Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Heavenly Hot Dogs! Retail POS to the Cloud

The Melt, a fast-growing eatery invented by the creator of the Flip video camera system, has some interesting new ideas about selling and delivering food in their stores.

While flat-panel TVs are in many bars and restaurants, patrons eyes at The Melt seem fixed on their "Order Board" display in the store or through their smartphone (note the QR code at the pickup counter).  Anyone who has stood at one of Apple's Genius Bars knows the feeling of watching their appointment come up.  The similarity to Apple might be due to Ron Johnson's presence on The Melt's Board of Directors.

Another striking similarity with Apple's retail vision is the Personal Pickup option.  Apple customers use their smartphone to place orders and pay in advance using their iTunes account, then pick up their items in the store.

According to their marketing literature, "The Melt uses mobile technology that allows customers to remotely place a meal order from their computer or mobile phone and pick it up at any Melt location, always hot and ready, anytime. Every Melt location knows about every customer order, so a customer never needs to decide when or where to pick up their meal. After ordering, the customer will receive a QR code on their smartphone that can be scanned at any restaurant location, allowing them to skip the line and pick up their freshly-made order within minutes."

While the store experience is important, the taste of the food has to match.  Other food services startups are attempting to bring good food to customers in a streamlined way.  Lyfe Kitchen is testing their systems and menus and could benefit from an Order Board and smartphone ordering.

The infrastructure for remote ordering, displaying pickup queues on Order Boards, etc are slowly coming forward.  Yorder has deployed in-stadium purchasing using PayPal and their smartphone apps.  Customers can watch a baseball game, use their smartphone to order and have their food brought to their seat.  Yorder has developed the back end systems to enable any mobile kitchen or food truck to receive smartphone orders for pick-up or delivery.

We think it's worth paying attention to these experiments.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What Alternatives to Bitmenu Miss

Recent news about Gumroad and Kout bring up the excitement level related to selling through social media using just a link.  Both are nicely designed interfaces that create a link that Sellers can post anywhere.  As with the Bitmenu service, these links require payment before the item being sold is made available.

Both services charge similar service fees as Bitmenu (see our pricing).

What is different occurs after a payment is made.

As several commenters have noted, with other services a buyer can easily share their access link to the item they have purchased, thereby providing the item for free to their friends.   Bitmenu does not reveal a single URL for fulfillment.  The download link is unique to each transaction. Once it is fulfilled, anyone else using that path is given the opportunity to buy.

It's human nature to share with friends.  Our records show some 2% of sales through Bitmenu have been generated by the confirmation email being shared.  In fact, we encourage buyers to share their purchase tickets:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pitfalls of Download Scam Sites

A recent article published by the Iowa State Daily draws attention to rogue download sites masquerading as helpful services.  "Touch Textbooks", they say, is actually an off-shore site that makes its money off of the $49 sign up fee they charge students for unlimited access to their catalog.

"The site is self-proclaimed 'verified by Visa' and 'safe and secure.'
There are even reviews listed on blogs and other consumer websites
claiming the legitimacy of Touch Textbooks, but do not be fooled."

What's wrong with this picture?  While the service seems attractive to students used to paying hundreds of dollars for college textbooks, the site actually contains PDF versions of far fewer than the millions of e-books they proclaim, and none of the publishers (much less the authors) receive any compensation for the revenue it generates.

A quick Google search brings up many forum posts touting this site:  Some of these posts have received quick replies, such as:

"Since college text books are copyrighted material, there is no way the copyright holder is going to allow them to be downloaded for free. If someone is indeed downloading text books, it's because they're pirating them. In other words, it's illegal. My advice; don't do it."

How is Bitmenu different?  Our publishers must identify themselves and be subject to take-down requests.  Our Terms of Use, which each Bitmenu Seller must approve, explicitly states that each Seller must have the rights to distribute the works they upload into the Bitmenu System.  Furthermore, when a buyer purchases through the system, the purchase they confirm at either PayPal or Amazon Payments goes directly to that Seller's account.  A copyright holder that believes some material used by a publisher in the Bitmenu system infringes on their copyrights is directed to our DMCA policy and can also claim fraud with the payment processor. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Copyrights Under Scrutiny

The recent non-vote on new anti-piracy legislation has touched a nerve helped in large part by some of the most visible sites on the internet flexing their muscle.  The RIAA was given space in the New York Times to express their views and that piece has generated hundreds of responses, including one of our own.

The general tone of the comments reflects the shifting sentiments regarding how creative works are distributed and consumed, and who should pay.

Mechanisms like Bitmenu are designed to exchange payment for content delivery to any device via any service.  We think creative artists and rights-holders will make their money embracing creative packaging for their fans.  Many casual fans might share a piece of the package but a healthy audience will seek out and pay for the authentic product in all its richness.

Our comment on the New York Times piece, What Wikipedia Won't Tell You:

The old saying was: "Never pick a fight with someone who buys his ink by the barrel". It meant that those who controlled the means of production held all power. In media, all rights to copy works went to them.

Times haven't changed that much. Who creates the copy of a web page, movie or song for each user? It's not the author of the page or the musician or filmmaker. It is the site that automatically delivers content, ads, social graph elements and everything else, all neatly packaged for whatever device the user is viewing at the time.

In this scenario, the creative work is the site itself, and the content is merely useful as a mechanism to draw an audience that is of interest to advertisers, who pay for the privilege of being included in the dynamics of the page generation process.

Artists and rights-holders who wish to derive some benefit beyond considering "piracy as the next radio" as suggested by Neil Young would be well served to establish easy to use mechanisms for users to purchase and consume their works.

UPDATE:  The New Yorker has published a humorous look at the issue. 

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    Neil Young Calls for High Fidelity Music Distribution

    Musicians who want to deliver superior recording performance are saddled with "lowest common denominator" services.  In a fascinating interview, Neil Young describes his mission to "rescue music" from the poor-quality MP3 files most services provide.  Since iTunes, Amazon, YouTube and other popular services automatically downgrade audio quality, what Neil is talking about requires a different path to market.

    Here's a snip from the Verge, when he referred to Steve Jobs as one rich guy who preferred listening to his music on vinyl:

    Young is calling for a new digital ecosystem of high quality music files and he believes that Jobs would have gotten there had he lived long enough. On the distribution side, Young isn't particularly concerned with the effects of piracy on artists, he's more concerned that the files that are being shared are of such low quality:

    "It doesn't affect me because I look at the internet as the new radio. I look at the radio as gone. [...] Piracy is the new radio. That's how music gets around. [...] That's the radio. If you really want to hear it, let's make it available, let them hear it, let them hear the 95 percent of it."

    In other words, let the world share MP3s all they want, but also make available high fidelity versions (he mentions that pro-quality 24bit/192kHz files compare nicely to vinyl records or tape masters). MP3s typically have only 5% of the data of such high quality files.  Neil says the download might take 30 minutes but for some people, and for the artists themselves, this is worth paying for.

    We couldn't agree more and stand ready to support any artist to deliver large, high-quality music to those who appreciate the difference.