Monthly Archives: May 2014

Book publishing, disrupted

by Amelia Ables

Given the rise of  e-book sales, it’s interesting to see what’s going on with the major book publishers. Analyst firm PwC estimates that e-book sales will reach $8.2 billion by 2017.

This shows that not only are people using e-books, but that they will more than likely continue to choose them over traditional paper books. “The advantages of e-books are clear,” says New York Times writer Moshin Hamid. “E-books are immediate. While traveling…I can bring along several volumes, weightless and indeed without volume…” Hamid says.

This ease of access shows that books are easier to obtain than ever before, considering that readers can effortlessly download a book onto their e-reader of choice. The challenge that book publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores face is how to compete in the digital marketplace.

Amazon has done a lot to disrupt the book publishing industry. The greatest way it did, of course, was with the Kindle, which is the best-selling e-reader out there. Furthermore, while book-publishing companies need their best sellers to offset their less successful books, Amazon does not. This ties in with the idea of the long tail. Chris Anderson states that best sellers are not the only books that make money, but that the “misses” make money too. “And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up quickly to a huge new market,” Anderson explains. E-readers give customers more opportunities to happen upon these “misses” or more obscure books that they otherwise would not know about. Anderson’s example of this is Rhapsody adding tracks to its library and each of these tracks finding an audience somewhere.

This same concept can be applied to why Amazon does not need best sellers to offset all the non-best sellers out there.

Non e-book publishers have to worry about things such as distribution and printing costs, which results in e-readers being cheaper than physical books. Another thing Amazon does that greatly affects the brick-and-mortar stores is their price check app. Customers can scan the price of a book in a bookstore and find it cheaper on Amazon’s site. Amazon even decided to take on the Big Six publishers in 2011 by creating a general-interest imprint.

How do the brick-and-mortar stores react to this? Many refuse to carry the titles that Amazon publishes. This is true of Barnes and Noble and of many independent stores. When Amazon created their general-interest imprint, these stores chose not to stock some of the titles, which resulted in the books flopping. That was one victory for other publishers and for physical bookstores. However, the article “How Amazon is disrupting the book business” explains that Amazon customers don’t necessarily browse the site for new book titles, printed or e-book versions. This is mostly done in physical bookstores, after which consumers will purchase the titles through Amazon on their e-reader. But what happens if physical bookstores cease to exist because of digital books? This causes worry that all book sales, physical and digital copies, will drop significantly.

Barnes and Noble came up with a response to Kindle, which was to create Nook. The Nook failed to compete in the realm of e-readers.  Brain Sozzi, chief equities strategist at Belus Capital Advisors, attributed its failure to Barnes and Noble not illustrating the full value of the Nook. Apple and Amazon advertised their tablets not only as readers, but also as browsers, movie streamers, etc., while the Nook was only advertised as a reader. Furthermore, Sozzi states the Nook did not have a place because people saw the Kindle as a less expensive iPad, leaving the Nook “with no foundation to stand on to speak to consumer.,”

In fact, Nook hardware is no longer being made, and they are instead focusing on Nook apps for other types of tablets. Kindle, and Amazon, won this category.

One thing that the Big Six publishers did to combat the e-book problem is work with Apple to create a new model in order to allow them to remain competitive with Amazon. Essentially, they created a scheme that would allow them to set the price everywhere. Amazon eventually gave in and accepted the plan, but the publishers and Apple were sued for collusion by the DOJ, allowing Amazon and Kindle to come out on top.

Another thing publishers have to worry about is that authors, especially big ones with already established careers, will leave them and begin to self-publish. But not just well-known authors are taking this route. Hugh Howey did this with his series Wool after he decided he didn’t want to take on an agent. He self-published and his series became wildly successful on Amazon, both in digital and physical form.

Two publishers, Random House and Penguin, had to merge in order to “double down on the digital publishing industry,” states Seth Fiegerman in an article on the merger.

Even though Random House alone was the largest book publishing company, they said, along with Penguin, that they did not see as much success as they would have liked in the e-book area. Their response to the shifting of the book industry was to come together in order to cut costs, but with the book industry still in flux, only time will tell.

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How iTunes Shaped the Music Industry

by Dominique Williams

To some, iTunes was a great element of the digital era. And it really was. The iTunes music store was a catalyst for many new things such as phones, music players, and even cars, but what it really affected was the music artist and industry. Music was transformed from  cassettes, vinyl, and disks to a single entity that you can carry anywhere and everywhere. This did, however affect the music industry. From April 2003, when iTunes music store first opened, music sales dropped from $11.8 billion to $7.1 billion in 2013 (CNN Money). Singles began to be purchased instead of full albums through iTunes. Due to this change, music label ownership has dropped, and today there are more independent artists.

Musical artists are now finding new ways to get their music to their audience without a label because they are desperate for hits to make a profit. More artists now than ever are starting a new movement to work without a label and have creative freedom, but also they have to find new ways of distributing their music. Many have gone the digital route, but they also use mix tapes or EP’s (extended play single), which are like a feelers they send out before releasing an LP’s or long play album. This helps them be more in tune with the audience and  more persona,l and they can do this purely digitally so it costs them less money than if they were with a traditional big label. This also makes it so they don’t have to pay for as much for production of physical copies. Most artists only make physical copies during a tour for merchandise table purposes.

The biggest example of this I’ve seen recently is artists like Mackelemore and Ryan Lewis. People think that with the album The Heist, he just showed up on the rap scene, but that isn’t true. Macklemore released his first mixtape at 15, and he has obviously grown as an artist, but even during the growth he had to decide which route to take: traditional or the emerging indie route. He chose indie. This took 12 years, five mix tapes, many failed label meetings (which he even discusses in his lyrics on the current album) to get to the album success he has now, without a label. He used media like Twitter and Facebook to get a following and played small gigs to create buzz. This buzz led him and Ryan Lewis to 1,269,000 in album sales by January 2014. This shows that even though digital distribution and marketing  may have hurt the music industry,  it has helped artist like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis keep their creativity and make a profit. Yes, they did have to go through a bigger company for physical album distribution, but everyone has to work the system to their favor during the rise to fame.

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Speed Pitching Under Pressure

Be sure to check out Jennifer Sadler’s post on her experiences WINNING the speed pitch competition sponsored by this January!


After learning the fine art of a good pitch from Andrew Fowlkes, one of the leaders of StartCo, we jumped right in. As an aside, some of the information taught was to make sure to identify the problem, showcase it’s pain (how many people it affects, who, etc), and then tell about your solution. At the end, you were to make an ASK. An ASK is a statement of what you need. Do you need funding (which most projects require), mentorship (a valuable asset), programmers (for tech-related startups) and so on. 




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by Zach Losher


Near the end of March, I attended a lecture with a question and answer portion given by Steve Reich. He is one of the most prolific American composers of the past 50 years.

Going into the event I could not have imagined he would have anything to say that was relevant to our class, but he did. While a large portion of the event was focused on his career and creative process, he did have a lot to say about how technology has altered, and will continue to alter, the course of recorded music.

Steve Reich sort of revolutionized modern classical music in the 50s and 60s by incorporating prerecorded audio often involving field recordings and documentary sound, but he said in today’s digital age there could be hundreds of people just like him. According to Mr. Reich, the technology available today allows a person without classical musical training to achieve similar results as someone who has had that training. This is similar to the rise of citizen journalism and photography, as well as many other communicative art forms that historically require some amount of formal training. It is different in the music side of things, because in addition to the rise of more citizen forms of participation that has also been a gigantic influx in music recording technology. These new technologies give musicians and producers more ways than ever to work with one another.

While Steve Reich was talking about this , I thought of the gentleman who spoke to our class about his startup relating to translating the languages used by different audio recording programs. This was an aha moment for me, because it showed that this sort of entrepreneurial thought is needed everywhere. I know that has been stressed throughout the semester, but I was able to connect the dots in a real way.

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Just Pitch It

By:  Robin Spielberger

When I signed up for IDEAS Weekend hosted by the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Memphis, I expected a scene of suit-wearing business mogul wannabes prepared to enter the proverbial dragon’s den and circling newcomers like hungry sharks.  What I found was something completely different.

IDEAS Weekend – Imagine, Develop, Engage, Assess, Startup – is a “high energy weekend full of fun, excitement, and intense competition,” said Mike Hoffmeyer, entrepreneur and Director of the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship.

Barry Parks of StockBoy

Barry Parks of StockBoy

If you have never been to a “startup weekend” type of event, this is how it typically works:

On Friday evening, any participant with an idea has two minutes to pitch it to the audience.  After everyone has had a chance to pitch, each participant votes on which three ideas they believe to be the best.  Those three “winning” ideas are chosen as the projects for the weekend and participants form teams by choosing which idea most interests them.  The person that pitched the idea will become the team’s CEO.

Then, teams work through the weekend in order to build a rough business model and a functioning prototype product.  Finally, on Sunday evening the teams’ CEOs will present an investor pitch to the crowd and the winning team will be awarded the cash prize of $1000.

I hadn’t planned to pitch.  I was sitting comfortably near the back row with my group from Entrepreneurial Journalism – a graduate class at the University of Memphis – ready to watch other self-proclaimed entrepreneurs go up to pitch their startup ideas, when one of the organizers said to our group “If you have ANY idea you’re considering, pitch!  Why not?  It’s great practice.”

My mind immediately snapped to our class startup business, StockBoy, and I quickly tried to remember how much of our class pitch I had memorized.  I looked to my group, hoping they would say that I shouldn’t pitch.  Instead, I saw smiles of nervous excitement and nods of encouragement cross their faces.

“Any of you guys want to pitch it?” I asked, knowing the answer but hoping that someone else had a desire to stand in front of the growing crowd and unpreparedly stumble through a pitch that I had written weeks ago.  The smiles left their faces, their eye brows furrowed, eyes widened, and the nods turned to furious shakes signaling just how much they did not want to be the sacrificial lamb.

Heart pounding, I retrieved the original StockBoy pitch from my bag, crossed out phrases and drew arrows from paragraph to paragraph in order to show their new home.  I scribbled new copy in hopes of grabbing the audience’s attention more quickly and when finished, I look down at StockBoy‘s new 2 minute pitch.  “Great,” I thought.  I’ve just created a roadmap for myself to follow and reorganized something that I already had mostly memorized.

The Crowd at IDEAS Weekend. StockBoy in Back. Robin Practicing

The Crowd at IDEAS Weekend. StockBoy in Back. Robin Practicing

Other people began heading to the front of the large room to pitch their ideas.  Growing more nervous as the time passed, I started practicing under my breath. “Have you ever wandered aimlessly up and down aisles of the grocery store searching for soup, foraging for fish, or rummaging for….”

An hour later, I was in disbelief.  StockBoy had moved on to the top 3 ideas and people were interested in the mobile app that was going to change the way people buy groceries.  My team and I were still shocked as fellow entrepreneurs began to approach us, asking questions about our customer discovery, business plan, and app design.  We obliged them with answers as if they were real investors and began to realize that StockBoy was real.

Unfortunately, as graduate students with a full-time class load and work assistantships we were unable to participate in the entire IDEAS Weekend experience.  Our team graciously thanked the fellow participants for allowing us the opportunity to practice our pitch and for their encouragement.  We forfeited StockBoy‘s third place “victory” to the fourth place winner so that he would have the opportunity to gain a fantastic group of people, further develop his startup, and experience the magic that can come from real teamwork and support, just as we had in class.

My team, and IDEAS Weekend, jump-started StockBoy‘s final phase and helped us believe in each other. We left that night with the knowledge that our pitch wasn’t perfect but that we were on the right road.

The University of Memphis is extremely fortunate to have knowledgeable professionals like Mike Hoffmeyer, available and willing to share their insight as well as host free events such as IDEAS Weekend in order to encourage innovation and offer support to passionate faculty and student entrepreneurs as they turn their ideas into successful startup companies.

The Crews Center houses a world class technology lab with a co-working space for current and aspiring entrepreneurs, furnished offices for visiting mentors and investors, lab areas for prototype development, meeting rooms, a 3D printer, and more.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur in need of expert help, a current entrepreneur in need of resources, or a member of the Memphis community interested in supporting entrepreneurship, contact Mike Hoffmeyer by email or by phone at 901.678.1585.  You can also visit the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship on the web, follow them on Twitter, or friend them on Facebook.  For a list of upcoming events, please click here.

The Crews Center for Entrepreneurship is located at 3618 Walker Avenue in Memphis, TN.

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Intellectual Property Fundamentals

by Ketevan Dolidze

I received an email from Tammy Alexander, Sr. Tech Transfer Associate, about an event put on by the FedEx Institute of Technology. The name of this event was “Lunch and Learn Workshop: Intellectual Property Fundamentals. What every researcher should know about protecting their inventions” and let me tell you, it was fabulous. Maybe just to me, simply because I absolutely love intellectual property law and actually wanted to practice in that exact field.

Not only do I enjoy this field, but also think that it is extremely relevant to what we have been doing in our class all semester long. We are finally ready to pitch our ideas, but what if someone else decides he likes that idea and steals it? What should a new startup, a new inventor, be aware of as he works on his invention?

Kevin Boggs began his discussion today with the most recent patent filed out of  the FedEx Institute of Technology on a tire polymer, invented by one of the university’s graduate students. The whole idea behind this invention is that it would make tires more shiny, which would help drivers be more safe and cautious.

When the student approached Boggs with his invention, the long process of getting everything in order to be reviewed by the university board began. There are numerous disclosure forms that must be submitted (one we looked at today was about five pages long-in tiny print and extremely extensive) by the inventor, along with four signatures from the inventor’s department chairs and Mr. Boggs’ office.

What is Intellectual Property? –It is property rights that are creation of the mind. Some examples include: patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. (we only discussed the first two, as they were more relevant to us).

A patent is a government-granted property right, which gives you a right to do the things you are doing. It is country specific and expires two years from filing.

Some patent requirements:

  • Novelty: Was the invention known about or published or used anywhere in the world? Only the US has a one year grace period for filing a patent.
  • Usefulness – does it have specific and credible utility?
  • Non-obvious  to a person who knows the field (“Skilled in the Art”). The most difficult to anticipate. Proxy questions: Is it creative, contrary to the existing literature?
  • Enabled – can someone use the invention based on the written description?

Maintaining Patentability:

  • Public disclosure can include: publication in open literature, poster session and abstracts, posting on the web, presentation to an open forum (thesis defense)…


What is Copyright: Also a government-granted right.

  • Excludes others from copying your words
  • Expires 70 years after the author’s death.
  • Granted on completion of work.

After conducting some research, the university found that in the 1980s there were 28,000 government-funded inventions just collecting dust on the shelves of all the agencies that funded those inventions. This made the University realize that not only does it have to oversee the filing process of a patent, but also check in with the funding agencies to ensure that the patent is on its way to getting approved (if everything goes well and if everything was filed properly).

I was also not aware of the fact that the University works closely with a large law firm that has numerous intellectual property attorneys with specific areas of expertise in certain technical or science areas. (which is AWESOME, for the inventor). Once the draft is written up by the attorney, and the patent application is filed, the invention can finally be marketed. The university does this, as well, by providing expos and participating in numerous programs, as well as contacting some potential financial sponsors and marketing agencies. During this whole process, the University works alongside the inventor to ensure everything is done properly. Patent approval can take up to four years and once it is approved and the university receives the money for the invention, it gets dispersed to all participating parties (based on the percentages all parties agreed on).

I really enjoyed attending this event because it has so much relevancy to what we are doing in our class or what we may be facing very soon! I think everyone should know a little about intellectual property, just to make sure their ideas and inventions are protected!





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Thinking Like An Entrepreneur

Managing three blogs at once is hard for this professor. Put this one on the wrong blog. Don’t have time to fix it for now, but be sure to read Barry Park’s event blog write up here.