Tag Archives: The Consumerist

Kenneth Cole Steps In It

Kenneth Cole twitter

Kenneth Cole PR twitter

Katherine Noyes at PC World:

For all those who needed an illustration of how a business shouldn’t use Twitter, Kenneth Cole kindly provided it this week by using the current unrest in Egypt as a promotional tool.

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo,” read the original tweet from Thursday morning. “Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo.”

Widespread uproar was the result, all right, but not as a result of any spring collection. Such was the magnitude of the outcry at Cole’s insensitivity, in fact, that the company hastily removed the tweet that same day and issued two retractions instead.

“Re Egypt tweet: we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation,” read the first. “We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment -KC”

A second, posted on Facebook soon afterward, read as follows:

“I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic:

And a snapshot of reactions:

  • The Next Web – “Oh dear, we thought that big brands might have learnt that hijacking hashtags isn’t a good idea”
  • Advertising Age – “Kenneth Cole and others in the media and marketing industries not only suffer from a lack of tact, they suffer from a lack of historical knowledge and the ability to grasp that the situation in Egypt could get a hell of lot uglier than it is even at this moment.”
  • Styleite – “Apparently Kenneth Cole knows there’s nothing like a violent political revolution to boost sales!”

Brenna Ehrlich at Mashable:

Cole made a similarly indelicate statement in the past; following 9/11, he told the New York Daily News: “Important moments like this are a time to reflect… To remind us, sometimes, that it’s not only important what you wear, but it’s also important to be aware.”

The Twitterverse, unsurprisingly, is not happy with Cole’s 140-character missive. A fake account — @KennethColePR, à la @BPGlobalPR — has even cropped up, mocking the designer with such tweets as: “Our new slingback pumps would make Anne Frank come out of hiding! #KennethColeTweets.”

Amy Odell at New York Magazine:

Since the Tweet caused mass offense around the Internet, a Kenneth Cole parody account @KennethColePR emerged. Its tweets include, “‘People from New Orleans are flooding into Kenneth Cole stores!’ #KennethColeTweets.” Also: “People of Haiti, fall into our store for earth-shattering savings! #KennethColeTweets.” Not to be outdone by: “Hey, Pope Benedict – there’s no way to fondle our spring shoes inappropriately! #KennethColeTweets.”An hour ago, the pranksters got serious, tweeting that they would turn over the fake account to the brand if they made a donation to Amnesty International or another charitable organization. And still, a quick scan of the Kenneth Cole Facebook wall reveals a lot of people thought that Cairo tweet was funny anyway.

Adam Clark Estes in Salon:

Oh, Kenneth.

Unspoken rule No. 1: Don’t make jokes about tragedies. You’ve donethis sort of thingbefore — mixing up bad puns and profundity. It’s oh-so-tempting to try to make light of grim situations, sad stories and global traumas. Don’t try to make it funny. That’s what comedians are for. Kenneth Cole is a fashion designer known for sharp-looking dress shoes, not sharp wit.

Unspoken rule No. 2: Don’t make marketing gimmicks out of tragedies. This is just like rule No. 1 but more directed at Kenneth Cole. When the world’s attention is fixated on one event, sometimes it’s not the best idea to jump up and down with the “Look at me!” routine. The unrest in Egypt isn’t the Super Bowl. It’s a troubling story with historical implications. Nobody wants to hear about your spring slacks.

Chris Morran at The Consumerist:

When you think of Kenneth Cole, you probably don’t associate the apparel brand with edgy, topical humor. And you probably won’t ever again, after the company stuck its shiny leather shoe in its mouth with a Tweet referencing the current political upheaval in Egypt.

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Filed under Fashion, Middle East, New Media

The “Where’s The Beef?” Lady Is Probably Dead By Now

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic:

Taco Bell’s “seasoned beef” appears to be a clever mirage. That’s what an Alabama law firm is alleging when it slapped the chain with a “false advertising” suit for misleading customers about the actual content of its Taco fillings. Surprise! The “meat” is only 36 percent actual beef.

Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo:

Taco Bell “beef” pseudo-Mexican delicacies are really made of a gross mixture called “Taco Meat Filling” as shown on their big container’s labels, like the one pictured here. The list of ingredients is gruesome. Updated.

Beef, water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate.

It looks bad but passable… until you learn that—according to the Alabama law firm suing Taco Bell—only 36% of that is beef. Thirty-six percent. The other 64% is mostly tasteless fibers, various industrial additives and some flavoring and coloring. Everything is processed into a mass that actually looks like beef, and packed into big containers labeled as “taco meat filling.” These containers get shipped to Taco Bell’s outlets and cooked into something that looks like beef, is called beef and is advertised as beef by the fast food chain.

Can you call beef something that looks like ground beef but it’s 64% lots-of-other-stuff? Taco Bell thinks they can.

Jonathan Turley:

Taco Bell Corporation spokesman Rob Poetsch responded by saying that “Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value. We’re happy that the millions of customers we serve every week agree. We deny our advertising is misleading in any way and we intend to vigorously defend the suit.” That is an interesting statement. It does not appear to deny that it is serving marginal beef products but that the company never really promised anything more than it serves. Presumably, if the company issued a statement that it was in fact serving “beef” in response to this lawsuit, it could be cited as part of the alleged effort to deceive in advertising (assuming they are not serving “beef” as defined by federal law).

The class action alleges the company is serving what is referred to as “taco meat filling, which is comprised mainly of “extenders” and other non-meat substances, including wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate as well as beef and seasonings. Of course, the company could claim that it is the anti-dusting agents and maltrodrexin that gives it that “high quality Mexican inspired food” taste but it would not actually have most Americans “running to the border.”

MB Quirk at The Consumerist:

Hey, at least they’re making the distinction of “Mexican inspired food,” although that might be stretching it, too.

Robert Sietsema at The Village Voice:

Five Reasons You Should Hate Taco Bell, Besides the Lack of Real Meat

1. Meat, schmeat – are you ever certain of the meat supply at any fast food outlet? A few years ago, there was a website that claimed the average McDonald’s hamburger had been lodged in permafrost for around three years before it was thawed and served at an outlet. The rancid meat explains the odd smell you associate with stepping into a McDonalds.

2. When you order something made with ground meat (we used to call it “mystery meat” in school), you get exactly what you deserve. I’m much more annoyed by the other ingredients at Taco Bell – the gummy flour tortillas that turn into glue in your mouth, or the weird micro-“cheese” curls that seem to be poking out of every orifice: The white ones look exactly like pinworms.

3. The astonishing lack of spice in nearly everything you get at TB (that’s Taco Bell, not tuberculosis – though maybe you’ll get that, too, if you linger long enough). And the little plastic packets containing what tastes like Tabasco — when there are zillions of authentic Mexican hot sauces available — don’t help at all.

4. What Taco Bell has done to Mexican food, which – with its dependence on minimally refined corn products, beans, and fresh vegetables – must be one of the healthiest cuisines on earth, is criminal! The chiles, cumin, oregano, scallions, and other herbs and spices seem to be entirely missing, and in their place, bad mayo.

5. Have you ever seen a Mexican eating in Taco Bell?

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Filed under Economics, Food

Strawberry Alarm Clock

Uri Friedman at The Atlantic with the round-up.

John C. Dvorak at PC Magazine:

There was a big brouhaha over the weekend as the Apple iPhone alarm clock failed to work on both News Years day and January 2nd. Then the problem self-corrected on the third for some reason nobody bothered to explain.

I first found out about it on the 2nd when my podcasting partner, Adam Curry, was moaning about how the alarms didn’t work on his iPhone, and he didn’t get up on time to prep for the show we do on Sunday morning. I thought it was peculiar. Peculiar that people use the iPhone as an alarm clock!

Apparently, a lot of people use the iPhone as an alarm clock, adding more dubious usefulness to the device. I know that over the years, the mobile phone has essentially replaced the wrist watch. When people want to know the time they pull out their mobile phone and look at it. This has the added advantage of giving you the opportunity to check for important messages.

After all, we will die on the spot and be humiliated by the throngs of passersby if we are not up to the second with our messaging obligations. It’s gotten so bad that the evil phones are now at our bedsides to wake us up. Then when this questionable function fails, the world goes into a tizzy.

Ron Hogan at Popular Fidelity:

Weirdly enough, the glitch only affected one-time alarm settings, not recurring alarms.  Recurring alarms worked just fine.  Apple says that “customers can set recurring alarms for those dates and all alarms will work properly beginning January 3.”  Too little, too late.

Even worse, the glitch affected the newest version of the iPhone, the iPhone 4G, and the most recent versions of iPhone software.  If you updated your iPhone and needed to get up this weekend for something, then you probably overslept.  Then again, if you have to get up for something, I recommend multiple alarm clocks, not just technological ones.

Charlie Sorrel and Brian X. Chen at Wired:

Apple spokesperson Natalie Harrison told Macworld that the the bug had been officially recognized, and would fix itself on Jan. 3.

“We’re aware of an issue related to non-repeating alarms set for Jan. 1 or 2,” Harrison said. “Customers can set recurring alarms for those dates and all alarms will work properly beginning Jan. 3.”

However, some iPhone customers in Asia and Europe said they were still experiencing alarm malfunctions as of Jan. 3, according to Reuters. Also, some U.S. customers said on Twitter this morning that their alarms weren’t working.

“This is why I missed the gym this morning,” tweeted Rik Nemanick, a Saint Louis resident.

Apple claims the alarm issue has only affected non-repeating alarms — meaning if your alarm is set to go off at the same time “every Monday,” for example, it should have worked today. However, for those who set a one-time alarm for this morning, some may have experienced the malfunction.

If you’re paranoid about sleeping in late, the quick fix for the issue is to set recurring alarms. To set repeating alarms, launch the Clock app, hit the + sign to create an alarm, then tap Repeat and choose the day(s) you want this alarm to go off regularly.

The alarm code in iOS seems to be pretty buggy. This latest problem follows a bug that caused alarms to sound an hour late when both Europe and the United States flipped over from daylight saving time at the end of the summer.

An unreliable alarm clock is a frivolous bug, but it’s particularly embarrassing for Apple, a company that prides itself for fine details of its products. Here’s hoping that Apple issues a complete rewrite of its clock app whenever it releases the next iPad or iPhone.

Ben Popken at The Consumerist:

On Jan 1 and 2 of 2011, tons of people overslept, not due to hangovers, but because of an iPhone glitch that made their alarms go off. For most people this was just an inconvenience, but for one couple it was disastrous. They missed a fertility treatment deadline.

Jodi writes:

My husband and I set the alarms on both of our iPhones to go off at 6:45am on January 1. We had a very important deadline to make that morning in regards to our scheduled fertility treatment. But we missed it. The alarms didn’t go off. Apparently (according to Google) they don’t work on January 1 or 2 of 2011. Wish we would’ve known this ahead of time. Thousands of dollars and a month of injections wasted. And no one to turn to for recourse.Jodi

Sent from my iPhone

My heart goes out to you and your husband, Jodi. That is devastating. I only hope that you have the resources and fortitude to be able to pick up the pieces and try again.You might say that they should have set multiple, non-iPhone alarms, but hindsight is 20/20 and that doesn’t remove the pain of their loss.

Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic:

Unwilling to wait for another day and hope that your alarm wakes you tomorrow morning as it once used to? There’s a quick fix. Download one of hundreds of free applications from the Apple Store and use that instead. Maybe you’ll even find that you like it better than the built-in alarm.

A couple of our favorites: Nightstand Central Free is ad-supported and only gives you a few options for the sound of your alarm, but it includes a weather report and works even when you leave the phone locked and in sleeping mode. iClock Free is another ad-supported application that includes a weather report next to the time display. Once you set an alarm using this application, it will go off on your iPhone or iPod even when you don’t have the application open. In addition, you can set the app so that a puzzle must be solved before the alarm will stop ringing; a smart bonus that will help to rouse even the deepest of sleepers

 

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If Life Gives You Lemons, Throw Them At The Health Inspector

Helen Jung at The Oregonian:

It’s hardly unusual to hear small-business owners gripe about licensing requirements or complain that heavy-handed regulations are driving them into the red.

So when Multnomah County shut down an enterprise last week for operating without a license, you might just sigh and say, there they go again.

Except this entrepreneur was a 7-year-old named Julie Murphy. Her business was a lemonade stand at the Last Thursday monthly art fair in Northeast Portland. The government regulation she violated? Failing to get a $120 temporary restaurant license.

Turns out that kids’ lemonade stands — those constants of summertime — are supposed to get a permit in Oregon, particularly at big events that happen to be patrolled regularly by county health inspectors.

“I understand the reason behind what they’re doing and it’s a neighborhood event, and they’re trying to generate revenue,” said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department. “But we still need to put the public’s health first.”

Ann Althouse

Paul Chesser at The American Spectator:

So whose role is it to protect the public from excessive government? The health department says you can call and register complaints with the Multnomah County Environmental Health Services. Okay, so it’s for food illnesses, but you know, it’s easy to get sick of out of control regulators too. And Lillian Shirley is the head bureaucrat at the Health Department.

As for citizens, they are planning their own lemonade revolt at the end of this month.

Richard Lawson at Gawker:

Though she was using hand sanitizer, 7-year-old Julie Murphy’s art fair lemonade stand was shut down because it didn’t have the necessary restaurant license. People were outraged and anarchists (srsly) are planning a protest. Stay strong, government agents!

Katie Pavlich at Townhall:

The girl, Julie Murphy, was selling the lemonade for 50 cents, which means she would have to sell 240 cups in order to purchase a food license, and in addition 1000 cups to then pay off the $500 fine. I wonder if the government would then tax the girl’s revenues as well.

Moe Lane at Redstate:

Hey, if Blue State/Democratic-controlled governments want to avoid being raked over the coals because their convoluted regulatory schemes keep throwing up scenarios where public sector union employees have to threaten seven year old girls and make them cry, here’s a thought: don’t make the regulatory schemes quite so complicated.  True, doing it that way requires one faction of the Democratic party (public sector unions) to have a fight with another faction (trial lawyers), but why is that my problem?

Don Suber:

The little girl is adorable in the accompanying photo.

Now readers may have figured out that one of my favorite albums is “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It’s the music.

And OK, the cover.

Lemonade very pretty and the little girl is swell.
But the ade of the poor girl is impossible to sell.
Bureaucracy very rigid and you do what they tell.
But the fruits at the health department can all go to…

Chris Morran at The Consumerist:

Realizing the error of their ways, county officials have now issued an apology, meaning the little girl’s horribly unsafe lemonade can be unleashed upon the world once more.

In his decision, Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen said that while county health department workers were “following the rule book” when they stopped the girl and her mom from selling lemonade, he asked them to use “professional discretion.”

“A lemonade stand is a classic, iconic American kid thing to do,” he said. “I don’t want to be in the business of shutting that down.”

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Faster, Static! Kill! Kill!

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Bryan Walsh at Time:

BP stopped pumping heavy mud into the blown well around eight hours after beginning on Tuesday afternoon, saying that the procedure had achieved its “desired outcome.” Here’s part of the press release from BP:

The well is now being monitored, per the agreed procedure, to ensure it remains static. Further pumping of mud may or may not be required depending on results observed during monitoring.

The start of the static kill was based on the results of an injectivity test, which immediately preceded the static kill and lasted about two hours.

That doesn’t mean things are over—BP vice president Kent Wells told reporters yesterday that he wasn’t sure if mud alone would be enough to fully plug the well. But the fact that BP was able pump drilling mud into the well—at the weight of about 13.2 lbs. per gallon—means that its physical structure is likely still in good condition. And that should clear the way for the relief well, still set to be completed by mid-August. Most importantly, though, more than 100 days after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, it’s hard to imagine oil flowing from BP’s well again.

And it may turn out that the 4.9 million barrels of oil that did spill from BP’s well may leave less of a mark on the Gulf than first expected. According to the New York Times, the government is expected to announce today that nearly three-quarters of the oil has already evaporated, dispersed, been skimmed or burned—and that what’s left isn’t likely to do further damage, as White House energy czar Carol Browner told NBC’s Today show this morning:

The oil was captured. It was skimmed. It was burned. It was contained. Mother Nature did her part. And that’s good news.

According to the government’s report, a full quarter of the oil dispersed on the surface of the Gulf or dissolved in seawater, and another 16% dispersed naturally as the oil gushed out of the well. The actual cleanup played a smaller role—5% of the oil was removed in controlled burns, and 8% was broken up using chemical dispersants. The warm Gulf ecosystem—accustomed to breaking down oil—was the more significant factor.

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

The static kill is underway. Whether it will kill, slightly impede, or merely pester BP’s Macondo well remained unknown late Tuesday, as engineers and scientists at BP’s headquarters in suburban Houston scrutinized pressure readings from the hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Federal officials huddled in BP’s operations center are trying to manage expectations, saying that even if the static kill goes as hoped, Macondo won’t be kaput until it is intercepted and cemented by a relief well that’s been three months in the drilling.

“You want to make sure it’s really dead dead dead. Don’t want anything to rise out of the grave,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu told The Washington Post late Tuesday afternoon.

BP initiated the process of pumping mud into the blown-out Macondo well at about 4 p.m. Tuesday. The static kill is not a quick operation by design, pumping mud at a leisurely rate of 2 barrels per minute. About 2,000 barrels will be needed to fill the well, engineers have calculated.

Ben Popkin at The Consumerist:

Doesn’t BP know the power of language? I don’t think the use of intense code names for the various operations has really helped assuage the public consciousness throughout this whole fracas. “Static Kill,” “Top Kill,” “Junk Shot,” really, much too exciting. How about “Containment Orocedure # 74 or “Earthen Inflowment Filling Process”? They should catch up on the collected works of your native son, Orwell.

And a new report says that 3/4 of the escaped oil has been burnt off, skimmed off, chemically dispersed, evaporated, or dissolved in the ocean, “like sugar.” That leaves only, ohh, about 53.5 million gallons floating around in the Gulf. Ballpark, that’s about 5 times the Exxon Valdez disaster. In the words of Borat, great success!

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

There’s a strange amount of good news coming out of the Gulf today. Not only has the vast majority of the leaked oil now been wiped from the face of the Earth, but BP’s latest violently named leak-stopping effort is being declared successful. First there was the top kill, and now, the static kill, in which more of that heavy drilling mud we always hear about was pumped into the well to stabilize the pressure within.

BP called it a “significant milestone,” while CNN said it was “the biggest development in the long-running saga involving BP’s ruptured well since a tightly fitting cap was placed on it in mid-July, stopping oil from flowing into the Gulf for the first time in almost three months.”

The leak won’t be truly dead for good, though, until BP’s ultimate kill maneuver — the “bottom kill,” otherwise known as the relief well — is complete. Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, explains, “The static kill is going well, but ultimately, it’s the relief wells we ordered drilled that will be the ‘final kill-kill.'” You can tell by the nomenclature that they really are not very fond of this leak.

Dan Froomkin at The Huffington Post:

The Obama administration on Wednesday delivered an upbeat verdict on the fate of the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil that spewed out of BP’s blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that most of it has either been dispersed, burned off, skimmed up, directly recaptured through containment efforts, evaporated or dissolved.

Relatively little, they announced, remains on the surface of the Gulf.

That last part is certainly cause to celebrate. But much of the dissolved or dispersed oil may still be causing massive environmental damage beneath the surface, even if it can’t easily be seen.

So along with the 26 percent of the oil that federal scientists still can’t fully account for, that means more than half could still be posing a serious and present danger to sea life and Gulf ecosystems.

A new report, which was authored by senior officials from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey, was based on findings from government and non-government scientists. The underlying measurements and methodology were not made public, however, leaving much of it looking like so much guesswork. It did, however, include this neat graphic

[…]

President Obama himself weighed in earlier in the day. “A report out today by our scientists shows that the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water,” he said.

But that’s a big “or”.

Under questioning by the White House press corps, Lubchenco was somewhat less upbeat. “No one is saying it’s not a threat anymore,” she said. “Diluted and out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean benign.”

She said the subsurface oil is biodegrading rapidly, but nevertheless may already have had a devastating effect on the young of many species — for instance, it may have wiped out a whole year’s worth of bluefin tuna eggs.

“I think the common view of most of the scientists inside and outside government is that the effects of this spill will likely linger for decades,” she said. “The fact that so much of the oil has been removed and in the process of being degraded is very significant and means that the impact will not be even worse than it might have been. But the oil that was released and has already impacted wildlife at the surface, young juvenile stages and eggs beneath the surface, will likely have very considerable impacts for years and possibly decades to come.”

Lubchenco also said that dissolved oil (like “sugar into your coffee or your teacup”) is not necessarily less dangerous than dispersed oil (“broken up from large chunks into smaller chunks”).

But there was a definite sense of triumphalism in the briefing room. “I think it is fairly safe to say that because of the environmental effects of Mother Nature, the warm waters of the Gulf and the federal response, that many of the doomsday scenarios that were talked about and repeated a lot have not and will not come to fruition because of that,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

“I think the original scenario was off the coast of Delaware and halfway to England by September, if I’m not mistaken.”

Lubchenco announced that there is “virtually no threat to the Keys of the East Coast remaining.” And she and White House environmental advisor Carol Browner refused to entertain the notion that their estimates might end up being off.

“We have a high degree of confidence in them,” Lubchenco said of the findings.

“The likelihood of large-scale change is very, very small, because we have so much certainty in some of the numbers,” Browner said.

One particularly unresolved issue, however, remains how much risk there is that dispersed oil will get into the Gulf’s food chain — and eventually to the dinner table.

Lubchenco notably ducked two food-chain questions on Thursday.

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Roll Over Johann Gutenberg…

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic with a round-up. Gustini:

Amazon announced Monday that, over the past three months, Kindle book sales outnumbered those of hardcover books for the first time in the company’s history. The announcement comes less than a month after the company slashed the price of its flagship e-book reader from $259 to $189 amidst growing competition from Apple’s iPad. So far, the move seems to have paid off–Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Kindle sales have tripled since the price cut.

Charlie Sorrel at Wired:

As reported by my silver-tongued editor Dylan Tweney over on Epicenter [ED: flattery will get you nowhere], this has accelerated in the last month, with Amazon shifting 180 Kindle copies for every 100 hardbacks, and this is due to the price drop which saw the Kindle go from an expensive $260 to an affordable $190. Breaking the magic $200 mark has caused Kindle sales to rocket. Bezos again: “The growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189.”

While the “growth rate of unit sales” is far too cryptic a metric to go by (note that the actual sales have not tripled) it shows that people are ready for e-books and e-readers, if they are priced right. It also shows that they completely disregard the big advantage of the paper book: buy it and it is yours. Whereas a Kindle book is pretty much still the property of Amazon, and can be deleted from afar whenever it likes, a paper book can be lent, resold and used to prop up a wobbly table.

The same limitations never held up the iTunes MP3 store, however. And the fact that you can read your Kindle books on almost any platform certainly helps to hide these problems. One thing is certain: with the number of e-book-capable screens we carry around today, it won’t be long before the paperbacks also fall into a minority market.

MG Sielger at TechCrunch:

Amazon also says that it sold three times as many Kindle books in the first half of 2010 as it did in the first half of 2009. The store now has over 630,000 books available for the Kindle. And over 510,000 of those are $9.99 or less — one clear advantage over Apple’s iBookstore, which is more expensive. Plus, Amazon has access to over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books for the device.

Also interesting is that there have been five authors now that have sold over 500,000 Kindle version of their books: Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts.

Earlier this month, Amazon also announced that an updated version its larger DX model with a better screen and a black frame.

All that said, Amazon is going to have a tough battle competing in hardware with the likes of Apple going forward. The Kindle, while great for reading, still offers only a fraction of what the iPad can do (and even Amazon highlights this). And I suspect another Kindle price cut down to $99 may be coming sometime in the next year. If Apple stays at $499 for the iPad, that should be enough to differentiate itself for a while. Amazon is also smart to offer its Kindle software on devices like the iPad, iPhone, and Android phones. This ensure that Amazon’s future in the book business will remain intact whether or not they’re the ones in charge of the hardware.

Also, why is Amazon issuing press releases about these numbers? They’ve famously shied away from saying much about the Kindle sales in the past. Of course, they weren’t the subject of a weekly “iPad is killing Kindle” story in the past.

Chris Morran at The Consumerist

Jared Newman at Technologizer:

I hope book publishers are encouraged, not frightened, by the news. They should be converting books into electronic form faster than ever to capitalize on the e-reader craze. But they might also liken e-books to paperbacks — both are less profitable than hardcovers — by delaying the digital versions to drum up hardcover sales.

Delaying the digital version of books is a bad move because there’s nothing comparable to hardcovers available in digital form. If publishers want to charge more for new releases — and they can with the agency model, which allows several major publishers to set their own e-book prices — that’s fine. But as Amazon’s latest numbers show, Kindle owners are determined to build their e-book libraries, and publishers should do everything they can not to hold those readers back.

Megan McArdle:

I now have an iPad and a Kindle, and while I think the Kindle reader for iPad is terrific, the device itself is too fragile for many uses, and the shinyness of the screen is a serious problem, because I can’t easily use it outside, or even in front of a big window.  I wouldn’t want to have just one or the other.

And ultimately, I’m not sure how much Amazon cares how much profit it makes on the Kindle–the machine is a way to sell more content, not a profit center on its own.  So far, Apple is trying to pull all of its profit out of the device, not the content stream, but I wonder if that will last.  The more powerful Apple gets, the more disenchanted the hard-core tech fans become.  Meanwhile, they’re getting stronger and stronger competition from devices like the Droid, which may push their margins down the way they pummeled the margins on the Kindle.

If Apple needs to pull more revenue out of its content stream, it will be interesting to watch.  They haven’t positioned themselves as the low-cost or the high-performance provider in that space; everyone I’ve talked to with an iPad reads their books on the Kindle reader, not iBooks.

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Filed under Books, Technology

Big Brother And The Hamster Company

Amelia Glynn at San Francisco Chronicle:

The sentiment has been expressed in different words and languages by the likes of Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, President Harry S. Truman and (perhaps most dubiously) Mahatma Ghandi:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

In 1998, Cardinal Roger Mahony famously said: “Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; the last, the least, the littlest.”

Enter San Francisco’s newly proposed and seemingly well-meaning ban on the sale of companion-animals within city limits, which aims to protect pets, down to the littlest guinea pig. More than 630 comments have already been posted to the original Chronicle article that was published this morning. They run the gamut from anger and cries of “Nanny state” (“Where does this madness end? I for one am sick of how our liberties are being violated each and every day”) to general predictions of doom (“When pet-selling is outlawed, only outlaws will sell pets”) to, my favorite, humor (“When hamsters are outlawed, only outlaws will have hamsters”).

I adopted my dog from a rescue group in the city and do not consider myself a “designer breed” kind of gal. And while I may be impulsive about handbags, I’ll never take a hamster home without giving it a lot of thought in advance. To be truthful, I’ve never been a big fan of rodents. The neighbor’s hamster took a chunk out of my thumb when was I was a kid and I never looked back. Reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH in grade school gave me a greater appreciation for rats, but after having a pair in the classroom (aptly named Nicodemus and Jennifer), I never wanted one as a pet. But I still care about their beady-eyed well-being.

I find it interesting that the ban only targets pet stores and does not include our fine, finned friends. (I guess it’s still okay to flush fish down the toilet because they can’t feel anything anyway. Or can they?) True, an astonishing number of pet stores get their animals from mills where breeding practices and overall conditions are spotty at best, but many online classifieds are also selling overproduced and under cared for animals. So why is one kind of pet business deemed acceptable whereas the other is not?

Jeff Blyskal at The Consumerist:

The impetus for this is not stray cats, dogs, as you might expect. Their welfare and rights are protected from Dickensian puppy mills, animal abuse, and life on the mean city streets, thanks to plenty of compassionate citizen rescue groups. Rather, the real problem, ferreted out by reporter Carolyn Jones, is that too many San Franciscans buy hamsters as an impulse purchase!

Now I, personally, have never seen any buy-me bins of hamsters at the checkout next to the candy, gee-gaws, TV Guide, and supermarket tabloids in my 10 years of travels in this city, home to Consumers Union’s West Coast office. But I take CACW’s word about the secret of hamster hoarding. Unfortunately, the novelty of owning a hamster soon wears off, and folks abandon them at the San Francisco’s animal shelter, where they are euthanized at a rate of 30 percent vs. just 13 percent for cats and dogs, the Chron reports.

Pet store owners and their Washington lobbyists are fit to be tied over this nanny commission proposal, and  rightly so. This ill-conceived law annihilates the convenience and free choice of all responsible pet buyers to prevent the poor judgment of only a few customers. That’s like banning parking for all cars in this city (where finding an empty parking space is a nightmare) because some drivers park illegally.

Might I propose a simpler solution that preserves consumer free choice and shopping convenience and more directly attacks the actual problem? Ban the sale of hamsters only, if necessary, but leave alone people’s freedom to responsibly buy other pets, thank you.

James Joyner:

Granted, this is inspired by a reasonable concern and driving to another town isn’t exactly an arduous burden for most people.   Still, this seems rather silly.

Why not, instead, have some sort of cooling off period?   Say, you have to leave a deposit and then come back three days later if you really want that puppy?   Surely, that would be both less an infringement on liberty and more effective than making people go to Oakland for their hamsters?

Dan Riehl:

Well, I half-way expected to read the argument that pets were akin to slavery, so it isn’t as bad as I thought Heh! It’s simply to control the behavior of consumers because they are such impulse buyers when it comes to pets – all except those purchasing pet fish. Evidently, fish keepers are well disciplined deep thinkers when it comes to pet purchases, so their actions don’t have to be controlled. There is no action the uber-liberal does not wish to control through government.

Nick Gillespie in Reason:

This comes on the heels of a ban on sodey-pop in City Hall vending machines and Commandante Newsom’s bold attempt to grow food on road medians while cutting bagel halves into quarters. Seriously.

Hell, even former SF Housing Authority Commission member and cult killer Jim Jones let his followers have Kool-Aid.

As Eric Burdon could tell you, if you can’t understand what’s going on there, save up all your bread and fly Trans-Love Airlines to San Francisco, USA. Just make sure to bring your own stash of Coca-Cola, full-size bagels, and chinchillas.

James Lileks at Ricochet:

Is there a larger issue? There’s always a larger issue when government regulates in the littlest things. Every little ban is a reminder that any theoretical goodness, however indistinct, is a sufficient reason to deny you a freedom you currently enjoy. Of course, if the Goodness does not materialize in sufficient quantities, it only proves that the initial ban was too narrow, and must be expanded; hence the ban on selling hamsters becomes a ban on having them.

Two: even the advocates for the littlest among us have to respect the imperatives of nature. Snakes eat rodents, you know, and the ban would be unfairly impactful to the Snake-American Community – so they’re considering letting stores sell rodents if you want to feed them to your 10-foot reptile.

The ideal solution: require the Humane Society to feed hamsters to snakes, squealing with horror, instead of putting them down by gaseous means. Perfect. I’d make a reductio ad absurdum line here about government health care, but I don’t speak Latin.

Claire Berlinski at Ricochet, responding:

James, I’m guessing you haven’t spent much time in animal shelters. Every year in America, five million cats and dogs are gassed to death or lethally injected with sodium pentobarbital in these shelters. The word ‘euthanasia’ is a grotesque euphemism. There is no mercy in these deaths. Most of the animals are healthy, rambunctious, and young. They die terrified, and they die pointlessly: very few are vicious; most are capable of forming deep affectionate bonds with humans. This is what happens — what really happens — every day in these shelters. The links are graphic and upsetting. They’re also reality.

Concern for the welfare and dignity of animals is not confined to nihilist Leftists such as Peter Singer or local totalitarians who seek to regulate pets out of existence. Have you read Matthew Scully’s immensely moving, immensely disturbing book Dominion? A completely conservative case can be made, should be made, for treating animals with mercy and respect. Animals are not ordinary commodities, they are living creatures, and they feel pain and fear. No one need suggest that a kitten’s life is morally equivalent to a human’s to observe that something is terribly wrong when we casually dispose of one much as we would the butane in a Bic lighter: that is the mark of a callow society, a cruel society. It does not speak well for us that we kill millions of sentient, sensitive animals every year through grotesque, painful methods such as gassing and heart-sticking. Pet stores are one of the main reasons we do this.

Now many people may wonder and ask, just why are are there so many unwanted pets in the first place to create this tragic situation and where so many unwanted pets are killed in shelters, whether by gas chamber, heartstick or even by injection to begin with? First, there are the puppy and kitten mills that are still prevalent and where animals are bred and bred and bred, over and over again. Thankfully more and more of these mill type breeders are being shut down. These breeders crank out animals like an assembly line and usually wind up in pet stores for sale. And don’t kid yourself, it’s not just a little local pet shop that sells puppies or kittens from these mills, but also some of those fancy high-priced pet stores in Beverly Hills, California where the likes of celebrities will get their dogs from, and they aren’t even aware that those animals are coming from mills.

Yes, snakes eat rodents. Yes, tigers eat gazelles, and yes, nature is savage and cruel. That doesn’t mean we need to add to the misery. They have no choice but to be beasts: We do. If air conditioning is the mark of an advanced civilization that has elevated itself above the State of Nature, even more so is the mercy we display toward animals.

E.D. Kain at The League on Berlinski:

This is a compelling argument, I think, and one that we should take seriously. Obviously people would still go elsewhere to buy pets, but maybe more people would also go to puppy rescues (where we once found and adopted a beautiful little puppy) or human societies and save some of these animals from senseless death. Shutting down puppy mills and other animal mass-producers might go against the libertarian grain, but then again I find that questions of life often do. And perhaps they should.

Life and liberty are anything but mutually exclusive, but there is certainly a tension between the two, whether we’re talking about abortion, slavery, or the pet trade. These are not easy questions, and they don’t have easy answers packaged neatly in comfortable ideological wrapping paper. If there is a market solution to this problem, perhaps it needs to be nudged along.  Could a temporary ban be coupled with some sort of new standards for pet sales including requirements that pet stores and shelters coordinate efforts?  I think there are a number of solutions to make this work, but something certainly does need to change. Whether a ban is the right ticket is a harder call, but it’s a start at least and a good enough time to have the conversation.

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Filed under Animal Rights, Legislation Pending