- The Rapture of the Nerds (Charlie Stoss, Cory Doctorow) — available for download and purchase under a CC-A-NC-ND license.
- Amazon Maps API — if there is an API layer of general use to developers, Amazon will build it. They want to be the infrastructure for the web. Tim identified “the Internet Operating System”, and Amazon figured out how to put a pricetag on every syscall.
- Hoektronics — open source 3d printer queue management. (via Daniel Suarez)
- The Machine Gaze (Will Wiles) — Converging, leapfrogging technologies evoke new emotional responses within us, responses that do not yet have names. (via James Bridle)
Square cab fares, Wal-Mart looks to beat Amazon to the same-day punch, and a major player update in the mobile payments war.
Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.
Square may be courting cabs
Square not only is gearing up to launch in Starbucks stores in November — it may also be looking to enter the New York City taxi cab market. Ryan Mac reports at Forbes this week that negotiations may be underway:
“Late Monday, private company expert PrivCo said that the San Francisco-based startup and the city of New York will be announcing an official partnership with the city of New York to implement Square’s payment systems across the city’s cabs. If negotiations are completed as expected, said New York City-based PrivCo, the partnership may be announced as early as this month.”
Mac reports that neither Square nor New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) would confirm that a deal was in place, but he notes Square has been testing iPad credit card swipers with TLC since March.
As to its forthcoming foray into Starbucks, Lisa Baertlein at Reuters reports that further innovations are in the works even ahead of the launch. At launch, customers will be able to pay for a coffee by having a barcode scanned off a smartphone, but plans are already in the works to use Square’s GPS to identify a customer in a Starbucks location, who can then pay by giving his or her name to the cashier. Also, Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks’ Americas region, told Baertlein that by summer 2013, customers will have the option and ability to tip using the technology.
An interview with Shipping Greatness author Chris Vander Mey.
Chris Vander Mey, CEO of Scaled Recognition, and author of a new O’Reilly book, Shipping Greatness, lays out in this video some of the deep lessons he learned during his years working on some very high-impact and high-priority projects at Google and Amazon.
Chris takes a very expansive view of project management, stressing the crucial decisions and attitudes that leaders need to take at every stage from the team’s initial mission statement through the design, coding, and testing to the ultimate launch. By merging technical, organizational, and cultural issues, he unravels some of the magic that makes projects successful.
Luring students, looking at publishing's ecosystem, and using big data for big publishing.
Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.
Amazon targets students with print textbook rentals
In headline news this week, Amazon expanded its digital textbook rental program to include analog books. Students can now rent physical paper textbooks, complete with prior students’ scribbles, for less than buying a used book (in many cases). Sean Ludwig at VentureBeat reports that most textbooks rent for $30 to $60 and are rented for the typical 130-day semester.
According to Amazon’s FAQ on the program, shipping in both directions is pretty easy to get for free: rentals are eligible for free Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25 and are also eligible for Prime free Two-Day shipping for Prime subscribers. Students can also sign up for the Amazon Student program and get six months of free Prime Two-Day shipping, then get a Prime membership at a discounted rate of $39 per year (the “adult” version of Prime is $79 per year). Amazon will conveniently autosubscribe student members to adult memberships upon graduation. Sounds a lot like those “free” credit cards that came with swag during my college days, designed to suck you in from the get-go.
“The Amazon story is about scale and momentum in general merchandise sales, here and abroad. I don’t care how many Kindles they deliver or their burgeoning downloads in books, music, video games and streaming of films. All this activity is designed to suck you into buying TV sets, washing machines, even disposable diapers and bottled water by the case.”
Or as O’Reilly publisher and GM tweeted in relation to Sosnoff’s post, “Books are nothing more than roadkill on Amazon’s highway to total retail domination.” So as publishers are frantically trying to find innovative ways to compete against Amazon, Amazon is just using publishing, in all its variations, as a means to an end.
Which brings me to Jim Tanous’ post at The Mac Observer, looking at ebook DRM: one possible positive outcome of this one-sided publishing battle against Amazon is the potential eradication of DRM. As Mathew Ingram pointed out last December at GigaOm, publishers “handed Amazon and Apple the stick of digital-rights management, which the two companies are now using to beat them.” And publishers are starting to come around to understand that DRM isn’t just locking content away from pirates (which it doesn’t do anyway), but that it’s locking content in to closed platforms, ala Amazon Kindle.
After looking at the new StoryBundle platform that give readers a bundle of books for whatever price they want to pay, all DRM-free, Tanous writes: “I was struck by how the DRM-free nature of the books mirrors a growing trend by publishers and independent authors to make their products easily available on multiple platforms and escape the stranglehold they fear Amazon holds on the market.”
Tanous looks at the overall trend, including fantasy publisher Tor’s removal of DRM from its catalog earlier this year and publishers like O’Reilly and Double Dragon that don’t use DRM. He notes that removing DRM removes the constraints on “customer mobility between providers and platforms” and that publishers’ recognition of this and subsequent changes to distribution and sales models, such as StoryBundle’s model, “will not only be good for consumers but for the overall health of the eBook market as well.”
Square and Starbucks unite, same-day delivery from eBay and checking in on the mobile wallet wars.
Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.
Square gets Starbucks, cash and Howard Schultz
“Beginning this fall, Square will begin processing all U.S. credit and debit card transactions at participating Starbucks stores across their 7,000 locations. Pay with Square users will be able to find a nearby Starbucks in the Square Directory from their iPhone or Android smartphone.”
Ha notes in his post that as part of the partnership, Starbucks also is ponying up $25 million in series D funding for Square and offering up its CEO, Howard Schultz, to serve on Square’s board of directors.
“At the moment, Pay with Square is accepted at around 40,000 locations — mostly neighborhood businesses such as independent coffee shops, restaurants and beauty salons. The agreement with Starbucks will put it in a major nationwide chain for the first time, and therefore puts it in closer competition with Google Wallet, which is already accepted at Home Depot, Office Depot, Starbucks rival Peet’s, Macy’s, RadioShack, 7-Eleven and other major merchants.”
Another important aspect of the agreement is that Starbucks will promote other local Pay with Square merchants “from within a variety of Starbucks digital platforms, including the Starbucks Digital Network and eventually the Starbucks mobile payment application.” As Ha notes in his post, “this catapults Square into the mainstream consciousness for the millions of drones who drop by their local Starbucks on the way to work.”
Drone Overload, Mac MySQL Tool, Better Cancer Diagnosis Through AI, and Inconstant Identifiers
- Drones Over Somalia are Hazard to Air Traffic (Washington Post) — In a recently completed report, U.N. officials describe several narrowly averted disasters in which drones crashed into a refugee camp, flew dangerously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital. (via Jason Leopold)
- Sequel Pro — free and open source Mac app for managing MySQL databases. It’s an update of CocoaMySQL.
- Neural Network Improves Accuracy of Least Invasive Breast Cancer Test — nice use of technology to make lives better, for which the creator won the Google Science Fair. Oh yeah, she’s 17. (via Miss Representation)
- Free Harder to Find on Amazon — so much for ASINs being permanent and unchangeable. Amazon “updated” the ASINs for a bunch of Project Gutenberg books, which means they’ve lost all the reviews, purchase history, incoming links, and other juice that would have put them at the top of searches for those titles. Incompetence, malice, greed, or a purely innocent mistake? (via Glyn Moody)
Clint Greenleaf on the challenges of working with and competing against Amazon.
In this TOC podcast, Greenleaf Book Group founder and CEO Clint Greenleaf shares a unique perspective on working with and competing against Amazon. He also addresses the DOJ lawsuit and offers thoughts on the future of ereaders.
Bob Pritchett on how and why he built his company around a direct sales channel.
In this TOC podcast, Logos Bible Software president & CEO Bob Pritchett talks about the importance of customer engagement, building direct sales channels, and how to beat Amazon.
Amazon Royalties Suck, Learn Electronics, Microtasks, and Finance Considered Harmful
- Amazon’s Insanely Crap Royalties (Andrew Hyde) — Amazon offers high royalty rate to you, but that’s before a grim hidden “delivery fee”. Check out Andrew’s graph of the different pay rates to the author from each medium.
- SparkFun Education — learn electronics from the good folks at SparkFun.
- TaskRabbit — connects you with friendly, reliable people right in your neighborhood who can help you get the items on your To-Do list done. Lots of people and projects sniffing around this space of outsourced small tasks, distributed to people via a web site.
- Henry Ford on Bootstrapping (Amy Hoy) — Amy has unearthed a fascinating rant by Henry Ford against speculative investment and finance. I determined absolutely that never would I join a company in which finance came before the work or in which bankers or financiers had a part. And further that, if there were no way to get started in the kind of business that I thought could be managed in the interest of the public, then I simply would not get started at all. For my own short experience, together with what I saw going on around me, was quite enough proof that business as a mere money-making game was not worth giving much thought to and was distinctly no place for a man who wanted to accomplish anything. Also it did not seem to me to be the way to make money. I have yet to have it demonstrated that it is the way. For the only foundation of real business is service.