December 17th, 2011

Amazon Locker

I've been seeing off to the side of the screen something about Amazon Locker and pointedly ignoring it. Well, today I'm not ignoring it any more. What the heck is this thing?

From the source:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200689010

There's a picture of the lockers. They say "in your neighborhood". The idea is simple: can't receive packages? Well now you can. They send you a code and you go type it in and a door pops open and voila, you have your package. I will decline to make the heartless and cruel obvious joke and instead note that even a phoneless road tripper can order on Amazon, if they can track down public libraries with computers and manage to maintain an email address somewhere.

Obviously, like all kinds of things online, they are only in select real world locations (can I order from Amazon Fresh in Metrowest? I don't think so but I hope to be proved wrong some day).

This coverage, from a few months ago, shows a picture of those lockers in a 7-Eleven on Cap Hill in Seattle. This seems very right to me: lots of apartments. They've set some up in NYC as well -- that _really_ makes sense. Sometimes my walking partner's brother will time his Amazon purchases to visits to his family home near where I live; he doesn't live in a doorman building.

While I was obsessing about the Economy of the Future and what that meant for jobs and retail, I ran across indications that we have way more retail space than, well, anywhere else in the world. And that's _before_ factoring in a transition to online retail (which is obviously in progress). I concluded that the corner store wasn't ever going to go entirely away in an urban context (last minute purchases if nothing else) and a business could probably be built around taking deliveries for people who couldn't be home for packages or did not live in a place that supplied such a person (whether that's a big complex with someone running the office or a doorman or super or whatever). Putting Amazon Lockers in a 7-11 would appear to support this thesis without supporting the fractional job that I assumed would go with it.

Yikes.

ETA: I wonder if you can have Amazon Fresh delivered to an Amazon Locker? Probably not.

Automated Service

No, I'm not talking about Bamn! -- which came and went without infringing upon my consciousness (a little odd that something involving that group of culinary stars could result in such raving reviews that were still somewhat negative about the food).

Anyway. After tripping over Amazon Locker, I kept saying to my self, Self, how could you _miss_ this? Well, it was pretty easy to miss. There are lots of people out there looking for work so why the heck would anyone automate out of existence all those jobs? Because the business cycle is harsh and cruel, particularly at the peak of a boom when good restaurants go out of business because all the servers go to work writing HTML for dot com startups. Okay, so all my experience is _way_ out of date.

The Royal Mail is supposedly working with ByBox to put together an automated drop off and pick up parcel service, based on an already existing (and apparently really popular) service in Germany. The USPS is experimenting with something it calls gopost, which I thought was supposed to go live this year but is now due out maybe in January, probably in Northern Virginia. Unclear whether it will be drop off and pickup or just pickup. These are interesting, because the Amazon service is obviously just for Amazon. I have no idea whether you can do returns through Amazon Locker; I sort of doubt it, but maybe at some point in the future. (OTOH, the Cloud services always struck me as Amazon monetizing extra capacity that it had to have for scaling/holiday demand; if the Locker service works out well, they might deign to share it with others. For a price.)

Along the way, I decided to pursue the redbox reference in one of the articles I pointed to (that an Amazon Locker setup could go anywhere a redbox could go), and also the Jones Lang Lasalle reference. Neither one was particularly fruitful, altho the former was interesting. McDonald's started redbox as an experiment, along with kiosks moving milk/eggs/sandwichs. The c-store replacement idea was ditched but they went with redbox and then cleverly sold out to Coinstar.

Coinstar, obviously, is in a good position to ride this thing long after everyone else assumes DVDs are a thing of the past. They are, however, trying to parlay this success into something that might last a bit longer. Their "gizmo" project involves kiosks selling refurbed small electronics. They have some other, even less plausible activities (digital camera booths with green screens that let you post to FB or print or both).

Coinstar does not franchise the machines. And they don't seem to have any trouble finding locations. They rely upon people _applying_ for machines. Wow. And if you go to their jobs page, you can get a real flavor for the jobs created by this particular kind of enterprise (shuffling disks in and out of machines, setting up machines, repairing machines, managing the people who do the above, managing the managers, etc. There's a ton of database crap behind it all obviously, and I was not too surprised to discover that they conned whoever supplies the disks to do all the barcode or whatever labeling redbox needs to make it all work).

BestBuy's airport kiosks and those electronics kiosks in Macy's appear to be run by Zoom Systems. Supposedly they have a Body Shop kiosk as well, altho it is not obviously present Zoom Systems partner page. Maybe it flamed out already? My personal experience with kiosks and the entrepreneurs who get really excited about them has not been particularly positive. I'm torn between omg how amazingly brilliant! and goddess not another one of these stupid ideas. I'm leaning towards the former, however.

It Makes Me a Bad Person to Laugh at This

You probably won't find it funny, for a variety of reasons. Here is the source:

http://www.teleread.com/baen-books/how-digital-media-have-changed-my-buying-habits/

It's an interesting, thoughtful analysis in many ways, if clearly a little outside the typical range of reader thinking (books = electronic games). Here's where the giggles got me:

"Thinking back to my life before e-books and game downloads, I can’t conceive of buying books that I never read or games that I never played. Even the games I got on sale got given a thorough spin. I can only point to 3 or 4 games, out of the couple of dozen on my shelf, that I bought and never tried. And why would you buy something just to take up space?"

Sorry about your computer screen.

Once upon a time, long ago, I worked at a little bookstore on the internet. Possibly you've heard of it. Name starts with an A. There was a desire to put together a recommendations engine using our burgeoning customer data. There were discussions and debates about how best to do this. Over the ensuing decade plus, a variety of strategies have been pursued, using two basic sets of data: what people buy, and the ratings people offer. It was _always_ my contention, right from the beginning, that a retailer who wants to sell more stuff shouldn't pay any attention to ratings or otherwise collect anyone's opinion about what they liked or wanted to buy more of. My theory was simple: people will buy more stuff like the stuff they have already bought, and you can tell if things are "like" by whether people in aggregate tended to buy the same group of things (if millions of customers who buy A also buy B than a customer who bought A will probably be willing to buy B for suitable definitions of all of those words). The only problem -- and this is a _huge_ problem but not that difficult to deal with -- is that certain things are bought by everyone. Those things have to be removed from the analysis pre-emptively (e.g. Harry Potter).

The worst thing about this Russo/Manjoo/Amazon Price Check/independent book store/etc. thing is that no one seems able to bring themselves to continue on to the obvious conclusion: selling more books might be a great economic goal, but it may not be a great goal from a literary standpoint. And buying more books != reading more books.

If your goal as an author is to connect with readers who actually read your stuff, you _definitely_ need a day job. With extremely rare exceptions, that has always been the case (exceptions being certain -- by no means most, much less all -- bestselling authors, and people who don't need any job at all to pay the bills).

I'm feeling optimistic, tho. I grew up in a bit of a time warp: watching a lot of movies and books that were new and popular long before I was born. I got a degree and had a few jobs that were right on the edge of New and Cool and Amazing. And I have since been watching the whole freaking world start doing things that only incredibly geeky people did when I was in college: hang out in online fora, date and marry people they met through IRC (or whatever the kiddies are calling it these days), read manga and watch anime. Heck, we almost have functional micropayments now! Yelp is a functional recommendation/review system for restaurants. Louis C.K. and others are finding it possible as content producers to connect directly with their consumers in a mutually beneficial way.

Some Day Soon, Real Soon Now, we'll come up with a way to filter through all this content so I can find the stuff I'll enjoy and not have to see all this other crap.

The Promised Land.

Mildly Amusing Game

Can you find a book on Amazon which has more used copies available for sale starting at $.01 than the first Harry Potter book (> 4K)? Twilight is the closest second I've found so far, altho Catcher in the Rye does better than I would have anticipated.

ETA: Never mind about the closest second. But I still haven't beat that first Harry Potter. It's weird, too: virtually _all_ of the copies are .01 (unless they are fulfilled by Amazon and some of those are $3.89 which I didn't realize was possible, thus netting out less than the .01 when shipping is considered and assuming you have Prime), and certain stores (Yankee Clipper, Blue Cloud, etc.) show up with hundreds of entries on individual books.

The 2nd and 3rd Potter books also have lots of used .01 copies, however book 4 jumps up to over a quarter before shipping (and no < $4 fulfilled by, either) and the rest of the series climbs from there.