The Best Thing About Blogging

There are many great things about having a personal blog and consistently posting to it. And none of the great things are about trying to be a “thought leader” or personal brand. After blogging (more-or-less consistently) for 17 years, I’ve discovered that much of what I write is like jotting down a note to the future me.

RexBlog on Jan. 9, 2007

Like today. Ten years ago today, I was in San Francisco. I was on about the 20th row when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. Because I blog, I can go back and read what I said that day and said a few days afterward.

In the past decade, I’ve blogged tens of thousands of words about Apple products.

But there’s something great about reading what you first thought about something that later turned out to be more (or less) significant.

It makes you feel like you were clueless…or insightful. But that you had any opinion at all makes you feel connected to an event in some way.

The headline of the post where I wrote my response is, “The least impressive thing about the iPhone is that it’s a phone.”

Ten years later, I think I nailed it.

What else happened on this day, ten years ago.

Looking at other posts of the day, I see that MyBlogLog.com was going to be purchased by Yahoo. Later, that would be as disastrous as most Yahoo acquisitions were.

AppleTV was released.

While I didn’t blog about it, ten years ago today was the first time I ever used Twitter. I had set up an account a few months earlier (in the year 2006), but MacWorld was the first time I used it. Why? The media center (I had press credentials thanks to a friend in high places), encouraged reporters to follow their posts to Twitter (“tweets” didn’t exist yet) to learn about changes in the MacWorld schedule or other updates. This was back when it was far easier to understand what Twitter was (a group text messaging thingee) than it is today. (However, for months, I continued to think it was a method for PR people to distribute text messages.)

How Apple Advertises New Products: The Prestige

Now that the Apple Watch is on the wrists of the first wave of purchasers, Apple has dropped all the technical mumbo-jumbo and has switched its millions in advertising into full-on prestige mode.

Last September 4, I wrote a Hammock Idea Email called, “Learn the Secret to Apple’s Product Launch Magic.”

It referred to the movie, The Prestige, and broke down how Apple would be introducing what we now know is the Apple Watch into the three parts of a magic trick, as described by the film’s character played by Michael Caine: (1) The Pledge, (2) The Turn and (3) The Prestige.

Read more “How Apple Advertises New Products: The Prestige”

Modern Family’s ‘Connection Lost’ Episode as Allegory

The episode is an allegory (or parable, if you prefer). The truth it reveals is a good old fashion cautionary moral: Don’t let facts get in the way of truth.

No doubt, there are hundreds of posts this morning in which bloggers are trying to explain the top 10 this or that’s about the episode of Modern Family that aired last night (“Connection Lost,” Season 6, Episode 16).

For that reason, I haven’t read any blog posts regarding the show. If this sounds like I’m borrowing the observation of others, I’m actually not (this time, at least).

I did read one review and it was insightful (unlike this post, perhaps). It’s written by Gwen Ihnat at AV Club. She calls the episode, “A gimmicky but successful storytelling experiment.”

What you’re about to read is my observation of the show as an allegory (or parable, if you prefer).

SPOILER ALERT: I include some spoilers in this post, but I could tell you everything that happens and it wouldn’t matter.

Here are several things I won’t be writing about in this post

Read more “Modern Family’s ‘Connection Lost’ Episode as Allegory”

You, too, can be an ebook publisher

Like the New York-centric consumer magazine industry, commercial book publishers and, frankly, most everyone, think of books found in bookstores and libraries when they consider what book publishing is. Perhaps they’ll concede there are some independent book publishers out there somewhere, and perhaps lots of books that are published by “the academic press,” but that’s about it. Oh, except for those “vanity press” things people publish, (that, in their minds no one reads). And text books, yes, there are those, also. And, come to the think of it, there are lots of reference books that are in bookstores and libraries also, but they would never show up in any review of books. And then, there are all those manuals that come with every product you purchase — I guess those are books, also. So there are many types of documents formated as books that are not listed in the New York Times best selling lists each week.

Our understanding of “vanity press” and self-publishing is evolving rapidly — even if the traditional publishing powers-that-be have refused to acknowledge it (with some notable exceptions.) However, with progressive authors like Seth Goden leading the way, and, the proliferation of a wide-array of technology (like on-demand printing and eBooks) and enticing business models (like Amazon’s 70-30 split of eBook revenues), the term “vanity publishing” will soon be placed in the trash heap of pejoratives.

Last week, a small, but perhaps significant step was made in this inevitable march towards the day when an organization or author who wishes to sell a book will finally finish off the disintermediation of what we currently think of as Book (with a capital “B”) Publishing: Apple announced that an update to its desktop document software Pages includes the ability to save a document as an ePub file is included.

While some observers have cast this as an Amazon vs. Apple move, such characterization makes little sense to me now that the Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (how one publishes an eBook to be sold via the Kindle Store) now supports the ePub format. I’m not a student of this particular skirmish of the technology wars, but it seems more of a slam at Adobe’s PDF format than a swipe at Amazon. (Adobe is also the company behind Flash, the video format that doesn’t work on the iPhone or iPad.)

So, here’s the deal: If you have a Mac and iWorks and you want to self-publish an eBook and sell it via Amazon.com or Apple’s iBookstore, you now have all the technology you need. (Of course, there are ways to do this using Microsoft Word and some hacking, but I’m talking about the easy way, not the Word way.)

(I feel the need to add a sidebar comment at this point: If you’ve never tried to sell a self-published book, you’re better off not trying it the DIY way first time out of the gate — or maybe, never. If it’s a book you actually want to sell, I suggest you enlist the assistance of what Apple calls “iBookstore Aggregators.”)

The professional designers who work with me have professional tools that export beautifully designed documents to more formats than I knew existed. However, I predict that for those who are comfortable in Keynote (the software, Pages, works exactly like Keynote, without the “effects”), this “save as ePub” feature could be a very significant step in the journey towards you becoming a book publisher.

Also, while this post pertains to “digital” eBooks, the process and “aggregators” also can be used with Print-on-Demand, as well.

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Don Draper to Apple: The Apple TV is not a wheel, it’s a carousel

“Technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion
when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash
if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”

— Don Draper, creative director, Sterling Cooper

I’ve buried the lede in this post — Somewhere down below, I’m going to have the audacity to suggest the demigods of marketing and advertising at Apple and their agency, Chiat-Day, are the reasons that the Apple TV is merely “a hobby” and not a successful product. But first, the set-up.

I have an Apple TV (okay, I have just about an Apple Everything) but frankly, I often forget about it. I don’t watch TV passively (it’s not ever on in the background), so when I actually watch TV, it’s with intent. Whenever it’s time to watch TV, I usually have several movies or recorded episodes of shows queued up on my Cable-box’s DVR.

Recently, however, I was messing with my Apple TV to see how the iPhone “Remote” app works (it’s rather clever). Out of curiousity, I surfed around the features of the slightly updated software version of the Apple TV and discovered there is now a much larger selection of movies and TV shows than when I last checked in. I was also impressed by the growth of video podcasts being provided from sources big and small. Long story short — I downloaded the first season of Mad Men and my wife and I ended up being engrossed in the program over the next four or five nights.

However, downloading TV shows and movies is not what makes the Apple TV special. (More later, on what is special about it.) Access to TV shows and movies better not be, because I can get movies and TV shows about a dozen other ways. But accessing TV shows and Movies is what consumers first think about when they hear Apple TV described because that’s the way Apple has marketed it. So it’s not surprising that during the quarterly financial conference last week, Apple executives told analysts the AppleTV was still “a hobby” — a reference to what Steve Jobs called it in January when admitting its sales had not been robust.

For most tech bloggers, reporters and financial analysts, the “solution” to Apple TV’s lack of sales success can be solved the way they believe any technology product problem can be solved: by adding features or making it “more open.” “More features and openess” is to techies what “better branding” is to marketers — the solution to everything. For example, here’s a link to a recent post on Weomatica where Jason Kaneshiro has a wish list of features that could improve Apple TV. And today, Dan Frommer says it’s time Apple gets serious about Apple TV and calls for them to, drum-roll please, add a Blu-Ray drive.

I don’t believe the problem with the Apple TV is with technology. It’s a (you can’t believe how amazed I am to be writing the next few words) failure by Apple to successfully market a product. I believe the marketers at Apple and Chiat Day — the ones who regularly are mythologized for their unique brilliance in branding and advertising — have blown it with the Apple TV. They’ve done a terrible job articulating any unique benefits of the Apple TV and have, in a rookie-blunder way, done nothing to explain to consumers why it is different from getting movies or TV shows via cable or from Netflix or Blockbuster. These marketers, who have created the most effective campaign ever conceived to explain product features, the iPhone, have done nothing even good, much less brilliant, to explain why anyone with a Tivo or Cablebox would ever need an Apple TV. The only advertising support they’ve given the product was a lame TV ad (did anyone actually see it on TV?) telling us how we can watch TV shows and movies on our TV.

Additionally, Apple has not given the product the “paid-media” support that typically accompanies the launch of an entirely new genre of consumer product. Think about it. Apple has spent (and continues to spend) hundreds of millions of dollars each year on incredibly effective product advertising and astoundingly powerful promotional pushes for iPods, iPhones and Macs. What kind of media buy schedule did that Jack Black ad receive — compared to, say, a week’s schedule of iPhone ads? Where is the outdoor? Where is the magazine advertising? If you answered, “nowhere,” I think you’d be close to correct. (Please, tell me if I’m wrong.)

So what should Apple do?

While I’m not an advertising expert, I know one: Don Draper, the creative director at Sterling Cooper. I asked him about the Apple TV and he said the one thing consumers can do with an Apple TV that they can’t do with NetFlix or Tivo or their Cable Box is to tap into photos and videos of their family — even family members in far-away places who can stream photos and video from anywhere in the world. It’s like having another channel on a grandparent’s TV that says, “The Grandson Channel” and grandparents can tune in to see his latest soccer game — without a computer. Again, it’s not about technology — you don’t need a computer to watch the Grandson Channel. All you need is an Apple TV hooked into your TV (Don left out the part about needing Internet access).

So what should Apple do, I asked.

“They should stop talking about the Apple TV just accessing movies and TV shows,” Don told me, “The Apple TV is about the ability to travel over time and space to experience the most special moments in the lives of those you love most. It takes us to a place we ache to go. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around the world and back home again. A place where we know we are loved.”

Wow, Don, I said. If Chiat Day was smart, they’d hire you away from Sterling Cooper to develop a campaign to save the Apple TV.

So Apple, listen to Don. He’d tell you the Apple TV is not about downloading more TV and movies. It’s about connecting with those you love.

He’d tell you, it’s not a wheel. It’s a carousel.