Saturday, July 30, 2016

Yo Bezos, fix your website!


Merch by Amazon still has the bugs it launched with. Are you going to commit to it, or just let it hang semi-functional? You didn't budget much for it when you set it up; it's a surprisingly bare-bones service for Amazon. Now, given your reputation as an employer, you will probably give everyone associated with Merch by Amazon a hard time for not setting it up flawlessly, but I would ask that you not do that. It's not their fault. The problem is that you are such an unpleasant employer that those who had the skills to set it up flawlessly are working for someone else now. They know they don't have to put up with that much workplace stress, so they took their talents elsewhere. Apparently you are a lousy boss. The bugs in the service aren't the fault of those working on it; they are ultimately traceable to you, your budget, and your management style. Take responsibility. It really doesn't matter much that you're the third richest person on the planet—it's a very small planet. What matters is how you treat the other members of your team. They deserve much more respect than you give them.

My most recently discovered bug is that there is no delete option for a product while it is under review and also while it's at the draft stage. I have a T-shirt that has gotten stuck in the automated review process and I can't delete it. I tried starting another product to see if that would push the under-review product out of its stuck state, but the new one is now stuck in the draft stage and also can't be deleted. This should have been anticipated when setting up the software and a delete option should have been included for both stages.

As I mentioned in a recent message to Customer Service through the Contact Us form, I think it's very strange for the designer to decide whether a T-shirt should be slim-fit or regular-fit. The graphic image should be scaled properly to either style so that the customer can make that decision. I also find it odd how few color choices there are. I understand caution when starting up the service, but it should be clear now how things will go, and the color selection should be expanded and also left up to the customer. I think it's odd to have the designer make choices limiting the number of T-shirt colors for a design.

Remember the late 90s? It seemed like a new world was taking shape with e-commerce providing new ways of doing almost everything. Amazon seemed so green and egalitarian and socially concerned then. As it turns out, you were, at heart, just another Flagler, just another Rockefeller, wanting to grab as much as absolutely possible before they started hitting you with antitrust litigation. Old-school with a coat of green paint. Why do you want to own the world? A little perspective never hurt anybody: In astronomical terms, our hearing that you're the third richest person on the planet is like hearing someone in a town in the middle of nowhere with a population of 500 say "I'm the third richest person in this town!" Those of us with a broader view just chuckle at that sort of thinking.

Your shareholders love you for the money you make for them, of course. The real test is whether your employees love you.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Probably, but who knows?

My email to an author, requesting a foreword or review of a novel examining the alien abduction phenomenon:

Would you consider writing a foreword or review for my novel? It’s entitled Probably, and its focus is the fictionalization of some of the experiences of abductees as presented in the current literature on the subject. The novel fits into the genre of New Age science fiction because of its view of the nature of reality and the effect of multiple dimensions and multiple universes on the human experience of everyday life. The novel also explores the role quantum physics may play in the way humans experience reality.

A brief summary of the story: Trevor frequently wakes up from dorky abduction dreams, but when the ufo he’s dreaming he’s in is actually shot down by the military, he learns that he’s been an abductee since childhood and that government agencies will not tolerate crash survivors or escapees from deep underground bases.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between Trevor and a beautiful young woman, about whom, naturally, he doesn’t know very much. It’s eventually revealed that his love interest is a shape-shifting grey alien who had chosen as her disguise a musical/TV celebrity lookalike drawn from among the dozens of women in Trevor’s head. The question then becomes whether their relationship can continue in spite of this knowledge, as when a Nazi learns his lover is Jewish or vice versa, or royalty learns of commoner status or straight/gay or human/vampire or any number of mismatches. The reason for the deception is an experiment the greys conduct into the viability of a human-alien relationship in a human environment, rather than aboard ship as is usually the case. A subplot explores the human main characters’ puzzlement over learning that they have been destined from long ago to perform certain tasks and finding out that the activation of transhuman abilities embedded in their DNA is linked to the approach of Earth’s Ascension to a higher vibrational frequency.

Just so you know, my narrative style employs the present tense, and some readers find this awkward. One of my favorite authors is John Updike, whose four Harry Angstrom novels were written in that style, and my writing style simply emerged from my admiration for his literary talent. Another favorite author is Umberto Eco, who took an unapologetically literary approach to exploring dubious conspiracy theories in Foucault’s Pendulum. From these references you could consider the possibility that I may not be just another Dan Brown wannabe who’s written an Angels & Aliens-type thing. My book is a bit meatier than that.

The novel presents some opposing points of view on ET-related issues and makes no firm statements regarding their truth or non-truth. The story is mainly structured as if some New Age beliefs are true and then explores the implications. My own feeling, after substantial reading on the subject, leans toward the probability that the extraterrestrial hypothesis, at least in some form, may be the right one. But if it turned out that every phenomenon can be explained in scientific terms, that wouldn’t surprise me either because there are strong arguments on both sides. One thing for which we do have convincing evidence is that governments have been studying the ufo phenomenon even while claiming they have no interest in it. The novel also wades into the current scientific discussion of whether the universe is only a simulation, and it picks up on the current popularity of VR.

Thanks very much for considering writing a foreword for my novel. Please let me know if you would like to see a sample of the novel.

John Evan Garvey

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Merch by Amazon, some observations

This is an email I sent to Merch by Amazon after creating the first 20 of my T-shirt designs:

I'm really glad you've made this outlet available for designers. Thanks very much.

In the Analyze section, I would like to see how many views each product has had, not just the number of sales. That would tell me which designs potential buyers find more eye-catching. It would also indicate to me whether or not my designs are appearing in search results. If there are never any views, that would indicate that potential customers aren't seeing my designs. Partly that would be the result of my not having enough appropriate keywords in my description of a product. But it would also partly be because of Amazon's policies regarding search results. Amazon is absorbing the cost of hosting these designs on their servers; it would be in Amazon's best interests for these products to sell to compensate for the cost of their hosting. The higher they appear in search results, the more likely they are to sell.

The Promotions section of the website should include setting up promotions on Amazon, not just offering tools for creating promotions on my own website. I know that promotional space on Amazon's product pages and landing pages is prime real estate and sellers compete for impressions there, but if Amazon is interested in deriving revenue from the servers hosting Merch by Amazon, they would benefit by allocating some of that real estate to items hosted on those servers.

A while ago I looked into the cost of ads on Amazon and found that the fees were out of my price range. I don't know what the fees are now, but the problem I have with the business model of paying for clicks on ads is that once there is a click, the responsibility of the company selling the ads is completed. Customers can click on ads for any number of reasons—curiosity with no intention of buying, accidental clicking, sabotage, or any other reason besides intention to buy—and the buyer of the ad pays for the click regardless of whether there is a purchase or not. There really is no incentive for the seller of the ad to precisely target the impressions of the ad, and so the product can end up being promoted to the wrong demographics. When I tried Google Ads a while ago to promote my book, written in English, and clicked on "show only on English-language sites," I still found my book's ads appearing on websites that were in Asian languages. I anticipate the same thing happening on Amazon. I'm willing to spend money on promoting my products on Amazon, but only if Amazon waits until there is a purchase before collecting the fee for the click. Amazon would benefit from that by collecting their percentage of the item's selling price as well as the fee for the click. It's possible that the lost revenue from the no-sale clicks would be compensated for by the revenue from the purchase. Accounting would argue that offering free clicks until a purchase is made would produce too little revenue, but that argument ignores the revenue from the purchase, which could be more than that from the clicks. It would also motivate Amazon to promote an item efficiently since their revenue would only come from an actual sale.

Limiting the number of T-shirt colors available to both the designer and the customer is a little odd. I understand the conservatism of wanting there to be fewer colors for designs to look lousy on so that there are fewer returns, but it seems that more customer interest would be generated with a wider range of colors and, with the previews as clear as they are, the customer should be able to see which colors wouldn't work with a design.

The customer should be able to decide between regular-fit and slim-fit. That choice shouldn't be made by the designer. The printing areas of both types of shirts should be coordinated to allow for the design to be scaled to appear appropriately on either style.

Please consider expanding the line of products available. On Zazzle, I have had some success with clock designs. And of course mugs. Stamps and greeting cards have also been good sellers. Even ties do pretty well.

When a design is printed only on the back, the default view of the shirt should be the back. The view currently defaults to the front view, which would be blank in this case, and a customer wouldn't see any design until they clicked on the back-view thumbnail.

The designer would like to choose which color and style T-shirt is the default because s/he knows which color/style displays the design to its best advantage. Basing the default color and style on the currently most popular choice is haphazard and can result in almost all the shirts displayed in the same color. More customer interest is generated when a line of shirts is displayed in a variety of colors. Having a shirt displayed with a women's style as the default would indicate to most men that it's a feminine design, and they would overlook it, even if it's targeted for both men and women. The opposite seems not to be true. But it is the same with children's styles; if the default is a child's style, adults would assume it's a design for kids and would overlook it.

Thanks again for creating Merch by Amazon.

John Garvey