Nothing is Easy, A-B testing version

There’s a song that often comes to mind when I try to evaluate the results of a split test. It’s Jethro Tull’s Nothing is Easy — because testing is sometimes difficult to set up, and it’s often difficult to interpret the data once the test is over.

Marketers do A-B tests because we often don’t know which version of an effort will get the best results. That applies to direct mail, a web page, an email, a telemarketing script … just about anything where you are trying to provoke a response.

It’s good to read best practices and expert guidelines to get ideas for your test, but you still have to test. You don’t know if any given expert’s approach will work for your market. (It can vary.)

You might also wonder whether that particular expert’s advice still applies. (Things do change.)

It’s lovely to hope that you’ll send an email with two different subject lines, and one version will win, and then you’ll be done. Yeah.

But what does “win” mean? It’s often not quite as clear as you want it to be.

For example, let’s say panel A gets a better open rate, but fewer emails were delivered. (Yes, your subject line can affect deliverability.) Panel B had a lower open rate, but more emails got through to the recipients. Which version won?

I’d say panel B won, as a general rule, but there may be reasons to prefer panel A. For example, if you’re experimenting with a subject line for an on-going series like a daily email, the deliverability might work itself out over time, in which case A is the better choice.

Whenever you do a test, you have to measure the right results for your bussiness. In some cases that’s relatively clear. If you’re trying to sell soap, whichever email sells more soap is the better choice, right?

Maybe. What if panel A sells $5000 worth of soap, but only get 500 customers, while panel B only sells $4500 worth of soap but gets 550 customers? Which is better? Maybe adding a new customer is worth more than a sale.

Testing requires you to think about what different metrics mean for your business.

Take the example of an email that’s meant to drive traffic to your website. Panel A and B get about the same number of clicks, but Panel A gets far more unsubscribes and Panel B gets more spam complaints. How do you choose?

I would choose Panel A. An unsubscribe is not a bad thing. If somebody doesn’t want to get your newsletter, you don’t want to send it to them. But you don’t want spam complaints. They hurt your deliverability for all your campaigns.

Also, for some reason, your Panel B is saying “spam” to your recipients, which hurts your brand reputation, and that’s more valuable than any individual email.

Testing is a necessary part of marketing, but it often raises more questions than it solves. Which leads to more testing. Which can become an obsession!

The secret is to stay focused on the numbers that drive your business. Don’t test for testing’s sake. Learn to put the right value on each metric, and adjust your valuation based on the goals of the particular campaign.

Apple News, Facebook, Flipboard, and your stories

Many publishers are in the same situation. They have great content, but they don’t have a big audience. Other sites have a huge audience, and those sites want the publishers’ content. Is it a match made in heaven?

It depends. You have to look at the terms of the deal, and you have to think long and hard about your strategy.

(Note that I’m not talking about the pond-scum aggregators who steal other people’s content and sell ads against it. I’m talking about reputable businesses that deal honestly with publishers.)

Is it a good idea for publishers to participate with these aggregators? How will that decision affect publisher revenue?

Flipboard has been in this business for a while. Facebook joined a few months ago, and Apple has an app called News to be released with iOS 9. Google and others are in this space as well. All of them have their own terms and ways they want to win — to be the default place where people go to see and share content.

There’s no doubting the convenience for the user of having content in one place — that is, getting content through an intermediary and avoiding direct contact with the publisher.

But is that what you, as a publisher, want? I don’t think there’s a clear answer yet, but here are some things I’ve been thinking about this week as I’ve read stories on this topic.

Will you lose your brand?

When somebody visits your site, they see your font, your colors, your logo and your design. You craft that experience to match with your brand expectations, and it helps people identify with you as a reputable source.

When your content goes into somebody else’s news service, you have far less control. Maybe none at all.

Are you effectively becoming a ghost writer, providing words for somebody else? When people read your content on Flipboard, do they remember you, or do they remember Flipboard?

If part of your strategy for providing content online is to establish a relationship with new prospects, will it help you when your content is in that environment?

Here’s a test. Go spend 15 minutes on Flipboard, and then ask yourself if you remember the publishers of the content you read.

Is it your world, or the readers’ world?

These services specialize in customizing content for the reader’s interests, which means your content is being served in an environment you don’t control.

That’s unavoidable to a certain extent. Nothing prevents users from clipping your content into Evernote, or sharing it on Facebook, or doing any number of things. So to some extent publishers just need to face the fact that it’s a new world and they don’t control the context of their content. Unless they go with a full paywall.

But it’s still something to think about, since each service will do things slightly differently.

Will you be a small fish in a big pond?

If you’re The New York Times, the aggregator will give you a lot of attention, make concessions and generally try to work with you. But if you’re a small fish, will you get lost in the crowd?

How will this affect your relationship with your audience and your advertisers?

Advertisers want to buy audience. If you hand over your content to an aggregator, you lose control over the audience, and you lose control of the relationship with the advertiser.

Publishers want to build a relationship with an audience. If a majority of the content is being consumed elsewhere — out of the publisher’s control — how can the publisher maintain that relationship?

If the aggregators get control of the market, will they change the rules?

If too many publishers take the bait and start providing content through the aggregators, what will stop the aggregators from squeezing the publishers over price? Won’t this become a race to the bottom, where your hard-won brand reputation becomes irrelevant in a world where small start-ups are eager to beat you?

Some publishers think they were foolish, back in the early days of the Internet, to post content online and monetize it with ads. Is it time to stop that process?

I welcome your comments and suggestions. I don’t have the answer to all these things, but I do suspect that this is yet another way that publishers are being taken to the cleaners.

Do your visitors hate ads enough to pay for content?

Your website ad revenue might be in serious trouble. See Apple’s Ad-Blocking Feature Is Sending Publishers Scrambling.

IOS 9, which is set for a Sept. 16 release, will allow owners of Apple’s newer mobile devices to download Web browser extensions that can block advertising from being shown while they browse the Web.

This is yet another gut check on the ad-supported content model. Since Apple devices account for a lot of traffic on many publisher sites, this change in Apple’s operating system could mean a steep drop in ad revenue.

Ad-blocking isn’t a new thing, but it’s becoming more popular with users, partially because ads have become more and more annoying.

It was somewhat inevitable. The point of an ad is to distract you from what you’re trying to do — e.g., read an article — and go do something else. People have learned to ignore ads, so the advertisers have had to create more intrusive ads — they’re called “high impact” ads — to get the reader’s attention.

Publishers may empathize with their visitors’ concern over ads, but they also need to make money off their content, so many of them are looking for ways to beat the ad blockers.

Here’s an article that explains the situation very well. How ad blocking will change digital advertising.

It seems as if the battle will rage back and forth — with visitors trying to ignore the ads while publishers desperately look for new ways to serve them — but some publishers have stopped to ask if there might be a better way to monetize their online content.

Carolyn Morgan gives ten ideas for how publishers can side-step ad blockers, and none of them involve technology tricks to force unwanted ads on visitors. She reminds us there are other ways to monetize content than to sell ads against it, and publishers should make sure to keep those options in mind.

More than that, publishers should be constantly testing different monetization strategies. Some readers might be more amenable to registering for access, while others might gladly pay for a longer treatment of the topic. It’s not wise to limit your revenue to one stream.

Unfortunately, many publishers have structural barriers to this kind of revenue agnosticism. The ad team makes their money by selling ads, and they have no incentive to promote other revenue generators, like getting email sign-ups or selling a PDF download.

Such self-defeating structures need to be removed, and the company has to look at all of its revenue options. This would be true even if there was no threat to ad revenue, but with the prospect of a steep decline, if you aren’t ready to move quickly to another model, you might not survive.

Paywalls on the mobile site, but not on desktop?

As traffic on mobile devices increases — often making up half of a site’s total page views — publishers are struggling to monetize those mobile visitors. See Mobile Readers Abound; the Ads, Not So Much.

The problem is fairly straight-forward. You can squeeze more ads into a desktop page view than you can on a mobile page. Also, some of the analytics and tracking options a website can use on desktop don’t work as well on mobile, if they work at all.

The very same article, viewed on a desktop, might generate twice the ad revenue it would get on a mobile device. That paints an ugly revenue picture for publishers, since more and more traffic is moving to mobile.

Supporting content with ads was a questionable decision to begin with, in my opinion, but investing in a mobile platform only to see your ad revenue drop …. That goes beyond “questionable” and might even qualify as self-defeating, except that it’s not as if the publisher has much of a choice. People are going to read on mobile devices — while they stand at the bus stop, or (unfortunately) while they’re walking into a telephone pole.

That’s just the way things are. The web has moved beyond the desk, and publishers can’t change that, even if they wanted to. However, they might be able to change their strategy so this trend doesn’t destroy their revenue.

Why not do something different on mobile?

Publishers could go all in and set up a paywall for mobile readers, but there are steps short of a full-on paywall that might tip the scales.

For example, why not require mobile users to register? An email address can be more valuable than an ad impression.

I asked a few of my publishing colleagues what they thought of this concept.

Andy Kowl from ePublishing says that many of their clients successfully gate their content, but none of them currently make a distinction between desktop and mobile visitors. Depending on what content management system you use, Andy points out that there could be some technology challenges in putting a paywall on mobile but not on desktop. This is because the part of the system that runs the paywall is often separate from the part that triggers the responsive design. E.g., the paywall has to connect to a user database.

My tech colleagues here at Kiplinger say that’s one of the reasons it can be a good idea to put the mobile site on a different domain so you can control things separately. You simply redirect mobile users to the other site.

Another reason to use a different domain for mobile is there are simply different things going on — like swiping. It’s already hard, and is going to get increasingly harder, to make one site, using one technology, that addresses all the possibilities.

Besides, even “mobile” is a becoming an unhelpful word. It’s not just smart phones and tablets. People are going to be accessing your content in their cars. Screens are becoming ubiquitous.

Ed Coburn from Mequoda reminds me that sponsorship is another option for monetizing content on mobile. I haven’t heard whether that option provides enough of a boost to make up for the drop in revenue on mobile sites, but it’s certainly worth considering.

Ed also points out that most people assume they can get your information on some other site, so if you make it hard to access on yours, they’ll just go elsewhere.

That’s very true. Publishers need to make their content unique — either in what they say, in how they say it, or in why they are a more trusted source. Anybody with a keyboard can write about anything. The trick for publishers is to write in a way that people would rather listen to you than the other guy.

It’s tempting to say “mobile is here to stay.” But with the rapid change in technologies, who really knows? Maybe a decade from now we’ll all be fitted with an implant that displays visual information straight to our optic nerve, and creates a little voice in our heads for the audio content. (Many years ago I mused on such things in The Intruder.)

Wherever technology takes us, there will be a market for intelligence, wit, style and … yes, plain old hard work. Content will still have value, but we’re going to have to be flexible and creative in how we make a living off selling it.

Ashley Madison, Cecil the Lion and Internet Rage-Justice

This may not seem like a publishing topic at first, but please bear with me.

A few weeks ago, a dentist did what many wealthy westerners have been doing for a long time. He went on a big game hunt.

Yes, I know there are peculiar details about this particular hunt (which the dentist might not have known about), but the reason this particular big game hunt is unlike all other big game hunts is that it became the outrage of the week on social media.

The dentist’s life will never be the same again. No doubt hundreds of other big game hunters did much the same as this notorious dentist. But he drew the wrong number in the Internet rage lottery, and he’s the one we’ll remember.

In another tale of Internet rage, hackers threatened to expose user data from Ashley Madison, a website that purports to help 31 million men violate their marriage vows with 5 million women. The website didn’t bow to their demands, so the hackers allegedly posted data on all the wannabe adulterers who use the site.

(At this point I don’t think we know — and we may never know — if the data is genuine.)

Internet rage-justice stories are part of the culture now. So-called “social justice warriors” combat “sad puppies” over Gamergate. Memories Pizza gets scolded for something they didn’t even do. And what Lena Dunham did or didn’t say might end up on the evening news.

It’s kinda weird.

Some people believe “the Internet is just an outrage machine.” (See Two Theories of How To Break the Web’s ‘Rage Machine’) And they may be right.

So what does all this have to do with publishing? Too much, I’m afraid.

The internet has become fundamental to publishing, because the internet is basically one big publishing machine. Sure, there are other things on the internet, like e-commerce, but a lot of internet traffic is about creating a place for people to share and consume information.

And rant about it.

Almost any discussion of publishing, or a new product launch, will involve a social media strategy and how to promote the content (or the product) on the internet. Whether they like it or not, publishers are now swimming in a pond full of angry aspergers kids with keyboards.

The Internet Rage Machine hangs over the heads of publishers like a sword of Damocles. Make one misstep — or, forget that. Do one thing that can be demagogued as a mistep — and your reputation is gone.

“But,” you think, “we just publish boring tax information. Why would anybody get upset with us?”

Remember Brendan Eich, who was cast out of Mozilla for private donations he made to a social cause?

The mob justice on the Internet might not care about your product or service, but only about something one of your officers did (or didn’t do) years ago. It’s unpredictable and it’s dangerous.

Every company — in fact, every person — should have some fear of the randomness of internet rage, but I think publishers need to be particularly careful since they are out in it by necessity.

At this point you’re probably hoping I’m going to offer a solution.

Sorry, I can’t think of one. Internet “justice” is like an armed, wandering madman, ready to strike the random fatal blow.

The only solution I can think of is to have enough cash reserves to ride it out if you draw the wrong card and the world comes crashing down on your head.

Who bears the risk? When is a commission appropriate for a sale?

I’m a little disturbed about this, but the business of publishing has been invading my dreams recently. Even on vacation!

I woke up in Stuart, Florida, thinking about the price point at which it makes sense to have a salesman for a publication, and about the risk and reward in the sale.

Generally speaking, my experience — and the experience of my colleagues in specialized publishing — seems to be that you need a price north of $1000 before you can support a sales force. And preferably much more than that.

But in my dream I was thinking of something else. I was remembering a conversation many years ago, when certain staff at a publishing company wanted a commission on sales. The owner was usually against commissions, and I agreed with him.

The way I saw it, he was the one taking all the risk in the publication. He created the infrastructure that allowed us to support the publication in the first place. He paid the author. He paid the marketing expense. The whole thing was a gamble with his money.

So why should somebody else get a commission, just because they play a certain role in the process?

I think it depends on the purpose of the commission. In my recollection of the conversation at that company, people felt it “wasn’t fair” that they were doing all this work and the owner was getting the benefit.

They were completely wrong about that. The salesmen had an inflated view of their own importance. They weren’t “doing all this work” in a vaccuum. There were editors and layout professionals and artists and authors. There were customer service reps and fulfillment professionals and managers. The success of the publication depended on them as well. Why didn’t they deserve a commission based on sales?

They were working on a salary. They weren’t sharing the risk in this particular new launch. The company paid them to do a job whether the publication was a success or a failure.

It’s true that at one level they also shared in the risk. If the company failed in all its efforts, they would lose their jobs, and if the company succeeded in all its efforts, they would be in a growing company with possibilities for advancement.

They were several steps removed from the specific risk / reward of an individual publication. Which was, in my opinion, entirely appropriate. They were no more due a raise or a bonus if the publication succeeded than they were due a fine or a demotion if the publication failed.

So I think the “fairness” argument was a bunch of moonshine.

However, bonuses and commissions can serve another purpose, which is to motivate performance. If a salesman knows he will get a cut of the sale, he is likely to work harder to get it.

That’s fine, if that’s the agreement. As a matter of custom, that sort of structure is typical for many sorts of positions — just as it’s customary to tip a waiter, but not the guy who sells you a suit.

But there’s no reason to assume that’s the only way to do things, or even the best way.

Legal challenges for ebooks

When publishers create digital versions of their material, they need to pay attention to some potential copyright problems.

One of the biggest is that if the publisher obtained a license to use art, or charts and graphs, those licenses may not permit the publisher to use that material in a digital edition of the book. Modern licenses should take those things into account, but if a publisher is converting older titles, they may not.

Even if the license does allow digital publication, it may put other restrictions on use that can affect the publisher’s business model. It may, for example, limit sharing, or the publication of excerpts.

Another thing to consider is text to speech (TTS). If a digital book includes a TTS function, that may conflict with the publishers rights (or marketing strategy) for audio books. For more on this, see E-Book Legal Restrictions Are Screwing Over Blind People.

After reading that article cited above I wanted to be sure my kindle books have TTS enabled. By default, any book that uses the 70% royalty program allows TTS, but I couldn’t see how you enable it for books that use the 30% royalty.

Publishers are adapting to the fact that eBooks aren’t sold the same way print books are sold, which means they might not be sold the way the publishing contracts envision. For example, you can’t sell one chapter of a printed book the way you can an ebook, so the idea of excerpts and subscription services poses an interesting challenge. Is it a “sale” when a digital version of a book is downloaded as part of a book subscription service, like Oyster or Amazon’s Kindle Direct?

According to Spotify for books, …

Most subscription services have agreed to pay publishers each time a reader gets a certain way into a book — typically around 10% — and the fees are about the same as if they had sold it as a one-off download.

Under KindleUnlimited, Amazon pays the publisher based on how many pages the subscriber reads.

Publishers will have to keep an eye on this model. If it catches on, a lot of contracts will have to be adjusted.

It’s an exciting era for publishing, which is getting more complicated all the time!

Why print books are better than digital, and my recommendations for eBook readers

I read on my iPad every day, but the experience frequently reminds me how much better it can be to read a real book. Sooner or later, somebody is going to solve (at least some of) these issues on the digital side, and the experience will lean more heavily to the pro-digital side. But for now, here’s how things stand, IMO.

Why Print is Better

  1. Browsing a book store or library is a way better experience than browsing any online equivalent.

  2. It’s easy in a print book to flip to the index, or some other page, and back to the page you were reading. In digital books you leave your spot at your peril. It’s very easy to get lost.

  3. When you do lose your place in a print book, it’s far easier to find it again than it is in a digital book.

  4. #3 is partly because of the tactile sensation of the book in your hand, which gives you a lot more feedback than you think. The thickness of the pages you’ve read vs. the thickness of the pages yet to read; the position of the words on the page (left or right, top or bottom). Your mind makes a record of your location that’s based on more than just what you’re seeing.

  5. Studies have shown that people retain more of what they read in print. This is probably because of this multi-sensory experience explained in #4, including even the texture and smell of the paper. Memories are closely associated with other senses.

  6. If you want to review a book, or blog about it, it’s so much easier to highlight things, attach a sticky note, scribble in the margins, etc., and it’s very easy to find those notes later. The disadvantage, of course, is that you then have to type them.

  7. Print is easier on the eyes than backlit displays. eInk displays are a big improvement, but I fear they might go away. The trend seems to be towards the backlit screens. (What we really need is a device with both backlit and eInk screens.)

  8. You can get used print books, and they’re cheap. The “first sale doctrine” does not apply to a digital book, so you can’t buy a “used” digital copy. (What would that mean, anyway?)

    The printed version — even a hardback — is often much cheaper than the eBook version. This is a big part of the reason students buy hardbacks. Also, they can sometimes profit from the notes made by previous studients.

  9. It’s much easier to quickly find what you want in a print book — especially something like a dictionary.

  10. You don’t have to wait for a print book to boot up, and you don’t have to charge it.

  11. It’s easier to lend (or borrow) a print book.

  12. There’s also a vanity / signaling advantage to a printed book. Visitors to your home can glance through your shelves and see what kind of a person you are by the books you keep.

Digital does have some advantages

As you can see, my list of the advantages for print books is fairly long. But ebooks do have some advantages.

  1. You can carry around hundreds of books in one device.

  2. You can search the text of an eBook.

  3. You can buy an eBook and start reading it inside of a couple minutes.

  4. References in an eBook can link directly to the other information.

  5. It’s possible to include other media in an eBook, like sound and video.

  6. eBooks don’t clutter up your house, or the waste system.

  7. You can read some ebooks in the dark

My recommendations for eBook readers.

Many of the limitations I mention above are entirely solvable with better eReader technology. Some eReaders may already do some of these things, but they all need to.

  1. Add a “put my finger here” function, so that I can whip around anywhere I want in the ebook and quickly flip back to where I put my finger.

  2. Along the same lines, create a back button. It’s enormously frustrating to follow a link to a footnote, or an illustration, and not be able to get back to where you were.

  3. Make it easier to copy and paste text from the book into any other application. Some of the “sharing” options in eBook readers limit which applications you can use.

    This is an annoying feature of electronic devices in general. They try to guess what you will do and only give you those options. Somehow I’m always the guy who wants different options.

    Anyway, adding a simple cut and paste option that can work across any app on the device would make it so much easier to blog about a book, or write a review.

  4. Create more visual clues to where you are in the book. We need more than a bar at the bottom that says 27% done. It might be a good idea to divide the book into sections and display a section icon on the side of the page, or … something like that.

  5. A lot more needs to be done with search in eBooks. For one thing, the keyboards on most eReaders (and devices that use eReader apps) are awful, but that’s not likely to get fixed until we come up with a completely new interface.

    And — as I have mentioned — there’s getting back to where you were when you started searching.

  6. A printed book can include a fold-out map, or illustration. With an eBook, even though you can zoom in on things, you’re always limited to the size of the screen.

    Why? Why not put a small projector on the eReader so you can display the map (or chart, or figure) on a wall, or a desk?


There are two important lessons for publishers in all of this.

  1. If you have the capability, build an eBook reader that solves the problems I’ve mentioned.

  2. More importantly, don’t believe the radicals.

People made all sorts of predictions about the iPad and eReaders and digital books and such that look ridiculous now. eBooks did not eliminate printed books, and they don’t look like they’re going to any time soon.

Be sketical of what you hear from the forward thinkers, thought leaders and keynote speakers. They’re paid to say outlandish things.

But what did you think of page 47?

With Amazon’s “kindle unlimited” program, people can get access to a pretty big collection of ebooks as part of their membership in the club. It’s like spotify for books.

Part of the genius of this sort of program is that the books seem free, even though you’re paying a monthly fee.

I’ve expressed my doubts about that model for magazines, but for books I think it will work, and if anybody can do it, Amazon can.

Most of my books are registered to participate in that program, and I get paid based on how often my books are read.

In other words, some group of people pay Amazon $9.99 a month to read unlimited kindle books. Amazon then pays the authors / publishers based on what the kindle unlimited members actually read. It’s not based on book downloads, it’s based on pages.

If somebody downloads my book, reads five pages and then stops, I only get paid for five pages.

This means that Amazon is keeping track when you page through an ebook. Remember, data is valuable stuff.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one way to monetize content is to mine the data on how people are using the content.

Give away content, but track how readers use it — This article will challenge your ideas about the value of content. What We Got Wrong About Books.

What’s more valuable, a $10 magazine subscriber, or the fact that you know he reads every one of your articles about DIY home repairs, and he lingers on photos of Italian sports cars?

Imagine a future where all content is free, and then imagine ways you can still monetize your content by collecting data on the people who are reading it.

In my Amazon interface, I can see how many pages of my books are read on a daily basis. I can’t see who’s reading, but I can see that somebody is (or was) reading one of my books.

It reminds me of Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next. (If you haven’t read it, try The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel.)

Anyway, this is an example of how data is becoming more and more important, and how it can be used to help producers make better products.

As an author, I would love to know what parts of my books people like, what they hate, what they skim past, what they highlight, etc. When I give a friend a book to read, I’d love to get it back with marks all over it.

A good eReader platform could do that. Imagine an eReader that would allow readers to provide that level of feedback to authors, even to the point of liking and disliking individual pages or paragraphs.

To a small extent, they can do that now. On some of kindle books I purchase, I can see areas that other people have highlighted. That’s somewhat interesting as a reader, but very interesting as an author.

eReaders have come a long way, but they have a long way to go. They are the perfect platform for communication between readers, and between readers and authors.

A fictional conversation with Jeff Bezos about magazine circulation

I’ve had subscription fulfillment systems on my mind recently. It’s gotten so bad that last night I dreamt about it. I was visiting a fulfillment bureau I used to work with and happened to bump into Jeff Bezos at the coffee pot. I told him that Amazon simply doesn’t understand the subscription publishing business.

They’re not alone in that. Over the years I’ve known several programmers who’ve become so frustrated with fulfillment systems that they’ve toyed with the idea of writing one themselves. I’ve always warned against it. These things are absurdly complicated and do processes behind the scenes that most programmers wouldn’t think about.

They have to earn revenue by issue, and regulate entitlements. They have to deal with different prices and offers on different efforts. They back start and future start subscriptions, pause them when people go on vacation, and send the magazine up north in the summer and down south in the winter. They have to keep people in different renewal pools, and assign them to those pools according to various criteria.

I’m barely scratching the surface of the strange things these systems have to address. The deeper you dig, the more complex they become. Trust me. I’ve been living it for months.

But why are they so complex?

A programmer I know likes to blame marketing. Computers, he says, are very good at doing one thing a million times. Marketers, on the other hand, want to do a million things one time.

There’s some justice to his complaint. Marketers are always trying new things, and they rarely have the technical knowledge to understand how their ideas influence back-end processes. Often they don’t care. In fact, not caring is sometimes touted as a virtue.

Just make it work. We can’t have the back end running the front end.”

Think of what that implies for a system that has to accommodate thousands of marketers in hundreds of companies. We want 12 issues per year, but not one a month. Wait, we need to save money so we’re moving to 10 issues a year. But only for these subscribers. And this other publication is a weekly, except for these two weeks. Oh, we still have to have 52 issues, so we’ll double up on these two, and they won’t always be the same two.

If you sat down for a day with a pencil and paper and tried to come up with all the variations a fulfillment system has to deal with, you’d miss half of them. I promise.

These things preserve the accumulated “wisdom” of decades of marketers — tinkering, wondering, testing, imagining, “Why not?”-ing.

Jeff Bezos simply decided it didn’t have to be that way. Amazon doesn’t have to have a million different options when they sell toasters, so they don’t need them for magazines either.

To a publishing geek, this is madness. It’s the arrogance of the internet generation. They think everything’s different now.

“You don’t know what you’re doing, Jeff,” I told him. “Publishing simply isn’t like that. It’s complicated.”

But every once in a while it’s important for somebody to poke the sacred cow. We can’t keep doing things simply because they’ve always been done that way.