This is from a recent book review on Business Week. The book, I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted by Nick Bilton (Crown Business) got only two stars from the reviewer Paul Barrett. Read the review here.
The reviewer basically thinks that the author doesn’t know how the future works. The Business Week review page has this nifty little summary for each book:
The Bottom Line:
In Barrett’s review, he wrote this:
The Bottom Line: It’s time for Internet cheerleaders to make more serious proposals about how to make an honest living online.
His review ends this way:
This seems, at best, naïve. Left alone with an Internet connection, most kids will waste time. (As will most adults.) Nothing wrong with having fun, but let’s not pretend they’re going to somehow absorb history, biology, current events, or any other subject that makes long-form content worthy of the time investment. I’d like to meet a set of parents who, as a matter of common sense, prefer their kid play video games rather than ride a bike, collect bugs in a jar, or read a good book.
As for the video game lessons to be learned by mainstream businesses, Bilton doesn’t offer any. “I don’t have any great answers or easy solutions to bringing in more revenue in a digital world,” he concedes—a major letdown. Given how much has been written about the Internet and the future of media, it’s time for the digital boosters to begin thinking more rigorously about—and offering solutions for—two pressing problems: the alluring but harmfully distracting underside of virtual entertainment and the desperate need for ideas about how to make an honest living in an online media world.
I think — that this is one of the great challenges in this era. And though it is a challenge for the online world, it is also a bigger challenge. How do you make money in this brave, new world? Companies are slashing jobs, partly because they can produce more with fewer people. And the list of people who start these wonderful new small businesses (that we hear so much about) that don’t quite make it is amazingly long.
This is a challenging time!
In my first “adult/out of college” job, c 1972, I served as a Youth Minister in Beaumont, Texas. (My wife once killed a mosquito so big that she mailed the dead mosquito to her mother). I quickly discovered a little bookstore. Owned by a woman whose name I have forgotten. I would go in weekly – sometimes more than that. Always spent more than I had budgeted to spend on books. I spent hours in that store. It was definitely locally owned… and the owner was my friend, confidante, counselor. I’ve never hung out at bars, but that book store owner was the best bar tender I ever met…
First, my disclaimer: I have never shopped at Legacy Boos: An Independent Bookstore in Plano. It was just too far from my neck of the woods – in fact, I never even saw it.
But, when I first moved to Dallas in the late 1980’s, I shopped at Taylor’s books. It was in the far north parking lot of Northpark Mall, just across from the two movie screens where I watched JFK, and many other films. Now, both are gone – Taylor’s, and the movie theater.
This could be just another “big box puts local business out of business” story. Legacy was, after all, a “local” store in the era of Barnes & Noble and Borders. And, they built and opened in 2008, just about the worst possible date to start anything, because of the economic conditions
But, it’s not that simple.
Barnes and Noble is also not doing well, and has just been put on the sales block. The final chapter? The world’s best-known bookstore puts itself up for sale:
Browse a while, sip a coffee, buy the shop
IT COULD be the title of an offbeat thriller: “Billionaire Party Boy Versus The Ted Turner of Books”. On August 3rd the board of Barnes & Noble decided to “evaluate strategic alternatives”. In other words, the world’s leading bookstore is for sale. The coming battle for control will involve colourful combatants. It will also have serious implications for the future of publishing.
And Borders has not been healthy for quite some time.
(ON the Barnes & Noble news, Border’s stock was up 3 per cent Wednesday as part of the speculative frenzy – to $1.36. Its penny-stock status reflects its leverage and perceived also-ran status in e-books)
Borders Group Inc. president and Thomas Nelson Publishers chief publishing officer Tami Heim to lead a new brand development and consulting division.
In a scenario that feels like a repeat of the music industry’s woes, digital consumption of books has eroded the traditional distribution channels and revenue streams the traditional publishing industry is built on. It also has created rights disputes for titles written before the advent of e-books and led to declining royalties since e-books are sold cheaper than physical copies, which also has led authors to seek higher royalties on digital sales.
So, this is a story about a lot of things. It is a story of the difficulty of a small, locally owned business trying to survive, and failing, against the behemoths. It is a story about the difficulty of small businesses in general. (Remember, politicians like to tell us that the future of job growth is in small business. Not as easy as it sounds!) And, of course, it is a story about the health of the publishing industry, especially the publishing of physical books.
And I’ll just skip the part about the disappearance of Record/Music stores. Digital, and Barnes & Noble and Borders, pretty much did them in…
And this is the story of the big box stores against the on-line competitors.
And, it is the story of lost jobs, and a lack of new jobs.
Just yesterday, I stopped in at a TCBY. (It’s across the street from where I get my hair cut). Do you remember those? Used to be, it felt like they were on every other corner. Now, they are rare indeed – I only know of one in Dallas that ‘s left, and the woman who served me my White Chocolate Mousse said that she used to make the frozen cakes for all the TCBY shops. Now, that business is basically non-existent.
Back to the book store. Bob Morris e-mailed me on the news of Legacy’s closing with this line:
Tragic. I was in the store recently. Purchased several books for grandchildren. And immediately thought about the film You’ve Got Mail.
Where will people browse for books in the future? It is nice to read a table of contents and first pages on the Amazon site, but it is not the same as sitting with a stack of books and browsing though the pages.
Where will people work when more and more jobs are lost?
I’m feeling unusually and unexpectedly sad at this news – for a book store I never even visited.
I keep writing on this blog about the jobs problem. It captivates my thinking. I don’t know the answer. And I think it is a big, big problem.
The evidence is all around us. It has now become a commonly understood fact that companies look for ways to get rid of jobs – they outsource, they go in for the newest technology, they replace workers with cheaper workers from anywhere and every-where, and they perpetually cut workers.
In Bob’s interview with Dave Ulrich, (the interviews conducted by Bob provide a rich business education), you find this little tidbit:
A second shift was finding technology-based ways to do the transaction work often affiliated with legacy HR. The work ended up in service centers, being outsourced, or on line for employee self-sufficiency. This freed up HR professionals to focus on the more strategic and transformational parts of their job.
Yes, this does free up HR professionals to focus on other things, but it also frees up a whole lot of people from their jobs.
And so the number of jobs declines. Seemingly continually.
ABC News is broadcasting a multi-night series this week on the disappearing middle-class. The middle-class is disappearing because the jobs are disappearing.
And then I simply think about the hints all around me about the lost jobs. Take the shopping center near my house. There used to be a thriving TCBY (I miss TCBY!). It’s gone. The last owner was pleasant, prompt, responsive, delivering good customer service. The workers were all pleasant. It was, for a while, a great place for work for the local teenagers, at night or on the weekends. The product was good. But I showed up less and less often. As did apparently everyone else. It’s gone. And there are other shops gone, and the shopping center is basically a ghost town.
I’ve seen a lot of shopping centers like that.
And I think about how I pay my bills. I now pay most of my bills on-line. It is free to do so. If I mail the payment, I pay postage. If I call it in, I pay an over-the-phone fee. But if I do it on-line, there is no cost. So, the post office faces job cuts. And, I assume, the companies are trying to cut the phone center workers.
The big companies cut jobs as technology improves. And the government always trumpets small businesses as the source of jobs in the future, yet the evidence is that most – the vast majority of — small businesses fail. Depending on which source you use, between 50% (the optimistic number) and 67% of small businesses fail within two years. And, most small businesses stay really small – just one person, or at best a handful.
And then I keep thinking about the work ethic question. Common wisdom, common sense will tell you that if you work hard, you will succeed. I do believe that. But there is a morale component, and a hope component. When people who work hard are laid off because of industry change, technology change, forces beyond the control of their own work ethic, it creates a downward spiral, effecting work ethic and hope and morale…
Last November, I wrote this post: What I’m Not Reading – and why I’m bothered by it (should companies focus, much more, on nurturing jobs?), in which I wrote:
But there is one theme that is not being written about. At least, if it is, it has not made it close to anyone’s best-seller list. It is this theme: how can we build companies that nurture and protect the jobs of the people who make those companies successful?
And I’m just reflecting what is written practically everywhere I read, like this:
Where will the jobs come from? Wall Street can produce another bubble, but that won’t put the 15 million without jobs to work, one third of which have been out of work for at least six months.
So – where will the jobs be? I think this is the most serious challenge of the era, and I think our best business leaders need to move this question to the highest priority for their thinking and planning time.
I just read this column by Bob Herbert, about Toyota’s decision to close a plant in Caifornia. It is worth reading. Note this paragraph:
What we’re dealing with here is the kind of corporate treachery toward workers and their local communities that has ruined countless lives over the past several decades and completely undermined the long-term prospects of the economy.