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business 2.0

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I read a post the other day about how Microsoft is going to start paying Rupert Murdoch to deny Google the ability to index content sources like The Wall Street Journal. This is apparently the first step in Microsoft’s plan to convince a bunch of the world’s prominent content producers to wall off Google so that Google will, eventually and theoretically, be forced to start paying the content producers in order to index their content.

What the what?

From Murdoch’s perspective, I suppose this deal seems appealing because it promises a (temporary) influx of cash into the flailing newspaper industry. Microsoft’s motives are less clear, but I suspect it is connected to a deep seated desire to stick it to Google in any manner possible. Regardless, though, the whole scheme rests on a faith in the idea that this content is so good that people will want to find it and miss it when it’s gone. Even if they don’t know it’s there, because it’s not in Google.

I have to assume that there is some piece of the plan that makes it make sense that I’ve somehow missed — something like a metaplot where Microsoft brokers a deal with Johnson & Johnson that allows them to put skin-burrowing nanonrobots into baby shampoo so that — post 2010 — all new babies will grow up to develop an inexplicable affection for crappy unstable web browsers, large, heavy, and hideous CPUs. Oh, and The Wall Street Journal.

It must be infurating for Microsoft to not just be able to tell us, directly, what we should buy and what kind of media we should want to read. They must long for the good old days where they could just directly force us to buy things, without the infuriating run-around of search engines that allow us to cross-reference and compare things, for free, in half a second. Still, what is the plan going to be, once the generation of people who even know what paper newspapers ever were is dead, and the generation who already reads their news online (and which already generally ignores the WSJ because of its tendency to be fascist and greedy) forgets that the WSJ ever existed? Because it’s not in Google.

I already had some doubts about the credibility of the WSJ when they linked to me on their Loose Change blog. Because, really? You’re coming to an ex-academic in English literature for information on marketing? That’s the best you can do, Paper of Financial Record? But this is really beyond the pale, even if, as usual, I cannot articulate why nearly so well as can Seth Godin, whose pithy “Rupert Murdoch Has It Backwards” sums up all of my initial thought on this move in three sentences:

You don’t charge the search engines to send people to articles on your site, you pay them.
If you can’t make money from attention, you should do something else for a living. Charging money for attention gets you neither money nor attention.

Yeah. What he said.

I had been thinking that surely there must be some other explanation here, right? Surely there is some other thing afoot that I don’t understand because is this not the publisher of the newspaper to which business icons and moguls all over the country turn for information to help them . . . well, to help them run their businesses? The WSJ may not be in the business of advice, but they are certainly an authority in the field of business news; surely some business savoir-faire must have rubbed off over the years? I hypothesized to Mr. Right-Click that sure, people will want to read something like The Wall Street Journal, and they might even want to pay for it. But if you make finding it too much of a hassle, or make reading it too hard, or expensive, I’m not sure that it will work. And Mr. Right-Click said, “Yeah, just ask Howard Stern how well that worked out for him,” and I thought yeah! That’s exactly it! That’s exactly why it won’t work, because even when you are a fan of something in one medium, it takes SO MUCH to overcome the hassle and annoyance that following it to another medium, and adopting a new set of rules for it, requires. It takes a level of dedication and loyalty that the average audience member of mass media just doesn’t have.

When Howard Stern was on free radio, the most vocal and recognizable segment of his audience was comprised of the creepy zeros who would follow him around from venue to, talking about boobs and farts. But that wasn’t the majority of his audience: the majority of his audience was made up of relatively normal people who had to commute to work and enjoyed his show because of the release it provided. I even count myself among this group. And when he moved to satellite, I intended on following him there, too, as most of his audience probably did. But when it came down to it, what a hassle! And now it’s been what, four years? Does anybody even remember what Howard Stern’s voice sounds like?

I think this might be some kind of Canadian gang sign.

I think this might be some kind of Canadian gang sign.

Do you people realize that it has been basketball season for well over a month now and this is the first post I’ve written on the NBA? If I were you, I would consider myself lucky. Because MAN is there a lot of material to work with, already this season, even after just about 8 games per team. The antics both on and off the court of NBA players this season have already provided me with a wealth of opportunities to wax philosophical, so instead of sixteen separate posts on the topic, I thought I’d consolidate into one list on Business 2.0 and the NBA. So here are the thoughts I’ve had on the NBA and the 2009-2010 season thusfar. Enjoy.

  1. Sometimes Your Product Is Awesome, But Still Nobody Wants What You’re Selling.
    Unless you’re already a basketball fan, you probably have not heard the name Allen Iverson before, even though he is a fairly certain inductee to the Basketball Hall of Fame once he retires. Unlike superstar basketball players like Shaq, LeBron, or Kobe, who are all on a first-name basis with even the non-basketball viewing public, Allen Iverson has quietly maintained a lesser stature in the popular imagination, despite being one of the most prolific scorers in the history of baskeball. The other three have weird, memorable names, and personalities the size of Rhode Island. But Allen Iverson, as good as he is, is just plain old weird.

    Weird for a basketball superstar, that is. Because he’s short, by NBA standards, so he plays point guard. But unlike most point guards, AI has been known to lead the entire league in scoring. See, point guards are supposed to run the court, look for plays to make, openings for passes, get the ball in the hands of the superstar. They are not supposed to score, except on occasion, so much as they are supposed to serve as a a stabilizing force on the court. Shorter players cannot go up against the “bigs” in the paint, but they are fast, and they are stable, and it’s tough to get the ball away from them, even when you tower over them, because they can do things like dribble the ball between their legs and — sometimes — pass the ball through your legs if you’re not watching carefully enough. But somehow, AI missed the memo on the purpose of point guards, because what he does best is to score, to make plays for himself, and to be the star, rather than to assist the star.

    AI has posed a problem for the teams on which he has played because, even if he drives ticket sales and makes lots of points, he makes it tough for a team to develop its other talent. He’s too short to really play down in the paint, and he’s too much of a superstar to create openings for other players. And like most superstars, he expects to start the game and be catered to, and he expects a big salary in exchange. Which is why, after being asked to play off the bench for the the Memphis Grizzlies (the crappy team to which he was traded this season) AI decided to quit playing basketball “for personal reasons” after playing only 3 games in the 2009-2010 season.

    AI is a star, but his product doesn’t fit well into the current market conditions of the NBA. With the NBA set up as it is now, it is tough for a player of his talents to fit into a team, and basketball is still a team sport. Rather than adapt, AI appears to have (at least for now) quit, which I suppose is a viable option when you’ve already been playing for a bunch of years and have money in the bank. But not all entrepreneurs can be so lucky — when the market isn’t conducive to your product, the best way of dealing with it is to put your ego on hold and adapt.

  2. Even When Your Product Is Awesome, You Need A Backup Plan.
    It may be that things will change in professional basketball at some point in the future. Maybe at some point it will become more common for shorter players to dominate in scoring the way that AI does. Or, it may be that the taller players will keep selecting themselves out because of the problems they tend to have with injuries. (Take Yao Ming, for example: he’s huge, and he’s great, but he’s been plagued by foot problems his whole career and is out for this entire season.) It’s not completely far-fetched that there will come a time when there are more shorter players who become their team’s major scorers, but at present it seems unlikely. And in any case, that day is not going to happen in time for AI, who is in his mid-thirties. As a player, AI’s choice is to either adapt to these conditions or quit: he can either check his ego at the door and come off the bench for a bad team, or try to find another way to do what he does best. The best businesspeople do not get caught off guard by these kinds of things, or quibble over what is fair and not fair. They adapt and find a way to succeed because they are always planning for a worst case scenario. People who are successful are people who understand that their product is only as good as its ability to adapt to the dictates of the market.
  3. Use The Market Realities, Even When They Hurt Your Ego, To Your Benefit.
    Allen Iverson could learn something from Canadians, because the only thing we Americans like more than Canadians, is making fun of Canadians. That’s why this move by Steve Nash the other night in the game against the Lakers has amused me to no end: unhappy with the ref’s call of a foul on a shot, Steve Nash decides to put on backwards Batman glasses in order to better illustrate his point to the ref. Too bad the ref isn’t Canadian, because I think she probably just thought, “What the hell is that funny Canadian doing now?” But seriously, take a cue from the Canadians on this one: instead of being upset by the “blame Canada” jokes and the constant references to “eh” and Strange Brew, Canadians do what all people with a good sense of humor do: embrace their stereotype as America’s dorky upstairs neighbor, and use it to their advantage. You’d be hard-pressed to find a comedy show or troop that isn’t dominated by Canadians, and why? Because Canadians are funny, even when they don’t want to be, and instead of getting mad, they laugh all the way to the bank.
  4. The Sum Of The Parts Of Two Greats Might Be Worse Than Those Greats Alone.
    Last season, I wrote about the peculiar economics of the then-hypothetical trade of Shaquille O’Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The results of this trade, now that it’s actually happened, are even more interesting. Cleveland won all of its regular season games at home last year save one, to the Lakers, who went on to win the NBA Championship (BOOYAH). LeBron won the MVP in no small part due to this feat, which is highly impressive and highly unusual. But even with the great LeBron, Cleveland could not make it to the NBA Finals, because (as I wrote in last year’s post) you usually need two or three hall of famers on a team in order to win an NBA Championship. Now that they have Shaq, you’d think they’d be better, right? Well, wrong. They’re record so far is 7 wins and 3 losses, which is not bad, but it’s hardly off to the start that everybody was hoping for. It may be that these two will end up making a great team, or it may be a total bust. The best bet, though, is that each of these great players will have to adjust their games a bit to work well together — and that is always the question when it comes to winning games.
  5. Give Your Customers What They Want, But Know That This Will Only Make Them Find Something Else To Want.. The other night I was watching the Lakers play the Phoenix Suns. This was a highly anticipated game in the Western Conference because the Suns and the Lakers have been trading off the number one position for the season so far. Well into the fourth quarter, it became apparent that the Lakers were going to win the game because the point discrepancy was getting too large for the Suns to come back in the time left in the game. At this point, the crowd started chanting “WE WANT TACOS! WE WANT TACOS!

    Now, if you’ve never gone to a Lakers game, you might be confused by this chant, but what it means is this: the Lakers have a deal with Jack In The Box that everybody in the audience at Staples will get a coupon for two free tacos if the Lakers 1) Win the game and 2) keep the opposing team under 100 points. So when the Lakers win, the big issue becomes if they won “enough” to get tacos. And suddenly, a pair of tacos that retail for $0.99 is the goal of the thousands of spectators at Staples, the game being an assumed victory. I have to imagine this is particularly humiliating for the opposing team, who is already losing, to have their defeat put on the backburner to cheap hangover food. But still, it happens every time, and you would think these people have forgotten that they can get these stupid tacos for less than 1/10th of the beer they’re drinking at the game. The taco becomes the symbol of embarrassing defeat, the better to stick it to the opponent. And I have to assume that’s why Grant Hill, a player on the Suns, was cheering, “YEAH! NO FREE TACOS!” when Phoenix’s score tipped the 100 point mark, and it was clear that the Lakers fans would not be getting tacos the other night.

    The takeaway? Whatever you give your customers, they’ll find something else they want more. Anticipate where they will go next, and you can have an army of people chanting for your craptastic $0.99 tacos on national TV.

I don't know about you, but I'm dying to find out.

I don't know about you, but I'm dying to find out.

Somehow, I have become a person who buys clothing at Anthropologie. I cannot say that I ever thought this would happen. I have a pretty strict no-extraneous-fabric-flowers-on-clothing rule, and I’m not into flowy skirts or embroidered tights. But as we move out of the Naughts and the remainders of the unfortunate sartorial period hallmarked by the experimental ostentatious femininity of Sex and the City, I’m finding that Anthropologie stocks clothing reliably that is appropriate for my career as a mother (i.e. washable) and as a lazy bum (i.e. comfortable) but that I can still go outside in (i.e. not sweat pants). Plus, they offer some more intriguing takes on what are, basically, outfits comprised wholly of t-shirts and jeans.

Whatever.

I suppose it was only a matter of time: you cannot keep shopping at Urban Outfitters for much longer after you hit 35, unless you are very very specific in your choices, or refuse to let age force you to quit smoking hash. When they started stocking the Cute Overload book I knew I had moved out of their target demographic. Then, of course, there’s Banana Republic et al., but if you shop there for too long, well . . . how many oxfords and khakis can one have, really?

I was buying my pants yesterday, and the Anthropologie guy said, “Do you have an Anthro card?” And after I realized he was not talking about something for which a terror alert might be issued or that might require me to wear rubber gloves whilst sorting mail, I decided to listen to his pitch. I’ve talked about permission marketing here before, but I mostly don’t participate with companies in it (Daily Candy being the one notable exception) since my thought is that it’s rare that a company is going to offer me marketing materials that I actually want to read. I have to feel like I’m getting something out of the deal that is worhtwhile in order to sign up, and most opportunities just aren’t worth it for the occasional 20% off coupon or whatever. (And don’t get me started with the companies that require you to intentionally opt-out of these kinds of programs . . . drugstore.com, I’m scowling in your general direction.)

Besides, the Anthropologie guy assured me that this mysterious Anthro card would welcome me into the world of all things Antropologie. And all at once my mind started racing, because like I just admitted, I have apparently become somebody who shops at Anthropologie. Would I get the inside scoop on sales? New products and trends? An at-length explanation for why they have added an -ie suffix onto an English word that should end in -y? Who knew? I decided to sign up and see what happened.

I’ve only been an Anthro cardholder for one day, but already I’ve acquired several new things. Take this membership kit wrapped in a gratuitous felt bag made out of the kind of fabric one might happen upon, as if by magic, at a French flea market! Do the French even have fleas? I don’t know!

Hey look! Gratuitous packaging!

Hey look! Gratuitous packaging!

I have to wonder at this inclusion, since it’s precisely the kind of thing I don’t like to deal with at home (superfluous packaging that forces me to either feel guilty about throwing away or find some kind of alternative use for). On the other hand, it’s kind of nice to get something pretty to take home, for “free,” even when it’s useless. And I have to assume the Anthro Card team knows that customers might feel this way.

I wonder if this will get me past some kind of velveteen rope somewhere.

I wonder if this will get me past some kind of velveteen rope somewhere.

The inside of the fabric bag is filled with equally superfluous and expensive material. The card itself is nothing to write home about, but the pull-out flyer does a good job of creating the illusion of something handmade that is actually mass-produced. I have to assume that this cost quite a bit to produce. Which must have a little something to do with what “we” hold dear:

I don't know about you, but I'm dying to find out.

I don't know about you, but I'm dying to find out.

I’m still a little skeptical about whether or not this permission marketing will turn out well for me. The offerings seem a little paltry for me. From me, they will learn things about my buying and returning habits, which products sell well in what geographical area, what kinds of people are among their repeat clientele.

Yes. Yes. I hold this dear. I do! I do! Pick me!

Yes. Yes. I hold this dear. I do! I do! Pick me!

I might get some discounts here and there. Some tips on cool ideas for Commodity Fetishism. Probably some fabric bags or something, too. And If I need to take stuff back and I’ve lost my receipt, no problem.

Old-fashioned service. Yes. What ever happened to that? Wait. Are you saying I'm old?

Old-fashioned service. Yes. What ever happened to that? Wait. Are you saying I'm old?

On the other hand, I want to encourage this kind of marketing. I like it so much more than the interuption format. At least I know this is something I signed up for, from a retailer that has products I tend to like. That alone is revolutionary. And I’d like to see more companies doing it, so I’ll sign up. One thing about the Anthro card that might be a good feature, though, is for those times when you get home and are confronted by this:

This is some newfangled version of a security tag they didn't have back in the olden days when I worked retail.

This is some newfangled version of a security tag they didn't have back in the olden days when I worked retail.

Maybe add a feature where a guy drives to your house with a security tag remover and fixes it for you? Just throwing out ideas for both of us to grow, Anthropologie.

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