Barnes and Noble Splits In Two

In their fourth quarter financial report yesterday Barnes & Noble announced it was spinning off its Nook business into a separate, wholly-owned subsidiary. My first thought was, “about time.” Barnes & Noble should have never had the Nook business as apart of its primary business. The only way to disrupt yourself at that size is to run the new business on its own, completely separate from the politics of the primary business, which in B&N’s case is retail book sales. Being an upstart, it is ripe to be squashed. Keeping it separate would have helped, or at least given it a fighting start.

The question is can the Nook business survive on its own? I don’t know. Many people made a bet on e-book readers already and bet Amazon. I did. Because of that decision, I make a concerted effort to buy books for only that device. On top of that, we have a couple of them around here, all linked to the same accounts. If my wife wants to read a book that I’ve read, she can just by downloading it from the Amazon store.

Then I saw this: “Any separation of NOOK Media and Barnes & Noble Retail into two separate public companies …” (emphasis mine). Oh, that’s not good. The Nook business has been blamed for years on dragging down Barnes & Noble’s earnings. It’s been a money loser. Instead of given it room to grow and then go public on its own, Barnes & Noble is attaching an anchor called quarterly filings to it and setting it to sail. I have a hard time seeing how it survives that.

The last remaining piece, of course, is the Barnes & Noble retail stores. Supposedly this is still a profitable business. I’m not surprised. Almost everyone else is gone except a few hold out independents (like Portland’s very own Powell’s). For many many people holding a book in one’s hands is still magic. We have hundreds of books in our house still, even after going mostly digital, although most of them are kids books. e-books don’t really cut it in many cases.

Is that enough to sustain a business? I’m skeptical but I guess we’ll find out. Apple has figured out how to make a physical business survive and thrive in a digital world. Can B&N figure this out, too?

John Day Fossil Beds

My family and I spent the past few days in North-Central Oregon in the John Day Fossil Beds. This is a part of the state I had never seen before and was surprised at how different it was. I have now explored most of the western and central parts of the state and am surprised at how diverse it is. I’ve easily seen eight completely different landscapes in those miles.

In the age of the dinosaurs, most of Oregon (in fact most of the US) was at the bottom of the ocean. 40 million years ago this part of Oregon was actually a tropical land not unlike Panama today. 30 million years ago massive volcanoes dominated the landscape. The mountains we know as the Cascades (from Canada to California, with peaks including Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Lassen) migrated west. Over time the earth cooled and eroded and left an unbelievably varied and beautiful landscape behind just 3.5 hours from Portland.

Given enough time, everything changes.

I hope you enjoy a few photos I took, all with an iPhone 5s.

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What If Apple Is Actually Better Without Steve Jobs?

Last one, I promise, on Apple and its worldwide developer conference. This one, though, from Ben Thompson was too good to pass up:

What is critical to understand about Steve Jobs’ Apple was how much it was rooted in fear. Not fear of Jobs, but rather, the abject terror of the company ever finding itself in a similar situation to the one Jobs stepped into in 1997. A company bankrupt technically, and on the verge of being bankrupt financially, deserted by the partner it had made into a powerhouse (Adobe), and forced to accept a loan from its oldest and most bitter rival Microsoft. Jobs, and all of those closest to him, swore never again.

And so, Apple hoarded cash like a depression-era grandma; every new Apple product was locked down to the fullest extent possible, with limitations removed grudgingly at best. This absolutely extended to developers: not only were apps originally banned from the iPhone, and later on subject to seemingly arbitrary limitations and restrictions, but even today it’s unclear if non-game apps can be the foundation of sustainable businesses because of Apple’s restrictions.

There has been a lot of press discussion the last few years about how Apple will fail without Steve Jobs, its undeniable leader. But what if Apple can be a better company because Steve Jobs is gone?

I believe that there is a time in every company’s history when it is time for founders to step aside. Companies change drastically as they grow large and often times the man or woman who started it from scratch and ran it when all hell was breaking loose, when no one knew whether it could make payroll, when its future was uncertain, often times that man or woman is not the right man or woman to run it once its a 30,000 person behemoth.

Steve Jobs was clearly a brilliant man but the company that is Apple today is no where near the company it was when Jobs returned in 1997.¹ In 1997 Apple had $7 billion in revenue for the entire year. In 2013 Apple’s revenues were $171 billion. In fact, Apple’s fourth quarter profit — PROFIT, not revenues, and only the fourth quarter — was more than Apple made in all of 1997 ($7.5 billion Q4 2013 profit versus $7.1 billion 1997 entire year revenue).

Apple, as Ben points out so well, was near failure in 1997. It had been abandoned by almost every big software company. If it wasn’t for one government anti-trust lawsuit it might have been everyone. Jobs had to figure out how to keep Apple alive, and then had to figure out how to grow it. As someone who just went through a life-and-death situation with his own company, albeit no where near the size and scale of Apple, I can tell you how focusing it can be. It was definitely an all-hand’s-on-deck, batten-down-the-hatches experience. It made me fearful for every penny and mistrustful of every “partner.” It instilled loyalties in me that I never thought I’d have for non-family and made me hateful of people I felt abandoned me or didn’t believe in me. I understand completely that “abject terror” of ever finding myself in that situation again.

For Apple, though, that was 17 years ago now. Since then Apple has given us iPods, iTunes Store, Apple Stores, Macbooks, iMacs, iPhone and iPads. It has gone from an after-thought to a leader in the stock market, a thought leader on design, a king of technology, and the envy of retailers everywhere. Millions stand by waiting for what Apple will do next and hundreds of thousands of developers and artists rely on Apple for their living. In every way imaginable Apple is not even close to the same company it was back then.

And that’s exactly what I mean: maybe it was time for a change? Maybe it was time for the fear and loathing that served the company so well in the late 90s to move on? Maybe the ideals and perspectives of Steve Jobs are no longer the right ideals and perspectives for Apple?

We are seeing that now. The management team has changed substantially in Tim Cook’s few years on the job. People who attended WWDC are saying they saw a different side of the people who work for Apple, more open, more cooperative. The features and capabilities announced certainly are a sea change from the Apple of old.

There’s no denying that Steve Jobs was an incredible leader. He ran a team of five and a team of 50,000. That’s a rare skill duplicated by few. He was an amazing thinker, a fascinating strategist, a top-notch designer and technologist. And that was exactly what Apple needed for many years.

But maybe, whether sick or not, his time to lead Apple was coming to an end. And maybe he knew this. Maybe that’s why he established “Apple U” and hired top-notch professors to run the program. Maybe Steve Jobs knew, one way or another, that his time as CEO was coming to an end and that it was important for him to instill in Apple a legacy and mythology that could be carried forward without him.

 

What if Steve Jobs’ last brilliant move as the founder, recoverer and guardian of Apple was to leave Tim Cook to run it?

¹ It isn’t even the same company literally. Apple was Apple Computers, Inc. in 1997; now it is Apple, Inc.

Shooting Themselves In The Foot, Hopefully

The pace is escalating and I no longer care your politics, it is way past time to do something about gun deaths. I’m tired of the NRA fighting for our rights to all die by gunfire.

This morning it’s a shooting at Reynolds High School near Portland, Oregon. A couple of days ago it was two police officers stalked and shot near a Walmart in Las Vegas. Last week it’s Seattle Pacific University. Two weeks ago it’s Santa Barbara City College. Mother Jones has taken to creating a map of mass shootings, which was written three weeks ago and already woefully out of date.

And yet there is no movement on this issue, mostly because the NRA owns politicians.

I’m not anti-gun (although I don’t own any) and believe strongly in the Supreme Court who has decided, rightly or wrongly, that gun ownership is every citizen’s right. That’s the facts on the ground. But so is the facts that young and old people, citizens and police officers, are dying because we refuse to do anything about guns.

Don’t want to control gun sales and type of gun sales? Fine. What about wait lists, smart technology to keep the wrong people from using them, and registries? What about using technology to get on top of this issue? I know. Gun people don’t want to be tracked by the government. Well, I don’t either. So why doesn’t the NRA become active and the registry of choice? Don’t gun people trust the NRA? We can’t even have a discussion about it today since the NRA and a government bought and sold won’t let it.

The only consolation to all this is that the backlash will eventually be aimed the NRA’s way. I know police officers don’t like this. They don’t want to get shot for pulling someone over for speeding. Yes, the NRA has bought a big part of government right now but at some point all these shooting will come back to haunt the NRA and its no-control-at-all-costs stance. I hope it happens sooner than later, because I sure feel helpless to protect my family right now.

Doing What I Love

The last few years have been hard. I’ve been doing way more of the stuff I don’t like and far less of the stuff I do. I’ve struggled to motivate myself. Mornings kind of drag out. I wake up groggy and stay that way for hours. If I get in a groove it’s for a couple of hours straight, not the four-six hours it used to be. “Quitting time” never seems to come fast enough. Weekends are required just to recover from the week.

For a while I thought, well, I turned 40 this past fall and I must be slowing down. I can’t write code like I could when I was 24. I can’t work for 14 straight days, 16 hours a day. Heck a few days in a row of straight coding is wearing me out.

The last couple of months have really shifted. The code is more interesting. I’ve learned new stuff. And now Equals is functioning, the help documents are almost done and we are writing sample notes to help people out. We’ve started to talk about what’s next (feature-wise), something that has been taboo for too long because we weren’t certain we could get to the pains of completing what was already on our plates.

I spend all day writing code or writing help or whatever and can’t believe it when I look up and it’s 2 in the afternoon and I never ate lunch. I eat dinner with the family then either go back to the computer to finish something up or at least have thoughts rolling around in my brain. There has been more nights then I can count where I have been unable to fall asleep because of the excitement and desire to keep going.

Last week things moved to a new level. Watching Apple’s announcements at WWDC, reading and listening to other developer’s reactions, thinking about all the cool things we can do with iOS 8, now I am excited on multiple fronts. There isn’t enough of me to go around!

We have a vacation planned for late next week and, for the first time that I can remember, I really don’t want to go. Yes, I want to spend time with my family but we have momentum now on the products and I’m afraid to lose it.

I woke up this morning ready to go. Out of bed, dressed, ate some breakfast and here I am, sitting in front of the computer soon-thereafter, ready to fix bugs and write docs. Time to hit send on this and get to work.