Amazon Boxes, CEO Emails, Twitter Topics, On/Off Netflix, Drafthouse, and One Great Sony Patent

Gearing up to head out on summer vacation tomorrow. This will undoubtedly be the least vacation vacation I’ve ever been on as Megan and I will be taking our 10-month-old daughter to Europe. Which will be fun! But also undoubtedly a lot of work. Which is to say, this will be a “family trip”, not a vacation.

So, if you don’t hear from me here for a a couple weeks, now you know why. I’ll be back after Labor Day.

Amazon Pushes Brands to Be Less Boxy

This story by Annie Gasparro is framed in a fairly negative way — behold: the power Amazon has over its partners — but this sounds like a good thing:

Philips Norelco OneBlade, owned by Koninklijke Philips NV, said it cut the components in its razor packaging to nine from 13 and reduced the volume of packaging by 80% to meet the new standard. Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. said it decreased the packaging volume of its Science Diet premium dog food by 34% and the amount of wasted space, or air shipped, by 82%. Newell Brands Inc., the maker of Rubbermaid FreshWorks, said it cut the components used to ship its containers to two from seven.

To be clear, Amazon benefits from this as well — products that take up less volume and/or weigh less are obviously cheaper to ship. But It’s sort of amazing that companies like Norelco were able to cut volume by 80 percent — 80%! — yet they haven’t done so until now without being pushed.

That said, I still receive quite a few Amazon boxes that are close to half (sometimes more!) empty space packed with filling paper. So… everyone can do better.

On the other side of this equation: for as much as other companies copy what Apple does with regard to products, I wish they more closely copied their packaging. The products are always such a delight to unbox. And I feel like many other companies don’t realize the halo effect this has on the products themselves.

I Tried Emailing Like A CEO And Quite Frankly, It Made My Life Better

This post by Katie Notopoulos is actually from 2017, though it was surfaced to me in two ways recently, first by Dieter Bohn, then by John Gruber. I’m glad it was:

What trips me up most is my habit of scanning my inbox, often on my phone, opening an email, reading it, and thinking, “I’ll reply to that later when I’m at my computer and/or not in the middle of this other project and can give a full reply.” Then I leave it marked as “read” and forget about it. I check my inbox constantly, but I only actually deal with my emails in a deliberate way during a few dedicated chunks of my day.

Yes, this is also exactly what I do. When people talk about how they grow to hate their phones, part of me always wonders if this isn’t a pretty big part of it. Whereas we used to check email constantly when at our desks, now we’re checking it all the time, everywhere. And worse, doing nothing about it because we say we’ll get to it when we’re back at our desks. But it’s still there, lingering — both in the inbox and in our heads.

Look, I know: Having my takeaway about Hillary Clinton from the DNC email hack be “I’d like to emulate her email style” is supremely fucked up, but that’s where my priorities lie. I’m like a dumb dog who only cares about what’s in front of my face, and that isn’t who’s president. It’s what the red number on my mail app is.

Let’s call this “boss email.” It’s defined by nearly immediate — but short and terse — replies. The classic two-word email. For underlings, it can be inscrutable. Is that an angry “thanks” or a grateful “thanks”? Does “please update me” imply impatience with you? Boss email can be the workplace equivalent of getting a “k” text reply from a Tinder date.

While Notopoulos gives a few examples of executives who do this, I’ve found in my own personal experience, there are far more than just a few. There’s a pretty clear correlation between something and response time. I’m just still not sure if it’s success, power, money, simply being an executive as she hones in on, or some combination of all of those! Regardless, it’s hard to come up with a bad thing to fill in that blank…

And in all my years of trying to “hack” email to work for me, I have also found that this is the best, most fulfilling way to do it. But I’ve found that it is still much easier said than done. As with everything else, the best habits fall away over time. There are still far too many things you need to do when you get back to your desk that are related to those messages… Maybe unless you have personal assistants to route things too — aha!

Anyway, the point about brevity stands up. I still wish there was a way to respond to email without actually responding — just as you can leave an emoji on a Slack message. Or “thumbs up” an iMessage.

Twitter Tests Letting Users Follow Topics

Casey Newton:

Twitter will begin allowing users to follow interests, the company said today, letting users see tweets about topics of their choosing inside the timeline. When the feature goes live, you’ll be able to follow topics including sports teams, celebrities, and television shows, with a selection of tweets about them inserted alongside tweets in your home feed.

This strikes me as a bigger deal than it may seem like at first to many folks. The problem with Twitter (with regard to user growth) has been that it’s so binary: you’re either really into Twitter or you don’t get it at all. And a big part of that is obviously following the right accounts. Twitter has tried to make this less work since basically day one with the Suggested User List and the like — trying to get you to follow a bunch of accounts it thinks you might like — but this is probably a better approach.

One example, if you’re a sports fan at all, you should probably be on Twitter. Basically all major news about every sport now gets broken there first. And there’s great commentary. Etc. Yet many sports fans probably go to Twitter after hearing it talked about non-stop on ESPN and have no idea where to begin. Following “Sports” — and eventually (presumably) “NBA” and then “Cleveland Cavaliers” — will be where to begin. And no one is just interested in one topic…

How Bad Will It Get for Netflix?

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr:

Netflix’s proposition to consumers used to be simple: “more content than you can possibly watch for the price of a movie ticket.” With the ease of switching and proliferation of alternatives, customers will start asking “which service has the most enticing lineup this month?” With its lack of sticky unrelated offerings, Netflix will be under constant pressure to roll out eye-catching new content. It will also be under pressure to cut deals with rivals allowing its content to be bundled with theirs. Is Netflix up to the creative challenge, especially when it lacks the safety net of, say, live news and sports that some rivals may have?

First of all, yes, I believe Netflix is up to the challenge. Mainly for the admittedly wishy-washy answer that they constantly seem one-step ahead of the competition (and critics). That said, make no mistake, it is up for its toughest challenge yet — with Disney in particular.

More interesting to me is the notion that customers could move in and out of these services on a monthly basis. Up until now, it has been a no-brainer to have Netflix renew each and every month, but does that change if and when you have 5 or 6 (or more!) of these services you’re subscribing to? Obviously, if that’s the case, some services are going to make it harder to cancel. Whether that’s with friction in the cancellation process shenanigans, or by enticing (the nice way to put it) people to sign — wait for it — longer-term contracts. What industry does that sound like?

Anyway, in the worst-case scenario above, Amazon is probably best positioned here since Prime Video is a part of the overall Prime offering. You’re not going to turn it off and on depending on the content in any given month.

Will the Alamo Drafthouse be the Last Stand for Movie Theaters?

Speaking of movie tickets, here’s Mark Olsen on the latest theater opening in LA and how they view the “war with streaming”:

“I feel like that’s the wrong competitor in the fight. I’ve never felt we’re at war with any streaming services,” said Tim League, founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. “No matter what, everybody wants to get out of the house. So we’ve always considered ourselves to be in competition with restaurants, with roller skating, with going to see live music. The idea is to offer an experience based around movies that competes from a value proposition with all the other things that are in the out-of-home entertainment arena.

“I love what’s happening with streaming,” League added. “And I’m comfortable with the idea that cinema is alive and well and will continue to be alive and well provided that everybody in this industry focuses on making a great experience.”

This is exactly the right mentality to have. Along those lines:

Adding to the eclectic mix, Kids Camp screenings of “Paddington 2” and “The Iron Giant” will target families and allow for flexible $1, $3 and $5 ticket prices. The Care Package series spotlighting documentaries opens with “Skid Row Marathon,” set amidst downtown Los Angeles. And the Drafthouse will host a live recording of the popular podcast “Unspooled,” featuring Paul Scheer and Amy Nicholson.

“Aside from making everything an experience and a reason to get out of your house and go see something, I do think everything really does fit this Alamo brand,” said Walker. “Obviously there’s so many things on streaming and you can just plop something on. But having something as highly curated as everything is at the Drafthouse creates a sense of urgency for whatever that title is. Maybe you’ve always meant to see something — the time to see it is now, playing on the big screen. And so it’s curated discovery.”

Are you sensing a trend in the talking points? But again, that’s not a bad thing, as they’re the right talking points! Getting out of the house, special experiences (bonus points if that’s with kids too), and the notion of curation.

To that last point:

“The early days of Alamo, the theater was a reflection of me and I am who I am,” League said on how the company has moved forward. “But the idea of structuring the company to have individual, unique and diverse voices in every market, that reflect the tastes of that market is certainly willful. And we continue to do that across the country as we grow. I personally will never lose my love of weirdo genre movies, but we support a lot more than that.”

I really like this. It reminds of the way James Daunt has turned around Waterstones bookstores (and hopes to turn around Barnes & Noble next — from the last newsletter). Movie theaters have been having a hard time because most are crap. Alamo is not.

Here I am, watching a person shoot another person, point-blank on television. But this gets interrupted by a McDonald’s commercial. Which I can end if I stand up and shout the name of the brand. Then I get to go back to watching my death scene. This really may be the greatest patent of all time.