Tag Archives: Apple

Are eBooks and Hardbacks the same product?

REMINDER: I’ll be posting the compiled story of “Baby You Just Got Slapped” on Friday at 12pm. That means you have less than 24 hours to make your continuation of the story. Don’t be shy, keep the story going. Thanks!

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The recent DOJ filing against Apple and five publishers is garnering a lot of negative reaction from the publishing community. Three of the five publishers involved chose to settle, others chose to fight, but the opponent they’re all talking about is not the DOJ, but Amazon.

As I discussed last month the Amazon pricing model of encouraging prices between $2.99 – $9.99 is seen by some as predatory pricing. Amazon sells eBooks at a loss in order to gain market share, then at some date when they have cornered the market they can set whatever price they want. Apple, on the other hand chose the agency models, which allowed publishers to set the price and prevented other places from selling the book at a discount. One of the comments on these stories said that this method uses eBooks to subsidize the print publishing industry, which I think speaks to a larger question.

Are eBooks and printed books the same product?

It’s obvious that eBooks have had an impact on print sales, the closing of Borders being one of many examples. But just because eBooks are taking market share away from their paper cousins, does that mean they are part of the same market?

When people talk about their love of the printed word it’s in the heirloom sense. I love the smell of the pages, the tactile feel of the object in my hands, writing notes in the margins, and even passing down treasured books. After all, a printed book is a thing that can last for hundreds of years. Even non-collectors probably have a book or two in their collection that is at least 50 years old, before eBooks were a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

eBooks, on the other hand, are a digital format. Some formats have persisted for decades, believe it or not the CD was first on the scene in 1982, and DVDs have been prevalent since 1997. Still, most technology becomes obsolete within a few years, and certainly within one’s lifetime. I have a fairly extensive digital library, and I take steps to update and convert it to new formats, but something in me doubts that a book I buy from Amazon will last my whole life. Additionally, eBooks have no resale value. A book on my shelf is worth something to me if I take it down to Half Price Books.

But the most important thing to understand about eBooks is that they are a different technology. The printed word has been a method of conveying knowledge and fantasy for centuries. eBooks are not the same thing. Some are just text, but at a minimum most Amazon Kindle books are also an audiobook with Text-to-speech technology. eBooks contain links which can take you out onto the web, or function as an app.

Take a pop-up book for example. You pull a tab, and something springs up from the page. eBooks can do that and more. Readers can interact with the story in ways that were never before possible. An eBook is a webpage, a CD, an app and a book all rolled into one. A printed book is something you can interact with wherever you are, without paying for data plans. It’s something you can pass on to your grandchildren, and it ages with you.

Maybe books and eBooks used to be the same thing, but they aren’t anymore. The publishing industry is evolving. eBooks provide a way for independent authors to get stories out directly, for people to carry entire libraries with them at a time, and for new ways of creating. Physical books need to evolve too. Maybe *gasp* not every author is worth having a persistent object made for them. I want to see my books in print, to have that heirloom for myself, but I don’t really care how people read me, as long as they read me.

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Filed under Internal Debate 42, Trube On Tech

Did We Win? Maybe.

According to last month’s report from the Fair Labor Association, one of the biggest problems at Foxconn is the amount of overtime worked by each employee. The average worker can put in as much as 80 hours of overtime a month, or a 60 hour work week. Chinese law states that overtime is limited to 36 hours a month, or 9 hours a week on average. FLA also found that many were not being compensated at the overtime rate of “time and a half” or 150% of hourly salary.

As a result Foxconn has pledged to increase salaries by 16 to 25% by Mid 2013, and to comply with Chinese law and reduce overtime to 9 hours a week. Some Foxconn employees think the reduction in overtime is too drastic, saying they’d be willing to work 60 hours of overtime a month, or 15 hours a week.

Given the numbers flying around I thought it would be helpful to provide some context. Like any good math student I’ve shown my work, and I’ll state my assumptions:

  • I’m defining X to be the average hourly salary of a Foxconn employee.
  • I’m assuming the 16-25% pay increase is to the base salary (i.e. the amount paid for 40 hours of work per week).
  • I have calculated figures for Foxconn previously complying with Chinese overtime (150%) as well as if they did not. It’s important to remember that if Foxconn did not compensate for overtime then that is money they legally owe their employees.
  • I’m showing the figures here for 9 hours overtime pay, I did calculations for 15 hours which you can see here.

If Foxconn did not pay overtime before, then the average worker should experience a 3.4% – 11.5% gain in earnings under a 9 hour overtime policy. However, they would experience a 4.5% – 11.3% loss in earnings if they had been paid what they were owed for the illegal overtime.

If overtime was previously compensated then the average hourly pay for a worker working 60 hours a week would be 1.17X (or 1.17 times base hourly salary). If they were not paid for overtime then their hourly rate would be 1X. Under the new system workers can earn anywhere from 1.27X to 1.36X for 9 hours compensated overtime.

If Foxconn had previously paid overtime, then the cost of their 1.2 million person workforce would be 84 million * X. Otherwise it would be 72 million * X. If Foxconn’s budget for workers remains unchanged they can hire as many as 135.6 thousand new workers if they had previously paid overtime. Otherwise they would need to lay off almost as many or increase their salary budget.

Bottom line is this:

  • If Foxconn had been paying what they owed employees, then employees will earn less than they could before. If, however, they were not compensated, then they will be bringing home more money.
  • Average hourly salaries have increased significantly under the new system, even with reduced overtime.
  • Foxconn will have to raise its budget for employee compensation if they had not previously been paying overtime. Otherwise they can afford to hire the “tens of thousands” of new employees without increasing the budget.
  • If Foxconn did not compensate workers for overtime, then I think punitive damages for unpaid overtime should also be leveled against them.

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Ancient Computing

The desktop PC is dead! Tablets are the future!

This certainly seems to be the trend of the last few years, but John C. Dvorak’s column in this month’s PC Magazine got me thinking again about how baffling it is that people want to replace their desktops with tablets.

Dvorak’s argument is mainly based on size and interface, but what baffles me even more is power.

My netbook is one of my favorite computers, in part because I can take it and write wherever I go. But it terms of raw specifications it’s speed, hard drive capacity, and memory are equivalent or less than what I could get 10 years ago (when I bought my first desktop).

ASUS EEE Netbook
Processor: 1.6 GHz (can be “overclocked” to 1.7GHz)
RAM: 1GB
HD: 144GB (real size)

Dell Dimension 5500
Processor: P4 2.53GHz
RAM: 512MB (RAM upgrades were available just never purchased)
HD: 55.8GB (initially, now has two 111GB drives in the tower)

Now I’m not saying my netbook is a bad computer. In addition to being ultra-portable, it has a VGA-out I can easily hook to my TV for a bigger screen, and an SD Card slot that allows me to add even more capacity (I have 15GB in there at the moment). But, it doesn’t have an optical drive (unless I hook an external to it), its speakers are not very loud, and its spec makes playing any PC game made after 2000-2001 virtually impossible. It’ll run Photoshop or the GIMP just fine, but the 10.4″ screen is tiny for the detail oriented work involved in photo editing.

And tablets can be even further back:

Kindle Fire
Processor: 1GHz (Dual core but not always utilized)
RAM: 512MB
HD: 8GB (really seems to be only about 5GB for my content)

iPad2
Processor: 1GHz (Dual core but not always utilized)
RAM: 512MB
HD: 16/32/64GB

*Spec comparison from here

Both are web browser capable, but stacked up even against my netbook they’re slow. Both can stream video, but my Fire seems to have syncing issues when streaming Netflix.

Now I love my Fire too. It’s one of the best tools for reading books besides the real thing, and it is one of my most mobile ways to view the internet. I can’t hook it to my TV, but the weight is comfortable to hold in my hand (though not for anything longer than 30 min).

The iPad has Photoshop and untold numbers of Apps, and the 10″ size gets the closest to a comfortable typing experience I’ve had on a tablet, but not as comfortable as my netbook’s keyboard, or any USB keyboard you pick up at MicroCenter for $4. (You can get real keyboards for the iPad but they cost you more in the neighborhood of $100).

If I want to play Lego Star Wars or The Witcher or any serious game, tablets and netbooks don’t cut it. If I want to have access to my whole music library wherever I go, Amazon’s cloud doesn’t cut it (just try streaming music at a BN and you’ll run up against bandwidth limits real quick). Encode a CD, better at least use a laptop.

There’s a place for new devices used in concert with conventional desktops, but until the power of tablet devices catches up to where desktops are now they won’t be the only computer I own.

After all, I don’t want to just live in the past.

Note: I like hybrid devices like the ASUS tablet and some of the concepts I’ve read about for Windows 8. I could see replacing my netbook with an ASUS tablet, if it ran an OS that could run my Windows Games and DOS emulators.

Additional Note: Apps are just software! Your Angry Birds or your Cut The Rope are like the flash games of yesteryear (though I love making that little monster happy)!

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Bonus Friday Post (A Novel Approach, Prayer and Perspective)

I want to end this week with a couple of different thoughts I’ve been having on the Apple factory situation.

New CFML Challenge

As I said on Monday, I understand the impulse to want to tell a story, a narrative that can make people care about the conditions at the factories that make our electronics. I know there are some creative people that follow this blog and I thought it might be interesting to see what you can come up with.

Prompt: Create a story/poem/piece of artwork from the perspective of one of the actors in the Apple factory situation. It can be from the perspective of the workers, owners of the factory, Apple executives, engineers or consumers.

If anyone wants to do this please share it here.

Prayer and Perspective

We were discussing the blessing and woes section of Luke (6:20-26) in Life Group on Wednesday, and it helped to put into perspective some of the feelings I’ve been having about this whole situation. God’s really been working to challenge me on the ways my actions have an effect on others, even in indirect ways. The things that I buy, and the consumer culture I’m a part of, have an effect on the way people have to live and work. I’m really blessed, and some of it is at the cost of those who are poor.

It’s a complex situation, and one that can’t be looked at from an American perspective alone. For some of these workers, these factory conditions are better than what they were doing before, but that doesn’t make them right. Still, I think it is important to consider all sides to this story and I thought I’d share a blog post by Eugene Cho (thanks Dad for bringing this to my attention).

I particularly like the prayer at the end for the blessing of the hands of the workers who made this device I am about to enjoy. I pray that prayer before meals as well, and regardless of the way things change or stay the same, it is important to pray for those who are less fortunate than we are.

Have a good weekend!

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