Posts from Books

A WordPress Plugin For A Books List?

The Gotham Gal moved to WordPress this week. I mentioned it in a post mid week.

She maintains a book list on her blog. She’s a huge reader, at least a couple books a week, many times more than that.

And she lists her favorite reads for all to see. It used to be a TypePad widget on the sidebar but in the new UI, it’s an entire page linked to off the main header.

On TypePad, she could enter a book name, an ASIN, or an ISBN and the book and link to Amazon would automatically be added to the list (with her Amazon Affiliate ID attached).

I spent about an hour yesterday trying to replicate that functionality on WordPress via a plugin. I tried about five or six plugins without any success.

Has anyone come across a WordPress plugin that does this? If so, we’d love to know about it. Thanks.


Follower Counts

The other day we gave a friend of my son a ride from one side of Park City to the other. While I was driving, my son and his friends were chatting about the state of hip hop in Salt Lake City. Turns out another of my son’s friends met a local hip hop artist in the SLC airport earlier this week. They got to discussing this local hip hop artist. My son’s friend said “he’s very under the radar right now, he only has a couple hundred SoundCloud followers.”

Contrast that with Lorde, who emerged as an “under the radar” artist on SoundCloud a few years ago. Lorde now has almost 2.8mm followers on SoundCloud.

This phenomenon is certainly not limited to SoundCloud. Follower counts on Twitter have been a thing from the earliest days of Twitter. Subscriber counts on YouTube matter to emerging video artists. Follower counts on Wattpad matter to emerging writers.

The comment about the local hip hop artist got me thinking that for emerging artists, follower counts on the platform of choice for their media type might be the most important metric to asses the state of their career. It certainly sounded that way coming out of my son’s friend’s mouth. Under the radar means less than 1000 followers. Emerging means 1000 to 10,000 followers. Breaking out means 50,000 to 100,000 followers. More than 500,000 followers and you have arrived. More than 2.5mm followers and you are a superstar. Something like that.

Maybe follower counts are the new Billboard, Variety, etc of the entertainment and media business. It certainly seems that way.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

I bumped into Ben Horowitz on Monday and had the chance to talk to him about his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. I haven’t read it yet, but I downloaded it to my Kindle app after talking to him about it.

I saw this morning that Brad Feld has read it and thinks it is awesome. I am not surprised and although I don’t normally recommend books that I have yet to read, I think this one merits that.

I’ve seen Ben in action and his experience and approach is valuable to entrepreneurs and CEOs. If you are one, I think you should read it.

A Couple Of Trips To The Future

During my year end vacation, I read a few books and saw some films. The two I want to talk about today are Dave Eggers’ The Circle and Spike Jonze’s Her. I am a fan of both artists and have consumed most of their prior work.

Though they are very different works, both take us on a trip to the near future and show us what our lives may be like. And, though I am more than a little bit involved in the industry that is taking us to that place, I came away from both disturbed and a tad bit agitated.

Banksy says that “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” And in that context both the Circle and Her are great art. If you are disturbed by the ever increasing role of technology in our lives, both works will comfort you. For me, they shook me out of my comfort zone and made me wonder whether all the things I believe in and advocate for are going to work out so well.

In The Circle, a young woman named Mae goes to work for the top tech company in silicon valley which is called The Circle. Eggers creates a company that to my mind is mostly Google with a fair bit of Facebook thrown in. Anyone who has spent any time in Silicon Valley will instantly recognize this company and all the great things about it. But the way Eggers tells the story, the dark side of The Circle is revealed slowly and surely. I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who is reading it or will read it but I will say that the idea of radical transparency, something that I have advocated for many times on this blog, is taken to an extreme that even I would not be comfortable with.

I kind of hated The Circle. Many times I wanted to put it down. My wife and daughter urged me to finish it. Though I really like Eggers and his writing, I absolutely hated Mae and her story. It made a mockery of an industry that I love. And it made me uncomfortable loving it.

Her is about a man named Theodore who is depressed coming out of a recent divorce. He mopes around all day. He installs a new OS that is “personalized” and all of sudden he is in a relationship with Samantha who is a lot like Siri, his very own personalized operating system. Again, I am not going to describe much more than that in case you want to see it. The thing that made me literally squirm in my seat was the idea that a real person could have such an intimate relationship with a machine. I was completely uncomfortable the entire two hours.

However, I loved Her. It did not mock, but it sure did question. And all I wanted to do coming out of the movie was think about it and talk about it.

I know a lot of people in tech who are excited about the coming of the Singularity. I am not one of them. While I love machines and artificial intelligence/machine learning and all that it can do for us, I love humans and humanity a lot more.

These two works of art are, to my mind, about that human vs machines question and are an attempt to ask society if its happy with the place we are going to and getting there fast. If you work in tech, you should watch Her and read The Circle. Those of us who are building this future ought to subject ourself to this kind of art most of all.

The Fall Of The Alphas

Fall of alphasI read a book this weekend. It is called The Fall of The Alphas. It was written by my friend and former colleague Dana Ardi. Dana is a corporate anthropologist. She studies what makes management teams work. She has also been a writer, a recruiter, a coach, a VC, and a private equity investor.

There is a change afoot in the global economy that is impacting every institution, every market, and every business. Hierarchies are giving way to networks. At USV we have turned this observation into an investment thesis.

Dana has seen the same change impacting management teams, managers, and the companies themselves. Her book is about this change and in it she explores how the iconic Alpha CEO is giving way to a new kind of leader/manager that she, naturally, calls the Beta CEO.

Unlike many business books, this one is not boring or hard to read. Dana tells stories to make her points. Her language is light and airy but the lessons are clear and actionable.

If you lead a company or a team inside a company, you ought to read this book. It will change how you think about leadership and leadership styles.

Physical vs Digital

As I was biking this morning, I was behind a black Ford truck that was delivering papers. I got to thinking that this was a very expensive way to get a paper to a reader. The driver's time, the depreciation on the truck, the gas, the printing press, the paper costs, etc. And that got me to thinking about what I would do if I was Bezos and just bought a business with a big cost structure around printing and distributing a physical product.

And speaking of Bezos and Amazon, I just read this Nicholas Carr post about the slowing growth of e-books relative to physical books. This jumped out at me:

E-book prices have not fallen the way many expected. There’s not a big price difference between an e-book and a paperback. (It’s possible, suggests one industry analyst, that Amazon is seeing a plateau in e-book sales and so is less motivated to take a loss on them for strategic reasons.)

So back to my bike ride. As I watched the truck deliver the paper to driveway after driveway, it occurred to me that many people prefer to get the paper in physical form. The Gotham Gal does and so does her sister. But my brother in law reads it on his iPad and our daughter Jessica reads it on her iPad mini. I prefer to read it on the web.

Different strokes for different folks. But clearly there is a large and important customer base for the physical product and it is not going away any time soon. Many of the early adopters of ebooks and tablets to read books and the newspaper have made their move. The diehards aren't going to make that move it seems, or they are going to take their time.

So what to do? The obvious move seems to me to price the physical product at a significant premium to the digital product reflecting that the marginal cost of a digital product is zero and the marginal cost of a physical product is not. That will either drive more adoption of the digital product where the profits are likely to be higher or it will drive the margins up on the physical product because the diehards will accept the price increase and keep reading the paper and/or book in physical form.

But we have not seen this happen in the book market and I am not sure we have seen this play out completely in the newspaper market. Is the market and the companies that make it up behaving rationally? Or are they protecting the physical market at the detriment of the digital market?

I realize things are never this simple. But that's the question I was wrestling with on my bike ride this morning. And so I thought I'd share it with all of you so we can discuss it. So let's do that.

Only Once – The Book

My friend and USV portfolio CEO Matt Blumberg has a popular blog called Only Once on which he posts about the challenges and joys of being a CEO (for the first time, thus the name).

Matt should be familiar to AVC regulars because I have written about him and his company Return Path many times and he has done several guest posts here as well.

For the past six months, Matt has been writing a book about the CEO job in a business that is scaling. I like the way he described the book in an email to me the other day:

The Lean Startup movement is great, but this book starts where most of those books end and takes you through the ‘so you have a product that works in-market – now what?’ questions

Matt has finished the book and now it is available for pre-order on Amazon (Kindle, Print). The book will ship on September 3rd. If you are looking for a how to guide on the CEO job of a rapidly scaling company, this book is probably for you.

Tech And The City

Tech and the cityMy longtime friend Alesandro Piol and his colleague Maria Teresa Cometto have been working on a book project to document the rise of New York City as a tech hub. They researched the book together and Maria wrote it over the past year. The book is called Tech And The City and is now available on Amazon (free for Amazon Prime members on your kindle).

I read a mostly final version of the book a month or two ago and then wrote the foreward.

The book does a very good job of explaining why New York City was not a participant in the early phases of the technology revolution and why it has come on strong in recent years. It also documents the leaders of the technology community in New York City and how they got things moving back in the early and mid 90s.

If you are a member of the NYC tech community or a student of tech hubs around the world, you will want to read this book. If you like technology, startups, and history, I am sure you will enjoy it as well.

Book Recommendation: Internet Architecture and Innovation

On the heels of its paperback release, I would like to recommend a book that is required reading in our shop, Internet Architecture and Innovation by Barbara van Schewick. I've mentioned Barbara before on this blog. She is a Law School Professor at Stanford and has written extensively on this important topic.

I am a fervent believer that everything that is great about the Internet emanates from its underlying architecture. That's where Barbara is coming from too, which is probably why we like her and her work so much at USV.

In this book, Barbara argues that the massive amount of innovation that has been made on top of the Internet is directly attributable to its architecture and that there are some parts of the architecture, most notably the last mile in wired and mobile, that are problematic and that do not benefit from the hypercompetitive nature of the open Internet.

This is an important piece of policy work and anyone who cares about the Internet ought to give it a read.