Turn The Page

20 09 2012

There is a sneaky side to me that often only becomes apparent once I have played my cards. For example, I will often play devil&3039;s advocate in my classes, and argue something around the block, even if I do not believe it is the right route. It’s a good way of stimulating conversation.

Kind of like what I did yesterday when I presented the news about Kodak’s partnership with On Demand Books. On paper, it looks like a very good deal for both parties. It should enhance Kodak’s abilities to sell of its kiosks, it will add nicely to CVS’ product array by offering books, it eases inventory requirements in the channel, and it gives consumers broader access to tangible copies should they desire them.

Except for one thing: E-Reading is going through the roof.

The study linked above shows what many of us already know to be true: that while tangible books are still king, the incidence of reading on tablet devices is quickly gaining in popularity. Furthermore, those who read on tablets are heavy reader, consuming nearly twice as many books in a year as those who prefer paper.

The study shows that 29% of US adults own a tablet device. The only problem is that the study did not include devices like the iPad, which is a tablet by any description. A recent study that my colleagues and I did at WTAMU showed that 33% of our students own some kind of tablet. Either way, these devices are becoming increasingly popular, and they are changing the way that we read.

I have also read recent reports that tablet usage on airplanes now exceeds that of laptops. They are far more convenient to tote, and in many instances, can perform the same tasks as those of a laptop. On a recent flight from Chicago to Dallas on Southwest Airlines, I availed myself of the $5 wifi service in flight. It worked marvelously on my iPad. Oh, and for grins, I did a Facebook Check-In from 36,000 feet. I’m waiting to see if anyone else has found my “spot.”

But as tablets become ever more ubiquitous (just wait until this Christmas–they will be the hot gift item), we will consume ever more of our books in this format. It just makes sense. E-books are normally cheaper than their tangible counterparts, they are more portable, and, as your collection grows, never exceeds the size of the tablet itself.

You can start planning what you will do with all that extra space in your home.

Sure, the entire reading experience is transformed. No matter how authentic the software developers try to create a metaphor of turning pages, booking etc., it will never be quite the same as the real deal. While I love to lie down to read, and then slowly drift off into a nap with a book on my chest, I sure as heck know that I don’t want to awaken only to find my iPad had crashed to the floor. That’s an impact only a tangible book can withstand.

But if you compare the growth of my bookshelves items to the gigabytes on my iPad, you would know where I and how I am spending my money. I am reading more than ever before. I just make sure to put my iPad on the nightstand before drifting off.

Dr “Cover To Cover” Gerlich

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Paperback Writer

20 09 2012

The last 20 years have not been kind to dinosaurs. While there’s still a market for vinyl records, photographic prints and books (among other things), the fact remains that we have gone digital and unless you can find your niche with the old school alternative, life support is only a choke and gasp away. Kind of like at Kodak, the company that invented the digital camera a few decades ago, and then politely sat on it. Once others reinvented that wheel, Kodak went into denial and thought that film photography would last forever.

Sure thing there, Ansel.

But every once in awhile Kodak hatches a good idea…like their partnership with On Demand Books to wrap Kodak’s photo kiosks around ODB’s Espresso Book printers. The married products will debut in CVS stores soon.

And it really is a great idea, because in this digital age, inventory of tangible goods becomes a huge risk. And never mind the competition from Amazon who sells both digital and print versions. Being a BAM retailer these days is simply not an enviable position.

But being able to sell paperback books on-demand in a BAM store is a great idea. No muss, no fuss. No inventory. Customer wants The Grapes Of Wrath? No problem. Insert credit card and watch it print, collate and bind your own audience-of-one book.

For that matter, the Espresso Book works great for limited edition books, which is a fancy way of saying “the book of our vacation pics.”

The only kink in the story is that Kodak has also put up for sale its kiosk division. Of course, one might quickly ask why Kodak would forge this relationship with ODB, but the answer is simple: this could easily make it easier for Kodak to unload yet another of its properties as it seeks to get its head back above water.

Whether Kodak will survive in the long-run is another story with great speculation. But as for being able to buy books…yea, thousands of possible titles…down at the corner drug store is appealing on many levels. OK, maybe not so appealing if you happen to be Barnes & Noble, but from the custoemr perspective, it is golden.

By the book? Yep. Buy the book.

Dr “Binding Agreement” Gerlich





Screen Saver

20 09 2012

It’s fun watching my 14 year-old watch TV. Well, actually, she’s not watching that much TV, if you sit down and watch her. What she’s really doing is juggling…TV, iPhone and iPad. She is busy interacting with three different screens.

And she is not alone. Digital natives can handle this task with ease. Then there are folks my age who have trouble figuring out the remote control.

Marketers and broadcasters, though, are very much aware of this multitasking. They are onto the fact that for many viewers, there are second and sometimes third screens involved. It is completely divided attention, but if this can be turned to the marketers’ advantage, there is much to be gained. And retained.

Which explains why NBC is going bonkers with its NBC Live initiative. A full slate of new Fall shows have companion sites on Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. And NBC is doing everything it can to steer multitasking minds to those landing pages. It can work both during and after the show, but especially during.

Imagine getting real-time viewer comment while the show is airing. That kind of stuff is priceless. It’s called engagement. The more you can engage your viewers, customers, etc., the more likely you will be to retain them.

In the TV business, jobs are won and lost by number of eyeballs. Do whatever it takes to keep them glued.

More than anything, all of this activity by NBC in response to changing user habits shows that not only can and should a company be resilient, but that these viewing habits are for real. This is no aberration; if anything, it is only going to intensify. Even for oldtimers like yours truly, I know that watching TV is seldom a singular activity. I already have a problem sitting still long enough to watch a show (unless it’s Breaking Bad). My mind starts to wander, and pretty soon I find myself playing with my phone and iPad. Of course, I sleep with these two only a few inches away anyway, so it is pretty much now second nature to reach for them whenever my mind drifts.

Maybe I was born 40 years too early.

Within the context of today’s teens and young adults, NBC’s moves make perfect sense. In fact, it’s do or die. There are so choices available today, so many voices in the media landscape. That efforts to engage have escalated so dramatically is really no surprise. In fact, the real surprise will be seeing who doesn’t reach out. Anyone who digs in their heels and refuses to budge is bound to be left behind.

Now if I could figure out a way to put my talking head on one of my daughter’s gadgets. Maybe then I’ll be able to engage her in conversation.

Dr “The Big Screen” Gerlich





Pet Subject

20 09 2012

The recession must be over, folks. I’ve heard the economists telling me this for at least a couple of years. Never mind that all the important indicators, like housing starts and unemployment, are tepid at best. No, the real indicator is that the pet cemetery business is on a tear.

Apparently things aren’t so bad all over after all. Now please don’t slip on my sarcasm.

At first bark, it might seem this is just another example of a frivolous nation demonstrating its misspent wealth. After all, ceremonies and burial plots for Fido and Garfield? Don’t we have mortgages to try to get above water? DonĂ¯t we have kids to send to college, retirement accounts to feed?

And what does it say of our priorities regarding the humans in the family?

But I took the time to think about this one all day. My family may not have purchased pet burial services before, but we have held enough paws across our precious companions’ lives slipped away. We have our own pet cemetery on our rural acreage. Heck, we once owned 12 dogs at one time. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.

If anything, this trend says something of our need for a different type of friend, one that does not talk back, never argues, and forgives and forgets by the time you get home from work. Our culture is one increasingly filled with road rage, estrangements, job insecurities, financial crises. And our pets? They will listen to our every word, and lick our face when we’re through pouring out our heart. And of us what do they ask? Food. Water. And a belly rub.

No, I don’t this trend is frivolous at all, nor does it necessarily signal a return to economic prosperity. If anything, it symbolizes a deeper problem, a social poverty from which it is hard to escape, and if in lavishing our pets upon their departure we incur expense, so be it. Maybe we just need our pets, and our fond farewells are a form of therapy, a cathartic moment, fitting memorial to a cat or dog that accepted us as we are, loved us anyway, and woke up each day ready to do it all again.

Sure, this is a marketing opportunity writ large, and only a fool would look something like this in the face. There’s money to be made in the sorrow business. And while I have yet to pay to permanently inter a pet, I know that I have spent thousands of dollars in vet bills through the years to save my faithful animals. As for those who do give their dogs and cats a decent burial, I have no bone to pick.

It’s a small price to pay to honor a friend.

Dr “Who Wants A Treat?” Gerlich





What’s In Store

20 09 2012

Old Retailing professors never die.

Before I walked to the dark side of administration and was relieved of much of my teaching duties, I used to teach a course in Retail Management. It was so much fun to keep up with the trends and changes, things like co-branding, kiosks, the c-store revolution, big boxes. And E-commerce.

Yeah, that one was a real revolution, for it was the biggest paradigm shift since we went from Sears catalogs to national chains. It’s also how I created a what was once a course in E-commerce, which then evolved into…well, Evolutionary Marketing.

Yep, I am already plugging my Summer 2013 course. Don’t miss it.

But E-commerce was only the beginning of the revolution. Yes, it awoke many a sleeping giant retailer, and whipped them into submission. Thank you very much, Amazon.

Shopping and retailing continue to change, and the future is going to require sunglasses. It is going to require that retailers be resilient and open to an increasing ate of change. And here’s the sobering takeaway (from the President of Nordstrom, no less): retail stores are going to be less and less about off-the-rack selling, and more and more about being a showroom. Oh yeah…with no cash-wrap stations, because it will all be done with mobile devices.

This is already being done at Apple stores. Ever try to find a cash register there? Good luck. Employees are equipped with mobile devices (aka, iPhones) with card swipers. Better yet, though, in the last year Apple introduced its own app that allows customers to check themselves out. I have used it several times…I use the app to scan any item off the shelf (it cannot be used to buy computers), and since the app is synced to my iTunes account, after a couple of taps I am done. Before I can even walk out the door I have a receipt in my .mac email account. Cha-ching. Shopping has never been better.

True dat.

The trend of scaled-back retailing is already beginning. Best Buy started shrinking its stores over a year ago, since music and movies are no longer purchased the way they were years ago. Oh, and never mind that Amazon is totally kicking their butt on anything that can be shipped in a small box.

The historic irony is that retailing may go full circle and become nothing more than a tangible catalog…the Sears of 1915, blended with the Service Merchandise model of the 1970s. Cash-and-carry may actually become harder in the future, or at least very different from that which we have grown accustomed in the recent past.

All of which means that for those of us who teach Retailing or anything related will have no shortage of work in academia. Someone’s got to stay on top of this stuff, and the faster it changes, the more work that is required. In a strange kind of way, it means that this old Retailing prof will never die. There’s too much living going on.

Dr “I’ll See You Next Summer?” Gerlich





Creator Or Curator?

20 09 2012

The beauty of the social media explosion is that it has given academics an entirely new sandbox in which to play as well as research. Like being kidnapped, blindfolded, and released in a jungle without a machete, we are trying to find our way through the thick growth.

Sometimes we get lost for hours, but every once in a while we figure out something new. Like who likes what. And that are categories of users.

I’m sure you have already noticed this to some degree or another, but probably never really connected the dots. Turns out there are Creators and Curators, and that hybrid who does both.

Creators are those who post lots of pics and videos, as well as post original glib remarks and tasty blogs. Curators are those who post other people’s content. The Cureator does both with reckless abandon.

Naturally, there are degrees of each. Some Creators only post one thing a day, or take the weekends off, or otherwise ration their contributions, while some appear to be endless founts of wisdom and pith. As for Curators, some people share news and political commentary, while others focus on being the 5078th person to share a lame e-card or Willy Wonka graphic.

I hope you aren’t that person.

Not to be left out of the mix are the individual sites catering to these user types. While Facebook and Twitter, for better or worse, manage to oblige every user, Pinterest appeals to women, and Instagram skews younger. Of course, this probably comes as no surprise to those of you who are actively engaged in social media. I stumbled into my 14 year-old daughter on Instagram earlier this year. “I didn’t know you were on Instagram!”

“Yeah, Dad, all of my friends are there.”

And as for Pinterest, the Y-chromosome in me has absolutely no idea what to do with the site. Pinning room decor, clothes, and recipes? That’s OK if it’t your thing, but I just don’t think that way. It just seems like a digital hope chest to me, and if I were to return to all of my unmet hopes and aspirations, I would become depressed. Grrr.

Yeah, that’s it. But maybe that’s just me more than the guy in me (beats chest). If I see it, want it, and can afford it, I get it. I can always beg my wife’s forgiveness later.

All I know is that it’s a jungle out there, and my phone’s flashlight app isn’t up for the task. It’s almost worth writing a blog about. Or perhaps reposting the article linked above.

Or both. Because I am a Cureator.

Dr “Post This” Gerlich





eye2i

13 09 2012

It bothers me to no end that the whole Kool-Aid metaphor is attached to a gruesome incident in Guyana some 34 years ago. As horrible as that tragedy was, our lingering memory is of a once-innocent kids’ drink. Maybe we cope better by taking the bad and trying to spin in a little humor.

Which may explain why we drive the Kool-Aid metaphor into the ground when it comes to Apple and its sexy product line.

Did I just say that? I’m a married man. This is not Victoria’s secret…it’s Steve Jobs’ not-so-secret to take over the world, even from the grave.

And so the world paused for an hour or so yesterday to swirl another round of Apple-flavored drink, made sweet by the promise of ever more features, usability and coolness. Why, yes, I think I’ll have another.

Analysts are already predicting that iPhone5 will sell 10 million units in the first couple of weeks or so, and as many as 58 million in a year. No wonder apple stock keeps breaking its own records. Good grief.

This is yet another example of when the product is not the actual product, but rather some other aspect…tangible or intangible…that people are buying. Sure, it’s a telephone with a couple dozen other gadgets all built into one, but there are numerous substitutes, and ones that cost less. So why will 58 million people pony up anywhere from $200 to $400 for the latest, greatest iPhone?

Because nothing says “I am cool” better than an iPhone. Never you mind that most of these 58 million will be repeat offenders, people who grew up on iPhone 1, graduated to iPhone3 or iPhone4, and are now off to cell phone college.

The crazy thing is that, while iPhone5 has a somewhat larger screen and can run on 4G LTE (if you are one of the few US cities with this service), it really does not differ that much from its predecessors. Yeah, it’s razor thin and will have other marks of distinction to set you (I mean, me) apart from the crowd, but at its core, it’s just a reissue.

And I do not care.

Never mind that the Home button on my iPhone4 is getting very non-responsive. Disregard that I now have over 5800 pictures on it and only a few gigabytes left. These things could be rectified if I took the time to do so. But in the Gerlich household, Apple is the fruit we consume.

I am the first to admit that I pay the Apple tax with every gadget I buy. Yes, they tend to be better products than that of the competitors, and other offerings are quite a bit cheaper. But we all know about how our choice of brands says something about us…our quintessential good taste, our means, our tech-forward worldview.

Oh, and did I forget coolness?

You see, Apple’s armada of techno-gadgets are really lifestyle products, but they come with great consumer utility. In other words, they get the job done, but you look pretty impressive while doing it. And as much as competitors like to make fun of the price we Apple fan boys pay for our toys, don’t you think for a minute that they wouldn’t like to be in the driver’s seat, that they would like to see their own stock pushing $700, that people would pack their eponymous retail stores just to drool.

I’ve been drinking from this glass for seven years now, but it is empty once more. I’ll see you in line.

Dr “i to the oh yeah!” Gerlich