Speaker submissions invited for "Thin Air Summit" here in Colorado!
I find myself involved in the organization of three different conferences right now, Blogworld and New Media Expo 2008, the Thin Air Summit and ... well, a third event that I'm not quite ready to announce yet. :-)
Blogworld's call for speakers has passed, but the new event, the Thin Air Summit, just opened its doors for speaker proposals and I invite you to consider proposing a talk of your own (or a panel!) on a topic of interest to New Media and Web 2.0 folk. The conference will occur over the weekend of November 7-9, 2008 at the facilities of the Art Institute of Colorado.
"The format of The Thin Air Summit is a combination of panels and educational sessions. For the education sessions there are three tracks, text - e.g. blogging, online books and the like, audio - e.g. audio podcasts, podsafe music and video - e.g. video podcasts, live streaming video. These sessions will provide practical information relevant to creating better content in that particular medium. The panels will bring all three tracks together and be focused on new media topics that are relevant to all - both the practical, such as monetization, and the philosophical, such as What is New Media and Why is it Important.
Sound cool? I think it will be a nice event with a savvy audience and it's a huge bonus that we'll be hosting it here in Colorado, rather than having to fly to California, New York or some other far distant city! And it'll prove to be one of the premier new media networking events in Colorado this year too...
Interested in speaking? Please check out our Call for Speakers.
Hilarious "tombstoning" gaffe in local newspaper
This is a bit of newspaper business trivia, but us old media types pay attention to how things lay out together in a newspaper, where, say, a picture of a convicted child molester just happens to appear above a story about a local senator. No overt implication, just an unhappy or amusing juxtaposition.
In the newspaper biz, they call that "tombstoning" and today there's an awesome example of this very thing in online edition of the local paper:
Who would have thought that was what the Regents of the University of Colorado, Boulder had in mind when they opted to discuss the possibility of giving freshmen bicycles, though given the Bacchanalian nature of college nowadays, that's probably spot on.
Okay, okay, here's a slightly expanded view:
Of course you're now thinking "Holy cow! Every article in The Daily Camera is about sex!" given the new article of strippers versus golfers (is that going to be a bad made-for-tv movie soon?) and you'd be wrong, sorry to say, but not... entirely wrong.
Keep an eye out in your own newspaper for more examples of funny tombstoning. I bet you'll be surprised how often you encounter something amusing like this.
Disclaimer: I write a weekly column for the Daily Camera, so it's not like I don't like the newspaper and their editorial team... :-)
How do you ethically ask bloggers to write about your business?
A colleague I met at a recent networking event asked me something very interesting via email:
Is there a ethical way to ask bloggers to write about your business?
I've spent some time thinking about this question because my first response was a knee-jerk answer of "any way you ask someone to help you promote your business is ethical". But that's not true. Witness the waves of spam we receive every day from people who are following just that dictum.
On the other end of the spectrum, clearly if you never actually promote your business and just wait for those blogger-types to stumble across it and write about it is folly too. If you don't promote your business, chances are you don't have one after a while.
So the truth must lie somewhere in the middle, and there are indeed ethical and socially acceptable ways you can promote your business with bloggers.
I can then examine my inbox to see some examples, and one leaps out immediately: sending a press release or media announcement is rarely, if ever, a good solution. I would estimate that I read the headlines of less than 10% of the press releases I get, and less than 2% of them engage me enough -- or are targeted enough -- that I'll read a paragraph or two into the release itself. (remember too that I have years of experience sifting through press releases from my former life as a magazine editor)
Really, the best way to engage a blogger and let them know about your business is for you to participate in the discussion on their blog then, once you've established yourself as a commentator, open up a private channel of communication with them via email and begin to introduce your business.
I'm reminded of a Godfather type of scene, where I'd be whispering with some sort of American-Italian accent, "you gotta pay your respects before you can get the attention of the Don. Move too fast and, well, there's gunna be trouble..."
But then again, there are likely many other ways to approach bloggers effectively to promote your business too. Dear reader, perhaps you can share one or two of your best practices in this regard?
Interview with Kenneth Lin, CEO of Credit Karma
When my friend Melissa told me she was helping with a new Web site, Credit Karma, I was rather surprised to hear about it. I mean, another site about credit scores? On request, she arranged for me to send some questions along to the CEO, Kenneth Lin, and here are my pointed questions and his responses.
Q: Another online credit reporting site? What's new?
Credit fatigue is understandable - it seems that you hear about the importance of credit everywhere you turn. But the truth is that credit, and subsequently your credit score, is the single most important financial indicator used by lenders, and in today's economy it's more relevant than ever.
The great thing about it is that you can actually control your credit score - you can protect and improve it with just some basic knowledge and tools. The problem is that consumers just haven't had access to the right kind of tools before.
Credit Karma helps consumers monitor, improve and leverage their credit. We are the only service that allows people to pull their credit score as often as they need for free. We have also built simulators and tools that help them understand how specific actions such as opening or closing a line of credit will affect their score. And finally, we bring them preferred pricing offers based on the strength of their score that they can also rate as a community. Most importantly, we never share consumers' information.
Q: I think there's a lot of confusion in the consumer space vis-à-vis credit scores. Federal law requires that credit reporting agencies make your report available to you every 12 months or any time you have a credit app denied. Why Credit Karma?
We absolutely agree that there's a lot of confusion in the marketplace. That's why we're in this business: to help consumers better understand their credit and how to leverage it for their advantage.
Between the federal mandate, pay-for-score services, and identity theft protection companies, consumers are bombarded with messages about the importance of credit scores. The good thing is that consumers are now hyper-aware and realize they need to know their score. The challenge is that consumers should be obtaining their score about once a month in order to catch any changes caused by missed bill payments, an incident of identity theft or similar...and they couldn't do that before Credit Karma.
Not only do we let them access their score as often as they'd like for free, but we also provide simulators and information to help them understand the best way to improve their score and even predict what it will be as a result of a specific behavior. Finally, we help them obtain preferred pricing on products they desire as a result of that score. It's a completely free and transparent way for consumers to better manage and leverage their credit.
Q: What's your background in finance and banking and what attracted you to credit scores?
I've been in the industry for a number of years. I've worked for credit card companies, led marketing teams at both Upromise and E-LOAN, and even launched my own online marketing analytics firm before founding Credit Karma. All of this has given me a deep understanding of how credit works and how lenders use credit data to make lending decisions.
My inspiration stems from my experience at both Upromise and E-LOAN, two companies with a pro-consumer mission that aimed to transform an industry and help consumers in the process. I realized then that consumers had only the most basic awareness of their credit score and that the opportunity existed to build a business on helping them learn more and be better informed credit customers. Everything we do at Credit Karma - even the way in which we make money - is done with a consumer's best interests in mind.
Q: Credit scores rarely take into account life stories. How are you going to help people manage their credit score and, ideally, improve it so they have greater access to financing and mortgage options?
Our first step is to help people access it and then to help them understand what it means by sharing information resources and comparing their score to others in their age, geographic or similar groups. Just this first step is important because it often inspires them to try and improve it.
We help them improve their score through simulators that can instruct personal behavior. For example, if you're late on a major credit card, we can help you predict what your score will be by taking care of that outstanding balance. Or perhaps you'd benefit by taking out another revolving line of credit. The point is to give you tangible things that will make a difference so you can begin to adjust your behavior. For most people, there is a number they need to reach so it's easy for them to create a plan and stick to it.
Q: How does Credit Karma make money? And is there a tension and potential conflict between offering up "pro-consumer" advice and information while simultaneously possibly helping people dig themselves deeper with credit card offers?
Our business model relies on giving consumers good offers through our advertisers. We need to provide them with relevant, real and compelling pricing offers. There is no tension in this model because we take our pro-consumer bent seriously. We do not accept advertising or work with companies that take advantage of consumers. You will never see ads from payday lending companies or others who perpetuate debt and poor credit. And because we allow users to rate offers and help us fine-tune our offering for other consumers similar to them, we can isolate only those offers that are actually useful and relevant. It's a highly efficient process both for our users and for the advertisers.
Q: What is the return rate for web customers?
The return rates vary, and really depend on whether a consumer is getting ready to make a credit-based purchase. We have visitors that check almost every day and those who check once every couple of months. On average, we see about 3 visits per month per active user.
We recommend that consumers check their score about once a month. Our empirical data shows that a score changes about once every 30 days, which makes sense because it mirrors most billing cycles. We encourage users to check once a month so that they can determine if they accidentally missed a bill or even if there is unauthorized activity on their credit file.
Q: Are there privacy concerns? Are you exposing consumer credit scores to sponsors, how do consumers with high credit scores get access to the offers?
We never share information with sponsors or advertisers. We take our pledge to consumers seriously and have built in redundant layers of security and policies to ensure that their information remains private. You'll see that much of the feedback from consumers about Credit Karma attests to this. All of our pricing offers are one-way offers based on credit score ranges, not actual scores or individuals. A sponsor never knows who is receiving the offer and has no way to contact that person directly. We make sure that ultimate control always resides with the consumer.
What do you think, reader? Is there a compelling case for Credit Karma in the online credit and personal finance space?
Major appliances are still not purchased online
Reading the latest issue of Consumer Electronics publication TWICE I came across their list of the top 100 Major Appliance Retailers and was struck by how there are no online companies on the list.
There are companies that have a significant online presence, of course, like Sears, but I think it's safe to say that unlike consumer electronics purchasing habits, major appliances (the industry calls the category "majapp", by the way) are still purchased based on in-store discussions with salespeople and hands-on experience.
The list of top Majapp retailers:
Somehow, in 2008 I expect to see some sort of company like "Appliances Online" or even Amazon show up on the top 25 list (after all, Grants Appliance is on the list with only $77 million in annual major appliance sales)...
Is it possible that major appliances will always be purchased primarily through a physical storefront, perhaps simply due to the complexity of delivery and installation? What do you think?
Yahoo is still suffering from lack of coherent vision
I write this as I'm listening to Greg Cohn from Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) talk about their future vision for the corporation: "Yahoo is the social network" and the Yahoo! Open Strategy (aka Yahoo OS). Interesting talk, but I can't help but thinking about the organizational challenges that they face...
More than anything it really strikes me that the company is so deeply organized into silos, departments and divisions that it's possible that even were Yahoo to learn how to integrate things together and cross-promote it might never be successful at creating a single, unified company at this point in its history.
Greg explains on his blog that Yahoo OS is a cool way to open up parts of the Yahoo network to third parties, just as its Search Monkey is opening up search to third parties too, through plug-ins that affect search results. That's a step in teh right direction, but maybe not: Given the company already has dozens upon dozens of properties, does it really need to open things up to hundreds of additional properties like Blogger, Facebook and Twitter?
The challenge is that Yahoo has become too diverse a company. I mean, here's just a short list of some of the more popular properties under the Yahoo umbrella, as gleaned from the 2007 Annual Report:
I am well aware that one of the greatest problems in a large company is that, well, it's a large company. The logistical challenges of integrating a wide variety of quasi-unaffiliated departments is vast, and with constant acquisitions, it's even worse. This can be solved by strong management from the top, a strong, coherent, single unified direction. What Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA) famously and aptly described as "putting all your wood behind one arrowhead".
One of the greatest problems I see with Yahoo is the recently ended tenure of Terry Semel, who did his very best to turn Yahoo, an Internet property, into Yahoo Hollywood, a new generation media company built around what I can only imagine was the inspiration of the org charts of companies like Warner Brothers and Paramount. Not good. Film companies have a small number of large bets and only need a few to be home runs, but a film company with hundreds, or thousands of tiny properties? No go.
Now that Terry's out and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang is back running the company, and now that they've survived the Microsoft blitzkrieg and are trying to weather Carl Icahn's newest attack, the question remains: can Yahoo consolidate, find a single vision to unify its widely diverse offerings, and become a strong competitor in an ever-changing marketplace?
We'll have to wait and see.
Finding live Euro 2008 Soccer Championship coverage online
I admit it, I'm rather technologically limited. While I might have most of the top gadgets in the world, a top-end Blu-Ray player, HDTV, and more, what I don't have is cable TV, Dish Network or any other way to get "TV" programming. Which is rarely an issue for me other than when something like Euro 2008 Championship, one of the very best soccer competitions in the world (while we wait for FIFA World Cup 2010 to roll around).
Since we are in the Internet age, I decided that I'd dig around and see if I could find a site where I could ideally watch live video coverage of the Euro 2008 games, or, worst case, watch video replays or even highlights of the best action in specific matches.
After digging and digging, I have come to the conclusion that it's just not there. In fact, not only is there no live Euro 2008 coverage online, there are a lot of companies taking advantage of the curiosity of football fans to sell things in what might not be an entirely ethical manner.
I mean, it's no surprise to search Google for something like Watch European Soccer Championship, click on an advert, and end up at a "landing page" selling some doubtless-illegal unauthorized satellite program capture device like this one, but what is surprising is when companies like ESPN (a Disney (NYSE:DIS) company, in case you're not keeping track) resorts to misdirection as a sales tool.
What do I mean? Check this out...
Sounds like what I want, right? Clicking through from this Google AdWords ad, however, and you end up here:
And now you can see the misdirection. This isn't free live video of Euro 2008, it's an offer to have free streaming if you already pay for their channel on your existing broadcast service or have a specific Internet high speed access provider.
Even that wouldn't be a complete show-stopper if they had a "click here and sign up for our on-line only access pass, only $4.99/month". I'd click, I'd sign up, I'd pay. But there isn't an option for that, and so, like doubtless many other football (sorry, soccer) fans worldwide, I am left unable to watch even the highlights on my computer.
And yet... with the Summer Olympics coming in less than two months, I am really surprised how little major sporting events are utilizing Internet video capabilities, if at all.
One simple idea: A virtual video control room, where you could let viewers choose their favorite camera angle or commentator, or - and this has historically been the Achilles heel of the Olympics coverage in the United States - turn off the commentators entirely. Tell me that wouldn't be a cool thing to try out.
Would I pay for this service? You bet. Wouldn't you?
And yet, it's 2008 and I still can't even pay to watch Euro 2008 matches on my computer.
Top Twenty Consumer Electronics Retailers of 2007
I think you might well be surprised by the list, as created by TWICE, the industry publication of record for the consumer electronics industry. Comments in italics are my own additions to the list:
#1: Best Buy, with 917 stores, sales increased 11.1% 2006 to 2007.
No surprise here. Best Buy has done a masterful job of marketing, retailing and store design. There really is no competition for them at this point in terms of stand-alone companies that have good selection, good brands and good employees.
#2: Wal-Mart, with 3414 stores and 22.7% increase in sales.
Think about that. Wal-Mart is already a huge retail presence, the 1600 pound gorilla and the single largest retail company in the United States. Between 2006 and 2007 their retail sales increased almost 23%. That's incredible. If there's one store that is a threat to the existing hegemony of CE retail, it's Wal-Mart, a company that generally tends to crush any niche it sets its sights on anyway (for example, groceries).
#3: Circuit City, with 684 stores and a 5.9% decrease in sales.
It's that decrease that tells you all you need to know about why Circuit City is not a healthy company and why firms like Blockbuster are circling for the kill (and assets). I've written about this before: The Logic of Blockbuster buying Circuit City.
#4: Dell, with 1 store and approximately even sales 2006 to 2007.
Honestly, I never put two and two together and realized that Dell Computer would be one of the top five CE retailers in the United States. But sales in 2007 were $7.088 billion which is a whole lotta laptops!
#5: Target, with 1591 stores and a 23.8% increase in sales.
Just as Wal-Mart represents a huge threat to the world of retail CE, so does Target, with its more upscale, fashionable positioning in the marketplace and well-designed electronics area. I know that I often find myself their when I want small CE devices and add-ons.
#6: Costco Wholesale, with 389 stores and a 28.6% increase in sales.
Holy cow, that's almost a 30% increase in CE sales from 2006. Yet it's no surprise: as consumer electronics continue to devolve into commodities that a company whose entire focus is on cheap commodity sales should rise to prominence. This also really makes you wonder how much people care about selection, because Costco might have good prices, but their selection and variety stinks. But, with $4.9 billion in CE sales, apparently people don't really care that much.
#7: Gamestop, with 4008 stores and an increase of 32.3% in sales.
Yep, Gamestop. That dorky video game retail outlet in the Mall has an impressive 4000+ outlets and clearly can thank Nintendo for the Wii and Sony for the Playstation-3 for contributing to their superb results in 2007.
#8: Apple Retail Stores, with 177 stores and a 40.5% increase in sales.
It wasn't too many years ago that Apple opened its first retail store in Palo Alto, California, and industry analysts said it'd fail. I mean, people want choices and selection, not a uni-vendor store. Right? Wrong. Very wrong. What's most impressive is that Apple has achieved an aggregate $4.079 billion in sales with only 177 stores. That's a staggering per-store revenue.
#9: RadioShack, with 4447 stores and a decrease of 10.8% in sales.
Visiting a RadioShack is always somehow like traveling back in time to the CE world of the 80s where unknown gizmos and slick salespeople were what counted, not the shiny techno world of Best Buy / Apple. RadioShack is unquestionably on a long, slow burn and are finding it increasingly difficult to remain relevant in the twenty-first century.
#10: Sears, with 1765 stores and a sales increase of 1.9%.
Another die-hard, Sears is perhaps the greatest competitor to Wal-Mart in terms of the demographic and socio-economic customer base. When was the last time you bought something at Sears, though?
And, just for completeness, here are #11-20: Sam's Club, Amazon.com, CompUSA (now defunct), Fry's Electronics, Newegg.com, Office Depot, Staples, Army-Air Force Exchange, Toys R Us and Micro Center.
What I find most interesting about this list is how few online retailers are in the top ten, but how most of the next grouping, #11-20, are almost all online retailers. It's a testament to the kinesthetic importance of retail outlets in the world of consumer electronics too: people can buy their CE from an online outlet -- as I did my Sony HDTV, when I bought it from Amazon.com -- but they still want to touch it first, to see it and reassure themselves that it's worth the investment.
I imagine that 2008 or, perhaps, 2009, will see RadioShack and Sears off the top ten, replaced by Amazon.com and, perhaps, Fry's Electronics. And sales overall? Up, up, up: 2006 total aggregate CE sales were $114.5 billion and 2007 sales were $125.3 billion. That's a big upward trend and even with a weaker economy I see no reason not to expect continued growth as HDDVD is phased out, Blu-Ray becomes more popular and the cut-off of analog-only TV approaches ever closer.
What do you think, dear reader?
Elsewhere in my
Latest Entries at
The Business Blog