Looking a gift ereader in the mouth

Welcome to another whiny installment of, “why can’t I buy…” brought to you by the infinite diversity of humanity and the hard reality of market forces. In other words, just because I think it’s a great idea and would like to buy it, that doesn’t mean anybody else – much less a critical market mass of anybodys – wants to buy it. But I still want it, so here’s my story…

I thought it would be nice to buy an ereader as a gift, and before gifting it, load it with a handful of books so that the recipient could just turn the thing on and start reading. I thought it would be like giving a teapot and a couple of boxes of tea, or to overuse an old marketing chestnut, a razor and blades, or a bit like giving a walkman and a mix tape (but with less messy intellectual property issues, I fully intended to pay for all the gift ebooks in question, even if I already owned some). But owing to the technology of ebooks, I could deliver the whole package, as they say, turnkey.

As it turns out, what I wanted to do is nearly impossible, mainly because the ereader industrial complex wants each device registered to an individual person, and re-registering a device will wipe out any content on it. The system designed to prevent illegal sharing also subverts the first sale doctrine and makes gifting needlessly complicated.

Nook not up to the gifting challengeHere are some kludgy methods that approximate what I wanted to do, thanks in part to the earnest Nook salesperson at the Barnes and Noble in Burlington. Yes I went to a physical store to discuss gifting ebooks.

Buy the reader and the books separately, let the recipient put it all together. This is the easiest for the giver and somewhat less convenient for the recipient. Setting up the ereader and downloading the gifted books is hardly arduous for most, but could be tricky for a first-time ebooker. This sort of thing is fun for lego and jigsaw puzzles, but not so satisfying in this case. For some reason, I’m very attached to the idea that you could open the box and start reading right away without even fiddling with the internet connection.

Buy the reader and set it up yourself, then buy and install the books yourself. This works pretty well as long as you are willing to create a new account with [Amazon/BN/Kobo] for the purpose, and can explain to the recipient what you’ve done and critically, how to enter their own credit card info and delete yours, unless you intend to give the gift of perpetual free ebooks, of course. As a bonus, you can further customize the device before the gifting – the closest analog [sic] to inscribing the flyleaf of a paper book gift might be putting a custom wallpaper [also sic] on a gift ereader.

If you’re really close to the recipient, you might be able to set everything up using their existing email address and maybe even payment info, but this definitely eliminates any possible element of surprise. It’s more likely I’d create a new email address, then set it to forward to the recipient’s regular address once the deal is done.

Here’s why I think this is not only a good idea, but also a potentially profitable line of business for makers of ereaders and publishers of ebooks. Amazon probably doesn’t need to listen to me (though they are best positioned to actually make this happen) but maybe B&N or Kobo would be open-minded (or desperate) enough to give it a go.

Ereaders are already loss leaders for selling ebooks, and they’re getting cheaper all the time. It won’t be long before throwing in a free reader with the purchase of a few books is as common as the free razor with a package of blades. Anything to get one more user on the platform and locked in to your supply of ebooks, right? The target recipient for this gift is likely a serious reader, and should be a juicy source of recurring revenue.

limenookPeople pay for customization and convenience. For every person who’s ok with the messy methods above, I bet there’s another who would buy an ereader preloaded with NYT bestsellers, Mann Booker Prize winners, the collected works of a favorite author, or their own choice collection.

The technology already exists.  Mass Customization is a thing.  New cars come with the options you order. You can get a gift iPod engraved. New Kindle Fire tablets arrive configured with your account info. Most peoples’ media is already living as much in the cloud as on devices, wouldn’t it be easy to set things up to download the gift media on the first use?

Public libraries are already dong this, sort of. At many public libraries, you can check out an ereader loaded with more books than you could ever read in the lending period. For example, the Hoboken Public Library has Kindles you can borrow for two weeks, each loaded with over 100 titles, and I’m not talking about a musty collection of public domain work. Surely that proves some kind of utility for the idea of selling such readers?

Well, that’s a long way around to say, I really wanted to gift a selection of ebooks and a reader and make it easy for the recipient to read them, but it looks like the deck is stacked against me. I still think it’s a good idea, and I hope somebody figures out how to make money at it. If that somebody is you, drop me a line and I’ll send you my book list and bank wire information.

Community Supported Arts Harvest

This summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach a business basics class for a group of artists participating in a new way to create and sell artwork, Community Supported Arts. Like its inspiration, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), CSArts is a way for producers to get paid in advance for their work, and a way for consumers to get a bounty of locally-produced original artwork.  Last week, I attended the Harvest Party and picked up my bag of nine works of art.

Here’s a rundown. Be sure to visit each artist’s site for more information, and in some cases, behind-the-scenes looks at the production process. Last I heard there were just a handful of CSArt shares still available for purchase.

CSArt by Laura Quincy Jones, Emily Garfield, Robert Smyth and Jude Griffin

Clockwise from top left, a hand-washed pen-and-ink housescape by Laura Quincy Jones, a map of an imaginary place by Emily Garfield, a bird print on wood by Jude Griffin, and a letterpress broadside of a poem written and set by Robert Smyth.


An artists’ book by Cristina Hajosy, an abstract watercolor painting by Shannon Astolfi, and a plate with a hand-painted bird (after Audubon) by Eileen DeRosas.


Origami by Sok Song and a porcelain bottle by Maeve Mueller.

I have good reason to be biased, but I really think this is a fantastic program for the artists and also for the buyers. For less than I’ve often paid for a single photograph (my usual media of collection), I now have nine new works of art in several media I’ve never collected before. Aside from their origin, there’s no clear theme uniting them, but there are lots of interesting groupings and connections to be made for the inspired home curator. I know the artists better than the average buyer, but there’s enough information in the packaging and on the artists’ sites for a novice collector to learn about each piece’s creation and inspiration.

Although each artist made 50 pieces for this program, most of them have some element of individuality and all are signed and numbered. For example, each of Sok Song’s pieces has the same form, but is made of a different paper. You can see all 50 of Shannon Astolfi’s paintings on her website, and Maeve Mueller encourages her buyers to join an online community to see where the other bottles ended up.  I hope more share buyers will post photos of their artwork so I can see more of the other 49 variations. In the event of a reunion, each of Emily Garfield’s map paintings links up with the next to form a single, very long, map.

It may be hard for some to buy art in advance and pretty much sight unseen, but at this price and with this number of works, I think most would be happy with a few pieces they love, and a few they can give as gifts. Of course part of the point is that CSArt share buyers will form a connection with one or more of the artists and buy more (and more expensive) work from them in the future. I know I’ll be keeping an eye on some of these artists, and not just to see if they were listening in business class.

Stoked for pies that r round

One of the small upsides to a torrential rain at lunchtime is that there’s nearly zero line at the food trucks. Finding myself at Dewey square in the company of old favorites Bon Me and Mei Mei, I opted for the as yet untried (by me) Stoked Wood Fired Pizza truck. How do they get a wood fired oven in a truck and how do they get a permit for something that sounds, even on a rainy day, like a recipe for a dramatic and garlic-infused explosion? I have no idea, but I ordered the mushroom pizza anyway.

Mushroom pizza from Stoked
Made on the spot, the mushroom pie includes mozzarella, pecorino romano, seasoned mushrooms, roasted garlic, and truffle oil. (listed as “optional,” but why would one opt out of truffle oil??) Also present but not mentioned, caramelized onions. It took a few minutes to prepare and cook, but even after a five minute slog back to the office, it was still hot and crispy.

They should call this the umami pizza. From the pecorino to the mushrooms and truffle and garlic it was full of salty (not a pejorative in my book) savory umami-y goodness. And while the char on the bottom might put some off, I found the smoky note comforting on a cold day.

A hungry person could easily eat an entire thin crust pie from Stoked, and I recommend doing so at your earliest convenience. After all, even with a wood-burning oven on board, this truck will probably go into hibernation with the others sometime in November.


Why can’t you buy a fare card on the train platform?

Usually on the first (business) day of any given month, there’s a terrible line at the charlie card machine. I guess many people don’t know you can buy next month’s T pass about halfway through the current month. But I’m not here to shame procrastinators, I’m here to ask a weird dumb question about public transit payment systems. I know, you’d never expect such a thing from me.

Why aren’t there Charlie Card machines on the platforms of the T? Or MetroCard machine in the NYC subway system for that matter.

Duh, you say, you don’t need to buy or top up your transit pass when you’re on the platform, you obviously already have one or you couldn’t get there. I understand that, but while you’re waiting for the train after you’ve paid your fare is the perfect time to buy your return fare or next month’s pass! There’s less likely to be a line and there’s less time pressure since you can see when the next train is coming. Sure, you could buy the return when you get where you’re going on the way out of the station, but just as often there’s a line there of people wanting to buy a ticket to get in. Why not let people use the dead waiting time on the platform, and save a minute here or there?