Monocle 24

I cannot put my finger on what I don’t like about Monocle magazine. I’m usually very permissive and don’t criticise things that aren’t aimed at me. And Monocle magazine with its affluent view on the world isn’t aimed at me. Then I started listening to its Monocle Weekly podcast and I found myself enjoying it. It humanised the writers who I’d previously considered elitist and I found its ‘expert’ view on world affairs educational.

I was amazed to hear they were launching a 24 hour internet radio station and they weren’t doing it by half. They’ve built two studios and hired a team of professional news reporters and producers. How do they expect to make money from that I thought until it launched. On hearing it I now think it is a master stroke.

They are broadcasting accessible eclectic music and informed conversation to a worldwide audience. You can have it on the background or listen closely. I think they’ve found a gap in the radio market. It might have been the gap Channel 4 Radio were going for a few years ago but it’s the worldwide approach that will make it. Monocle is an international magazine and people will listen to their radio station around the world. Most importantly their audience is one advertisers will pay a lot to reach.

It is a little rough around the edges (especially at junctions) but I like that. It occasionally reminds me that Monocle is not for me — the weather (with Thomas Schafenacker) talks about how flights will be affected and the Rolex adverts centre on their regatta timekeeping — but I’ll forgive it.

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Amazon

A Google+ post by a Google developer has been doing the rounds recently. Most people have seized on his criticism of how Google doesn’t operate as a platform. I was less interested in that argument but fascinated in what he said about his time at Amazon. He paints CEO Jeff Bezos as an evil megalomaniac who listens to no one and forces his own ideas on everyone. On reading the post Amazon made much more sense to me.

I buy a lot of things from Amazon and I’ve sold a lot of things through its Marketplace. I know I can find most things at want there at the lowest price. The reason it has the lowest price is because it insists suppliers give it their best deal – if they offer a better price elsewhere they are booted out. If you don’t believe me look at the cost of Apple stuff on Amazon. Apple don’t do discounts anywhere except Amazon.

It’s this line from the Google+ post that got me: “[Jeff Bezos] hired Larry Tesler, Apple’s Chief Scientist and probably the very most famous and respected human-computer interaction expert in the entire world, and then ignored every goddamn thing Larry said”. That will be why Amazon’s product pages are a mess and why checkout takes several screens.

After years of problem free shopping I recently had two packages fail to turn up. Amazon’s site doesn’t tell you want to do when this happens. There’s plenty of help pages but nothing on this. The first was a Marketplace one and Amazon give me the option of filing a claim but first I had to contact the seller for a third time but the moment I did this I got an email saying they’d refund my order. The second missing package was an Amazon one. With no where else to turn I had to email customer service. They replied within an hour and send a replacement next day.

There’s lot of talk about the need for frictionless design in eCommerce (and the rest of the web). Amazon isn’t frictionless. It just has a strong leader who forces people to do what he wants.

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Rakuten group play.com

Back in September Japanese online giant Rakuten bought play.com who are the main competitor to Amazon in the UK for £25m.

Two small but potentially significant things have happened since then. play.com now offers first class and express delivery in addition to free 2-4 day standard delivery. That brings their delivery options in line with Amazon.

Rakuten have plonked their logo prominently above play.com’s on the site. Companies usually do this for one of two reasons. Either to please their corporate ego and push a brand no one but it cares about. Or it is the start of a rebranding exercise (think Santander and the UK banks it bought).

Why would Rakuten want to change such a strong brand with powerful URL? Maybe if they wanted to sell more things online than you play with. Maybe if they were planning to challenge the all-encompassing amazon.co.uk. Just wondering.

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