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Weekend read: The Guardian’s strategy

The Guardian dosen’t make much money from me any more. It’s a long time since I last bought a copy. I used to have it delivered, but when I moved house in 2007, I couldn’t find a local newsagent who delivered, and so I stopped. My main newspaper reading time was over breakfast, so picking up a copy later in the day didn’t really work for me. I used to pay The Guardian for an ad-free version of their website, but they stopped offering that service some years ago now. I paid for their tablet app for a while, but didn’t really get on with it, much preferring The Times app.

I carried on reading The Guardian via the website for a long time after I stopped buying it. But, over time, almost all of the writers I cared to read retired, took redundancy, or moved into management roles in which they rarely write. At the same time, they started giving writers of amusing features by-lines on actual news stories which they seemed woefully under-qualified to cover. They also reduced the pagination by cutting sections I enjoyed, and churned out ever-more frustratingly ill-informed comment pieces. And so, these days, I rarely even read The Guardian.

Oh, and they also pissed me off by cancelling a Guardian Masterclass at the last minute, after I’d paid for non-refundable travel to London. I know these things happen sometimes, but it was frustrating, and I was sorely disappointed at the lack of understanding and compassion on the part of the company.

Despite my frustration with it, and the fact that I rarely even engage with it, I still care for The Guardian, and would still very much like to see it find a profitable and successful place in the world. As a result, I was interested to read Ken Doctor’s discussion of The Guardian‘s new “known” business strategy, published in February over at Newsonomics. It’s a fairly unique approach in the newspaper industry, and I wonder to what extent it can succeed.

This 2,245th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , , .

Review: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

The Everything Store, by Brad Stone, is appropriately subtitled Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. I understand that the veracity of the content of this book has been challenged, particularly by Amazon, and I have no way of assessing where the truth lies. With that in mind, I can only comment on the book as it stands.

The Everything Store is so named as Bezos expressed a desire to use the internet to build a store with limitless stock, where one could purchase anything. On reading this, I was immediately struck by the similarity to Harrod’s motto and goal – omnia omnibus ubique – but this is an aspect that is not discussed at all in the book, more’s the pity. I think it would have made a fascinating comparison – the modern retail behemoth and the Victorian equivalent, sharing much the same goals but approaching the problem in totally different ways. But I digress.

Stone’s book gives a comprehensive account of how the company has developed, from it’s small beginnings as a low volume book store, to it’s current world-leading status. It isn’t shy about discussing the financial difficulties Amazon has faced, and indeed still faces. It is difficult to turn a profit on narrow margins, and even more so when one is selling below cost price. It also doesn’t shy away from discussing some of the questionable ethics employed by Amazon, and appears to do so in an even handed manner that is genuinely enlightening.

One particularly good example is the discussion of Bezos’s simultaneous exploitation of and protest against patent law. A lesser author would present this as rank hypocrisy; Stone presents the facts and explains Bezos’s motivation as he understands it. He then allows the reader to determine whether Bezos is acting with reprehensible hypocrisy, or acting in the most logical way possible given the circumstances. I still haven’t quite made up my mind.

The book also gives a comprehensive pen portrait of Bezos as an individual. He is clearly exceptionally driven, possibly to the point of fault, much like his CEO contemporary Steve Jobs. By the end of the book, I was a little tired of reading descriptions of his laugh, but perhaps it is such a dominant feature of his personality that it bears repeating ad nauseam.

To my mind, the book fell down a little when discussing contemporaries and other Amazon executives. The balance between detail and length doesn’t feel quite right in these passages. We are told about many of their childhoods, for example, even though they play a relatively minor role in the story. It feels as though Stone wants to share the detailed background research he has done, rather than concentrating on crafting the broader story and characterisation.

I also found the timeline difficult to follow in some passages. Stone will often abberate from the main timeline to tell the story of how a particular feature or policy developed over time. This means that there is a fair amount of jumping around, and if one doesn’t fully concentrate, it’s easy to get lost.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was engaging, balanced, and informative. The story is told with a degree of page-turning drive that isn’t typical of business books. I’d highly recommend it.

The Everything Store is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle.



Shortly after publication, this post will also appear on Medium, Goodreads, Amazon and smattering of other places too. Recycling is good for the planet.

This 2,244th post was filed under: Book Reviews, .

Photo-a-day 110: M&S latte

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Wendy said I should post this today, as she was thought it looked very pretty!

This 2,243rd post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2014, , .

Photo-a-day 109: Dark chocolate and wasabi fudge cake

One of my Wagamama favourites… though I usually prefer the miniature version plus a macchiato!

This 2,242nd post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2014, , , .


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