La Cucaracha

Hear the words, “la cucaracha” and you may think of the lively Spanish Mexican song and its associated dance. Sounds like fun. The translation from the Spanish is “the cockroach.” Suddenly not so much fun.

Our topic today is cockroaches. Or actually, cockroach behavior. Perhaps you’ve seen it: you enter a kitchen at night, turn on a light and watch them scramble. Any bright light will do the trick. A flashlight. A spotlight. A match.

Or maybe you’ve tried this: swinging a flashlight through the room. You’ll see cockroaches in places you hadn’t expected. And so it is with the pedophilia reports emerging in the news media. A flashlight is shone at Penn State, but as it swings through the room, there are cockroaches everywhere.

Here’s Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney who took on child sexual abuse accusations against Boston archdiocese priests:

“The sexual abuse revelations at Penn State are a further tip of the sexual abuse iceberg that exists in this country and in the world,” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who won millions in settlements for scores of victims preyed on as children by Boston archdiocese priests.

“Victims in many institutions, whether they be educational or otherwise, will come forward to reveal the fact they were sexually abused. What has happened in Penn State has empowered victims, just as the Catholic Church cases have empowered victims to come forward,” he added

The Penn State scandal has indeed empowered additional victims to come forward. Garabedian himself reports taking calls from 10 to 15 people in the wake of the Sandusky revelations; they tell him they were prompted by the Penn State reports. We’ve seen the same impact at Penn State itself, with new victims coming forward against Jerry Sandusky. The spotlight is now on las cucarachas. Watch them scramble.

The Cockroach Effect is not of course a new one. Indeed, we have seen law enforcement purposely use a cockroach approach against selected crime categories or locations. Often to good effect. Some examples:

  • Beginning in the mid-70s, law enforcement increased its focus on forcible rape, in great part because of a burgeoning movement among women to increase awareness and foster an improved police response. The number of reported forcible rapes per capita went from 52 in 1976 to a high of 84 in 1992. Were there more rapes or just better reporting? Evidence suggests social changes removed barriers to reporting rape.
  • Closer to home, we notice how DUI emphasis patrols never fail to bring in a host of arrests. A three week patrol in Pierce County, Washington, netted 287 arrests.
  • A more recent approach is so-called “hot spots policing,” where police use crime mapping to identify crime hot spots, then increase patrols or other police activity to reduce crime in those areas. The results have largely been positive, with decreases in calls for service, varying reductions in crime rates and in one case (Kansas City), both increases in guns seized by police and a decrease in gun crimes.

Our takeaway? The Cockroach Approach, aka Hot Spots Policing, is ideal for focusing laser attention on crimes or neighborhoods too long neglected. It usually takes some combination of scandal, rising crime rates or associated social changes to put these spotlights into effect. Not every crime will rise to the occasion. And sadly some crimes hit the headlines today, only to disappear tomorrow. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have our flashlights always at the ready. Las cucarachas are very persistent.

A Certain Kind of Person

No prudishness here. Sex is alive and well in the workplace. Many of these romances lead to marriage (55% by one count). It’s not new or even news. Office romance has become more common as other venues for meeting potential mates, like church or civic involvement, fade in importance. And few organizations actually have written or verbal policies governing office romance. So it’s pretty much open season, with the exception that extramarital affairs are still frowned upon.

And, of course, not all of this sex and romance is on the up and up. Thank you, Herman Cain, for keeping that thought foremost.

Update: This latest may be too much, even for Cain. Reports are he is reassessing his Presidential bid. I gotta think there’s some ‘splaining to do on the home front.

What’s got me curious, though, is the Trade Association angle. Because, you know, Herman’s biggest problems seem to stem from his trade association years. Am I right? Maybe not, but let’s look at this more closely.

Early in my career I had the opportunity to work at two separate Trade Associations. Each manager — both males — engaged in extracurricular affairs. Each with his executive assistant (these were small offices; often there was only one assistant). One man found his wife forcing him to hire a friend of hers, who took it as her personal duty to keep an eye on him. The affair persisted. The other man was served with an EEOC complaint, settled by a payout and the promise he would go into alcohol rehab.

Is there something about Trade Associations? Well, yes and no.

Let’s address “no,” first. One-third of all romantic relationships begin at work. A Careerbuilder.com survey, moreover, shows nearly 40% of employees say they have dated a co-worker at one point in their career. These results cut across industries. Sex and romance are everywhere; extramarital affairs are seldom far behind.

And now the “yes” part. Trade Associations are funny beasts that sit on the ledge between enterprise and government. They are industry-specific organizations, designed to promote the parochial interests of their industry. Though they can be influential, they don’t generally represent a step up the corporate ladder. Trade association managers, moreover, are recruited from top posts within the industry. Why should it be otherwise? Some of these same people, often men, bring a sense of privilege and entitlement with their corporate bona fides. For some, sex is a coin of the realm, a reward for making it to the top. The trade association environment only amplifies that sense.

They find themselves part of a smaller, more personal organization. They are a big fish in a small pond. The job itself is more social, entailing as it does both subtle and not-so-subtle lobbying on the behalf of their membership. There are more events. More women. More alcohol. More ego moments for the man in charge. Hitch that to a sense of privilege and entitlement and, well… Y’all got issues.

A real-world example is in order:

The trade association manager charged with the EEOC complaint had, in fact, had an extramarital sexual relationship with his previous executive assistant. That woman got married shortly thereafter and recommended that a friend of hers take over the position. Her friend took the job. When she arrived, the new assistant found the manager expected the same sexual perks from her. The two women were, after all, friends. They no doubt behaved in similar fashion. He would simply transfer his sense of entitlement from one woman to the other.

Oops.

Odds & Ends

A few tidbits that caught my attention during the holidays. Or about the holidays. Or ignoring the holidays, for as long as possible.

Book & Movie News

  • Alaska filming has ended on “Frozen Ground,” starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack.
  • From the you-can’t-make-this-up department: As the story goes, there’s a scene [in Frozen Ground] where a moose menaces the teenage hooker-heroine who helps nail Hansen. So they rounded up a regular street moose that promptly got spooked and charged for real.
  • Anchorage even cooperated with moviemakers by delivering an early big dump of snow.

Black Friday/Monday News
Mobile (and cyber) sales are finally taking off, as recent IBM data for Black Friday shows.

  • 10.3 percent of online sales came from mobile shoppers.
  • 17 percent of all shoppers used mobile devices to track exclusive offers and sales updates.
  • iPhone continues to lead all mobile device traffic at 6.58 %, followed by Android at 5.20% and iPad at 4.71%.
  • Equally interesting, iOS led mobile device traffic at 11.29% compared to 5.20% for Android. Or more than double.

The biggest change here is the that retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Macy’s and Apple targeted mobile devices with shopping apps, notifications and alerts. In the grand scheme of things, this tells us at least two things: First, retailers have found ways to go directly to consumers and skip Google’s intermediating engine; second, it further explains Amazon’s strategy of putting out a device that’s a pipeline to their retail experience — and which, by the way, also skips Google’s intermediating engine.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

  • Finally, there’s this story about how two recent market studies leave out iPad sales in their tablet market reviews. This lets them write headlines suggesting that “a large group of consumers are looking for alternatives [to the iPad tablet].”
  • But it’s not true, actually. John Gruber estimates that the iPad actually has, oh, something like 89% of the market. Which means that 11% are truly looking at alternatives — and some of them bought HP tablets at fire sale prices.

Rights? What Rights?

The battle is on.

If nothing else, the battle lines over eBooks are being drawn, with authors, publishers and retailers staking out their various positions. The proxy war is being fought over the lending of eBooks. Seriously. No, I mean it. As we have noted here previously, Amazon is pushing a lending library as a way to promote Kindle sales. Here’s what they say about the underlying agreements that make their program possible:

For the vast majority of titles, Amazon has reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee. In some cases, Amazon is purchasing a title each time it is borrowed by a reader under standard wholesale terms as a no-risk trial to demonstrate to publishers the incremental growth and revenue opportunity that this new service presents.

Not so fast, Amazon, replies the Author’s Guild.

The Big Six publishers have refused to participate in the Amazon program. Amazon then approached second tier publishers. Many of them also refused to participate. According to the Author’s Guild, however, many found their books enrolled anyway.

Amazon has decided that it doesn’t need the publishers’ permission, because, as Amazon apparently sees it, its contracts with these publishers merely require it to pay publishers the wholesale price of the books that Amazon Prime customers download. By reasoning this way, Amazon claims it can sell e-books at any price, even giving them away, so long as the publishers are paid.

More from the Author’s Guild: “Amazon, in other words, appears to be boldly breaching its contracts with these publishers. This is an exercise of brute economic power. Amazon knows it can largely dictate terms to non-Big Six publishers, and it badly wanted to launch this program with some notable titles.”

What about those few publishers who did sign agreements with Amazon? Well… They may have violated their own author contracts. Again from the Author’s Guild:

While these publishers generally have the right to license e-book uses for many of their authors’ titles (just as most trade publishers do), our reading of the standard terms of these contracts is that they do not have the right to do so without the prior approval of the books’ authors…

Under most (perhaps all) publishing contracts, a license to Amazon’s Lending Library is outside the bounds of the publisher’s licensing authority. This isn’t a minor matter – in order to protect the author’s interests, all publishers should be asking permission before entering into such a bulk licensing agreement, and most would need to seek a contract amendment to do so.

On another front, meanwhile, Penguin has pulled its books from both the Amazon and Overdrive lending programs.

The battle is on.

Content consumers are caught in the crossfire, for sure. One pathway to eBooks has been blocked for the time being. At the moment, however, it appears that author’s are the biggest losers, what with at least one retailer trying to foist off reduced royalties and some publishers apparently skipping the get-author’s-permission step.

This is screw-you capitalism at its finest. We don’t say this from a scholarly reserve, either. We’ve experienced it first-hand. This cannot stand. It promises to be a protracted battle.

Consume + Purchase

We have noted in these pages that Amazon’s big bet with the Kindle Fire is a device that links consumers directly to the purchase experience. A cynical characterization calls it a contemporary Sears catalog. Now comes research indicating that at least one segment of device owners are willing to take that idea one step further.

As proof, the Association of Magazine Media (MPA) just released a study examining the attitudes and behaviors of a select group of consumers: tablet and e-reader owners who read app-based magazines on those devices. It’s in part a testimony to how fast things are happening in this space: a year ago, they lacked the critical mass to even conduct such a study. There are a number of interesting findings, but the data on purchase behavior was striking:

Significant to both publishers and advertisers, mobile commerce is a key point of interest to digital magazine consumers:  59% want the ability to buy directly from ads, while 70% stated that they want to be able to purchase products and services directly from editorial features.  At this point, most of the respondents (73%) typically engage with digital magazine ads.

The Kindle Fire paradigm is direct purchase: search a product listing and then purchase an item. For the study participants, at least, the indirect purchase experience is also meaningful. Here they may be reading a magazine article and either want to purchase something mentioned there — or see an associated ad that drives them to a purchase decision.

If the now vexing customer data issue can be resolved, some electronic publishing models appear to have a clear path forward. After all, customers who actually buy things are the most valuable to advertisers. The MPA survey even points to some implementation details: Most respondents want more electronic newsstands (76%) as well as the ability to easily find specific titles to download (79%).

Seems straightforward. Some caution is warranted. The MPA study is focused on early adopters; their behaviors don’t always illuminate what occurs at mass-adoption. But the signs pointing to new revenue models are encouraging. I’ll state the obvious: this isn’t your grandmother’s Sears catalog. But, then, neither is the Sears catalog.

The Android Dilemma

I want to sell eBooks as much if not more than printed books; they are a continuum, not a discontinuity. Devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook help move the continuum forward. Despite that vote of confidence, I sense a certain rush to market with the Kindle Fire. It’s a competitive environment and there are certain first mover advantages, especially when the Nook is not standing still. But this rush out the door points to one of the dilemmas in the Android ecosystem. Why do I say this?

  • The Fire is running a decidedly old version of Android (Gingerbread, Android 2.3), which some critics describe as “ho-hum.” I get the sense Amazon wanted more from its signature device, but couldn’t get it in a timely manner, so they went with what they had.
  • Although Amazon has forked Gingerbread with a new UI, performance has been described as underwhelming. David Pogue: Animations are sluggish and jerky — even the page turns that you’d think would be the pride of the Kindle team. Taps sometimes don’t register. Marco Arment: Almost the entire interface is sluggish, jerky, and unresponsive. There is some minor dissent here: Glenn Fleishman writes that a Fire software update mitigates the sluggishness somewhat.
  • These criticisms aren’t unexpected. Here’s what Engadget’s Joel Topolsky said about Gingerbread one year ago: And that’s kind of the crux of our problem with Android in its current state. We don’t question the power of the OS, but the fit, finish, and ease of use simply is still not there. My own testing of last generation Android tablets (Motorola Xoom, running Android 3.0) underscores these findings; the lack of responsiveness was beyond irritating.

One year on and Topolsky is practically gushing about the most recent Android build, Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) : I want to note that moving around all of these screens is buttery smooth. There’s no lag, no stutter. Animations are fluid, and everything feels cohesive and solid.

What a difference a year makes. And this gets to the heart of the Android dilemma: it’s either wait for Google to get it together or forge forward on your own initiative. Amazon couldn’t wait, although word is that 4.0 is the first “good” version of Android. I expect Amazon will transition to Ice Cream Sandwich in due time. The sad thing is that current generation Fire’s don’t have as much flame as they could have. Worse yet, Amazon may have chosen a strategy that forever keeps them at least a generation behind. But Google and Amazon both have some incredible engineers. They might be able to figure this out.

Pennsylvania Gothic

Every day or so, there’s something new coming out of the woodwork in the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault saga. One should expect it, I suppose. The timeline of victims coming forward now appears to reach back to the ’70s. Let’s see if I can keep all the details straight in this increasingly gothic tale.

  • Joe Amendola, the Sandusky attorney who (mistakenly) let his client do a TV interview, himself impregnated a teen while he was acting as her attorney. Ok they did get married.
  • Quote of the day: When Joe said he’d be fine having Sandusky around his kids, his ex-wife wrote the following on her Facebook page: OMG did Joe just say that he would allow my kids to be alone with Jerry Sandusky?”
  • The Sandusky “I-just-like-to-horse-around-with-boys” defense appears to have backfired. Victim advocates report the Sandusky interview is prompting more victims to come forward.
  • The Mike McQueary saga, meanwhile, is turning into a twist-and-turn reality show, largely conducted behind the scenes. There are new questions arising out his recent assertion that he went to the police. The problem is that neither campus nor borough police show any record of McQueary talking to them in 2002.
  • The New York Times reports that McQueary did talk to police after the 2009 grand jury investigation of Sandusky began. The report adds he was relieved to unburden himself. Is it possible this is what McQueary means when he says he went to the police? One would hope not, but it is more Pennsylvania Gothic if he does.
  • As if all this wasn’t enough, there are now reports that fired-head-coach Joe Paterno went to the hospital Wednesday night, for an undisclosed ailment. Update: Paterno has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Whew, that’s a lot of drama. On second thought, maybe it’s too kind to call this a gothic tale. It’s more like a South American soap opera, with tragic consequences. And for all you Hermans out there, this is an example of some very fine reporting. I personally single-out Sara Ganim of The Patriot-News in Pennsylvania, but there’s plenty of credit to go around.

Here & There

Today’s blog is a grab-bag of stories, culled from a range of sources. We’ve still got crime on our mind.

First up, Frozen Ground film news fresh from Alaska.

  • We have a couple of shots of Nicolas Cage in Anchorage. In this slideshow, Cage is seen on the Frozen Ground set. And what would a Nicolas Cage story be without some smack from gossip site TMZ? Their spy camera captures him purchasing a $2,000 ivory-handled knife.
  • The Anchorage Daily News reports that Alaska filming on “Frozen Ground” could wrap by Friday, November 18 — a one-month shooting schedule.
  • The Alaska backlash against film subsidies, meanwhile, is starting to heat up. More on this issue in another post.

We also have an update on the Mike McQueary story, in what amounts to another round of media counter-attack. I’m guessing anyone who follows the news is already aware of these revelations.

What’s worth comment here is that the basis for much of the reporting is a 23-page grand jury presentment. A summary document. It leaves out details. That gives the folks involved a brief-window to manage the news by releasing self-serving details of their own. My money is still on Sara Ganim, the intrepid reporter who first broke this story.

The Media Counter-Attack

What’s the cliche? If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em?

We all sense how media scrutiny has changed the way crimes and other misdeeds are reported and perceived. Herman Cain, faced with allegations of sexual harassment, fights back with charges the news media is trying him in the court of public opinion. Perhaps he’s taking a page or two out of the Newt Gingrich playbook. Make the news media the fall guy, the bad boy, the source of all evil. Never mind that the allegations are based on records and settlements that diligent reporters were able to unearth from their vault of secrecy.

And now we’re seeing a full court media press from the Jerry Sandusky defense. They’re going straight to the same news media who have apparently been pillorying them unfairly. Never mind the almost three years of grand jury testimony and the growing roll-call of alleged victims. Here’s some samples of their media counter-attack:

  • Joe Amendola, Jerry Sandusky’s attorney, says showering with kids doesn’t make Sandusky guilty. Amendola also implies that Mike McQueary is a liar. Of course, as a witness, Mike McQueary cannot say anything in his own defense.
  • The attorney says he thinks they’ve found the alleged victim in the McQueary incident and that he will vindicate Mr. Sandusky. Which victim? The New York times reports that close to 10 new victims have now come forward.
  • Sandusky himself has gotten into the act. In an “exclusive” interview, Sandusky tells Bob Costas: I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.

Meanwhile, the Dr. Conrad Murray documentary has aired on MSNBC, much to the chagrin of Michael Jackson’s family.

What are we to make of this media counter-attack strategy? Much as I dislike it, I know it’s inevitable. One is ill-advised to let serious allegations fester unanswered. And fair is fair; ethical journalism means both sides of the story should be told. That doesn’t mean we always have to take the media counter-attack seriously. As Shakespeare noted:

…it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth

Anti-Trust

I was working at Microsoft when the Justice Department lifted the consent decree during the early days of the Bush II presidency. For all the bile traded back and forth during that time, the news was eerily anticlimactic. There was a small cheer and then everyone just went back to their jobs.

But the antitrust charge was a serious threat that held the potential to break up the company. Bill Gates and others argued at the time that Microsoft’s dominant position was always at risk from emerging technologies. Ten years on and we now see that the “bully” Microsoft was perceived to be now finds itself in a market that has largely moved on.

As the worm turns, the next villain in sight seems to be Apple. As Frederic Filloux writes in his latest Monday Note column, Apple seems to have an anti-trust problem. Publishers, in particular, are feeling the squeeze. So much so that there is talk of possible legal action before the European Commission.

The problem, in a nutshell, is the Apple ecosystem as redefined by the iPad. Lots of power now resides in that ecosystem. This has led to a situation where many in the industry simply don’t trust Apple to address their business needs. Some specifics:

The iPad’s sales trajectory has been so explosive that the “joke” in Silicon Valley is that there isn’t a tablet market; there’s an iPad market. If you want to move to the world of digital publishing, this is the device you need to be on.

At present, moreover, the best way onto the iPad is through Apple’s AppStore, if only because native apps offer a much richer experience than web-apps. But the AppStore brings a whole set of its own issues. Filloux says it well:

“Let’s face it, Apple has life and death power over the apps it harbors in its store.”

Given the situation, it’s worth examining the scope of the threat, as well as potential solutions. I think the two are closely aligned. Note that my bias here is toward more publishing options for authors. My ideal is a healthy ecosystem that’s not dominated by any one player.

The Threat Has Its Weaknesses

  • As Bill Gates pointed out more than a decade ago, ten years is a long time in the tech industry. Emerging technologies, as yet unknown, may well disrupt Apple’s current position. Faint comfort, that, but worth remembering.
  • HTML5 is still in its infancy. As it matures, it will take web-apps to greater parity with native apps. This eases the requirement to go through the AppStore to provide compelling content.
  • Amazon is an alternative, albeit with its own set of worries. The Seattle online retailer has been steadily building a compelling alternative to the Apple universe. It is not identical, but that may be its greatest strength. Still, be careful what you wish for.
  • Don’t forget Barnes & Noble. B&N doesn’t have the breadth of Amazon’s catalog, but as a book distributor, they have great depth. Don’t stop at books. This is a case where having several friends is better than having one. Books A Million also comes to mind here.

I doubt any of this will prevent concerned parties from lawyering up. But as Bill Gates pointed out, the technology business is highly fluid. By the time the legal system gets there, technology will have already moved on.

The best strategy at the moment is for publishers to get their own houses in order, so they can take advantage of emerging opportunities. That means aggressively embracing new technologies and alternative distribution mechanisms. And building alliances that spread, not concentrate, opportunity.