

Yes, audio! Each one of us recorded our poems, saying them the way we felt they should be said - poetry is music, it should be read aloud. Audio adds a dimension that otherwise would be lost. I can't wait to hear the other poets, I've always wondered how Byron read his poems, and Verlaine for that matter, or closer to us, Tolkien (yes, fiction writers do write poetry too, I'm far from being alone in this...) The audio aspect is truly innovative - and of course, only made possible by the on-going digital revolution.

The digital version should come out first and that will be on 21 December, just before Christmas - I will let you know when it does and where you can buy it...for a poetic Christmas by the fireplace, listening to the poets reading to you... 

Related Articles

Oscar Sparrow ran interviews of each participating author, here they are, just click on the name:

Paul Tobin

Jo VonBargen

Jefferson Hansen

Candy Bright

Claude Nougat

Wondering about Oscar Sparrow, the anthology's Editor? Coming soon, this Wednesday, in an interview by Jo VonBargen, I will let you know!
  


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12.07.2012

A Hidden Factor in the Euro Crisis Revealed: the World Shipping Crisis

Zone euro 2008 ; bleu foncé : de jure ; bleu p...
Euro Zone 2008 ; dark blue : de jure ; pale blue : de facto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It may not look like the Euro Crisis and the World Shipping Crisis have much in common, yet they do and here is how. The key element that links them is the lending behavior of the German banks! 

From the beginning of the Euro crisis - it started in early 2010 when Greece officially asked Brussels for a bailout -, I've been wondering what caused Germany to drag its feet. If only Ms. Merkel had moved fast enough to meet Greek demands, Greece would have been saved within the year and the Euro Crisis would never have happened.

Why did Ms. Merkel not move? Very odd, if you consider how often she claims she's a European at heart and that "more Europe" is needed to solve the crisis. 

Not so odd if you consider the lending history of German banks and how they've granted easy credit left and right, at home to political pals, to the Greeks to finance the Olympic Games and more, to Southern Europe in general, to Ireland...and, yes, to the shipping industry!
The government surplus/deficit of Portugal, It...
Starting in 2008 everybody in deficit! Graph shows government surplus/deficit of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, United Kingdom, Spain (PIIGGS) against the Eurozone 2000-2010 and the United States. Data from Eurostat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead of pooling the debt which would have been the quick, rational and elegant way out of the Euro crisis, Merkel pushed through entirely different policies, i.e. bailouts coupled with austerity measures and fiscal pact agreements with Eurozone members, all of them politically and institutionally complex, hence time-consuming.  Yet, when it comes to finalizing what she has set out to do and put the needed Eurozone institutions on a solid basis, suddenly it's no go.

The last tassel is Euro bank supervision, but Germany will have none of it. Or will have it with all sorts of limitations, all aimed at protecting German banks from oversight. Why is Germany so eager to shield its banks?

At first, it looked like the German Central Bank, the Bundesbank, was eager to protect the state-owned Landesbanks that have suffered losses with the 2008 crisis and are reeling from accusations of corruption. Indeed, there is strong evidence of an unhealthy relationship between local politicians and the regional-level banks. Landesbank rescues have placed a heavy burden on German state governments (more deficits!) and this has had repercussions on the whole German banking system. A consolidation of German landesbanks that was expected to happen is now unlikely, suggesting that the situation is stalled and that the move towards a healthier system that would stimulate productive competition between the public and private sector, is still far off in the future.

But in Germany, private sector banking is also suffering! Not only did the German banks expose themselves to the Greek and other Southern European debt, they also recklessly engaged in easy loans to the shipping industry. Loans resulted in a huge overflow of needless investment in the ship container market, currently causing some 300 big container ships to sit idle in ports around the world, waiting for customers!

The story of this shipping crisis only recently came out in the New York Times (see article below or the report here).  According to Moody's, Germany’s 10 largest banks have 98 billion euros, or $128 billion, in outstanding credit or other risks related to the global shipping industry. That's about as much as the German banks' exposure to Greece when the debt crisis broke out (they are now down to €5.5 billion) !

All through the Euro crisis, the German Banks have been Germany's Achilles' heel. Though Germany is the locomotive of Europe, its banking system is in trouble. Small wonder Germany resists any proposal to set up bank supervision across the Eurozone! Or, for that matter, any proposal to pool or mutualize the Euro debt...If only Germans would listen to their own Peter Bofinger! I am completely convinced that Germany would be the greatest loser in a Euro breakup and that instead of bailouts we should have gone for Bofinger's proposed "redemption fund" -  but that story is for another blog post.

Now that the Eurozone recession is projected to last well into 2013, setting up a credible system for supervising the 6,000 banks in the Eurozone has become a major building block in the institutional structures needed to solve the Euro crisis. Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank chief, is doing his best to allay German fears that the ECB might control them in some way, suggesting that the supervision of Landesbanks could be done at regional (and not European) level.

International Monetary Fund's Managing Directo...
Mario Draghi at G-7 meeting at the Istanbul Congress Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That looks like Draghi is addressing concerns over the last crisis - the landesbanks - and eschewing the present one - the world shipping crisis. No doubt, German politicians prefer to talk about the former rather than the latter, especially now that Ms. Merkel has launched her political campaign for re-election. The last thing she needs is to come out looking like the paladin of the 10 biggest German banks - but by helping to slowdown the establishment of a Euro bank supervisor, she is satisfying everyone's interests, including those of the German One Percent!

The One Percent however has wonderful ways to zig zag around traps and change the outcome of the game. While the big German banks are hurting from the shipping crisis, and ship funds have obviously lost their appeal, there is one (small) part of the world's One Percent that is having a ball game: because of the crisis, ships that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build are now selling at the cost of scrap metal.

Guess who's busy buying up ships at bargain prices? Healthier shipping companies, of course, and among them (according to NYT) Costamare, a Greek company! I love that. Greek shipping magnates are real savvy types: their home country, in spite of the government debt fracas, is a tax haven for them, and continues to be in spite of all the talk about recovering taxes, which of course, leaves them with the funds to still act as major agents in the world shipping industry!

No question about it, the Greeks are clever! Small wonder the Germans are so angry and after them. I tell you, in spite of what politicians say to their electorate, austerity and fiscal pacts have little to do with preserving Northern European taxpayers from wasting their funds to bail out Southern European countries and Greece in particular. The real game is played elsewhere, behind the scene and at the One Percent level...

Please share your views. I know not everyone likes to argue in terms of the One Percent, but what do you think about this juicy bit of news, Greek shipowners buying up ships at rock bottom prices? 
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12.04.2012

A Walk in the Paris I Love

Last week I was in Paris and I'd like to share with you the Paris I love, a little bit hidden, not your usual monuments and touristic high points. Come with me to Shakespeare and Co., surely the most extraordinary bookstore in all of Paris and probably Europe.

Here it is, lying low and snug between two tall 19th century buildings along the river Seine (in the 5th arrondissement). Yet the bookstore is no doubt much older than its neighbors, just look at the beams climbing up between the two façades: 


Moving closer, the bookstore is in the back, on the left and a neat little restaurant  is up front: 


Here it is at last, the splendid, cluttered façade of the Shakespeare bookstore:


Over the front door there's a reminder of George Whitman, a friend of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but above all, the mythical founder of the bookstore (he founded it in 1951 and died in 2011):


Yes, "...the business of books is the business of life." I love that! And there's no bookstore anywhere that feels more like a temple dedicated to readers than this one. 
Inside, the charm of old rickety stairs and bare stone walls:


The reading room with a view on the Seine: here you're allowed to read whatever you like but you must put the book back on the shelf when you leave:


There's a place to play chess:


Another for music:


And so much fantasy:


Yes, this is a bookstore I love! 
Even their paper bags to carry your purchase are cute:


And of course, their trademark poster, a painted board on the façade:



This is a library with a personality, a brand, a mission in life: spread the love for books! And that's becoming an ever harder thing to do!

Because times for book stores are not really any happier in France than in the United States or anywhere else in the developed world: a famous Parisian bookstore, the "librairie del Duca" on the Boulevard des Italiens just closed its doors on 30 November. It had been created in 1952 by Cino del Duca, a mythical editor and publisher as well as film maker. His widow had set up a foundation to help artists (she died in 2004) but in spite of annual sales over €2 millions/year, the library didn't make it. Now it's finished, according to the Figaro (23 November) the plot it stands on will be taken over by the next door supermarket, a Monoprix that probably won't even sell books...

After we finished our tour in Shakespeare & Co. (I say we, my husband and I), spending the whole morning there, we went to the neat little restaurant next door that we had spotted walking in, Le Petit Chatelet. Cozy inside, with a working fireplace where they cook your meat:


Yes that's me in the mirror (looking very serious, sorry, I hadn't realized my camera had taken me in!). And the menu of course is classically hand-written on a blackboard:


We opted for a fish soup and it was lovely! Afterwards a nice walk along the Seine, stopping at a book stall:


You can see Notre Dame peeking behind him! And the Seine carries sometimes surprising boats (not just the fast ones for visitors), like this huge coal carrying barge:


The coal looks like warm black velvet...and what a beautiful river. 

Ah, Paris!

If you're in Paris, here are the addesses:

Bookstore Shakespeare & Co37 Rue de la Bûcherie  75005 Paris, tel: 01 43 25 40 93       
They have a neat website where they announce in a serendipitous manner all their upcoming events: http://www.shakespeareandcompany.com/
  
Restaurant Le Petit Chatelet:     39 Rue de la Bûcherie  75005 Paris, France  tel: 01 46 33 53 40. It's ranked #83 out of some 8500 restaurants in Paris by TripAdviser. The day we were there, there were only French clients, a good sign!

Please share in the comments your own experience of Shakespeare & Co or the restaurant Le Petit Chatelet if you went there, or tell us about your own favorite place in Paris! 
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11.29.2012

Google Drive Has Arrived, Big Brother Getting Bigger!

English: Diagram showing overview of cloud com...
Diagram showing overview of cloud computing including Google, Salesforce, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo, Zoho, Longjump and WorkXpress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Google Drive suddenly popped up on my Google mail as I was busy writing. Always curious, I downloaded it and couldn't believe what I saw: suddenly, in about a minute or less, everything that I had ever stored on my computer was up there, inside of that neat-looking icon file called Google Drive. It sat on my computer's desktop and was reachable from my Gmail, making available everything I ever wrote, every picture I ever took, every video I ever made for any other of my devices as I travel around, my mobile phone included!

Google Docs has become Google Drive. Now I can attach directly to any mail any doc I have on my computer.

And if I wanted to, I could send up to 10 GB attachments to my Google Drive - that's 400 times larger than what Gmail previously allowed. No need for extra storage space in the Cloud, Google has thought of everything for me.

Wow!

I'll be honest with you. I never had that much to attach anyway, I'm not a corporation! But I do note two things of interest:

1. Google neatly did away with the need for any storage service for most people - unless you don't trust Google. I have friends who argue that if Google collapses, all their stuff will disappear, including blogs such as this one. Maybe. Quite frankly, if Google collapses, it's very, very likely that the whole of Internet will have collapsed, but that's just my humble opinion. No doubt storage services in the Cloud will continue to thrive on the basis of people's dislike for or lack of confidence in Google.

2. Google is Big Brother Watching Over You: please note I wrote "over you". This is not the famous Big Brother , the mysterious dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state in Orwell's 1984 who is watching you. No, here Google is watching over you. Google is out to help you. 
Image representing Bill Gates as depicted in C...
Bill Gates of course! Image via CrunchBase

Fine and good.

I just hope Google stays the same, with that altruistic corporate culture, a little bizarre given the American love story with jungle capitalism.

One can't help recall that America is the historical birthplace of robber barons, and Americans ever since their country was created, harbor an   unshakeable admiration for self-made men. The American Dream. Yet, all too often, they are nothing but heartless business tycoons out to grab your last dollar. 

Still, one has to admit that America is also the country that has given birth to a remarkably large number of philantropic billionnaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and the latter is constantly calling for more taxes on the rich, a remarkable selfless stand. We're still waiting for Europeans, Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Brazilian billionnaires to join the charity club. Hey, any Greek shipowner out there willing to save his country and forego the tax holiday granted by his governmnt? 

Alas...

When all is said and done, America remains an amazing country, with both the best and the worst. Others need to catch up!

Your opinion? Did you get Google Drive and are you using it?
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11.19.2012

The Future of Publishing: Should Publishers Be Afraid of Amazon??


Amazon.com Welcome New Hires!
Amazon.com Welcome New Hires! (Photo credit: Will Merydith)
Has Amazon really grown into a dangerous book-selling colossus and is that why traditional publishers should merge to defend themselves? Some people argue that the Penguin and Random House merger is coming too late. Apple's "agency model", following price fixing investigations, has gone out the window, or at least it has "softened". As a result, they argue, it's game over, Amazon has won.

Too late? Game over? Yes, surely mergers could have started happening sooner but Time in legacy publishing is famously slow (it takes publishers on average 2 years to come out with a new book...) But I would argue that it's a physiologically sound move, one long awaited perhaps, but the right move all the same.

As soon as the Digital Revolution got going, there was talk that the Big Six would start merging and that you'd soon get the Big Five, then the Big Four etc ending perhaps with only the Big Three or Big Two. All facing Amazon, like small Davids facing Goliath, because Amazon is about three times bigger than Random House and Penguin combined (and they're slated to be the biggest publishing house in the industry).

This said, we should start by noting a very simple thing about Amazon: it's NOT just a publishing house. They've got a limited number of imprints (essentially 5) and some of them sound rather small with a relatively modest number of titles, at least so far... Amazon is deliberately vague about its Kindle sales figures, though it's likely that digital sales outpace printed. So the total sales figures for Amazon (over $48 billion in 2011), while impressive, don't concern just the book trade but everything else it sells, from electronic gadgets to clothes. For example,  Amazon reports that in the last quarter of 2011 the number of Appstore for Android customers has nearly tripled from the previous quarter (with them downloading more apps in Q4 than all of the previous quarters combined), and that the number of Instant Video customers has more than doubled year-over-year (with the number of streams increasing 300 percent from the previous quarter).

Now what is the proportion of books in its overall sales, nobody knows. But what that does is downsize the difference between Random House/Penguin's combined sales projected at some $4 billion. Amazon is not likely to be 10 or 12 times larger since, as a publisher, it's much smaller than the total sales figure suggests...

Because Amazon, more than a publisher, is actually an e-trader: it's a platform to sell books, both digital and printed. But even here Amazon's future is not necessarily all that rosy. There's even talk that Amazon is running into a brick wall, quite literally, for example with that release on 20 November of best-selling author Tim Ferris's book  The 4 Hour Chef (see article below). Everyone's talking about it: how Amazon gave Ferris a 6-digit advance and now the author can't even place his new book anywhere in brick and mortar stores not to mention Barnes and Noble that flatly refused to carry the book, or so goes the gossip...
Image representing Timothy Ferriss as depicted...
Tim Ferris Image by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid via CrunchBase


But there's more to it. On the e-reader front, competition has increased, Kobo , a Canadian upstart recently acquired by a Japanese e-tailer, is now spreading everywhere in the world and Barnes and Noble's Nook, for long restricted to the American market, has grown by leaps and bounds. Following a recent $605 million cash injection by Microsoft, it is set to expand in the UK this autumn. At this point, it would seem that Amazon controls some 60% of the digital market, admittedly a huge portion, but a lot less than the 90% with which it had started some four years ago.
English: Logo for the Barnes & Noble Nook
English: Logo for the Barnes & Noble Nook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then there's another worrisome bit of news for e-reader producers: a recent survey showed that a third of e-readers were used only once by their new owners! And fully 25% of the people who were interviewed to explain their rejection of e-readers flatly stated that they preferred printed books. The Digital Revolution may be hitting a brick wall! In any case, it's not as pervasive as most of us think and it certainly calls into question Amazon's business model (which consists in selling e-reading devices at or below cost to gain market shares and then make up for the loss or lack of profit through content, i.e. book sales).

Also, of late, Amazon has run into problems with customers regarding book reviews. It has understandably tried to "clean up" the system that had become corrupted by cozy reviews from family and friends. But its algorithm to flush out the corrupted reviews ended angering a lot of people, especially writers (who tend to write reviews more easily and more of them than average readers). Many writers have found to their surprise that Amazon was taking down perfectly bona fidae reviews and hurting honest people, most famously Joe Konrath who posted about this on his blog. 

So Amazon's not doing quite so well these days...

Indeed, by opening its doors to self-published authors without putting up any gate keeping or quality control systems, it has been flooded with poorly edited books, full of typos, ill-structured and badly written - not to mention semi-pirated books using content widely available on Internet that are brazenly passed for something new. As a result, in some quarters, Amazon is viewed as a slush pile publisher - not a reputation to be envied. I have no doubts that at some point Amazon will rectify the situation. In the meantime, to be published on Amazon is just not the same as being published by a traditional house. 

To be sure, the stigma attached to self-publishing has been largely removed. It's certainly one of the major achievements of the Digital Revolution, marked by the amazing successes of authors like Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Joe Konrath and Bella Andre, but the fact remains that indies do not enjoy the same reputation as traditionally published authors. 

There are really two possible game changers that could dramatically change the future of publishing: discoverability and distribution. Let's look at them in turn:

(1) Discoverability:  It is a problem for publishers (it was recently discussed in a very interesting conference in New York) but for an indie, it is a nearly unsurmountable challenge. A self-published author simply does not have access to the publishing industry's major literary critics, papers and magazines, nor for that matter, to the industry's major competitions and prizes, like, for example, the National Book Awards, the Pulitzer or the Man Booker Prize. Amazon is well aware of this, so it's no surprise that it has set up regular imprints modeled on traditional publishing and hired experienced professionals to run them.

Screw Amazon.com
Screw Amazon.com (Photo credit: ucicsboy)
(2) Distribution: Here traditional publishers are laboring under a constraint that does not affect Amazon: they have traditionally set up a system with bookstores and other distributions points that allows the stores to return all unsold books, without however controlling how much stores order on the new title list. As a result they tend to order too much and the returns eat up the profits of the publishers (and royalties of authors). 

This is not a viable model. Why is Amazon not affected? Simple, they have their Create Space division that prints books on demand (so-called POD technology) - no storage problem, no distribution problem.

The big question (and the surprise) is that publishers have not taken on Amazon on its own ground: why not move to POD publishing? 

Why not set up POD machines in book stores, machines that would be dedicated to publishing their titles, with copies of the printed books nicely displayed around the machine and online terminals to "leaf through" their books in a virtual manner, the way one does on the Kindle store. And while your book is printed, you could sip a tea or coffee or munch on a pastry, since it takes a little time to be printed - too much perhaps, the POD machines are still clunky but surely they could be improved: never underestimate the advances of technology... In short, successful bookstores would be the ones with POD machines and the capacity to turn themselves into attractive coffee houses and community centers for events to meet authors etc. 

Under the circumstances, if Big Publishers merge, and even medium ones merge too, thus acquiring more financial means and the capacity to move into new directions - like POD publishing - their future could look a lot better than we all have been led to believe up to now. 

Of course, how innovative Big Publishers are likely to be is anyone's guess.

Still, I don't believe we should view Amazon as a Big Black Wolf or even as a Colossus in publishing. As I've blogged before, Amazon is certainly the Next Big Publisher. But it's more than that, or rather it's something slightly different: it's primarily a book trading e-platform and secondarily a POD publisher (with CreateSpace). 

To conclude: there is space for Amazon AND the Big Six, sorry I mean the Big Five. Consider this: if instead of viewing Amazon as a rival (which it is and isn't at the same time), publishers could start using it for what it is (an e-platform) and why not, collaborate and even ally themselves with Amazon in particular areas, like, for example, assist in cleaning up the book review system? If a book quality gatekeeping sytem was set up, and if it were made reliable and efficient in helping readers search for the kind of material they like to read, I think everyone would gain, publishers and readers alike!

What is your opinion? Do you think that the move to merge forces is coming too late for the publishing industry? That Amazon will remain alone as the Big Winner of the Digital Revolution?
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