The Magazine is making a book (again) and shutting down (what?!)

My labor of love the last two years has been The Magazine, first as its hired hand and then, in May 2013, as its owner. The sad truth has been that, while profitable from week one, the publication has had a declining subscription base since February 2013. It started at such a high level that we could handle a decline for a long time, but despite every effort — including our first-year anthology crowdfunded a bit under a year ago — we couldn't replace departing subscribers with new ones fast enough. We're a general-interest magazine that appeals to people who like technology, and that makes it very hard to market. "Pivoting" to a different editorial focus would have lost subscribers even faster. (Ads wouldn't work; we simply don't churn out enough content for that model. I wrote this a year ago and it's still true.)

So we lasted as long as we could while turning a buck so that I could make an increasingly smaller portion of my living from it, while enjoying the heck out of working with so many great writers and publishing stories about so many people and things, historical and present, geeky and sweet, sad and hilarious. It's been great.

Our last subscription issue will be December 17, 2014, after which we will discontinue and refund subscription on a pro-rated basis and may produce some ebooks or special projects thereafter.

Working cover of our Year Two anthology

Working cover of our Year Two anthology

But in the meantime, we're going to go out with a bang by producing another beautiful offset hardcover book drawn from our second year in publication, which we're celebrating today. Funding this Year Two book means we can pay all the writers reprint fees and get their work and the stories of people they tell out to a bigger audience, too.

Help us make this book by backing it and get a gorgeous hardcover book. You can even pledge at a patron or angel level and get signed copies — I and all the contributors will sign those editions.

We're also giving away the digital editions of the Year One book to help raise awareness of this new project, and we're pledging — if funded — to give away the digital editions of this new collection as well!

(Addendum: My friend Jeff Carlson wrote some kind words and filled in a few blanks that I forget about sometimes even though I run this darned thing.)

 

Art Prints from the Book Campaign

I've put up for sale art prints that we offered as part of our Kickstarter campaign last year. We have a few left of both the cover print by Amy Crehore (with no type on it, just her painting) and of Olivia Warnecke's moths and butterfly illustration. Both are printed on archival paper in limited editions. Amy's is additionally signed and numbered. You can purchase from our Tugboat Yards page.

Amy Crehore's cover painting

Olivia Warnecke's painting.



Every Book Is Its Own Hardware

After reading about an ebook-only library, the only branch in the county system that serves San Antonio, Texas, I wrote a long essay that reflects a couple of decades of thinking about books, libraries, and going digital. Right now, the copyright and licensing regime for ebooks is very poor for libraries, and thus for their patrons, even though the utility and ease are extremely. People are reading more than ever and more unique books are being published than at any time in human history by probably a factor of three or four, if not a full order of magnitude.

And yet—publishing clinging to physical models in a digital world is holding back readers as buyers and readers as library patrons. Established publishers have every reason to fear the creative destruction underway. But they have to embrace it. They have no alternative. And the current model doesn't work well at all for libraries.

When you have a library full of printed books, every book is a self-contained apparatus: every printed book contains the hardware and data necessary to allow human wetware and our operating system to interact with it. One needs no intermediary for the contents of the book. Each book stands alone.

Read the whole thing.

 

The True Story of the Amazon Door-Desk

Several years ago, I said I would no longer publicly comment about my time in 1996–1997 as Amazon.com's catalog manager. Why? Because my knowledge and memory were so out of date, and I did not keep a journal during that period. It would be silly for me to provide commentary about a company that I had only been with during a period of explosive growth—now no more recently than 14 years ago.

However, an essay in today's Wall Street Journal called "Jeff Bezos of Amazon: Birth of a Salesman," compels me to comment on one aspect of the pervading myth of Amazon's creation and early years. You can read elsewhere about the truth behind other parts of the creation myth, especially in Robert Spector's fine and exhaustive look at Amazon's early years, Get Big Fast.

The part that got me was the door-as-desk myth, which has been cited since Amazon's founding as a way in which the company confounded standard business practice and was frugal during its very early startup days. This is a complete crock, and I would suspect that no one associated with the company, including Jeff, ever necessarily put forth a cost savings for these ersatz desks.

The door-desks were full-sized solid-core doors with four-by-four posts cut for each corner, and attached using metal brackets. You'll find accounts across the Internet that these were four-by-sixes, two-by-fours, or hollow-core doors. At least back in the day, I saw many of these desks made, and I can testify to their composition. (The hollow-core doors wouldn't have supported the weight—they would have cracked in places under the strain.)

In the very early days of the company, I'm sure the doors made more sense. They had very little room or time, and were trying to husband cash. Doors have a large surface area relative to most desks, and Amazon was in a garage and then a couple of industrial/warehouse spaces before they split the warehouse (down south of the viaduct) and the offices (in the heroin district of Seattle near Pike Place Market) before I joined.

I had met Jeff Bezos through mutual friends in 1995, when I was already running a Web development firm, hosting several companies, in downtown Seattle. He and I got along quite well, and I was always encouraging. My business was already profitable and growing, but I knew from the early days I didn't have the kind of entrepreneurial drive to embrace the risk—and sell myself—to turn the firm into something huge. I was looking for successful-boutique scale, and more or less achieved that.

I had lunch with Jeff in October 1996 when I was a bit in the doldrums about what I was going to do next with the business. He invited me to join Amazon, which I did. But what I remember most was, after lunch, walking into his office in the Columbia Building, and seeing a rack of blue colored shirts, his trademark at the time, and the door-as-desk. I laughed. I looked at the threadbare carpet and spartan furnishings, and said, "Investors must love this." He gave me his patented laugh.

When I joined the company, I saw the door-desks being built all the time. They hired people to build them. Back in 1998, a year after I left, Jeff told the Seattle Times:

"These desks serve as a symbol of frugality and a way of thinking. It's very important at Amazon.com to make sure that we're spending money on things that matter to customers," said Bezos, 34. "There is a culture of self-reliance. (With the low-tech desks) . . . we can save a lot of money."

The doors were expensive, built to an arbitrary height, heavy, difficult to move, and horrible for body health because of the bad ergonomics. That's when I started having to see an acupuncturist for carpal tunnel and related problems. And also note that these were exterior doors: moving a exterior door through an interior door frame with legs permanently attached is a tricky task. At the time, a slightly smaller desk (or even a sturdy banquet table) would have cost 1/3 to 1/2 the amount and worked far better.

The myth was in place: the door-desk was part of the story about Amazon's creation, and it was part of what every visitor to the company's headquarters saw. It spoke of a particular ethos about spending and intent. And I will note that Jeff and company were extremely, but not unreasonably, tight with spending. Money wasn't spent on stupid things, either by executives or staff.  (Later, the company probably wasted billions on setting up and closing down warehouses that weren't right for them until they figured out the formula for where they should be located and run.)

Jeff was and is a brilliant marketer. The marketing and perception of the door-desks was much more important than their actual savings to the company.

My Latest Book in Print: Five-Star Apps

Hey, I wrote a book! Hey, I suffered for months to make it reality! Hey, it's reality!! It's in print! Crazy. Buy a copy (compare at online booksellers)!Five-Star Apps ($20 retail, about $13.50 online) has nearly 200 reviews of the best and most useful and most fun iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch apps that I examined. Reviews are supplemented with screenshots, since it's often hard to know what a program looks like in real use since you can't get demo versions (only "lite" programs). Five-Star Apps book cover You can follow links at 5str.us to buy the book!

Test the New Isbn.nu

I've put up a beta of the new version of isbn.nu, my book price comparison site, with a new design and a whole reworking of how you search for books to get faster results. You can also create an account and then bookmark books (by title or edition) and authors for later recall, as well as set shipping and price display preferences.There's a new logo, too: Please give it a whirl and tell me what you think. I've already gotten some valuable feedback.

Latest Book Scam

As a public service, I occasionally publish the email I receive from scammers who are trying to place fraudulent orders from booksellers. I run isbn.nu, which provides book price comparisons, but I don't per se sell books. Thus, I'm a target, but a well-informed one. I post these messages partly because they get indexed by Google, so a bookseller who does a minute of research on a strange order will find this message. I replied to this individual that their scam was well known and they might as well give up. I just try to rattle the cage a bit.

These books, by the way, are sold into Russia, apparently, usually by way of Nigeria. The fact that this email is signed as if it's from a UK bookseller is fascinating. I did a couple minutes of checking, and there's no such bookseller, and only one bookstore in that whole region of Liverpool, apparently.

Here's the email:

Dear Sir / Madam,
                    We will like to place an order for the above Books , How many copies of each of the books have you in stock for now ? Kindly send us a price list and the rate of discount  given for bulk purchases. Also do let us know the Mode of payments accepted .
 
  1. ATLAS OF HUMAN ANATOMY
Author: Netter, Frank H
ISBN: 9781416033851
Edition : 4th Edition   
 
  2. Davidson's Principles And Practice of Medicine .
Author: Boon Nicholas A.
ISBN: 9780443100574
20th Edition.   
 
  3. Pathologic Basis of Disease .
Author: Kumar .
ISBN: 9780721601878
7th Edition.         
 
  Thanks , Looking forward to hear from you soon .
 
  Kind Regards:
 
  Paul Chaney .

 
  Store Sales Assist,
 
  Bright Books & Cafe'
13 Liverpool Road North,
Maghull , L31 2HB
Phone/Fax:(+44) 0151 531 9875
  Cell :  (+44)  07031745484

Big Bundle of Mac eBooks

My good friends at Take Control Ebooks, which publish my several books on wireless networking, Mac OS X file sharing, and other subjects, are having a massive blowout sale this month. They're bundling several ebook titles together into affinity groups--the first being a lump o' Tiger help: upgrading, customizing, users and accounts, syncing, passwords, maintaining, and AirPort networking -- seven ebooks for $22 with the coupon code CPN70205MOAS1. Or follow this link.

Witty Repartee with a Nigerian Book Scamster

I've written (and others, too) about how Nigerians aren't just trying to hook people with "I am the son of the former dictator" money-transfer scams, but they also defraud bookstores in the U.S. They typically place special orders, use stolen credit-card numbers or forged cashier's checks, receive shipment, and then resell to Russia and other places. Very strange scams. (Here's a good two-year old article. I wrote about it around the same time.)

I got my latest in email today; I get these because I run isbn.nu, a book-price comparison service. I wrote back to the scamster explaining their schemes are well known and, surprise!, got a response.

From: Tolu Adekunle <rashos07@yahoo.com>
Subject: Mail Order Needed ASAP........

>Hello Sales,
> This is Tolu Adekunle, I am highly interested in purchasing
>order from your store to my store in Nigeria and i will like you to
>give me the cost of the order listed below and i will like to pay with my accept credit card info as method of payment. Look forward to hear
>from you with cost of the order including the EMS GLOBAL EXPRESS 3-5
>DAYS DELIVERY for the shipment cost.
>Look forward to hear from you and God bless you {Amen}.
>Happy Day .............
> Best regards
> Tolu.

I wrote back: "These scams are now well known in the United States. If you try to commit fraud, Nigerian authorities will arrest you." (This is somewhat true; Nigeria is finally enforcing some fraud laws.)

The witty response: "U ARE STUPID MAGAR."

Did he or she mean Magyar? Like a Hungarian?

I wrote back: "I'm not the one trying to rip people off. Just listen for the knock of the police at your door..."

Can you freak out these kinds of fraudsters? Probably not. And they're not sophisticated enough for me to worry about electronic reprisals.

Take Control of Podcasting

Cover PodcastingI'm mostly known as a writer, but I edit as well. An editor's role should be to work with an author to shape their vision, help them turn it into coherent and discrete sense, and make pieces aren't missing. The author has to have a voice; the editor needs to let them sing. The first book I've edited in a long, long time came out this evening. It's an ebook called Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac written by Andy Williams Affleck. Andy is a podcaster and knowledgeable Mac guy. He's been creating narrowcasts since the concept gelled more than a year ago, and he acquired a lot of very specific, hard-to-collect knowledge. In the ebook--a $10 download in PDF form, no strange tools or passwords required to read--he covers what you need to know to plan, set up a studio, record a podcast, edit it together, and promote it. A lot of what he suggests can be done with existing hardware and software or relatively small investments. You can spend lots of money, but you absolutely don't have to. I've been intrigued by podcasts since they started appearing, and this book has motivated me to go back to the well over at Wi-Fi Networking News and see if I can't put together a regular show that would appeal to that niche audience that is always asking for more information in more forms.