If Only I Could Use eBay to Short Sell Coins…

Caught this article yesterday on the new 2009 Lincoln pennies:

2009 Lincoln Penny Mania

A quick review of recently completed eBay auctions shows unmarked rolls selling for $30 to $50 each. Single pennies have sold for $2 to $4 each. Rolls with a Lincoln postage stamp and cancellation from the first day of issue at Hogdenville, Kentucky have sold for over $200. Most astoundingly, a single 2009-P Lincoln Cent graded NGC MS66RD and attributed “First Day of Issue” has sold for $400.

View the current eBay auctions.

It’s truly bizzare.  $0.50 rolls of the new Lincoln pennies are going for $30-$50 on eBay.  That’s insane.  We’re talking about a coin that will be minted in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, this year.

What I would love to do is to “short” these rolls – effectively presell them at this price, collect money now, and then send the rolls in a few months when you’ll be able to source them at less than $1/roll.

Unfortunately, that violates eBay policy. It’s for good reason, since short selling actual inventory is hard to distinguish from a scam transaction.  After all, how do you know the seller will make good on the future delivery?  What is the recourse for the buyer?

The lack of short selling, however, means that temporary supply/demand imbalances like this lead to effective price gouging for buyers who assume the eBay price is “fair”.  It’s certainly fair for the moment, but the expected ROI on this purchase for the collector is likely to be disasterous.

Still, I wouldn’t mind the ability to short sell a few hundred rolls.  If you have access to a bank that actually has these rolls, you’d be a fool not to put them up on eBay quickly, before the prices settle down.  Do I have any readers in Kentucky?  If so, can you pick me up a box?

iTunes Pass Could Be the Key to Digital TV

Read this news today with great interest:

Apple, EMI unveil iTunes Pass

Apple has just launched a new service called Pass for its popular iTunes music store.  It’s like a season pass for a favorite artist, in this case the electro band Depeche Mode…  Before thinking this is Apple’s entree into the music subscription business, which is something Steve Jobs has pooh-poohed in the past, note that iTunes Pass is quite different.

Under an all-you-can eat music subscription plan at a place such as Rhapsody, you have access to the material only as long as you keep paying a fee. With iTunes Pass, you own the content that has been downloaded, even after the pass expires.

I’ve written a bit about this in the past, but it’s shocking to see Apple so close, and yet so far, from what might be a truly disruptive innovation in digital television.

The iTunes Pass is the right idea, but the wrong market.  We don’t need this for music, we need this for digital television & movies.

When Apple launched Apple TV, it highlighted the ability to subscribe to a season of television.  The idea was you pay a fee up front, and then as episodes of that show come out, they would automatically download to your iTunes (and then synch with your AppleTV), allowing you to watch a show with both digital convenience and without waiting until the end of the season to buy a DVD.  This was a great concept for a few reasons:

  1. Ability to easily “catch up” with a season/show that was already underway.  This is a very common problem, particularly with serial shows where you miss the first few episodes before friends/news reaches you with a recommendation.  (This is the reason I didn’t get to watch 24 in real time until Season 3…)
  2. Ability to “own” the shows permanently – not a transient state like a traditional DVR.
  3. Ability to watch on TV.  Let’s face it, that’s where you want to watch the show, not on your PC.
  4. Automatic download, in the background.  Shows would be waiting for you as they appeared.

The problems, however, with the execution were equally significant:

  1. Lack of seasons.  For many shows, Apple provided the current season, but not previous seasons.  Thus, if you wanted to watch “Lost”, you couldn’t “catch up” with Seasons 1 & 2.
  2. Timeliness.  Next day would have been OK, and in the beginning that was the plan.  In reality, some shows would show up days or weeks later.  Ideally, the download would literally begin at the official showtime EST in the US.
  3. Pricing.  They used DVD pricing, which frankly is just ridiculous.  The idea that you’d reasonably pay $30-$50 for a season of TV that can be had through traditional distribution channels for free makes sense in the historical model of buying specific shows/seasons in low volume, but isn’t a mass market play for general television consumption.  If in a given season (Winter 2009) I’m watching 6-8 shows, there is no way you are going to get $200+ out of me for the privilege unless you 100% substitute for my cable bill.

The pricing issue in particular led me to a hypothetical model that could potentially benefit both Apple & the networks by disintermediating the traditional cable/sattelite duopoly.  Basically, every network could attempt to become “HBO”.  HBO pioneered the idea of a premium channel – an extra monthly charge you’d pay for unlimited access to content.  Thanks to the VCR, that also included the ability to “time shift” that content for your own use.

On iTunes, NBC could be as valuable as HBO.   Imagine an iTunes Pass where, for a monthly fee, you could subscribe to The Office.  You would automatically get new episodes as they come out, as well as download old episodes (like a podcast).  These would all be watchable on AppleTV, as well as your iPhone.  That’s something worth paying for.

Now imagine that for a monthly subscription fee, you could actually do that with any NBC show.  The Office.  My Name is Earl.  ER.  30 Rock.   Whatever you want.  You would become an “NBC subscriber”.  NBC would have a premium revenue stream, and would then focus on providing high quality content to lure in new subscribers, and to keep existing subscribers.  They would also have their own “distribution channel” within iTunes – they could now launch new shows and pilots for a fraction of the cost & risk by delivering them to people automatically, and making the marginal cost of subscribing to a new show effectively zero for the user.  Sunk cost.

Subscribing to a network could be an upsell from an individual hit show.  Subscribe to The Office for $5/month.  Or subscribe to all of NBC for $10/month.  Network families could offer the same bundle of channels to individuals that they currently offer to the cable & sattelite companies.  Get the entire family of NBC channels for $15/month.

There is likely some price in that ballpark where NBC would be agnostic between someone watching them on cable vs. subscribing on iTunes.

Per-show pricing doesn’t get you scale.  But owning a customer relationship as a network is incredibly valuable.  These subscriptions could also be platform agnostic long term – no reason you can’t have versions that support Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, etc.

People already are beginning to question their premium movie-channel cable subscriptions in favor of Netflix/Blockbuster service.  Network subscriptions could substitute for the primary cable bill.

Right now, I watch shows on Fox, NBC, ABC, HBO, SCIFI & FX.   There is a price where I’d gladly shift over to a digital subscription to get the benefits of the content combined with the benefits of professional, digital files that I could watch anywhere, anytime (time shifting & location shifting).

The thing that I love about this model is that, from a games theory perspective, there is significant value to the first “defector” – the network that moves to this pricing model first.  For example, if HBO offered this service through iTunes, I’d subscribe immediately.  Obviously, the cable & sattelite companies would fight this tooth & nail – but I’m not sure they have a leg to stand on in preventing this.  After all, Comcast can’t prevent NBC from offering channels to DirecTV, etc.

Scot Wingo & Seeking Alpha: Traffic Drivers

It’s still fascinating to me how many insights I gain from the traffic to my own personal blog.

Today, I checked my stats briefly and noticed something really strange: my post about eBay Express, A Eulogy for eBay Express, had jumped with a vengence to the number one post on the blog.  My overall traffic spiked a bit too.  A little strange for a post that is over 6 months old.

Perusing my top referring sites, I saw one obvious culprit: eBay Strategies.  Scot Wingo has a new post up entitled Episode IV – How to fix eBay (you are here) – A NEW HOPE – Introducing eBay 2.0. It’s a long post, but there are a couple of paragraphs in it that point directly to my last eBay Express post:

You may recall an experiment eBay had called eBay Express where they tried to extend the brand with a different fixed-price site, but failed.  Ex-eBayer, Adam Nash had a great eulogy and behind-the-scenes view of what happened that I recommend everyone read to see his perspective.

I always likened eBay Express to diet donuts.  It just isn’t an extension and you are admitting that, well, if you have an eBay express, that makes eBay – what- eBay slow and poky?  There were other problems too that Adam details, like they didn’t send it any traffic and small things like that.  Also the way the inventory worked was all jacked-up, it was a sub-set of fixed-price items on eBay (what?!).  I’ve read all of Adams thoughts on eBay Express and chatted with him before on what eBay’s doing wrong/right and many of his ideas have found their way into eBay 2.0. (BTW, eBay needs to get this guy back.)

OK, it’s hard not to find that last line flattering.

Scot’s post is fairly long and detailed, and while I don’t agree with everything in the article, I did find all the talk of “New Coke” amusing in one sense.  You see, Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink had just been released when we kicked off the eBay Express concept efforts.  As a result, one of the specific guiding statements for the project was: “Don’t build New Coke.”  As I mentioned in my original post, one of our key goals for eBay Express was to NOT change the original eBay, but instead focus our efforts on a new site in order to protect what buyers & sellers loved about eBay.com.  Our analogy was, in fact, Diet Coke, which is not totally surprising given that I have an entire category for Diet Coke-related posts on this blog…

Still, the branding point around the name “eBay Express” is fair, and as I mentioned previously, branding was one of the obvious mistakes made in retrospect.

In any case, a little more snooping and I discovered that while eBay Strategies was the source of some of the new traffic, even more traffic was being sourced from the Seeking Alpha distribution of the article.  I’ve been an active reader of Seeking Alpha as an investment site for years, and I’ve noticed their recent push for sourcing content from any major blogger.  However, this is some real evidence that bloggers who leverage Seeking Alpha are likely seeing significant boosts in distribution.

I wonder if I have any posts that are Seeking Alpha worthy… I’ll have to think about experimenting with them at some point.  I’ve actually been cited in Seeking Alpha posts before, but typically with pointers to my articles on investing in Timber as an asset class

iPhoto ’09: Fix for JPEG Files Displaying as Pure Black on Edit

I’m sharing this fix with the world, so that others need not live my pain.

Last night, I returned from Lake Tahoe with 451 beautiful shots of our family snow trip, all taken with my Canon 40D SLR.  Each shot was captured in both large format JPG and RAW format.

Unfortunately, after loading all my images into iPhoto ’09, I ran into a real problem:

When I double-clicked any of the JPG files to edit/view them, they displayed a purely black screen.  It was strange because the thumbnails were fine, the RAW files were fine, and when I opened the JPG files in Photoshop CS3, they were fine.

There was no way around it.  Relaunching iPhoto did not help.  Rebuilding the library did not help.  Rebuilding thumbnails did not help.  Reloading the images from the compact flash card did not help.

I shuddered to think about the wisdom of upgrading to iPhoto ’09.  After all, at least iPhoto ’08 could display JPG files.  My only hope: the Canon 40D is a popular camera, and has been out for a while.  This must be a solved issue.

My searches on Google turned up a few articles and discussions, but nothing convincing.  Some threads on the Apple Discussion forums.  A post or two on other Mac sites.

Fortunately, I found the answer.  But let me first tell you what it wasn’t:

  • It wasn’t the PowerPC (I have an Intel-based Mac Pro)
  • It wasn’t file size
  • It wasn’t iPhoto ’09
  • It wasn’t the Canon 40D

Unfortunately, several sites fingered these things as culprits.  All wild goose chases.

Here is what it was:

  • A corrupted install of Mac OS X 10.5.6

Hard to believe, but the auto-update I had done just before leaving for vacation was the culprit.  Thanks to one tip, I downloaded the full combo installer for the Mac OS X 10.5.6 Upgrade from Apple.

A full re-install of the update, a reboot, and all was well.

I hope this tip finds someone out there in good stead.  Seeing your precious photos reduced to a black screen is frightening to the core, even if you know the photo files themselves are not corrupted.

PDMA 2008: Building a World Class Web 2.0 Product Organization

Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at the PDMA International 2008 conference in Orlando, FL.  I gave a talk entitled:

“Building a World Class Web 2.0 Product Organization”

While I posted this presentation to Slideshare and on my LinkedIn profile, it turns out I never actually posted it here on this blog.

Christina Wodtke, author of Elegant Hack and a Principal at LinkedIn, gave a talk this week on Product Management and borrowed a few of my slides.  As a result of that talk, I saw this blog post, about the definition of a product manager, come through my Google Alerts today.

pdma_adam_nash_product_manager

For those of you who’ve worked with me, it’s a classic “Adam Nash slide“.  The tell-tale sign is the use of simple geometric shapes, typically in pastel colors.  (I’m not proud of my limited PowerPoint skills.  In fact, you could say I’m proud that I don’t have advanced PowerPoint skills.)

Anyway, I’m glad to see that the content was useful/interesting for both Christina and her audience.  It was also a great reminder to post the deck here too for anyone who is interested.

BTW The second edition of Christina’s book on information architecture is now available on Amazon.  You might want to check it out.

US Patent 7,490,056 Has Been Granted

Interesting milestone this week.  My very first patent granted.

USPTO: Patent #7,490,056

  • Filed: November, 2004
  • Granted: February 10, 2009

Ironically, I wouldn’t have known about it except for a promotion catalog I got in the mail today with a list of plaques I could buy to commemorate this patent from some souvenir company in Florida.  Yes, I know.  Weird.

This was the first of several patent applications I submitted while at eBay.  This particular application surrounded the logic and algorithm around assessing popularity for e-commerce listings based on “following” behavior, aka “Watch” in eBay terms.

Yes, this was the “Most Watched” patent, from the debut of eBay Pulse.  (Sadly, it looks like the patent office has actually moved faster approving this patent than eBay has updating eBay Pulse since that 2004 launch.)

There is a lot I could comment on here about the USPTO, the dubious nature of software patents, the length of time, etc.  Normally, I’d go on at length about some of these issues.

Instead, however, I’ll just note that it’s a somewhat sentimental moment for me, because I always remember hearing about how my late grandfather had filed an important patent on his path to business success.

Closing in on Sequencing the Neanderthal Genome

This news is from tomorrow’s New York Times:

Scientists in Germany Draft Neanderthal Genome

It’s about 63% complete at this point.  We live in magical times, scientifically.  Unbelievable.

Some nice tidbits from the article:

The Neanderthal genome, when fully analyzed, is expected to shed light on many critical aspects of human evolution. It will help document two important sets of genetic changes: those that occurred between 5.7 million years ago, when the human line split from the line leading to chimpanzees, and 300,000 years ago, when Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans parted ways; and second, the changes in the human line after it diverged from Neanderthals.

An early inference that can be drawn from the new findings, which were announced Thursday in Leipzig, Germany, is that there is no significant trace of Neanderthal genes in modern humans. This confounds the speculation that modern humans could have interbred with Neanderthals, thus benefiting from the genes that adapted the Neanderthals to the cold climate that prevailed in Europe in last ice age, which ended 10,000 years ago. Researchers have not ascertained if human genes entered the Neanderthal population.

Unfortunate for me – I had long been in the camp that speculated that Neanderthals weren’t actually a true species by the definition of inter-breeding.  I had expected that we’d discover some genetic evidence of interbreeding.

We’re in such early days of understanding our genome, it may be hard to appreciate how the advances in information science and genomics will profounding affect our understanding of species, both current & extinct.

I’m going to be on the lookout for more formal academic writings on this research.  A little surprised to see this come out today, instead of Tuesday, which is the official “Science Times” day…