Amazon Conditioning Me Away From Amazon Prime Shipping

I’ve been kicking around the thought of ordering a DVD copy of Idiocracy for a while, so I’ve searched for it on Amazon a couple of times.

I see now that Amazon will ship it to me for free if I pay through the nose:

Thirty bucks for a DVD when it’s available on Amazon through third party shippers or on Walmart.com for a reasonable price:

What could account for that?

It fits my theory that Amazon is trying to get people used to paying for shipping again and will move Prime exclusively to a content deliver service.

Brian J.’s Amazon Prime Prediction Continues To Come True

Previously, I said:

Here’s a bold prediction you’ll find everywhere else: Amazon Prime will evolve out of its actual benefit of offering free shipping on Amazon purchases to merely streaming content and giving its members exclusive access to a box that you can see filling up as you add items to your shopping cart.

Now, we see this:

Soon, shareholders. Soon.

But undoubtedly Amazon will offer ship-to-store for free someday, just like every other retailer does now (and did in 1990).

(Link via Instapundit.)

IT People Gonna Learn

I’ve had conversations on the Internet with liberalesque people working in IT about government regulation and the excess thereof. I’m thinking in particular of a conversation I had a couple years back with a fellow I went to college with.

My friend shared a post on Google+ about a software entrepreneur who said he heard a Republican candidate who said people weren’t starting businesses because of excessive taxation and regulation. The software entrepreneur said that was RIDICULOUS, HE was an entrepreneur, and this never entered his thinking!

So I argued that software was a low-footprint industry, that you could start a software business with a laptop at the coffee shop, but that getting into other real-world businesses runs into a lot of regulation. I cited examples of renting a stall in a salon, which requires a certain amount of regulated training; opening an automobile garage, which runs into all sorts of Federal, state and local regulations and inspections; and a restaurant owner I knew who had to pass so many inspections that he blew through his seed money and ultimately spent more time trying to comply with regulations than he did actually cooking food for the public.

I can’t link to the actual post since it wasn’t shared publicly, but rest assured, I was eloquent, self-assured, and presented a compelling case.

Still, so many people in the industry I’m in harbor a certain shortsightedness about how government regulation chokes off the little guy (on purpose, often).

Maybe not for long.

Computer coding program delays launch after inquiry from state agency:

Ward 5 Code Camp, which had planned to open Wisconsin’s first computer coding boot camp this month, has delayed its launch after a state agency said it had to register for regulatory oversight.

The Educational Approval Board, a Wisconsin agency that oversees 245 postsecondary schools, approached Ward 5 in early December after hearing about it from another school it oversees. Ward 5 this month postponed discussions with the agency, but it said it is working to find a way to open.

Welcome to the party, pals.

Another Million Dollar Idea A Couple Days Too Late

While on vacation in Florida last week and at the mercy of Garmin’s GPS app (at least until I sprang for a paper map of Orlando), I mentioned to my beautiful wife that I’d like a GPS app that not only gave you directions but would steer you away from bad neighborhoods in cities you don’t know.

Turns out there is an app for that. And a predictable backlash:

A new app uses crowd-sourced data to identify which neighborhoods can be considered “sketchy” or unsafe, but some people are saying SketchFactor may promote racial discrimination, according to PC Mag.

Dagnabbit. I’m always a bit late to the party. And I don’t quite get Objective-C.

Although, to be honest, my app would rely on police report data, not crowdsourcing.

Tomorrow’s For-Profit Idea Today

Want to cash in on the chickens-in-your-suburban-backyard craze and fleece pluck some urban homesteaders but don’t want to set up a rescue organization? Become a chicken veterinarian:

As a growing number of suburbanites and weekend farmers raise poultry for fun, not just food, they are learning that top health care is hard to find. In many cases, they are left to wing it.

Hens, roosters and other poultry can have unique ailments that set them far apart from Fluffy and Fido. And even specialists well-versed on exotic birds may not know chickens, which are bred to be egg-laying machines.

There are chicken experts: The American College of Poultry Veterinarians has about 260 members in good standing. But the vast majority work in the food industry, vets say.

On the one hand, a chicken kick to the head won’t kill you. On the other hand, you’re more likely to get a type of influenza named like a strong password.

Making the Patchwork Patchworkier

A piece in the Wall Street Journal about Congress’s rush to an Internet sales tax and its impact on small Internet businesses, which will be as awesome as ObamaCare:

Mr. Enzi’s Marketplace Fairness Act discriminates against Internet-based businesses by imposing burdens that it does not apply to brick-and-mortar companies. For the first time, online merchants would be forced to collect sales taxes for all of America’s estimated 9,600 state and local taxing authorities.

New Hampshire, for example, has no sales tax, but a Granite State Web merchant would be forced to collect and remit sales taxes to all the governments that do. Small online sellers will therefore have to comply with tax laws created by distant governments in which they have no representation, and in places where they consume no local services.

9,600? No, sir, that’s an estimated 9,600 at the time of the estimate. Legislatures, county councils, city boards, and citizen initiatives create Community Improvement Districts almost daily that make that patchwork of tax rates even more diffuse:

The developers behind a proposed $78.5 million retail and office complex in southwest Springfield on Monday made their pitch to City Council for creation of a special tax district to help foot part of the bill.

Developers Tom Rankin and Jeff Childs want to use a Tax Increment Financing district to help pay part of the costs related to their 96-acre Springfield Plaza development, which would wrap around the Walmart Supercenter at Sunshine Street and West Bypass.

. . . .

In order to speed up the reimbursement, the city also is requiring the developers to pursue the creation of a Community Improvement District, which would allow an additional sales tax of up to 1-cent to be charged in the district to help pay off the improvements more quickly.[emphasis added]

Got that? An Internet online retailer selling office supplies to a CPA or hair salon located in this particular strip mall must collect that additional half cent sales tax for the new CID that did not exist yesterday (and technically does not exist today, but will sometime when the Springfield City Council rolls over for the developer and when the development is built). Unless, of course, a particular retailer is exempt from the CID as may happen from time to time when the city rolls over for that individual retailer in a development:

No more whispering or passing notes. Menards officially is interested in Springfield.

“I guess (this is) an official acknowledgement,” company representative Tyler Edwards told City Council on Tuesday.

Edwards said the Eau Claire, Wis.-based company plans to employ about 150 people at a 162,000-square-feet store to be located in developer Paul Larino’s Hickory Hills Marketplace.

But the deal is contingent on council approval of a bill removing the home improvement store, which also sells groceries, from the Hickory Hills Community Improvement District.

Or, as a citizen’s task force of citizens hand-picked to back sales tax increases recommends, a couple of targeted sales taxes upcoming in Springfield:

After considering several options for funding, a majority of the group’s members recommended a two-pronged funding approach that includes:

• Reinstating an 1/8-cent county sales tax that expired in June. Part of a larger sales tax for parks, the 1/8-cent tax had funded stormwater projects in Springfield and the county. The task force recommends the tax be sent to voters for renewal every seven years with a list of flood control projects and goals for the term.

• Passing a new, 1/10-cent stormwater sales tax to help fund ongoing water quality compliance and the gradual replacement and repair of existing stormwater infrastructure.

Like other existing sales taxes, the new taxes would be paid by consumers on most goods bought within the city’s boundaries.

Note that that article refers to the sunsetting of a sales tax, which is something else Internet retailers would have to account for under the penalty of law. Collect a sunsetted tax an extra week, get into trouble. Fun for everyone (who is not a small Internet retailer).

Maybe an Internet sales tax might have been workable fifteen years ago, but the profusion of special local sales taxing gimmicks has rendered it completely unworkable now. Online retailers or their newly more expensive payment processing vendors would have to somehow keep abreast of these developments, new taxing authorities, and siloed taxes across counties like the new Arch tax in the St. Louis metropolitan area, and they would need to constantly, daily update their tax levying to reflect new uses and abuses in every county, city, and town in the country.

Or, unexpectedly, go out of business. Which will mean the Internet sales tax revenues will be strangely less than hoped, and the well-positioned Internet and brick-and-mortar giants will reap the rewards.

In a related note, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently ran a story about the continuing upward ratchet of sales taxes:

When St. Louis and St. Louis County residents went to the polls this month, they took the latest step in a long trend around here:

The steady rise of sales taxes.

The “Arch tax,” as it is known, will add a sliver of a cent to each dollar spent on meals and clothes, furniture and electronics, starting Oct. 1. Three-sixteenths of a penny doesn’t sound like much, but the vote is one of many small decisions that have people here now paying some of the highest sales taxes in the United States.

While rates vary across the region — by county, by city, by shopping plaza, sometimes even by building — the trend everywhere is up. The average sales tax rate in St. Louis County is now 8.2 percent, headed to 8.4 percent when the Arch tax starts. That’s up two full points from the 6.4 percent rate in 1997. The growth has been even faster in the city of St. Louis, where tax on a cup of coffee or a meal out can now run as high as 12 percent, after the city’s 1.5 percent restaurant tax.

Holy cats, I can’t believe the Post-Dispatch spotlit that. But they did, and good on them.

Remember that every sales tax they mention here (except the special restaurant and hospitality bits) would apply to Internet retailers. And I guess the courts would eventually have to sort out how online orders for food delivery would fall under the new rubric.

Instapundit links to the White House’s endorsement of the plan, which cites that small brick-and-mortar retailers as an excuse for passing it. Which will last until such time as the regulatory regime comes stalking their little eBay storefronts and they’re suddenly competing against a retailer elsewhere whose tax burden is 2% lower in Texas.

At any rate, make sure your legislators in Congress know what a regulatory burden this will impose on Internet retailers and to expect the unintended consequences–namely Internet businesses shutting down–should they too hastily pass this monstrosity.

The Narrow Band of Experience

Instapundit linked to a piece by Megan McArdle about America’s New Mandarins, wherein she talks about the people drawn into government and chattering class employment and their strengths and weaknesses:

All elites are good at rationalizing their elite-ness, whether it’s meritocracy or “the divine right of kings”. The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hard-working. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.

The even greater danger is that they become more and more removed from the people they are supposed to serve. Since I moved to Washington, I have had series of extraordinary conversations with Washington journalists and policy analysts, in which I remark upon some perfectly ordinary facet of working class, or even business class life, only to have this revelation met with amazement. I once had it suggested to me by a wonk of my acquaintance that I should write an article about how working class places I’ve worked usually had one or two verbally lightning-fast guys who I envied for their ability to generate an endless series of novel and hilarious one liners to pass the time. I said I’d take it under advisement, but what on earth would one title such an article? . . .

But many of the mandarins have never worked for a business at all, except for a think tank, the government, a media organization, or a school–places that more or less deliberately shield their content producers from the money side of things. There is nothing wrong with any of these places, but culturally and operationally they’re very different from pretty much any other sort of institution.

I have seen this a little in the tech sector, too, where suburban kids who liked computers went to school for computers and then emerged on the other side of college as highly paid engineers who lived pretty good livings with somewhat skewed understandings of how things worked. In a lot of cases, our politics diverged quite a bit, too. I can’t help but postulate that moving in the insular world of technology, where things can just be done because you will them to exist through programming and where the government doesn’t put its thumb quite down on your livelihood (yet), might help envelop and cocoon people, too.

Hey, speaking of my diverse employment background, check out this ten-year-old essay I’ve uncovered for you, gentle reader: Lessons from a Grocery Store. Also, don’t miss my currently running series Management Lessons From My Bad Bosses.

Lowe’s and the Two Kinds of Fairness

Lowe’s wants an Internet sales tax. For fairness.

“We lose sales every day — not just on Black Friday — but any time we compete or try to compete on an unfair playing field,” said Scott Mason, vice president of government affairs for Lowe’s, the home improvement chain, which has Black Friday specials on everything from cordless drills to vacuums to artificial Christmas trees. Lowes.com collects sales tax from shoppers in every state that has a sales tax and where the company operates stores and warehouses. “It’s absolutely a position of disadvantage.”

Meanwhile, Lowe’s continues to build in developments within Tax-Increment Financing Districts, where the sales tax is often higher than surrounding areas.

  • Lowe’s proposed for northwest

    A Lowe’s home improvement store apparently will be the centerpiece of a development described in the city’s first official application to create a Tax Increment Financing district here.
     

  • Selectman denounces Lowe’s holdup

    Town Manager Michael Chammings said he was disappointed with the decision by Lowe’s, after the efforts of Norway and Oxford to support the project. He referenced the approval by Oxford residents of a tax increment financing district for Lowe’s, which aimed to use captured revenue to improve municipal water service to the northern part of the town.
     

  • Tulsa Hills adds major retailers to Southwest market of Tulsa County

    Under a tax increment district financing plan, about $16.6 million of the property tax revenue from the center will be set aside to pay for infrastructure.

    . . . .

    The $105 million shopping center will have several anchor tenants, including Lowe’s, Target and Belk.
     

  • Green Mount Commons in Belleville, Illinois, which has caused the city to be sued over and over again:

    Taken as a group, these ordinances establish a tax increment financing district and a business district to enable a St. Louis development company to develop a Wal-Mart store, a Lowe’s home improvement center, a housing development, and a strip center.

Now, it seems to me that Lowe’s wants its fairness both ways: It wants fair treatment in special set-asides and special tax rates in places where it directly benefits from the unlevel playing field, where tax rates differ based on location within a municipality and where tax benefits accrue to those extra equal businesses helped by the local governments often at the expense of smaller businesses in the area who didn’t get helping hands in their development and who get additional competition from the government-assisted larger stores. Some developments get them, and it’s just not fair if the ones with the Lowe’s in them don’t get them, too.

Lowe’s also wants the Internet fairness of making sure that its algorithms don’t have to calculate myriad tax rates whose myriad actually proliferates when Lowe’s wants to be part of a new development.

In other words, fairness and “level playing field” have multiple meanings depending upon how they impact the corporation. Who has, apparently, an executive in charge of helping to manipulate legislation across the country to the company’s benefit.

Lowe’s isn’t the only retailer playing this game, by the way.

(Link to the Politico piece seen on Hot Air.)

More Amazing Than The Internet

So I had a couple minutes to kill in my car, so I stepped into the local grocery store and looked at the magazine rack. It’s a small grocery store in southwest Springfield, right at the town line, and it has a 20 feet by 6 foot high magazine rack, with magazine selection from bridal to local interest to computers/video games to entertainment to… Lost Treasure, a metal detecting magazine that not only includes metal detecting equipment reviews and techniques but also short historical vignettes that describe the sources of potential treasure troves that metal detectorists can think about visiting. That’s the sort of thing I like to read, and it’s the sort of thing I like to write.

The magazine rack held a number of issues, and I bought one and read much of it while killing that time in the car. And I thought: This is more amazing than the Internet.

I mean, really: The modern paradigm is anyone can spend a couple bucks on a domain name and Web hosting and can put up any sort of thing he or she likes to write. But this particular periodical took a little more effort.

I mean, someone put it all together, had it printed, had a distributor take it to various locations, and that distributor put four copies of this magazine in a grocery store for me to buy. It takes a lot of hope, risk, and infrastructure that blogging and other Web-based endeavors do not.

That is more amazing than anything I’ve seen on the Internet.

I Don’t Go To Lowes For The Salami

So yesterday, I went to Lowes to exchange a defective piece of equipment (the aaftmentioned noise cancelling headphones and radio). I went into the special exchange room off of the main entrance, and the woman took my defective product and offered to refund the money to my credit card or give me store credit. Since I just wanted to exchange the product, I got a special store card credited with $53.83.

I grabbed a new instance of the headphones and went to the checkout line, wherein the total rang up at $53.84, and the checker told me I owed a penny. On a direct exchange.

I told him it was a direct exchange and prepared my outraged demand that he call the customer service desk right now, but he looked to see if he had a spare penny on the register. He didn’t, but I later noticed on my receipt that he’d rung it as though I’d given him a penny. He took a hit on his drawer’s accuracy at the end of the day in the name of good customer service. I sort of feel bad about that.

However, not too bad. If I had bought other things, as I’d considered, that extra penny would have been lost in the total and I would have donated some portion of a penny to either Lowes’ bottom line or the state of Missouri and the city of Republic.

A rounding error, no doubt. But the rounding errors are always against the consumer and the citizen, aren’t they?

The Bright Side of Salary Decline

In 2005, this would have been bad news: Talented employees now affordable:

Don Carroll, a former financial analyst with a master’s degree in business administration from a top university, was clearly overqualified for the job running the claims department for Cartwright International, a small, family-owned moving company south of Kansas City, Mo.

But he had been out of work for six months, and the department badly needed modernization after several decades of benign neglect. It turned out to be a perfect match.

In the year 2OE, however, this is good news.

If G.J. Meyer was reduced to being a Wal-Mart greeter, this would now be a great networking opportunity

AP Frames Story: Business vs. People

It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that business and people are on opposite sides since this AP story bakes it in:

To understand why jobs are so scarce, consider John McFarland and Nicole Rosen. The two share something in common: They’re reluctant to spend freely.

McFarland is CEO of Baldor Electric Co. in Fort Smith, Ark.; Rosen is a consumer in Washington state. Each is earning and saving money. Yet McFarland won’t hire until consumers spend more. And Rosen won’t spend more until jobs seem secure.

Therein lies the standoff that helps explain the weakness of the recovery and the depth of the jobs crisis. Each side — employers on one, consumers on the other — is waiting for the other to spend more. Until then, the recovery will likely feel shaky. And job openings will be few.

Well, then, there you have it.

What side is missing from this love triangle? Oh, yeah, and increasingly fickle government whose new Department of Weights and Measures exists to put thumbs on scales to determine the winners and losers.

Amazon Goes Open Source; Gives Its Intellectual Property Away

MfBJN EXCLUSIVE! Must credit MfBJN!

Reading in between the lines of this announcement regarding its spat with publisher MacMillan, we can surmise that Amazon has released all of its intellectual property into the public domain:

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. (Emphasis added)

Amazon’s publicity intern here throws out a particularly loaded aside. A MONOPOLY! That’s a bad thing, Pavlovian dogs: salivate!

Except Macmillan has a monopoly over its property. Its intellectual property, but it owns those titles, sort of, after investing money in them and getting a contract. Since Amazon is against companies having monopolies over their intellectual property, I can only assume that Amazon is releasing all of its source code and is transferring all of its patents to the public domain, immediately. Otherwise, Amazon is in its own terms a no-good dirty monopolist.

I was going to say, “Ain’t it funny that,” but it’s really not funny that the black paintbrushes come out when someone is not freely sharing his property with the namecallers. Information wants to be free! and all that business. Health care wants to be free! None of that crap wants anything on its own. People without it or without enough of it want someone else’s, pure and simple. I have the urge at this point to throw out From each according to his ability, to each according to his id, but many people would think I’m going off the deep end.

It’s a steady erosion of cultural justification of property rights. This little message from Amazon and its tossed off use of a trigger word for some small sympathetic effect is a little thing, but a lot of little drops melt stone.

(Link seen on PajamasMedia.com.)

Heckuva Sample, Brownie

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is trumpeting a survey on its Web site’s front page: Over half of St. Louis small businesses plan to hire in early ‘10.

Really, over half of all St. Louis small businesses?

No, turns out that it’s from a smaller sample size than that:

A poll released this week by the St. Louis branch of the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) reveals that over half of small business owners in the area intend to add payroll in the first three months of this year.

Of the 46 companies responding to the survey, 57 percent said they expect to add employees between now and March. The local EO branch has approximately 100 members.

That’s about 57% of 46%, or 26%, of the members of a single networking group in St. Louis. How rosy is that?

Book Report: Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook by Scott Adams (1996)

Like The Dilbert Principle, this book is not a mere collection of Dilbert cartoons, although it includes a number. Instead, it’s a text derivative of the world inhabited by Dilbert, Dogbert, Catbert, Ratbert, Alice, Tina, Wally, Pointy-Haired Boss, Asok, and so on. This book takes the schtick of being a handbook for managers from Dogbert, the evil genius. Within, you find that it explicitly tells the executives reading how to behave as a Dilbert executive should.

Sadly, although the book is 12 years old, the behavior seems timeless. Fortunately, that means the humor is fresh, and you can laugh cynically. Or you can take it to heart and thrive as an executive.

Books mentioned in this review:


Steve Chapman Speaks Word to Power

Steve Chapman, in today’s Chicago Tribune says (registration required):

    Some newcomers are planning to move to Chicago, and the invasion sounds as though it will be a grim affair. “They’re a negative for the city,” said one fearful alderman. They’re guilty of “treating people wrong,” said an angry minister. They exploit a “slave mentality,” charged another clergyman.

    You’d think Genghis Khan was riding in our direction, with his marauding hordes in tow. In fact, the would-be migrants are from Wal-Mart, whose chief crime is to become one of the most successful companies in American history. All the giant retailer is threatening to bring is a few hundred jobs and a lot of inexpensive products. But critics want the City Council to block the project.

Bobo opponents want to block it because it’s Wal-Mart. But it’s a good company, an employer, and a seller of things people want to buy. Get off the anti-capitalist chic and let it in.

Just don’t let the local government throw people out of their homes or provide tax breaks.

(Originally seen on Daniel Drezner because I must be slow today getting to my Chicagoland papers.)