Hell of a Week
Facebook's Fool, Apple's Fall, Fortnite's Chapters, Startup Profits, and Beer Secrets
Apologies for the late evening Friday email, but well, busy week. It also remains Indian Summer here in San Francisco. And a blanket of smoke is about to descend upon the city, it seems. But that’s obviously nothing compared to the people actually affected by the latest fires up north. And, of course, power outages — which failed to stop said fire. Yes, it’s very nearly literal Hell in the Bay Area at the moment…
So hopefully at this point we’ve established that Facebook is not an ally of news publishers.
At best it’s a fickle fair-weather friend. And even paying out millions of dollars, which can sound like a lot in journalism land, is a tiny fraction of the $22 billion in profit it earned in 2018.
Whatever Facebook offers publishers is conditional. It’s unlikely to pay subsidies forever if the News tab doesn’t become sustainable. For newsrooms, changing game plans or reallocating resources means putting faith in Facebook it hasn’t earned.
I don’t really understand the media executives (let alone the journalists) who are excited about this. Sure, it’s money; great. This is short term gain for long term pain. We’ve been here before. A number of times. So much so that it’s a cliche to make the “fool me once…” joke and even to share the Charlie Brown pulling-the-football GIF.
Speaking of, Constine has a good kicker:
Surely, experimenting to become the breakout star of the News tab could pay dividends. Publishers can take what it offers if that doesn’t require uprooting their process. But with everything subject to Facebook’s shifting attitudes, it will be like publishers trying to play bocce during an earthquake.
At first, I was sure Apple would hold another event this year. Not only because they usually do (as a sort of “one more thing” fall event after the big iPhone event), but because we’re on the cusp of the launch of Apple TV+. I mean, we all saw what a show they felt the need to put on earlier in the year, even though they didn’t say — or show — all that much. So I would have imagined pulling out all the stops for the real launch.
Instead, it’s perhaps going to launch with a whimper? Yes, there are TV ads for various shows all over the place. But Apple itself has been pretty mum. A big fall event would have been the time to be less mum? And to also show off new 16” MacBook Pros, new AirPods, updated iPad Pros, and yes, the new Mac Pro?
Instead, maybe it does make sense, as John Gruber speculates, to do these as more subtle press-release-pushes. After all, none of the products are really all that new, but rather updates — aside from the Mac Pro, which is more a mea culpa product, and they already did that! The 16” MacBook Pros sound nice — especially if they have the new/old keyboard — but a whole event just to showcase that might not be so well received. It would be a bit underwhelming, I imagine. And yes, would draw attention to just how badly Apple bungled the keyboard situation in the past.
So, I’ve talked myself into the no-event, low-key release of products. As a bonus, it helps keep the concept of the keynote more sacred and precious, in a time when that notion is under assault. Still, can’t believe Apple is going to let all that Hollywood talent get away without some major promotion.
I guess there will just be a lot of red carpets…
Riley MacLeod on the latest “season” of Fortnite that ended earlier this month:
Currently, the Fortnite website is just a blank Twitch stream. Streams of the game show the black wormhole screen.
The event has been teased for weeks, as the Visitor’s rocket steadily being built in the returned location of Dusty Depot. The Visitor showed up in Season 3’s meteor and, this season, has been considered responsible for the time distortions that have brought old areas of Fortnite’s world back to the map. The game’s overtime challenges had players finding voice recordings of the Visitor, talking about time loops, “the formation of the island,” and “the end.” Developer Epic has gotten in on this apocalyptic vibe, tweeting that “the end is near” and making the unusual decision to have the next season start immediately following the event, instead of the standard few days later. Along with leaks suggesting the next season will be Fortnite’s “chapter 2” and dataminers finding a host of new place names, players were expecting something cataclysmic, and that’s certainly what they got.
I watch the Fortnite phenomenon from afar. (I’m interested, but I just don’t have the time to get into yet another thing in an already full life.) Still, I find the whole thing fascinating, not so much because of the game itself, but because of how well they execute the strategy behind the game. Everyone knows that games are the hits-driven-business. But Fortnite has seemingly — at least so far — gotten around that by making it more like a game mixed with a television show, complete with seasons/storylines.
This time, it included a cliff-hanger and a bit of a break — imagine that! It all feels a bit Lost-y, in the best way possible. And now we’re getting a book metaphor in there too, with the next chapter!
Can Duruk makes the case for a novel idea in startup land — focus on turning a profit:
Yet, if you just focus on turning profits, again at least at some point, you’ll invariably focus. Without the lens of wanting to make money, everything looks the same. You can’t tell whether you should do this, or that, if you don’t have a scale to judge things by. For example, if your side hustle seems like a better way to make money than what you are doing 9 to 5, you should probably do that instead. Because otherwise, you are either leaving money on the table or there will be someone else who will do that night-time gig better than you, because they will be focused on doing that, and that only.
You cannot serve your customers in the long run if you never make money. Building businesses that your users come to rely on, fostering a community, and then pulling the rug under them when the money dries out is not putting customers first. You sometimes hear, for example, that “user experience” is not just the designer’s job. That is true. But is there a more fundamental user experience gaffe than, say, one day shutting down the app while you make out with your millions of dollars? Allowing people to download their data from your service, which 99.9% of your users won’t bother, and of that 0.01 % that do can’t do anything with, is not putting your customers first. That is you making your conscience feel better.
This all sounds obvious — because it should be. But in practice, it’s not that obvious, apparently! All of this said another, more succinct way: it ultimately behooves neither you nor your customer to build an unsustainable business/product. It’s like MoviePass. People loved it, because why wouldn’t you love cheap movies? Well, you wouldn’t when they don’t last and yet you’re trained on that new, unsustainable model. It was the opposite of “customers first” cloaked in a “customers first” package.
Big beer intrigue! But the story is actually pretty wild, as Jennifer Maloney notes:
MillerCoors obtained photographs of recipes for Bud Light and Michelob Ultra that described how recent batches of each beer were brewed, including the barley and hop blends and the volume and relative weight of ingredients, according to the filing.
“The manner of transmission appears to be a print-out of a screen shot that was folded up, secreted out of the AB brewery, and then sent by text,” the court filing says. The text messages are redacted in the court filing.
The MillerCoors brewer previously had twice offered the Anheuser-Busch employee a job, according to the filing.
A secret recipe stolen via screen shot that was printed out and “secreted out” (does that mean what I think it may mean?) and then sent via text. It’s enough to make Slugworth or Dennis Nedry smile. Also, it puts those ads in a whole new light!