Bell Canada has killed my local bookstore

Independent bookstores across North America are in trouble. The business model is changing as more and more readers move to tablets and e-readers, with competition from video games and the lure of all that is available on the Internet.

When an independent bookstore finally finds that its business is no longer working, and it announces that it is shutting down, part of any community dies with that bookstore. The death of the local independent bookstore, general or specialized, mom and pop operation or bibliophile specialized, is always news.

My local bookstore in Kitimat is about to close.

It wasn’t the marketplace (as such).

It was murder. Murder most foul. It was killed by Bell Canada.

No, this wasn’t a case of Bell wanting to increase the number of downloads of e-books and magazines on smart phones and tablets. Bell is a big, dumb corporation and the left hand doesn’t talk the to right hand that way.

In Kitimat, the store is Bookmasters/The Source. Now you begin to understand. As well as the local book, magazine, toy and souvenir shop, the store is a Source franchise.

It’s not that this was an unsuccessful franchise. The Source (Bell) Electronics (the corporate entity) last week suddenly cancelled the franchise contracts of 10 small mom and pop, hybrid Source stores across northern British Columbia, putting 10 small businesses out in the cold, out of pure, stupid corporate greed. The Source (Bell) Electronics plans to replace the mom and pop stores with the kind of high pressure sales “full service” stores you see the major metropolitan areas.

So before going back to the issue of the bookstore, let’s look at the decision by Bell’s corporate headquarters and ask, does it even make business sense?

The question that you have to ask up here is: will there be enough business in the small communities of northern BC to sustain a full up The Source with its obnoxious high pressure sales people, most of whom actually know very little about electronics, other than what is some sales manual? Given the uncertain economic conditions here, I doubt very much if a corporate Source store will succeed in the long run. Interestingly The Source is still promoting hybrid stores under The Source Express franchise, so the question is why are they killing the stores in northern BC? Is there any solid business research behind this move? Or it is an ego-trip from corporate?

Source logo with daggerThere is already talk across northwestern British Columbia of a boycott of the new stores, in protest to this high handed corporate action.

A boycott might actually succeed. There is, of course, fierce competition in electronic retailing, both from national chains and from locally owned electronic stores. In northwestern BC, there is a decades long tradition of mail order, going to back to the time when there was little available at retail due to relative isolation and transportation problems. Now it is easy to order via Internet or on E-Bay. Almost everyone I know up here provides regular work for Canada Post and FedEx or UPS.

(An aside: When the old Radio Shack stores became The Source in Canada, the electronic parts and gadgets that were once carried by Radio Shack disappeared. When, as a TV news freelancer, I needed some gear, I was told by Bookmasters/The Source that they carried it when they were Radio Shack but it was no longer available via The Source. I bought the gear I needed on E-Bay from California)

Another reason that I am pissed off at this. It is going to cost me money. Bookmasters/The Source carries magazines not available on the racks of Overwaitea or Shoppers Drug Mart. With no bookstore in town, if I want those magazines, which are not available electronically, I am going to have drive 60 kilometres to the next nearest bookstore in Terrace once a month or pay postage fees which, for American magazines, are often higher than the subscription fees.

I found about the store closing on the weekend from a friend, I visited the store today (unfortunately all the bookshelves had already been sold).

Today, the more I think about it, even though it is an example from a small town, Bookmasters could actually be a viable business model to sustain independent bookstores, by combining paper books with electronics.

Yes, I frequently buy e-books from Amazon or Apple for my iPad. I see a review or a mention in a news story or on a website and I can download the book with a click.

When it comes to the simple joy of reading, the trouble with Amazon/Kindle or Apple is that often there is not enough information provided that let’s me decide to buy a book. That’s where browsing the bricks and mortar bookshelves comes in.

Take science fiction, unless I read a review in Analog (which will no longer be available in Kitimat after Bookmasters closes) I can’t tell from the one or two sentences on an e-book page whether or not this book is worth buying. Browsing the small science fiction section in Bookmasters let me look at the cover, look at the blurb at the back, perhaps the first few pages and then decide whether to buy and I often do buy.

The other point about a physical, bricks and mortar bookstore is serendipity. Amazon may have recommendations based on past purchases, but there is no way Amazon can tell that a book I see on a shelf in a store will grab my interest. I seldom leave a bookstore without some serendipitous purchase that would never appear on my Amazon profile.

The book business is increasingly moving toward the electronic. Some bookstores are already selling iPads and Kindles. At the same time, some publishers and business analysts are saying (hoping?) there will still be a demand for a physical book.

It seems to me that if we want the independent bookstore to survive as a viable business model, that there should be serious consideration of a hybrid store that sells both books and electronics. A store could sell either hard copy books or e-books through some sort of download station. That way the customer has a choice. That store could also a sell a selection of tablets and other e-devices, selected software and who knows what is around the corner.

Consider the camera store. In the past decade, the camera store has gone from selling film cameras, film and darkroom equipment (remember darkrooms and chemicals?) to what is essentially an electronics store, selling digital cameras (and camera accessories), software, tablets, memory cards and all kinds of accessories. The old film camera shops that refused to move to electronics are long gone. (But the surviving stores still sell used film cameras to enthusiasts)

Who knows what the future will bring in e-books? The explosion in tablets in the past few months is probably only a hint of things to come. Independent bookstores that stick with the old model will die. But, as I said, communities thrive on bookstores. Independent bookstores have to be on the front lines of e-innovations. Surviving independent bookstores should perhaps start looking to the camera retailer as a possible model for adapting to a fast changing future,  just like a camera store does today, selling “content” and “content delivery” in multiple forms, including the good, old-fashioned books first brought to us by Johannes Gutenberg..

So for now, the closing of Bookmasters/The Source in Kitimat will usher in another example of the current corporate monoculture. Bell#FAIL

But perhaps, the silver lining in this cloud (and it is overcast and snowing in Kitimat today) is that the hybrid electronic stores in the small markets of northern BC could be resurrected  across the world as way of saving the independent “content” store.

 

 

 

Is “Color” the next big social app? And what about photojournalism?

For those who follow  #futureofnews on Twitter, and similar groups, there has been a lot of buzz in the past couple of weeks since the launch  on March 24, of a new (so far Apple only??) app called Color.  It’s called a proximity photo sharing social media app, and allows people close to each  other to share photos.

358-color_1881983a.jpgA combination of photo crowd sourcing and social  networking.

Most of the chatter is among the younger folks who tweet, follow and discuss the future of news, those who are digital natives, the true early adopters,  the indicator of new trends.

So much chatter that I decided to check it out.

While it is available as an Iphone app, the news release says it is available for the Android, but I couldn’t find it in the Android store and the front page of their website says new Android version coming soon.

So without an Android app I could find, I am going to have to go by the buzz.

My first impression at the  Apple App Store was that  was  that creators are  a kind of arrogant bunch.  On the App store and their press releases  it is “Color™  ”  

Really?

 Imagine trademarking the word “color?”  The company is based in Palo Alto, California, so one has to wonder how and why the US Patent and Trademark Office allowed it? I wonder how long that  trademark will last?  The trolls are probably already calling  their lawyers with everyone else not too far  behind.

The news release calls the program

Color™ is a miraculous, free application for iPhones and Android devices that allows people in close proximity to capture and have real-time access to photos, videos, and text simultaneously from multiple smartphones. Color is the best way of sharing an experience without the hassle of passing cameras around, emailing or uploading images and videos online.

And goes on to say

Every photo, video, and text captured by each smartphone through Color is instantly shared with surrounding phones also using Color. There are no attachments, uploading or post-production work required.  For the first time with Multi-lens, you will finally get to see and keep all photos from everyone at a shared moment, including ones that you are actually in.

One tech site has been calling Color™  the “next Twitter.

So back to the future of news. One has to immediately wonder if this yet another nail in the coffin of professional photography?  And what does this do for copyright? Are copyrighted photographs finally  dead and buried?

Well this his how the process  is explained by readwriteweb.com

What Happens to the Content?
There has been confusion about where the content generated by Color goes and how is it shared. Are the photos taken using Color archived? [ Color chief scientist D. J] Patil  [formerly of Linked In] explained that if you participate in a Color group, that content is not only shared in real-time with others in proximity to you, it also appears in the ‘History’ section of the app as an album. You can share albums, photos and videos using Twitter, Facebook, email or SMS.

So far, Color has no search or archiving mechanism on its website. So the only way that people who weren’t at an event are likely to see albums is if they’re been shared via the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

It’s just been a couple of weeks, so who knows?  And with a program being described as “miraculous” that is a lot to live up to.  The company also has $41 million in venture capital and the app (for now) is free, so where’s the return on the VC investment?

As for photojournalism, let’s wait and see.  

The company had its first real time use at a movie premiere.

The big test comes in a couple of days, when the Daily Telegraph uses it to cover the Royal Wedding. The Daily Telegraph and all the other British papers and wire services will have their best shooters covering the wedding, so the color crowd sourcing photo sharing will be a fascinating addition.

A couple of thoughts:

Color™  has been promoting at events like concerts, premieres, tech conferences (of course) and family events.

It’s not the best PR, but it looks like Color™  will enhance the social coverage of breaking news.

What if  Color™  had been available during the G20 disturbances in Toronto? During the G20  everyone had a camera or smart phone camera.  All those pictures of both the black hooded rioters and the subsequent police misconduct could have been shared with the participants, the onlookers, the journalists and probably the police photo units from multiple angles in real time,

Or the more recent student demonstrations in London?

What happens if there are people with Color™  equipped cameras during the next major disaster or a terrorist attack?  Or folks in Syria and Libya are right now downloading Color? 

There will be a lot of amazing photos produced on the breaking event. The pros, however, will still be needed to take the iconic images (that is, of course, it anyone wants to use and pay for them).

The one group that is going to be hit hard by Color™  are the paparazzi, already suffering and seeing their income drop now that everyone has a camera. Imagine the big star walks down the street and instead of being stalked by one pap, fifty cameras shoot and share the images.

Who knows. Stay tuned.

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Link farm April 20 – Apple takes Fiore’s cartoon app – and other news

Apple, the media and temptation

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It’s so tempting.

The news media is in deep financial trouble, especially in the United States, where the economy is still weak.

Now comes a promising savior, a popular device that once again might mean that the public pays for news media content. It’s called the iPad, and it’s made by Apple.

So tempting.

Ironic that in popular mythic culture in the west, it is the apple that is the symbol of the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Apple is tempting the media.

As the King James version of the Bible says “The serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field…”

Genesis says of the tree of knowledge, and poor Eve, who is blamed once she “saw that the tree was…pleasant to the eyes and a tree to be desired to make one wise…..

The iPad is a knowledge device. The iPad is pleasing to the eyes and perhaps the iPad can make one wise.

There’s a catch.

Put your content on the iPad and you cede control of your content to Apple.

The castle gatekeeper

It is Dan Gillmor on Mediaactive and Jack Shafer in Slate who both warn that the there are bigger issues involved,

Apple’s aim to  control the draw bridge, the castle gate and the castle towers.

Shafer in his article warns Apple wants to own you.Welcome to our velvet prison say  the boys and girls from Cupertino.

Shafer follows the controversy from its beginning and says:

it’s easy to see that Apple’s rules are more about blunting competitors and creating a prudish atmosphere guaranteed to offend nobody than they are about throttling viruses and improving the user experience. I don’t think Apple should be enjoined from imposing its dictatorial edicts about what can and can’t run on iPhones, as long as consumers know the score going in.

But do they know the complete score? With the release of the iPad, Apple has hastened its censoring, competition-blocking ways. Even though the iPad doesn’t connect to the telephone system, Apple is still insisting on locking the device down as though it were an iPhone: No third-party apps can run on it unless they’re approved by Apple.
Apple wants to play gatekeeper so it can establish itself as toll-taker.

Dan Gillmor first warned about Apple’s plans in February with:

Why journalism organizations should reconsider their crush on Apple’s ipad

In his most recent post, Gillmor says:

Fiore’s iPad rejection harbinger of a bigger story

I asked the Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today — following up on a February posting when I asked why news organizations were running into the arms of a control-freakish company — to respond to a simple question: Can Apple unilaterally disable their iPad apps if Apple decides, for any reason, that it doesn’t like the content they’re distributing? Apple has done this with many other companies’ apps and holds absolute power over what appears and doesn’t appear via its app system.
Who responded? No one. Not even a “No comment.” This is disappointing if (sadly) unsurprising…

Apple reconsiders

Neiman Labs which first broke the story that Apple was refusing to allow Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore to produce an cartoon syndication app now says the company is reconsidering, as Laura McGann reports:

After our story ran, Fiore got a call from Apple — four months after receiving a rejection email — inviting him to resubmit his NewsToons app. Fiore says he resubmitted it this morning. We’ll keep you posted on what happens. If history is a guide, though, this is likely to be good news for Fiore. Tom Richmond’s Bobble Rep app was initially rejected, then approved after a firestorm of online criticism. Daryl Cagle went through something similar last year.

Pulling up the drawbridge

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Social media advocates have likened the news media to a castle and say that the rise of  user generated content and citizen journalism is opening the gates, as Charlie Beckett  said in his  Polis blog, on June 19, 2009  (Polis is a joint journalism project with the London School of Economics and the London College of Communications)

  …most media fortresses are opening up. They have lowered the draw‑bridge. They have invited the local peasantry inside and some of the brave editorial knights are learning about life outside of the castle.

Now with the iPad, the gates are guarded, may even close.

Shafer says in Slate, paraphrasing Frédéric Filloux

Filloux, who writes for Monday Note, agree that what Apple wants is to replace the commodity-distribution channel that is the Web and replace it with an Apple-owned distribution channel for applications, music, movies, books, and anything else that can travel down a wire or through the ether…..

Apple isn’t the only behemoth bullying its way in the marketplace. Filloux identifies Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo as companies seeking to replace (or augment) the commodified Web with something more proprietary and lucrative. Apple is just the most conspicuous in its efforts.

Castles, historians will tell you, are not defensive, they are an offensive weapon, aimed at control, whether it was the Welsh borders or the heights overlooking the war scarred Middle East.

So the social peasantry are invited in, as long as they pay the toll, behave and pay fealty to the baron.

Temptation

Signing away your company’s soul to Apple  may not be a bad deal for the current crop of mostly aging oligarchs who pretend to manage the news media today, gathering huge salaries and bonuses while the business is dying from a thousand cuts. After all for those managers, especially those who came from the corporate world with no experience or respect for the traditions of news media independence, it’s just another corporate deal.

Dealing with Apple to get on the iPad and the iPhone,  the way Apple wants, full control, is like someone who renovates a building and one by one takes out the support beams and load bearing walls.

For the news media, the  load bearing wall of the building is credibility and the news media’s credibility is now at an all time low, despite the efforts of  the thousands of men and women in  news to do the best job they can.  There are many reasons for the decline in credibility.   Part of the problem is that many of  more conservative readers and viewers just don’t want to believe in the world as it exists, they long for a past era and call reporting of today “bias.”  Part of the problem comes from the pressure from news consultants and  the managers who hire those consultants  to concentrate just on  sensational “wow and now” content. Part of the problem is that the news media is generally seen as failing in his public duty (even though definitions of public duty differ) by bowing to government or corporate interests.

The debate over Apple’s control is currently confined to those who are concerned about the future of the news media.   There is a parallel debate among software developers who are chafing at Apple’s strict controls over code.

If the media accede to Apple’s control, then very soon will come a tipping point.  Apple will arbitrarily block or censor some item  of content, probably not realizing the significance of that content.

That censorship will be revealed by a blogger or by rival media and from that moment on the public will no longer trust the (at least the news) content on an Apple device.

That is the day the  Credibility Building collapses into a pile of bricks and stone, the day the castle itself collapses.

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Update: Censoring the dictionary

A reader sent me this link, showing how absurd the Apple censorship has become.
From engadget   Apple’s new low, censoring a dictionary  refusing to allow Ninjawords to be an app unless “objectionable words” were removed.

“We were rejected for objectionable content. They provided screenshots
of the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ showing up in our dictionary’s search
results”

Joshua Topolsky of engadget comments: “it’s making the company that asked everyone to “Think Different” look like a company that can’t think at all.”

Let that be a warning not only to the news media but all book publishers out there.
The news media may not want to quote a soldier swearing in combat in Afghanistan.
Apple will object. 

If you want to make sure that your book gets published on the iPad, make the characters all 1920s style clean-cut, all Americans, who never say a nasty word  That is if you can find such a book these days. 

Make  the book sure it is acceptable to someone who has never left Cupertino even if  it  is set outside the walls of windy Troy or on a blasted heath or in a game keeper’s cottage, among the naked and the dead in the south Pacific or even on  the Klingon homeworld.

Apple censors hit Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons. Who’s next?

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Nieman Labs reports this morning that the Apple app censors are refusing to allow Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore to syndicate his work on iPhone and iPad apps because editorial cartoons”ridicule public figures”

Complete Nieman Lab report

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police

We’re now seeing our creative freedom further diminished by the computer industry.

First Google  engineers are killing good, creative writing by demanding that text copy fit into their search engine parameters (at least that’s what the more spineless media managers demand….smarter media organizations encourage good writing but make sure the keywords are there so Google can find a story).

Now Apple, which may soon may be a powerhouse with iPad, has arrogated to itself  (through corporate arrogance and caution and probably also at the behest of corporate lawyers and image makers) the right to censor the content on their devices.

This isn’t just a censorship issue. It is another case like the Google books controversy of an large American company imposing U.S. law and U.S. corporate custom on the rest of the world.

Now it appears that Apple believes that lowest common denominator of American culture will apply to the rest of the planet, that is if  the world wants to use  iPhones or an iPads.

So just how is Apple going to deal with the rest of the world once the iPad is finally released internationally in about six weeks or so?

As Nieman and the blog Gizmodo have reported, Apple is already cracking down on the European custom of  (what is called in the UK)  “page three girls”  Today they censor nipples,  tomorrow editorial content.”

Apple took down Stern’s iPhone app without notice. Stern–a very large
weekly news magazine-
-published a gallery of erotic photos as part of its
editorial content. It wasn’t gratuitous…

The origin of the term “page three girl” is of course Rupert Murdoch’s money maker, the London Sun.
Watch for developments there….

The letter to Fiore, as quoted by Nieman says Apple’s policy is:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of
any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in
Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable, for example,
materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

What would be “defamatory” in Apple’s “reasonable” judgment? Under whose law would something be defamatory? The state of California?  The United States? Canada? Common law or civil law? Or even defamatory in dictatorships where it is illegal to criticize the current great leader?

Investigative journalism is almost always vetted by lawyers working for a news organization. A good lawyer knows how to protect the news reporter or producer while ensuring that the story, often vital to the public interest, is published or broadcast within the legal framework of that country’s media. 

So imagine this,  there was an iPad  on June 13 ,1971 when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers about how the United States made mistake after mistake in Vietnam.
The Washington Post soon got its copy of the papers and published. The Nixon administration tried to get an injunction stopping publication but failed when the U.S. Supreme Court  ruled that the attempt for an injunction was unconstitutional prior restraint under the U.S. constitution.

In a democracy, government prior restraint can be contained by constitutional law.
Given the track record of Apple and other similar corporations, it is likely in that in a similar situation, either out of corporate policy or on the advice of their lawyers, the Pentagon Papers would not have been published by an app controlled by a company such as Apple.

Corporations are not always restrained by constitutional limits on government actions. especially when it comes to censorship.

What Apple is doing is as if Goss, the giant maker of printing presses, or  a pulp and paper company that supplied newsprint to a newspaper decided that they had the right to control the content of that paper.

Corporate PR is now  corporate prior restraint, at least as far as data, web and app delivery is concerned.

Update

Columbia Journalism Review now warns the media to be aware of Apple.
It’s Time for the Press to Push Back Against Apple
The writer of the piece, Ryan Chittum says:

And this is a good excuse to more closely scrutinize the market
influence that Apple, now the third largest corporation in America,
behind Exxon and Microsoft, is gaining on markets, including software
development.

Other key links from the CJR story

Dan Gillmour in Mediaactive Complicating Relationships in Media: Apple, NY Times Dealings Raise Questions

and

an early warning from Wired by Brian X. Chen in Gadget Lab

IPad Apps could put Apple in charge of news