Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “holidays”

Shopping for the Holidays? Beware the Attack of the Fanboys! – Tom Rossi

People have come to depend somewhat heavily on online reviews of products to help them make shopping choices. Whether it’s a gift or something needed or wanted for ourselves, online reviews can help us to avoid products that are poorly designed or manufactured.

They can also help us to determine whether a product or type of product will do for us what we need it to do. Will this blender crush that dirty chunk of ice that forms under my cars fenders in the winter? Will this electric shaver work on my back? Can this hair dryer double as a hot glue gun? Can i use this vacuum cleaner to enlarge my… well, you get the idea.

Websites like Amazon.com have lots of ratings that customers have posted. Some of these are painstakingly detailed. Some people seem to have lots of free time and use it constructively, maybe in hopes that someone like me won’t buy a Yugo or something. And in addition to the long and detailed reviews, some are concise and to-the-point. These can be almost as informative.

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But then come the spoilers. These come in several forms. One is the fake review: “This is the perfect thing for young couples just starting out!” or, “This book was written by a liberal and I’m sure it has liberal ideas. Therefore I’m giving it one star out of five, even though I haven’t read the book myself.”

But the most dreaded, evil entity, lurking in the reviews, is the “fanboy.” Fanboy (not the cartoon character) is a pop-culture word, and there’s no reason not to suppose a fanboy might be female, but that’s the term. Fanboys cruise Amazon and other sites, looking for negative reviews of some product or brand they are in love with. Then they rate the review, itself, as “not helpful”. It seems these little gremlins probably have multiple accounts, so that they can rate a review as “not helpful” enough times as to make it kind of disappear, especially on sites that have the highest-rated reviews at the top of the list.

Fanboys also write inane, negative comments in response to reviews, ridiculing the original reviewer. They ridicule, write five-star reviews of things that aren’t that great, write negative reviews of competing products, and generally confound the process any way they can. Some fanboys might actually be employees of a company and trying to improve its image, but it probably doesn’t work.

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“Free market” freaks tell us that, without “interference” from government safety or quality regulations, the capitalist market would solve issues of poor quality because, if something isn’t good, people will stop buying it. How is that theory supposed to work with so much dishonesty out there? Fanboys engage in the sabotage of free speech. They use lies and tricks to get people to like (or seem to like) what they like or to buy their company’s products.

What motivates this behavior? In the case of the company employee, it’s pretty obvious. But when it’s a true fanboy, who is simply in love with his Dell laptop, or his Easy-Bake oven, something else is happening.

For some people, it’s very important that their tastes and choices are validated by others. I had a roommate once who recommended a movie for the three of us who shared an apartment in college. He thought this movie was just the best thing ever, and it was, in fact, very good. But just because we knew how easy it would be to irritate our friend, the other roommate and I just said, “Meh. It was OK.”

“Just OK?!?!?! What are you, crazy?!?!?” He practically tore his hair out because we, apparently, didn’t like the movie as much as he did. And I’ve had people try to talk me into changing my taste in food, women, cars, music, you name it, and all so that they can feel validated by my agreement. Likewise I’ve received many approving, sometimes even admiring looks from people I happened to share similar tastes with, in one area or another.

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These feelings are not abnormal, but I’ll say this to the fanboys out there: Grow up! The fact that I like Guinness and you like Coors Light doesn’t make one of us better than the other… Well… yes it does. Bad example. But you get the point. Taste is taste. Let people have their own, and let people communicate honestly about things, so that they can make informed choices for themselves.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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An Author’s Secret Santa

Just before Thanksgiving I wrote a post suggesting that the holidays were an opportunity to help a struggling author. I suggested giving their book as a gift and when small talk is required, promoting it (“Hey. Read any good books lately?”).

I was delighted to hear from a couple of authors who each said that they experienced sales thanks to friends either giving their books as gifts or through word-of-mouth. With all the sophisticated techniques available to market products, I find a certain smug satisfaction that experts acknowledge word-of-mouth to be such an effective tool.

So with the next set of holidays upon us, why not pitch the idea again? In addition, here are a couple of other simple ways to help your friend, the struggling author.

1. Write a brief review of the book. It doesn’t have to be more than 1-2 paragraphs. I’m certain the author would appreciate if it is posted on Amazon.com or the B&N.com website. There are other important sites such as Goodreads and Shelfari. If you know of other good sources, please leave a message in the comments below. Where do you look for information on books? Post it there.

2. Create a Wikipedia page for your friend. While authors can’t create their own Wikipedia page (without getting a “conflict of interest” badge of shame), other people can. You can.

Every author deserves a Wikipedia page, since a published book grants the author at least a modicum of fame. On the Wikipedia page, feature a short bio, a bibliography, a link to the author’s website. How encouraging for an author to discover a spike in his/her search engine traffic due to a link posted on Wikipedia. It’s kind of like having a secret Santa!

3. Recommend your friend’s website online. Link from your website, blog, Facebook page, etc. Tweet about it. When your friend writes a blog post that moves you, link to it. If your friend tweets something great, retweet it. Feature a quote from your friend’s book on your website. Or tweet the quote.

Remember when you throw a stone into a lake, it hits the water in only one place, but its waves can spread a considerable distance. I realize that many of you are living near frozen lakes right now, sorry. But maybe you can throw a stone online and give your friend, the struggling author, an extra present for the festive season.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

Help an Author over Thanksgiving

From Thanksgiving through December is a period of great festivities and socializing. We give gifts to our dear ones for whatever holiday(s) we celebrate. We are invited to people’s houses for dinner or a party, and often we go stay with relatives.

Now I admit that I love receiving a good bottle of wine or a special box of chocolates since these are rare purchases in our tight family budget. But I want to suggest that you look at the gift buying as a double opportunity. Provide a nice, meaningful gift, and help support a struggling author.

From this thought came a list of 10 easy ways you can do to help the author. I would like to share 3 of them that would be easy to do during this season of goodwill. Moreover, I firmly believe that what goes around comes around – when we help someone, we are in turn helped by others.

1. Buy your friend’s book, and if you enjoy it, buy it as a gift in the situations mentioned above.

2. Where should you buy the book? There has been a lot of discussion about where to buy books. Your local independent bookstore is probably struggling to survive. If it is important to you that such businesses survive, now is as good a time as any to patronize them. This is also good for the author as the bookstore will often order 2-3 copies.

The same actually goes for both Barnes & Noble and Borders. They are struggling and closing stores. Also when one store orders a specific book, there is a good chance that other branches in the region might buy it as well – you could start a chain reaction (pun intended!).

First choice: the independent bookstore nearest you (that will help your friend get her book into that store on a regular basis). Second choice: a chain bookstore like Borders or Barnes & Noble (if they start selling the book locally, they might buy books for more stores in the chain). Third choice: the author’s website (the author makes the most money when selling direct). Fourth choice: buy direct from the author. Fifth choice: Buy from Amazon.com (preferably from the link on the author’s website).

3. Recommend your friend’s book. If you like the book, recommend it to friends. Blog about it. Tweet a review or mention. Share a note on Facebook. Recommend the book to your book group. Post a review on Amazon.com, and other reader social networks. People do read them before making a purchase.

Word-of-mouth remains the most effective form of marketing. So when you are standing at that family get together by the fireplace with Uncle Moe, swirling your wine glass and trying to think of something you have in common beyond shared genes, how about this for a great conversation starter:

My friend just wrote this great book…” And you never knew that old Uncle Moe’s friend at the golf club has a son who works for Random House and is looking to discover the next John Grisham to impress his boss and save his job.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

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