Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Death of Dell

Anyone remember when "Dude you're getting a Dell" meant you were getting a quality computer with great service?

Then Dell made the fatal mistake of abandoning service. Many of its loyal customers found themselves both ordering from and trying to get service from foreigners with thick accents who couldn't help even when you could understand them.

Sadly, Dell has never recovered. After owning four Dells, I finally switched to another company who offered a better laptop cheaper. I imagine many have done the same thing.

Recently Dell announced what will probably be known as the moment it ceased being a legitimate computer company. They announced they were going to sell PCs at Wal Mart. Nothing says quality and service like putting your product in a store known for grumpy and poorly trained employees selling cheap shit that may last you through the season. What distinguishes a Dell from an HP, Acer, or E-Machines at this point? Couple that with Dell's decision to layoff 8,000 employees, and you have the makings of the demise of a once great company.

Don't get me wrong, both companies now seem made for each other. Both abandoned the ideals that made them success stories long ago. Now they can say they were there for each other on their inevitable downward slide.

Monday, May 14, 2007

RIAA -- Those crazy pirating kids......

Once again, the RIAA misses the point.

As a person who has acquired 99% of his music legally (and the other 1% is files of 45s that I own but couldn't find in digital format), I don't necessarily side with the piraters here, but I certainly don't side with the RIAA.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and went to college in the early 90s. At that time, most of us college kids were spending $15 a shot for CDs to acquire new music, pick up stuff we had on cassette on CD, and if you were like me, sometimes repaying to get new remastered CDs of the stuff you bought on CD a few years earlier.

The CD pricing was originally based on the cost of manufacturing a CD. The digital process was expensive because there were few pressing plants, they required clean rooms, and the process created about as many defective discs as good ones. And they shoved them in those ecologically friendly long boxes that probably added a few cents to the process. But once prices of manufacturing went down, the price charged for them never did.

So, when CD burners began to reach a decent price point and broadband Internet became a necessity, there became no real economic reason to purchase a CD for most people. Why pay $15 for a CD with one song when you could copy someone else's or pay $1 for the song on I-tunes?

Yes, the RIAA is legally in the right. But suing college students for $3,000 a pop isn't going to bring back the revenue they had when they were gouging consumers for CDs.

So how do they fix it?

The first step would be to reduce the price of CDs to $5 or less apiece. Yes, this sounds backwards, and dangerous, but it works. Just ask the MPAA. At most big box retailers you can buy movies from major studios for $5 or less. If a movie that cost $100 million to make can be sold for $5, surely a CD from the latest American Idol reject can come in for those costs.

Second step is to rethink marketing. Embrace file sharing. Dump the new single for everyone to download for free, but tack on a commercial to the file (or put the commercial before you download it). Advertise the album it comes from.

Third step is to go after people in the 30+ range. While many of us will buy the occasional CD, it seems as record companies have abandoned this audience for the most part. New CDs from artists we used to love are now coming out from independent labels, and those that are still on major labels are being given little promotion.

Fourth step is to stop the stupid lawsuits. These lawsuits are still seen as something that happens to other people, and no kid is going to stop sharing music in some form or fashion if the risk of getting caught is perceived as low. You're only alienating the future audience, who won't suddently go buy the new Sanjaya CD because they're afraid of being sued (although having to admit to that in court might scare ME straight).

So RIAA, shape up, or watch your profits continue to decline.

-- Music piracy crackdown nets college kids
05/13/2007 1:50 PM, APLINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — At first, Sarah Barg thought the e-mail was a scam.
Some group called the
Recording Industry Association of America was accusing the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore of illegally downloading 381 songs using the school's computer network and a program called Ares.
The letter said she might be sued but offered her the chance to settle out of court.
Barg couldn't imagine anyone expected her to pay $3,000 — $7.87 per song — for some 1980s ballads and Spice Girls tunes she downloaded for laughs in her dorm room. Besides, the 20-year-old had friends who had downloaded thousands of songs without repercussion.
"Obviously I knew it was illegal, but no one got in trouble for it," Barg said.
But Barg's perspective changed quickly that Thursday in March, when she called student legal services and found out the e-mail was no joke and that she had a pricey decision to make.
Barg is one of 61 students at UNL and hundreds at more than 60 college campuses across the country who have received letters from the recording industry group, threatening a lawsuit if they don't settle out of court.
"Any student on any campus in the country who is illegally downloading music may receive one of these letters in the coming months," said Jenni Engebretsen, an RIAA spokeswoman.
Barg's parents paid the $3,000 settlement. Without their help, "I don't know what I would have done. I'm only 20 years old," she said.
At least 500 university students nationwide have paid settlements to avoid being sued, Engebretsen said. Students who don't take the offer face lawsuits — and minimum damages of $750 for each copyrighted recording shared if they lose.
UNL officials have been told 32 more letters are on the way. At least 17 UNL students who did not take the settlement offer have been sued, according to the RIAA, although the university has been asked to forward only five subpoenas.
But the students coughing up the cash question why they're the ones getting in trouble.
"They're targeting the worst people," UNL freshman Andrew Johnson, who also settled for $3,000. "Legally, it probably makes sense, because we don't have the money to fight."
Johnson got his e-mail in February, with the recording industry group's first wave of letters targeting college students. He had downloaded 100 songs on a program called LimeWire using the university network.
The money to settle came from the 18-year-old's college fund. He'll work three jobs this summer to pay back the money.
Johnson compares what he did to people driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit.
"It's not like I downloaded millions of songs and sold them to people," Johnson said.
But just one song can bring a lawsuit, Engebretsen said.
"It is important to send the message that this is illegal, you can be caught, and there are consequences," she said.
The industry realizes attitudes need changing, and money from the settlements is reinvested in educational programs schools and other groups can use to spread the word that song sharing can have severe consequences.
Some of the programs are tailored to start with third-graders.
"We do recognize that by the time students reach college, many of their music habits are already formed," Engebretsen said.
Earlier this month, members of Congress sent a letter to officials from 19 universities, including UNL, asking for information about schools' anti-piracy policies.
According to the letter, more than half of college students download copyrighted music and movies. The information requested is intended to help assess whether Congress needs to advance legislation to ensure illegal downloading "is no longer commonly associated with student life on some U.S. campuses," the letter says.
Barg is still angry about her letter from the recording industry group, which she calls bullying. But she agrees sharing music is common, and that other students don't understand the consequences.
"Technically, I'm guilty. I just think it's ridiculous, the way they're going about it," Barg said. "We have to find a way to adjust our legal policy to take into account this new technology, and so far, they're not doing a very good job."
Barg thinks the university should send an e-mail to all students, warning them that the recording industry won't look the other way.
As campus clears out for the summer, UNL officials are considering launching a new educational campaign in the fall.
"If we can do anything to help educate students about what illegal file-sharing is, we're willing and interested in doing that," said Kelly Bartling, a university spokeswoman.
Bartling said no one wants students to have to worry about how to pay tuition because of an expensive settlement. "It is a hugely expensive lesson," Bartling said.
Johnson, the UNL freshman, doesn't think the threats from the recording industry group are going to solve the problem. Friends who know he got in trouble still share music online.
"People are still going to do it until they get caught, and they can't catch everyone," Johnson said.
On the Net:
Recording Industry Association of America:
University of Nebraska-Lincoln: --

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Branding AT&T

One has to wonder what is going on in the boardrooms of AT&T. While the AT&T brandname certainly has worldwide recognition given its 120+ years of existence, the latest move to rebrand Cingular and Bellsouth after the merger with them seems puzzling.

AT&T is associated mostly with negatives. It was a monopoly for decades, eventually split up into several "Baby Bells" in 1982. Then, it became associated with high pressure long distance sales tactics.

My primary experience with AT&T has been solidly negative. In college, I was forced to take their long distance by the University. Their customer service was horrible and the service was more expensive than a calling card in some instances (this was in the days before prepaid long distance). Their Internet service ripped me off for months of service after I cancelled it. AT&T Wireless (ironically, purchased by Cingular) was also horrible, with terrible coverage in Louisville and indifferent customer service.

By contrast, my experience with Bellsouth and Cingular has been mostly positive. Bellsouth internet was great when I had it, and the customer service representatives were always helpful. Cingular has given me some issues, but the CSRs there have been polite and they have doggedly worked with me to resolve the issues I've had. The Cingular brand name would seem to be a huge asset in mobile phones and telecommunication services, and one more associated with high tech than the ancient AT&T brand. By renaming them AT&T, you call attention to what I believe many see as the least beloved company in the trio. Coca-Cola they ain't.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dell In Fortune Magazine

There is an article in the latest issue of Fortune about Dell's woes. According to the article, the problems stem from Dell betting too heavily on cost reductions, not embracing AMD chips, design, and lastly.... ignoring the customer.

For me, Dell's downfall can be traced to its outsourcing of its previously excellent service overseas. Nobody wants to call for service on a complex issue and reach someone you can barely understand explain concepts that you can barely understand. My own experience in ordering a computer a few years ago did little to inspire confidence as a sales person in India was overly confident about Dell's ability to get the computer to me in the time frame I needed. He didn't understand my concerns about the shipping methods used and an upcoming holiday that may have resulted in other delays. Almost everything he told me was untrue.

Unfortunately, the article contains a glaring error. It indicates "(l)ast year the company launched a high-end sub-brand called XPS." I own an XPS from a few years back and a simple Google search shows the XPS line goes back several years."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Riding the Solutions Rocket Straight to PR Mediocrity

Check out the news release below. Repeat after me... "The word solutions means NOTHING." Saying you sell solutions or provide solutions is like saying you sell stuff. I've highlighted my favorite bits below with comments.

GreenPages Sharpens Solutions Focus


By Steven Burke,

5:14 PM EDT Mon. Aug. 07, 2006

GreenPages is riding the solutions rocket.
The Kittery, Maine-based integrator has sharpened its solutions focus over the last year, with professional services-based solutions now accounting for 40 percent of sales, up from 12 percent a year ago, said GreenPages President and CEO Ron Dupler. And he said he expects a 30 percent increase in annual sales to $100 million this year.

What exactly is a "solutions focus"? Is that something you get when you read Encyclopedia Brown very intently? And why repeat this meaningless word twice?

"The technology solutions business is growing exponentially," Dupler said in an interview at the GreenPages Solutions Summit 2006 conference in Portsmouth, N.H., which brought together 70 of the company's customers and 42 of its vendor partners.

What exactly is a "technology solution"? Does that mean technology is your problem? If so, then maybe an abacus would work for you.

"There is a tremendous opportunity for our clients to leverage technology to drive their business. There are also significant challenges, because the technology is complex," he said.

Why use something when you can "leverage" it. How fancy of Mr. Dupler. Not only is the technology complex, the words used to describe it are complex.

Over the last year, GreenPages has doubled the size of its solutions architect staff, increased its project management staff to seven (up from four) and added field engineering talent.

Oohhhhhh... They're not consultants, they're solutions architects.

The company's solutions march was accelerated by its April acquisition of TenCorp, a solution provider based in Needham, Mass., that had a robust state/local government and education business. The deal also brought GreenPages a wealth of technical talent and an ISO-certified advanced project and configuration center.

The solutions march. Didn't Souza write that?

Even with its stepped-up solutions push, GreenPages isn't turning its back on its reseller procurement business, according to Dupler. In fact, the company has tripled the size of the ISO-certified center.

Just what the hell were they doing before they did solutions? Oh wait, they're in the reseller procurement business. Huh?

Dupler said that when he took the GreenPages top job nearly two years ago, he envisioned a 50-50 products-to-solutions business mix. But now he sees the solutions business exploding, noting that ultimately, "the external market will dictate what we look like as a business."

What are we up to, six uses of this meaningless word? Considering that a garbage man offers a sanitation solution and a car salesman offers a transportation solution, isn't a solution essentially a product?

"There's a tremendous hunger for our solutions expertise," Dupler added. "We're also good at supply chain, logistics and e-commerce."

Actually, I think there is a hunger for PR clarity.

The procurement side of the business is now "table stakes" for customers, who are increasingly relying on GreenPages to solve business problems with the best technology available, Dupler said. "The difference between GreenPages and the rest of the market is our solutions capability. We are farther down the road with the evolution of our business. We have an amazing technical staff that can guide our clients through the maze of choices available to them." At the heart of GreenPages' business model is a vendor-agnostic philosophy that puts the interest of the client above any single manufacturer, Dupler noted. "We weed through all the hype and select the best technology. Our first commitment is to the customer," he said.

Table stakes? A gambling term? Now I'm even more confused. As for solutions capability, what exactly does that mean? It doesn't define a difference.

As for vendor-agnostic, let's look at the definition of the word "agnostic" on

1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
2 : a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something

Okay, either they're saying they don't have a committment to the vendor being or not being a god, or that they're unwilling to offer an opinion on a vendor. If they won't give an opinion on a vendor, then exactly to they honor their committment to the customer?

In an age where many manufacturers are seeking vendor exclusivity, GreenPages has chosen to work with multiple vendors. Among the company's partners at the summit were Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lenovo, VMware, EqualLogic, 3Com, Radware, Internap, ScriptLogic, Fortinet, Zixcorp, Foundry and Utimaco.

As part of its professional services onslaught, GreenPages has reorganized its professional services group into practice areas, said Tobi Evangelisti, vice president of solutions at GreenPages. The company also has added telephony, wireless/mobility and technical staffing as new practice areas, she said.

Ewwwwww... a VP of solutions. Sweet.

In addition, GreenPages has revised its data management, disaster recovery, compliance and managed services practices. Other practices include security, network operating systems, network infrastructure and virtualization/server-based computing.

Including the TenCorp acquisition, Evangelisti said the data management practice is expected to hit $12 million this year, up from $1 million last year.

The solutions summit for the first time featured a demo center and IT lab. "This is a live network environment," said Glen Jodoin, vice president of operations at GreenPages. "Customers can play with and test new solutions like VoIP or an iSCSI SAN."

Great, I've always wanted to test new solutions. But if I have to test it, then is it really a solution?

Also this year, the summit featured more breakout sessions hosted by GreenPages solutions architects, covering topics such as "Getting To VoIP," "Data Management" and "Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity Planning."

Man, I'm hopin' they can build me a solutions buildin'.

Copyright 2006 CMP Media LLC.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

It's Ford's Fault

While watching coverage of work shutdowns at local Ford plants one worker summed up the situation perfectly. He said that Ford has relied too much on gas guzzling SUVs and Trucks at the expense of developing smaller and more fuel efficient money makers.

I've read that domestic car companies make little if any money on the small car segment. Indeed, the competition is brutal, with Toyota, Honda, and Nissan putting out nice small and midsize cars that are relatively cheap and reliable. Ford's Focus was introduced to great reviews, but Ford's bad habit of keeping the same sheet metal on cars year after year (Taurus anyone?) without a major redesign makes them look dated. Oddly Ford's Mazda has some very sharp looking cars that look fresh year after year.

While it is easy to blame unions and gas prices for domestic automaker's woes, the reality goes much deeper. Domestic models are still not as reliable as their foreign counterparts, their exteriors are often uninspired and their interiors often look, feel, and are cheap. Technology that comes standard on foreign models is optional or non-existant on domestic models. Heck, even something as simple as an interior opening fuel door is tough to find on domestic models.

While I hope Ford recovers, I don't think they'll do it by praying for a miracle or keeping their extensive model lines intact. And I certainly hope things work out for the people they employ and support.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ebay -- Raising Fees Yet Again

Okay, I read this several times, but the basic message seems to be that Ebay stores for nickel and dime items was a big mistake. What I get out of this is that Ebay is frustrated with the low priced and therefore, low profit to Ebay items that are posted in their stores. I would imagine that this effort is probably more about pushing these sellers out of the stores and into higher margin auctions.

It's probably not a bad idea the more that I think about it. If you're someone who posts auctions of cheaper items, the reality is that there are probably 1000 people ahead of you with Buy It Now items already out there. These items clog out the auction people and frustrate them as much or more as these higher fees will frustrate store owners.

Dear Seller,

Since its debut in 1995, the eBay marketplace has continually evolved to meet the needs of the eBay Community. For the most part, the behavior of buyers and sellers has naturally adapted to changing conditions -- over time, we've learned to allow the marketplace to direct itself as much as possible. On some occasions, though -- in the interest of the eBay marketplace's long-term vitality -- we've had to step in and implement new policies, introduce new formats, or make changes to our fee structure to create needed incentives for eBay members.

Put simply, we at eBay have two basic roles: to deliver the best overall value for buyers, and to maximize cash flow for sellers. As eBay has grown over the years, we've added various enhancements and tools to the site -- but in essence, our "products" are two types of listings:

Core listings (auction-style, auction-style with Buy It Now, and Fixed Price) deliver the signature eBay buying experience. For sellers, they're the fastest way to sell inventory on the Internet -- the only place where items typically sell within about two weeks.
Store Inventory listings were introduced in 2001 and intended as a low-risk way for sellers to display large amounts of product in their eBay Store. This format employs low insertion fees and higher final value fees to encourage an abundance of inventory on the site.
Amid all this change, one thing has remained constant: auction-style listings are the foundation of eBay. Auction-style and other core listings made eBay what it is today -- and they'll always be front and center on They account for about 91% of the gross merchandise value sold on But recently, we've been wrestling with some troubling facts:

Store Inventory listings now comprise about 83% of active listings on average.
While core listings typically sell in about two weeks, Store Inventory listings on average take 14 times longer to sell. In some media categories, Store Inventory listings take more than 40 times longer to sell than core listings.
And, when you compare our operations costs for an average Store Inventory listing and an average core listing - factoring in the duration of each - our cost to host a Store Inventory listing is more than 50% higher than for a core listing. In fact, current Store Inventory insertion fees don't cover eBay's costs for hosting them.
It's vitally important -- to your business and ours -- that we maintain a healthy balance between listing formats on the eBay marketplace, and ensure that inventory conversion across the site remains strong. So we're taking action.

Today, I want to inform you of changes we're making to -- changes intended to rebalance the overall eBay marketplace by further distinguishing the roles of core listing formats and our Store Inventory format. In short, we're improving the advantages of selling in core listing formats -- and taking action to manage the proportion of Store Inventory listings -- to ensure that the buying experience on eBay stays true to shoppers' expectations.

Core Listings
Core listing fees will remain unchanged. So for the vast majority of eBay sellers who use only these formats, their fees are not increasing.

And we'll be providing greater exposure for core listings on eBay Express. In late August, we'll begin displaying auction-style listings with Buy It Now on eBay Express for qualifying sellers. Also in late August, core fixed price and auction-style Buy It Now listings that qualify for eBay Express will be advantaged over Store Inventory listings.

Also, in response to the requests of many large sellers, we're raising the 10-item multiple listings limit to 15, effective Aug. 22.

Store Inventory Listings
For those of you who operate an eBay Store, we're making changes to Store Inventory listing fees, as well as to the on-site exposure we provide for this listing format.

We'll begin charging variable insertion fees for Store Inventory listings, as we do for core listings. Beginning Aug. 22, Store Inventory format insertion fees will be tiered with an item's starting price.

These Store Inventory format insertion fees take effect Aug. 22, 2006:
Starting Price New Insertion Fee Current Fee
$0.01 -- 24.99 5¢ 2¢
$25.00 and higher 10¢ 2¢

Some Store Inventory format final value fees also will also increase, effective Aug. 22, 2006:
Selling Price New Final Value Fee Current Fee
$0.01 -- 25.00 10% 8%
$25.01 -- 100.00 7% 5%
$100.01 -- 1,000.00 5% (no change) 5%
$1,000.01 and higher 3% (no change) 3%

Please note that for current listings, the new final value fees will apply only after these listings are renewed.

For more detailed information on these fee changes, please see our fee changes overview.

For some time, we've been working to identify the best way to display Store Inventory listings on the site. In the spring, we pledged to sellers that we would test a variety of ways to mingle their Store Inventory listings with core listings on We've tested several alternatives and these tests showed the ideal approach is how we're doing it today - that is, when a buyer's search returns 30 or less core listings, we display up to 30 Store Inventory listings. This is what we'll stick with going forward.

However, starting in about a month, we'll also include an unlimited number of Store Inventory listings after all matching core listings, when the buyer clicks the Buy It Now listings tab at the top of every search results page. When the buyer hasn't selected this option, will display Store Inventory listings along with core listings as described above. Listings Added to Search Results
I recognize that sellers in the Books, Movies, Music and Video Games categories will have unique challenges with the changes we're making. As many of our media sellers have requested, starting in late August we'll again provide visibility for listings in core search results, by bringing back the listings merchandising feature we used previously (click here for an example). We're also exploring additional ways to promote listings in search results on both and eBay Express.

How These Changes Affect You
I'm confident the actions we're taking are the right thing to do for the overall eBay Community. We'll more effectively deliver on our buyers' needs and expectations. And for sellers, these changes will ensure that eBay remains a differentiated and distinct e-commerce channel with fast inventory turnover.

I know there's a lot to digest here, and that you're probably most interested in quickly determining if and how these changes will impact your business.

A typical eBay Stores seller who uses Store Inventory format -- making no adjustments to his or her selling strategy following these changes -- will experience an overall fee increase of less than six percent, based on our analysis of all June selling activity. Of course, you need to clearly understand the impact on your business -- which could be greater or less than six percent. To get started, please visit the seller resources page or consult the Frequently Asked Questions we've prepared. Also, use your seller support resources in Customer Support. Our CS teams are fully prepared to help you understand the effect on your business, and discuss your options for adjusting your eBay selling strategy to minimize impact to your bottom line.

In addition -- to help eBay Stores sellers make informed decisions about any changes to their selling strategies -- we're making eBay Marketplace Research Basic available to them at no cost for eight weeks, starting today. Through September 19, eBay Stores sellers can use this data to compare selling formats or determine how best to price inventory on eBay. You can access eBay Marketplace Research here.

I'll be hosting a Community Town Hall discussion on Thursday, July 20th at 4:00 p.m. Pacific time, where I'll answer your questions. Please click here for more details on the Town Hall, or to submit a question in advance.


Bill Cobb
eBay North America