ebooks, monopolies, monopsonies, DRM and me

I was late last night reading. I had finished reading Evan Currie’s Valkyrie Burning (Warrior’s Wings Book Three) on Amazon. I went looking for new publications from Evan which included The Heart of Matter: Odyssey One. But there was a change in price, The Heart of the Matter is $7.99. Sure it’s not a lot of money. But I’ve previously bought 4 of Evan’s books (including the price I paid):

So from an average price of $3.49 to a new book of $7.99. A 229% price increase. I want my authors to get paid. I like them earning more and generating more and better content. But a 229% price increase, and it’s not just the popularity of authors but current events and my choice of operating system that have me paying more. So I support an author and they become “famous” or “popular”, and I’m am supposed to grin and bear it because I can. I’m all for paying for integrated services, I’m all for authors earning more, I’m all for a better experience. But seriously a 229% price increase, something doesn’t feel right.

Amazon Prime pricing for $0.00

But wait, I can get the book for $0.00 as a Prime member. I didn’t think Amazon Prime was available to me in Canada. I was on Amazon.com, but my credit card and my shipping address is Canadian. Maybe with hope that Amazon Prime was finally available in Canada. I don’t think so, Kindle Owner’ Lending Library is only available in the US. I was just being hopeful that perhaps another large company had decided to invest in the Canadian market, much like Netflix and take on the regional licensing restrictions. </sigh>

I am trying to better understand the implications of my choices, i.e, buying and consuming DRM books in a closed ecosystem (see Kindle SF). I like integrated services. I like unified experiences. But I don’t like being taken advantage of, or having freedoms taken away.

Distribution, Disintermediation, and Monopsony

I was trying to understand Amazon’s ebook strategy and what its implications mean for me as a consumer in Canada.

We’re use to monopolies, well really ogliopolies (wireless companies, banks, internet service providers, we’re good on this one) and monopsonies (Canadian Wheat Board that ended Aug 1, 2012) . But I was surprised in Charles Stross’ analysis of Amazon, was they were playing both sides of the monopoly/monopsony market equation.

“And the peculiar evil genius of Amazon is that Amazon seems to be trying to simultaneously establish a wholesale monopsony and a retail monopoly in the ebook sector.” Charles Stross

One explanation for the increase in kindle prices is predatory pricing. And it’s not like the DOJ is investigating Amazon, Apple and the big six publishers for predatory pricing of ebooks. This has disintermediated retailers and how consumers purchase and consume books. Next to disintermediate the publishers themselves, and Amazon with Kindle Direct Publishing has given authors a way to get large distribution and forego publishers. The ebook market is growing at 200 percent per year, and Amazon owns “70 to 80 percent of the [ebooks] market“.

 “By foolishly insisting on DRM, and then selling to Amazon on a wholesale basis, the publishers handed Amazon a monopoly on their customers—and thereby empowered a predatory monopsony.” Charles Stross

Crap, I fell for it. Other consumers fell for it. Publishers fell for it. What to do next?

“And the only viable Plan C, for breaking Amazon’s death-grip on the consumers, is to break DRM.” Charles Stross

O'Reilly eBooks Advantage - No DRM

This means changing my behaviour to support authors and publishers that publish DRM-free content. Thank you O’Reilly, all of the technical books I’ve purchased are available without DRM. It also means that I might consider removing the DRM from my existing Kindle purchases, oh wait, I can’t do that any more. It might violate the Terms of Service for Kindle, which you, like me, probably didn’t read. It’s too bad that I have bought a “limited license to use the product, rather than actual ownership of an object” with the ebooks (yah, it surprised Bruce Willis about his iTunes collection). It is why for a long time, I purchased movies on DVD rather than iTunes. At least, I could back them up.

But the goal isn’t to put the books back on my Kindle, but to have a back up copy that is future proofed.

Bill C-11 and Changes in Canada

But I can’t do that in Canada since Bill C-11 which passed in June 2012. It includes a digital locks provision that is “one of the most restrictive digital lock approaches in the world“. It seems that my worries in Dissident, Citizen were more about the Canadian government. And it seems that my worst nightmares about copyright and content are coming true.

I am going to have to rethink all of my media consumption behaviours. Ranging from ebooks to mp3s to DVDs.

I’m starting to really understand companies like Wattpad, Smashwords, CD Baby, O’Reilly and others that offer distribution, monetization and consumer choice related to DRM.

Additional Reading

reply, Reply All and bcc:

There is a difference between small ‘r’ reply and a big ‘R’ reply all. There seems to be a group that insists on the “me too”, “count me in”, “+1”  emails. This existed in grad school, it was particularly prevalent at Microsoft, and seems to continue. Maybe it is that I use 3 email address, the first I started using in 1994, the second in 2001 and the third in 2004. Email addresses 1 & 2 forward to email address 3. I get a lot of email. And the “count me in”, “+1” behaviour adds zero signal to email conversations when used with the “Reply All”.

The other thing that has been driving me a little batty is the Introduction. I am trying to follow the advice of David Cohen and Fred Wilson, aka The Double Opt-In Introduction. On blind introductions, I try to ask each person to “opt-in” to the introduction to the other. This requires additional email, but it also requires that I separately compose an introduction email with relevant information (think LinkedIn profiles, Twitter accounts, URLs, etc.), my reasons for why I think the connection is valuable to both parties, my expected action from the recipient, and an expected/requested timeframe for action. Once both parties have “opted in” I add both to the “To:” line of a message and include the previous information, my reasoning and the desired actions and timeframes.

(Okay, I don’t always do the double opt-in. I don’t do blind introductions. But there are situations where people ask for intros to friends, and if I know the friend has an open policy on these introductions I will do a bit of diligence and make the connection).

The breakdown that I’m seeing is post introduction. When the 2 parties reply to each other. They continue to reply to or include me on the cc: to the conversation thread. What I would like to see instead is the initial respondent move me to the BCC: line. This provides social proof that the individual has received and  acknowledged my request/introduction. But allows me to not participate in the ongoing conversation.

Reply to Introductions & BCC: the connector

What are other email tips?

Hacking Health

Hacking Health, Oct 19-21, 2012 at MaRS in Toronto

A Hacking Health  event is happening October 19-21, 2012 in Toronto. The event focuses on bringing innovation to health care. It brings together clinicians with developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to look for real world solutions based on real clinical experience. It should be a very interesting event. The Montreal event has a 138 developers, 28 designers, 66 healthcare experts and 32 mentors. This signals a huge opportunity in the healthcare clinicians and practitioners for new tools and change. I wonder if the health care funding mechanisms/decision making will limit both the development and the adoption of any potential tools. It would be an interesting to discussion to have with others at the event.

Hacking Health Montreal Breakdown of Participants


The event in Montreal generated 19 projects, including:

  • HemoTrack – a mobile app that collects real time usage of Factor VIII, bleeding events and uploads that information to a web application accessed by physicians to monitor their patient’s health. This project included Dan McGrady
  • Kinect Burn Area App – Using the off-the-shelf Microsoft Kinect, the 3D depth sensor feature accurately and rapidly provides doctors measurements of total body surface area. The camera feature allows clinicians to visualize and accurately mark the area of the burn on screen and automatically calculate the % of body surface area burnt as well as fluid requirements of the patient.

I’m hoping to get out and participate (weekends are incredibly valuable, taking time away from kid activities and time means this really has to deliver value for my participation).

Marketing Automation Startups

Marketing technology, if you believe the infographics and Gartner, that marketing will spend more on technology by 2017. There are an incredible proliferation of new tools available to marketers and product developers. Here is a short list of the tools that I have been evaluating for automating different parts of the marketing process.

  • Totango – Trial conversions and user engagement.
  • Portrait Sofware – Predictive analytics on best next action and behavioural customer segmentation.
  • Custora – Behavioural segmentation and analytics for retail customers.
  • Intercom.io – It’s like Rapportive for new customer signups.
  • The Sunny Trail – It’s like Rappportive for new customer signups.
  • Spinnakr – Custom target content based on behavioural analytics.
  • RJ Metrics – Hosted analytics.
  • Retenion Science
  • HubSpot – CRM/Marketing Automation
  • Spark by Marketo – Marketing Automation for SMB
  • Pardot – Marketing Automation

A combination of Pipedrive CRM System and HubSpot for the CRM (I just love the stage view for Pipedrive, it’s like Trello or Asana for sales) and then adding Intercom or The Sunny Trail and Spinnakr for specific situations.

What marketing automation and customer engagement tools are you track?

Kindle SF

It has been 2 years since my Kindle arrived (September 2, 2010 to be exact). Sure not exactly an early adopter, it was more than 3 years after the initial launch of the device and part of the product and marketing blitz that allowed Kindle books to outsell print books in Q4 2010. And for the most part I have switched my consumption to digital books. Not including technical books (thank you O’Reilly), I have purchased and read 85 science fiction books on the Kindle (almost 1 book per week).

I started reading digital editions of Hugo and Nebula award winners. I started with John Scalzi’s
award winning Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale. These books are amazing, they are a great romp through crazy military and technology. I continued with The Evolutionary Void continuation of the Void Trilogy (which was part of Peter F Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga including Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained possibly 2 of my favorite books in the past 10 years). I was waiting for new new releases from Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, Richard Morgan, Cory Doctorow and Orson Scott Card. While waiting I decided to switch strategies, I would try to find books that were $0.99-$2.99 in price. My reasoning, my engagement per book was just greater than 7 days, I figured like renting a movie (approximately $5.99 for 2 hours on iTunes HD) that would be my threshold. Unless a book was part of a series I had read previously, or an author I was following my limit was $2.99/book.

There are a lot of interesting books but here are my favorite series and authors. What are you reading?

Wool by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey Wool Omnibus

This might be the best SF I have read in a long time. The Wool series is one of the most engaging dystopian futures I have read. I starting reading based on a tweet by John Lilly. It’s just an amazing series.

Spinward Fringe by Randolph Lalonde

Another Canadian. This one living in Sudbury. Like many others I’m waiting Broadcasts 7 & 8. This incorporated a lot of future tech I have seen elsewhere but it is the characters and the story lines that make it worth the read.

Spinward Fringe - Broadcast 3: Triton

Prides of Sol by Rod Rogers

Vaughn Heppner

Invasion AlaskaVaughn Heppner is a Canadian living in California. Hoping this counts as Can-Con. The Doom Star series is a little out there – genetic engineering, cyborgs, space battles, subterranean cities. But it’s a fun read, the characters are relatable

Evan Currie

Another Canadian. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a trend. The Warrior’s Wings series is one of my recent favourites. It’s great romp of military science fiction.

BV Larson Follow @bvlarson

This is a strange series. I disliked BV Larson’s Mech series, I disliked the books so much that for the first time I did not finish the series. But I have enjoyed the expanding Star Force Series. The simplicity of programmed circuits and logic for a species is very interesting, particularly when matched against the less than binary humans.

Maker’s mode

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It has been a long time since I built anything. I was trying to think through my last set of projects where I did the “making”.

  • Influitive – I started Influitive with Mark Organ (@markorgan) in the fall of 2010. We built the first set of mockups, screen flows, wireframes and prototypes with a very small team. It was a ton of fun, it wasn’t easy, but it was fun.
  • Spadina Optometry – I have the unfortunate task of being the cobbler. It’s nothing fancy, Wordrpress on Dreamhost but it’s HTML5, CSS and some PHP to keep me engaged.
  • StartupNorth/DemoCamp/Founders & Funders – StartupNorth is a blog, written, primarily, 3 guys about Canadian startups and the issues that affect high tech, high potential growth software/SaaS/mobile/etc. companies in Canada. This was about building connections and helping to facilitate a community in Toronto (and across Canada). But StartupEmpire was in 2008, the last DemoCamp was back in 2011. But no one expects that StartupNorth is set to be a game changing media play, it’s a regional blog about high tech entrepreneurship and emerging business models and technology.

I look at my friends that are all very successful in different ways:

They are all making stuff. Whether it is communities, sensor networks, conferences, software companies, it seems to be about making. And they are not alone:

What is making?

Authors produce books. Musicians produce albums (and tours). Vinters produce wine. Master distillers produce whisky. Developers produce software. Entrepreneurs produce companies. I think I need to get my head around making.

“MAKE unites, inspires, informs, and entertains a growing community of resourceful people who undertake amazing projects in their backyards, basements, and garages. MAKE celebrates your right to tweak, hack, and bend any technology to your will. The MAKE audience continues to be a growing culture and community that believes in bettering ourselves, our environment, our educational system—our entire world. This is much more than an audience, it’s a worldwide movement that Make is leading—we call it the Maker Movement.” From Make Magazine

When  I look back on the projects, activities, and companies I had the most fun being a part of in the past 15 years since grad school, they all involved making. Undertaking projects in “backyards, basements and garages”. Some were successful, others were less successful but just as much, maybe more fun.

I’m starting to think rather than looking for a job, I need to start to look for what I’m going to make.

Time to undertake a new project.

Under-related Resources


My current tools

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I always found looking at the tools that others used a little voyeuristic, but often insightful. Check out the what Michael Arrington used in 2010. Here is my list, but I’m curious at what the indispensable tools and applications that John Lilly, Adam Nash, Mark MacLeod, Jevon MacDonald, April DunfordAli Asaria, Dan Martell, Dave McClure, and others. What are you using?

My List

  • Sparrow – Best GMail client for the iPhone hands down.
  • Calvetica – Great minimalist calendar replacement for the default Calendar app on iPhone.
  • Tweetbot
  • Evernote – It syncs across the iPhone, MacBook Air and Mac Mini I use regularly for notes and to do lists. Though I’m having to add more personal structure to my to do lists to make this work.
  • Dropbox – Feels like a shared file system between the different devices.
  • Rapportive – I have switched back to the GMail web interface solely because of the Rapportive integration.
  • WriteThat.Name – This is best behind the scenes application. It automatically updates your Google Contacts with changes in people’s signature lines.
  • Boomerang – Bring it back to your inbox. Need I say anymore.
  • Alfred – I switched from Quicksilver in the past year – see the LifeHacker review. I hate when I don’t have ⌘-SPACE mapped to Alfred.
  • RescueTime
  • Prismatic – This has replaced Summify for me. It is simply the best discovery application I have used.
  • SublimeText2 and TextMate though I’m very interested in Coda 2.
  • TweetDeck – I am underwhelmed with TweetDeck experience and performance. I am looking at Engag.io and Bottlenose as replacements, but neither offer exactly what I’m looking for.
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • WordPress – I have blogs hosted on EC2, VMFarms and DreamHost.
  • Hipstamatic – It posts to Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and other sites. The lenses, films are just enough to make it look like I can be a fake photographer.
  • 1Password – I have been using the free version. I probably just need to suck it up and spend the $14.99 on the Pro version.
  • CardMunch – I try to upload every business card I receive before the end of the meeting.
  • Kindle – I seem to read 90% of my content in the Kindle app or on the Kindle.

There are a number of other tools that I’m enamored, but not currently using with including:

Blogging More

I wrote my first blog post for DavidCrow.ca, roughly 11 years ago on the day Douglas Adams passed away from a heart attack.  It is hard to believe that I have been doing this unsuccessfully for 11 years. Strangely, I had my heart attack roughly 5 years later on May 30, 2006, maybe heart trouble is the common thread through my blog.

I need to get in the habit of blogging more. I have been woefully neglectful of my blog. Unlike Joey, who seems to have found time to blog multiple times per day. I need to follow the advice of Mark Suster and Fred Wilson (more), and just make blogging part of my daily activities. (I probably need to try to make other things like a walking desk part of my daily activities too). I’ve written a lot of posts for StartupNorth, but I haven’t been as dedicated to my own blog.

Here are some of my favorite posts:

 Back to it I guess.

UW VeloCity Evolving

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December 31, 2011 marked the end of my reign as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EiR) at UW VeloCity. The VeloCity residence announced a new leadership team before Christmas Holiday. I’m still affiliated, I’m still an alumni and I’m still an avid supporter.

I was lucky enough to spend 6 months with the students and their companies in Waterloo. I made the trek down the 401 to Waterloo almost every Tuesday night for dinner. The dinners were modelled after the YCombinator dinners. We brought in our friends and acquaintances from the world of high tech entrepreneurship to talk to the students. To share their experiences starting companies, raising funding, working with cofounders, etc. The goal was to provide a social, educational experience for the students and hopefully teach them something about the industry and software culture.

I was an undergraduate back in the early 90s. I wrote Objective-C on NeXTSTEP boxes. But no one at Waterloo really promoted starting a software company as a career path, maybe I’m just an idiot, but I never thought that I could start a company and sell the software I was writing. There were a few startups (MKS, RIM, Maplesoft) but this wasn’t a career path that was promoted. You could argue may this was because I was in the Kinesiology department. But spent a significant portion of my time in CS and SYSDE (SYSDE142, 342, 542 and others). The closest was a class about database management in the department of Management Sciences but it definitely wasn’t about entrepreneurship (how much do I still hate Access).

It wasn’t that hadn’t been exposed to entrepreneurship. I grew up in an entrepreneurial household, my Dad had left Clarkson Gordon to start his own small business accounting and consulting firm in the early 1980s. And my first real job was with a small usability consulitng firm, but I thought that I would get a job at CIBC or IBM or maybe Delrina. I was never provided the skills, the experience or even the awareness that entrepreneurship (software entrepreneurship) was a career path. I went to CMU for graduate work, and I was exposed to founders from MIT, CMU, Stanford and other places. My first job after grad school, I did research at UIUC and was exposed to things like early Netscape. But it wasn’t until I started working at Trilogy Software with a bunch of Stanford graduates did it become clear that I could start a software company. I always wished that someone had shown me entrepreneurship (beyond consulting) as a career path.

My view about VeloCity comes back to my own experiences at UWaterloo. And the role that VeloCity needs to play in exposing and educating UW students about high-tech entrepreneurship. It will be great to see the evolution with Mike Kirkup (LinkedIn, @mikekirkup) and Brett Shellhammer (LinkedIn, @bashome). VeloCity represents something that wasn’t available to me when I was a UW student. For me, VeloCity represents the next stage of evolution for the University of Waterloo cooperative education program:

” the solution was not just classroom instruction but “the co-operative program,” which offered students alternating terms of paid work in industry to get practical experience.”

Velocity feels like a starting ground for the next set of education at Waterloo. With the launch of MITx in addition to Open Courseware, MIT is attempting to change the face of higher education. There is inspiration and direction from TED, TEDx, and SingularityU. There is also the rise of self-learning platforms like Codeacademy, Khan Academy and others. It is time that UWaterloo explored evolving the cooperative education program beyond the constraints of the existing program. For me VeloCity represents the start of a new academic experience.

I can’t wait to be a part of what is next.