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9 posts from July 2005

Fry’s and Micro Center, But Not CompUSA and BestBuy…

Thanks to my job as well as my interests in technology, I tend to visit most of the major tech stores on a regular basis. I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that computer books occupy a smaller portion of the store at CompUSA and BestBuy today than they did a few years ago. In fact, not only is the space smaller, but the books are also generally hidden in one of the lowest traffic areas of the store.

This is the result of the tech downturn, the loss of so many tech jobs, the more tech savvy customer base, etc., right? Lower demand means less shelf space in the store. Sounds fair. But if that’s the case, why do smaller chains like Fry’s and Micro Center have such enormous book sections?

I’m not suggesting that larger book sections at CompUSA and BestBuy would have a huge impact on the computer book market... But, I wonder if part of the diminishing book sales picture at these accounts is a self-fulfilling prophecy: They see sales drop, so they reduce the space, causing sales to drop even faster.

I love shopping at stores like Fry’s and Micro Center, mostly because they seem to have broader selections of a lot of things, not just books. They’re smaller chains, of course, but they seem to attract more of the hard-core techie than some of the larger chains. Maybe the “big guys” could learn a thing or two from the smaller players.

What’s your opinion? Are the CompUSA/BestBuy customers considerably different from the Fry’s/Micro Center ones, at least when it comes to books?

Dave Taylor’s Advice for New Authors

If you’re an aspiring author, be sure to read Dave Taylor’s latest post. I tend to agree with him on most of this, but my experience is a bit different…

Way back when, about a million years ago, I actually wrote a few computer books. I wouldn’t say I ever had “writer’s block”, but I guarantee you my output varied greatly from day to day. On the one hand, it’s good to divide the total number of pages by the number of days you have to write, and come up with an average. Just be careful that you don’t get overly focused on the result.

Some days I could produce 10 or more pages of pretty decent manuscript…or at least I thought it was pretty decent. Other days I might have a hard time cranking out 3 pages, even with a couple of short program listings included to help boost the page count total. As a result, I don’t think Dave’s college journal exercise of writing 3-4 pages per day would have worked for me – the results would have been terrible some days and definitely uneven over the course of a week/month.

We’ve had a number of authors chime in on other subjects…would any of you like to share your experience on writer’s block, number of pages per day, etc.?

The Amazon Product Page: New & Improved

Earlier this year I commented on the crowded look of the Amazon product page. For the past several months Amazon has been experimenting with a number of different solutions to this problem. The design they’re using today first appeared a couple of months ago and then disappeared until recently.

I like what they’ve done with this new look. It’s much cleaner than the old design. Something as simple as making the cover image larger goes a long way towards making this a much more attractive interface. It’s nice to actually be able to read some of the details on the cover (without having to click and enlarge it). It’s also a treat to be able to scroll up and down the page without being distracted by all the items they used to cram into the left and right panels.

Amazon has always done a fine job letting their customers add content to the product page. Like most Amazon customers, I find myself spending way too much time reading customer comments before making a buying decision. I don’t know when they started this, but I recently noticed they’ve added another way for customers to add content to the page. Have you seen the little “Share your own customer images” link below the cover on the product page? Examples are few and far between, but you can see how this works on the Adobe Photoshop CS2 for Photographers page; hover over the customer image thumbnail and a larger version appears in the cover area.

Given that very few customers are uploading images with this feature, just how valuable is it? I think it has a ton of potential. Sure, in the computer book area maybe it will only be effective with digital photography books, but what about other areas? Home & Garden is a great candidate. If you just finished a project using a book you bought from Amazon, isn’t it tempting to show off your handiwork by uploading a picture of the results? Pets are another great example. People love their dogs, cats, etc., and will undoubtedly love to share pictures of them with just about anyone.

As it currently works, all you can do is upload images and rate them. If this takes off though, Amazon would be wise to turn it into a visual discussion forum where customers/readers can provide the story behind the picture. This would also enable prospective customers to ask questions, get answers, etc., and add more of a community feel to Amazon.


I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Blink. As the dust jacket says, “Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant – in the blink of an eye – that actually aren’t as simple as they seem.” I was skeptical at first but it’s a fascinating read.

I was reeled in by the many interviews and supporting stories Gladwell offers throughout the book. My favorite is the one about diagnosing heart attacks in the Cook County Hospital in Chicago. It’s a perfect example of where “less is more”: the more information doctors gathered about a patient’s symptoms and history, the less likely they were able to correctly diagnose the problem.

There’s also an interesting study on focus groups and how easily they can be led astray. He points out the obvious and not-so-obvious flaws that led to the disaster known as New Coke, for example.

This book should be required reading for anyone with marketing responsibilities, but I’d also suggest it for anyone interested in how the mind processes snap decisions.