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Scott Galloway on the break up of big tech – notes and video from DLD18

I’ve been mostly travelling since the DLD conference, so just catching up on my notes and reflections now.

Scott Galloway was one of the people I was really keen to see speak in Munich. His recent book The Four was one of my best reads of 2017 – I bought several copies for our office and recommend on Brilliant Noise reading lists for our digital mindset and leadership programmes.

What sets Galloway apart from most tech commentators is that he does his homework, brings fresh insights and lays out his thinking in an engaging but above all provocative style. This year’s theme of his annual DLD talk was close to the bone for many of the attendees – the break up of big tech.

Galloway repeated and build on the themes in his book about “the four” – Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple – essentially that they are now so big that they are destroying more value than they are creating. Amazon and Facebook seemed to take the most flak in the talk.

Here are some themes and highlights, depending on your point of view:

  • Facebook is a media company and disingenuous in pretending it isn’t: “[Facebook says] We can’t be arbiters of the truth and you don’t want us to be.’ No, we’d like you to try.”

The four treat fines from breaking the law as costs of doing business. In proportion to the size of deals they are getting “$25 parking tickets”.

While Amazon dwarfs all other retailers it pays hardly any tax (see below).

What happens when the most successful companies in the world don’t pay taxes? Simple, the less successful companies pay more taxes. We have opted for a regressive corporate tax system.

The four will destroy almost 200,000 jobs in the advertising industry.

These have been fantastic vessels for the transfer of wealth from the rest of the world to the United States and from the middle of the United States to the coasts.

He also used “the shitshow” of Amazon’s HQ2 location selection process. US cities effectively bid against one other to be the one that waived its tax and other. Laws the most to attract the company to settle there.

At one point he suggested that the Chinese response to big tech had been effective from a national security point of view – ban the US company, support local versions of e-commerce, search and social and effectively lock them out. “There haven’t been any concerns about Russian hackers interfering with elections in China.” The fact it is a totalitarian regime probably helps too, though, right?

At times, then, you could think that Galloway was completely in tune with the protectionists of the hard left and right. In fact, he showed a clip of him being introduced on a Fox News show as a socialist – although one suspects that Fox’s owners would love to Google and Facebook hobbled or broken up by governments. But Galloway insists that his call for the four big tech giants to be broken up is driven by capitalist logic. Like Microsoft in the 90s, he says, the big tech companies are shutting down challenger companies – think Facebook’s assimilation of Snap’s features – and need to be constrained to allow the next generation of tech innovators to emerge. Without the anti-trust suits against Microsoft, Google and Facebook might never have emerged.

This claim was categorically denied by The Second Machine Age author, Andrew McAfee on a later panel that morning. Microsoft was beaten in some markets by the Four because it failed to execute fast enough or well enough in search or mobile, says McAfee, and the responsibility to deal with their excesses is down to citizens and consumers.

Will it happen? If it does it will be the EU leading the charge, since US regulators seem to have no interest in hampering companies that hoover up the world’s cash and data so efficiently. Also, Galloway’s says: “The break up of big tech will not be easy because Jeff Bezos is smarter than all of us.”

You can watch the whole session here:

Lastly here are Galloway’s predictions for 2018. He started the session by showing all of the things he called wrong last year – but he still has a pretty good hit rate.

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When the future happens to you

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Reading The Everything Store at the moment, and came across this quote from Jeff Bezos…

Amazon isn’t happening to the book business. The future is happening to the book business.

Makes me think that that may be the simplest non-jargonised way of describing disruption in the digital age – the future is happening to you.

You might say that Jeff Bezos is happening to the future, more than the future is happening to him.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Why aren’t business books shorter?

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Image: Could some of these be shorter?   

Why are nonfiction books, business books in particular not shorter? Or available to buy in sections or by the chapter?

In their book Big Data: A Revolution… – my most quoted of the last few months – Cukier and Mayer-Schonberger discuss the huge, unexploited stores of data Amazon has about how we read.

Despite Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers’ being capable of showing whether a certain page has been heavily annotated and underlined by users, the firm does not sell that information to authors and publishers. Marketers would love to learn which passages are most popular and use that knowledge to sell books better. Authors might like to know where in their lofty tomes most readers give up, and could use that information to improve their work. Publishers might spot themes that herald the next big book. But Amazon seems to leave the field of data to lie fallow.

One insight from an Amazon competitor in the US has prompted the firm to start producing shorter nonfiction books:

Barnes & Noble’s analysis of data from its Nook e-book reader revealed that people tended to quit long nonfiction books midway through. That discovery inspired the company to create a series called “Nook Snaps”: short works on topical themes such as health and current affairs.

Amazon Singles is effectively the same proposition – and it appears to be successful – having sold almost five million downloads since it started in early 2011. It’s a money-spinner for some authors apparently, while others see it as a way to break into the literary world.

But will it become the norm? More popular than longer form

The short-form non-fiction book really makes sense. Anecdotally I half-finish, or third-finish a lot of nonfiction books. It’s not that they are bad, just that you feel like you have got everything you need after the first ten or twenty thousand words (a full-length book is typically 60,000 words or more).

When I wrote Me and My Web Shadow, it really felt like three shorter books – a theory of online reputation, a how-to guide and a set of manuals for various online tools and social networks.

Now that I am looking a second edition and  a possible new book square in the eyes, I think that a series of shorter

And yet…

And yet… people still buy the longer books. Unlike music, they don’t yet seem to want the singles. At least not yet.

I think that what it will take for the short-form e-book market to take off is longer books being published with an accompanying series option – either preceding, simulataneously launched or

From an author’s point of view the serial ending in a complete book is the best option. Each section will be more current, more immediately available and can be amended up to the point that the paper or complete ebook is published.

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Milieus of interest in Amazon recommendations

Networks are an abiding obsession for me. So I love this…

This data visualisation video illustrates how Amazon applies the power of networks to selling more books (and everything else) – by tapping into the networks of purchases of books to offer more.