I ran across two separate articles today discussing the “price wars” over best-selling books. Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Amazon.com and Target are in fierce competition to snap up the considerably fewer dollars that shoppers will spend on books in the upcoming holiday season. Here’s one article from The Washington Times discussing the fight by the American Booksellers Association to get the federal government to investigate the deep price cuts that the major retailers are undertaking.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal offers an article that explains the tightly regulated publishing market in Europe. It’s an interesting read when you consider that prices for nearly all new releases are set in advance and discounts are verboten (I couldn’t resist, since Germany is heavily featured in the article).
One point brought up in the Journal article that I wanted to bring to your attention is the lawsuit that occurred in French courts against the French branch of Amazon.com. The suit in question concerned the famous “free shipping” offered by the online retailer on purchases of a certain amount or more. This lawsuit was also referenced in one of the key business books of 2009, FREE: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. I’ll have a little more to say about Anderson and this book in the coming weeks, but the fact that both he and the Journal discuss the French Amazon case gives indication about the ongoing fight over pricing in today’s economy.
The entire price war debate reminds us once more of the desperation occurring in retail. I suppose if I can take anything positive away from the situation, it’s that there is still a great demand for books of all genre.
If you check in with us from time to time, you’ve probably noticed that I have a bit of a fascination with business titles that deal with consumerism. Part of the interest is rooted in the frequent observation that Americans today have more material wealth and technological convenience than any previous generation, yet they continue to be less and less happy. On another level, I always enjoy the consumer titles because I’m fascinated by branding and the unique combination of factors that can propel one product to the top while a similar one collects dust on store shelves.
In that vein, I was delighted to read this review of a new book by Kevin Maney, a writer for USA Today. Maney’s book Trade-Off examines the gap that exists in the modern world of retail. Customers are drawn more and more to two distinct sets of products. They prefer either inexpensive goods that offer convenience but not quality, or they splash their cash on high-end items that carry a certain clout or trendiness. Products that fall in between these two categories, Maney argues, are likely to be ignored by the majority of the buying public.
Maney is not the first author to tackle the widening gap in consumer goods. Michael Silverstein examined this topic in his book Treasure Hunt, a title we summarized. What’s interesting about both books is the notion that consumers of all income levels cherry-pick from both groups of products. Maney’s book seems to suggest that quality suffers in the pursuit of the lowest price. However, he also remarks that most consumers are comfortable with this idea. I suppose that more and more consumers are willing to live with the adage “You get what you pay for.” Something to think about the next time the person in front of you at Wal-Mart pulls an iPhone out of an expensive handbag before paying for discounted household items.
How many times have you composed an e-mail in anger or frustration, sat back to review it, and then hit the Delete button? I expect that the delete feature has saved many a career. In fact, it’s good to be able to delete and forget many haunting, spontaneous actions we may have done. And maybe we’ve gotten a little obsessed in our digital record saving. We probably should be doing a little more deleting when you think about it.
This notion has the support of Viktor Mayer-Schonberger author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. He believes that in our saving frenzy we are not losing enough of our digital data and are guilty of “failing to forget.” He also points to examples of stalled careers and lost jobs through events captured on Facebook and YouTube, among other things, to prove his point.
In the Wall St Journal review of this book, the writer points out that perhaps it isn’t all bad that the digital world has such a long memory. It may just cause us to be more careful about what we post in the public realm.
Certainly, the recent surge of digital-themed books would lead one to believe that perhaps caution is the better solution than deletion. Here are just a few of the titles that we have been checking out recently: Behind the Cloud – about salesforce.com’s development of cloud computing, Viral Loop – how to grow a business from scratch through the use of social media, Twitterville – using Twitter to help a business thrive, and The Laws of Disruption – disruption technologies in the digital age.
Since the digital realm shows no signs of slowing down, or moving with caution, perhaps we as individuals should make more of an effort.
Here at Soundview, as we watch the steady flow of business books pour across our desk, there is a recurring trend that doesn’t speak well for bosses. It seems that many people aren’t happy with the way their boss does his or her job, and they’re looking for ways to either work around their boss or “manage” him or her.
The most recent title in this vein is Lead the Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up by John Baldoni. In the acknowledgment portion of his book, Baldoni says his urge to write the book began with the needs of the men and women executives who he has coached, many of whom were “excelling in their jobs but found it sometimes difficult to get the attention of, interact with, or persuade senior leaders.” “Leading your boss,” he tells us in the prologue, “is really a metaphor for leading from the middle,” which actually encompasses leading your boss, your peers and your team for the ultimate good of the organization.
Other similar books published in recent years include The 360 Degree Leader by John Maxwell, Leading Up by Michael Useem and Managing Up by Rosanne Badowski and Roger Gittines. Maxwell even ventures to say that “the reality is that 99 percent of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization.” In the final Special Section of The 360 Degree Leader he mentions, “More than two-thirds of the people who leave their jobs do so because of an ineffective or incompetent leader. People don’t leave their company — they leave their leader.”
Clearly, good leaders are needed throughout an organization, not just at the top. But issues around trust, lack of transparency, ineffective communication and unclear direction — plus a few poor interpersonal skills — can easily undermine the effectiveness of any leader at any level. If you or your boss could use some perspective on effective leadership or management strategies, visit Soundview Executive Book Summaries for access to some helpful book titles.
In Soundview’s November 2009 edition, we’re pleased to feature Who’s Got Your Back? from Keith Ferrazzi, author of the classic Never Eat Alone. One of the major reasons we selected Who’s Got Your Back? for summarization is the book’s unique look at networking. Ferrazzi brings an intensity and sense of drive that echoes through the pages of his book. One of the key insights in the book is Ferrazzi’s discussion of the necessity to form three “lifeline” relationships. The definition of “lifeline” and the method needed to forge these relationships is certain to change a lot of people’s minds about networking.
For subscribers, you’ll be fortunate enough to hear Ferrazzi’s intensity firsthand. We’re featuring an mp3 interview with Ferrazzi in which he goes into further detail about the method to forming lifeline relationships. I was also pleased to hear Ferrazzi’s personal revelations about how many of the elements of the book came from events in his own life. It’s easy to see why, at one point during the conversation, he points out that the people who form his own “lifeline” relationships are the ones who tell him to slow down and not take on too much.
By the time I was done listening to the interview, I was ready to charge out into the world and start cementing the bonds of my strongest relationships. There’s no doubt that he’ll give you the same spark!
If you’re not currently a subscriber, visit us at Summary.com for more information on how you can receive these FREE interviews with today’s top business authors.