How to get 300x return on your money

On this Black Friday 2010, as people around the country (world?) are doing their part to boost the economy, I’d like to offer a deal that beats anything else you’ll find. I don’t care whether you were in one of those Wal-Mart lines at 4am this morning or, for that matter, if you were a CDO salesman in the spring of 2007. The deal: a library card from your local library.  

Although I refer to myself as hailing from Austin, Texas, we don’t actually live in the city limits. We live in a separately incorporated city (Rollingwood) that is surrounded by Austin. Therefore, years ago, our community created its own library district that, since an overwhelmingly affirmative vote in 1998, apportioned half a percent of the 8.5% sales tax collected from the district to the library.

If you were to figure our family spent $25,000 per on eating out, clothes, dry goods, home furnishings, etc. etc… then that would come out to our annual share to the library being about $10 ($25,000 x .085 x .005).

Since library cards are free for people like us who live in the district and, as the photo of my most recent check-out receipt shows, we have checked out $3,382 of books and DVDs so far this year, we have gotten a return of well over 300 times on our money.

Even if you decide to value the books and movies that we checked out at 20% of their retail value (instead of $25 new, call it $5 used), we’re still making 60 times on our money.

Granted, our family may be a little bit out of the ordinary, with the amount we read. The present guesstimate is that the average American reads anywhere between 9 and 15 books per year. My gut tells me that the average Austin-ite is higher than that although, sadly, a 2007 Washington Post article claimed that nearly 25% of Americans don’t read a single book in a year.

In any event, if you are looking for deal – and who isn’t! – then a library card is a sure bet. And what did we get for our money? For your list-comparing pleasure, our check-out list from January through November (Title, Author) is provided below, with favorites highlighted in bold green.


  • The Return, Bolano
  • Lost: a novel, Maguirre
  • Fame: a novel in nine episodes, Kehlmann
  • Swan: poems and prose poems, Oliver
  • Solar: a novel, McEwan
  • Nothing happened and then it did: a chronicle in fact and fiction, Silverstein
  • The Penelopiad: the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, Atwood
  • Ilustrado, Syjuco
  • The Alchemist: a fable about following your dream, Coelho
  • The tent, Atwood
  • Point Omega: a novel, DeLillo
  • The Ask, Lipsyte
  • The Unnamed, Ferris
  • The Infinities, Banville
  • Nocturnes: five stories of music and nightfall, Ishiguro
  • Life among the Lutherans, Keillor
  • The white tiger: a novel, Adiga
  • Summertime, Coetzee
  • The Kingdom of Ohio, Flaming
  • Atlas Shrugged, Rand
  • Good poems, Keillor


  • The grand design, Hawking
  • Overhaul: an insider’s account of the Obama Administration’s Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry, Rattner
  • Hail, hail, euphoria!: presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made, Blount, Jr.
  • What technology wants, Kelly
  • The mind’s eye, Sacks
  • Cognitive surplus: creativity and generosity in a connected age, Shirky
  • Common as air: revolution, art, and ownership, Hyde
  • The ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the darkest hour of the Roman Republic, O’Connell
  • Glimmer: how design can transform your life, your business, and maybe even the world, Berger
  • Superfreakonomics: global cooling, patriotic prostitutes, and why suicide bombers should be life insurance, Levitt
  • The Pythagorean theorem: a 4000 year history, Maor
  • I’ll mature when I’m dead, Barry
  • Art: over 2,500 works from cave to contemporary
  • The myths of innovation, Berkun
  • Wired for war: the robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century, Singer
  • Encyclopedia of flowers
  • The singularity is near, Kurzweil
  • What the dog saw and other adventures, Gladwell
  • Witness for justice: the documentary photographs of Alan Pogue Bill and Alice Wright
  • Joan Miro, 1893-1983: the man and his work     
  • A new kind of Christianity: ten questions that are transforming the faith, McLaren
  • Total recall: how the E-memory revolution will change everything, Bell
  • A people’s history of Christianity: the other side of the story, Bass
  • You are not a gadget, Lanier
  • Remember how I love you, Orbach
  • We feel fine: an almanac of human emotion, Kamvar
  • The value of nothing: how to reshape market society and redefine democracy, Patel
  • Losing Mum and Pup: a memoir, Buckley
  • Woodstock: three days that rocked the world, Evans
  • The glass castle: a memoir, Walls
  • The long snapper: a second chance, a Super Bowl, a lesson for life, Marx
  • The purpose-driven life, Warren
  • Gorgeous leather crafts: 30 projects to stamp, stencil, weave and tool, Lee
  • Texas gardener’s guide to growing tomatoes, Rundell
  • Teach yourself electricity and electronics, Gibilisco
  • Organic gardening for the 21st century: a complete guide to growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers, Fedor
  • Casting for crafters, Browning
  • Handcrafted soap, Boone
  • Yard & garden basics, Ball
  • Complete massage: a visual guide to over 100 techniques, Maxwell-Hudson
  • The boy who loved music, Lasker
  • Meditation and relaxation in plain English, Sharples
  • Fabric dyeing for beginners, McClure
  • The new how things work
  • Digital video hacks, Paul     
  • The filmmaker’s handbook: a comprehensive guide for the digital age, Ascher
  • The last song, Sparks
  • Moon River and me: a memoir, Williams
  • Living history, Clinton


  • Alice in Wonderland: a film by Tim Burton
  • Amadeus: director’s cut
  • Being John Malkovich
  • The Blind side
  • Blindness
  • The Book of Eli
  • Bottle rocket
  • City of ember
  • Clockwork orange: 2-disc special edition
  • The Curious case of Benjamin Button
  • The Darjeeling Limited
  • Death of a salesman
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
  • Gran Torino
  • High fidelity
  • The Hurt locker
  • Into the wild
  • Kick-ass
  • Knocked up
  • Lost in translation
  • Me and you and everyone we know
  • Metallica: some kind of monster
  • The Namesake
  • Neil Young: heart of gold
  • Network
  • Run, fatboy, run
  • Scrooge
  • Slacker
  • Slumdog millionaire
  • Step Brothers
  • Terminator salvation
  • Tropic thunder
  • Up in the air
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Zombieland

One closing comment: Jesse Eisenberg may play a spot-on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, but for my money, Zombieland was more entertaining!

Marketers Must Make Mobile More Maintainable …and an Announcement

A recent report by eMarketer projected mobile ad spend to reach nearly $2.55 billion by 2014, a six-fold increase from 2009. (BTW: the word “six-fold” inspired my alliterative headline, in case you were wondering.)

As a newsletter summary of these projections highlighted: “Numbers aside, just take a look around you. Know anyone who isn’t an arm’s length away from his smart phone? (Neither do we.)”

But, there’s a problem that accompanies this growth opportunity in mobile.  Many of the ideas that initially start as clever, mobile, interactive ads are increasingly growing in scope.  And, with the scope increase comes a sophistication in the ad design that begins crossing over into app development.

When a mobile, interactive ad is really an app, it’s important to reassess the conditions necessary to support and maintain it.  Unlike a one-time use or single-function “toy” for which it’s acceptable to run in isolation or occasionally break at a high volume of use, an app has to be secure, maintainable, and extensible.  

As more ads become apps, marketers must start expecting more from their development partners.  More re-use, more edge-condition testing, more mission back-end system integration.

In fact, I anticipate that the corporate marketing executives from large enterprises will increasingly turn to partnering options for their mobile initiatives that are with design & development studios first and foremost.

Likewise, I also expect to see more outsourcing of mobile development by traditional ad and interactive agencies to companies that specialize in mobile platforms that include technical skills, like speed and sound optimization, and that provide mobile infrastructure tools and capabilities which most agencies simply can’t afford.

This relentless, continued growth of mobile apps, as well as the simultaneous maturation of techniques, tools, and customer expectations, points to an irresistible opportunity in mobile software and services.

To that end, my announcement is a stake in a new venture called Appconomy. Newly out of stealth, but still under the radar, Appconomy is 100% focused on mobile business apps. You’ll be hearing more about the venture in the coming weeks, but in the meantime you can follow Appconomy on twitter.

Is Distributed Business Good for the Workforce?

I caught an interesting headline the other day announcing a December 9 one-day event produced by GigaOm – “Is a Distributed Workforce Good for Business?”  As I read the headline, the opposite question immediately came to mind as one of equal importance: “Is a Distributed Business Good for the Workforce?”

Because as technology has enabled work to become more mobile, its impact on individuals and larger society must be considered.

At least partially, I hope this is what is meant in the description of the GigOm event, called Net:Work 2010, where it sets the agenda as exploring “…the enormous opportunities – and myriad challenges – presented by the new culture of work that we call the ‘human cloud.'”

At a certain level, these myriad challenges – i.e., the pros and cons of an increasingly mobilized, distributed business environment – haven’t changed much over the course of the past decade. If anything, we just know more about them.

For pros, what we have learned about the era of distributed business is that it:

  • frequently (not always) affords a higher degree of schedule flexibility to its workforce;
  • makes it possible to be more selective with one’s residence preferences; and,
  • in theory, opens up a larger job market, because work can often be performed independent of place, meaning someone who is out of work can seek employment anywhere in the country and be “available” to start immediately.

For the cons, there is greater depth of understanding about the human toll:

The myth of multi-tasking – as highlighted by a recent post on the Singularity Hub asking “Are We Too Plugged In?” it cites research finding that some multitaskers have a harder time ignoring irrelevant information, while for others the mere anticipation of incoming messages keeps them stressed even when not working [my italics added].

Extreme labor arbitrage – as illustrated in an October 2009 article in Wired about Demand Media entitled “The Answer Factory” a typical content creator (in this case a videographer):

“… is working the conveyor belt — being paid very little for cranking out an endless supply of material. He admits that the results are not particularly rewarding, but work is work…He has shot more than 40,000 videos for Demand …but ask him to pick a favorite and he’s stumped. ‘I can’t really remember most of them,’ he says.”

Physiological risks – in his article “Well Connected” in the February 2009 issue of Biologist, discussing remote work and computer-intensive tasks, the researcher Aric Sigman (whom I’ve blogged about previously) sums up his obvious concern for the downside risk of technology-dominated jobs: 

“While the precise mechanisms underlying the association between social connection, morbidity and mortality continue to be investigated, it is clear that this is a growing public health issue for all industrialized countries.”

So, back to the original headline: “Is a distributed business good for the workforce?”

I believe the answer is “yes, it can be” as long as we make user experience and satisfaction important counterbalances to worker productivity as a new generation of mobile business apps are brought to market.

What this means is approaching the development of future business apps – the majority of which will invariably be designed for mobile devices such as the iPad or a tsunami of Android devices – with more than the technical skills to produce an iOS app in Objective C.

It also means possessing a deep understanding of behavioral research techniques, like contextual inquiry, work flow interviewing, and process diagramming.

These behavioral research techniques are a means to unlock observations that may radically alter the fundamental understandings about a problem and its perceived solution. Rather than just repurposing applications from a stationery PC to a mobile phone or tablet form factor, the opportunity is to re-think the applications in the context of the future mobile enterprise.

And THAT’s an opportunity that’s bound to yield good for both the workforce AND the business!