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Newsletter 15 November 2023: Text is best; Amazon’s predation; robot acquisitions editors

Why I love text more than other medium, how Amazon prices, a machine reads your book pitch, plus three people to follow, three books to read, and witty link.

Why text is good and books are best

There’s an explosion in content. Blogs, Substacks, Medium posts, Threads, Podcasts, vlogs, you name it.

Which format is best?

Text is better than audio or video. And books are best. Here’s why.

First, text is easily searchable. I’m not just talking Google. I also mean searching within documents. If you’re looking at a hunk of text, it’s easy to search for the part about Agile Development or Steve Bannon. (Case in point: having momentarily forgotten Steve Bannon’s name, I found it in 11 seconds by searching on “Trump behind the scenes mastermind.”)

Text is also scannable. A 5-minute video takes five minutes to listen to (or two and half annoying minutes at double-speed). But in a 3,000-word essay with appropriate subheads, you can easily find the part you’re looking for in seconds. In fact, you can review the whole essay and get the main idea, even if you don’t read all of it.

Text is endlessly entertaining. Yes, video and audio are entertaining. But text creates pictures and ideas in your mind. You have to be actively engaged to understand it — its meaning arises out of a collaboration between your own thinking and the author’s. You can let video or audio just wash over you, but text won’t let you get away with that.

Of all the forms of text, a nonfiction book is the most impressive. It demonstrates that someone took the time to research a concept, identify all the parts of it that matter, organize them, gather evidence and stories, assemble it, polish it, and produce it all in one place. A book can be definitive, persuasive, and entertaining, all at once. Props to the author that took the time to create a book.

I’ve produced some videos and audiobooks. I know how much effort goes into doing that well. If that is your medium, good for you. But if you truly want to change how the world thinks, a book is still the best way to do that. Once you create it, it can extend your ideas to anyone who understands your language, anywhere in the world.

Now that AI can produce crap text, the power of text is threatened. But do not imagine that AI-produced crap video is far behind. The threat to quality content is not medium-specific.

If you are seeking mindless entertainment, or something with which to fill your ears while you’re doing other things, by all means connect with some quality audio or video. But I’m still partial to text. The revolution will not be televised.

News for authors and others who think

According to Publisher’s Weekly, the FTC lawsuit against Amazon revealed how aggressive it is in matching prices (paywalled link). Amazon not only constantly monitors prices that others charge for the same product; it actively manipulates its own site to prevent others from monitoring its pricing. The result: the consumer may get the best price, but the suppliers — including publishers and authors — get screwed. Putting competing bookstores out of business is not going to be good for the publishing industry.

According to a white paper from Fadel, publishers may be using AI to evaluate submissions from authors. This pretty-much ensures that future books will be similar to past books, a prescription that’s certain to miss the most original and boundary-breaking authors. Worse, it is likely to automatically perpetuate publishing’s existing biases.

Three people to follow

Sucharita Kodali, the world’s foremost expert on online retail — including Amazon’s deeds and misdeeds.

Ron Tite, witty marketing expert, media critic, and author.

Henry Harteveldt, the most quoted travel guru on the planet. If it’s happening in the travel industry and Henry doesn’t have an expert opinion on it, it doesn’t matter.

Three books to read

The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher (Little Brown, 2022). If you’re having trouble concentrating, this book explains why.

These are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs — and Wrecks — America by Gretchen Morgensen and Joshua Rosner (Simon & Schuster, 2023). Definitive tome on the insidious world of private equity.

Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge from Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic by Simon Winchester (Harper, 2023). The world’s most erudite and entertaining storyteller explains how media got the way it is.


Wit is what sets us apart from machines. Here’s how to get it.

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