All posts by Mike Fabio

Going Digital or: How I learned to stop worrying and downsize my book collection

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My wife says to me, “We need to start thinking about what we can get rid of so the next time we move we don’t have so much junk. Like your books for example…”

I immediately take this as a threat.

It’s not a threat, of course. And I’ll just be honest here, I’ve often thought about what it might mean to become truly digital with my books, how I might feel if my beloved paper tomes were to be sent to the proverbial farm. And while every instinct in my body tells me that hoarding is good and makes me complete inside, the brutal reality of owning books is that owning books kind of sucks.

I love looking at my books. When I lived in a smaller apartment, I had a bookshelf next to my bed. Lying awake at night, I would stare at the bindings, memorizing the titles and authors and the colors on the cover and mentally figuring out what order they should be in.

But it’s a fetish. A mine-all-mine mentality that leads to more more more more more. They’re a pain to deal with. Dusting and lugging around from home to home and recategorizing and all that nonsense. Not to mention they take up a lot of space. And while that’s great for the appearance of my bookshelf, my bookshelf is bad for the brain and the soul.

Let’s be clear here: books are fucking great. I love my books, and my records, and my comics, and they bring me enormous joy. But the actual physical manifestations of those books don’t have very much meaning when I really start to think about it. Almost every book on this shelf is available in a digital format. Very few of these books have sentimental value (although I can probably tell you where, when, and for how much I purchased each one of them). And I love the smell of a book, the way it feels in my hand, but it’s not the books I have a problem with, it’s ownership.

I’ve gone digital in almost every other facet of my life. I stopped buying music on CD in 2002. Back then I went to piracy, mostly out of necessity. But I’ve been a happy streaming music buyer for many years now, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I have a great vinyl collection that I will almost certainly never get rid of, but my vinyl, like some of my books, has sentimental value. I don’t buy much vinyl anymore anyhow.

I haven’t read a newspaper with ink since my ill-fated experiment with the New York Times last year, and in that case I only bought the physical paper so I could read it digitally.

Movies and television are an entirely digital experience for me now. I cut my cable a year ago and haven’t looked back. I stream movies and television shows via any number of services. The only cheating I do is renting discs from Redbox, but I almost never buy Blu-rays or DVDs.

If I could figure out a good way to digitize every piece of paper in my house I probably would. Sadly we’re not yet at a place where things like passports and birth certificates have usable digital corollaries. Then again, I suppose it’s fun to know that I might be one of the last people to own one of these curious paper relics.

My comic collection is going to be difficult (er, expensive) to reproduce digitally. And besides that I think my kids might someday enjoy having them. (Maybe not. They’ll almost certainly do the majority of their reading on a device of some sort.)

My books have been hangers-on for a while now. But I think it’s time to clear out space on these shelves for something new. I won’t get rid of everything. Just most.

I think ownership just isn’t my thing anymore. I like having stuff as much as the next guy, but I also like feeling light. I like the freedom it affords, the convenience, and the knowledge that I can still pull up any one of these delightful stories and theses at the touch of a button.

I’ll probably regret writing this, or even thinking it.

5 Perfectly Good Reasons Why Apple’s iRadio Is A Non-starter (And One Counterargument)

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1. Pandora

2. Spotify Radio (powered by Echonest)

3. Rdio radio stations (also powered by Echonest)

4. Songza

5. Slacker (wait is this a non-starter too? should I have listed Grooveshark?)



1. 600,000 new iPhones activated EVERY SINGLE DAY. (And I didn’t even mention iPad activations…)


Don’t get me wrong, I think Apple has a serious uphill battle. Pandora has a massive first mover advantage, Android users are left completely out of the picture (not that Apple cares), and don’t even get me started on the massive failing of Apple to get into the on-demand streaming game. But seriously, I think this will be an interesting fight to watch. As I’ve stated previously, the key to winning in this world is providing value.

Also, on a completely personal note, I’d like to point out that I almost never use Pandora, sticking exclusively to Rdio (for on-demand) and Songza (for radio-style). Furthermore, I believe that Pandora is horribly flawed from a music discovery standpoint, and I’m hoping that iRadio somehow bests it in that category. I’m not really holding my breath.

One Fell Swoop: A single feature does not a great piece of software make

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I use Mailbox. It’s amazing. It keeps my inbox free and clear, and it rewards me with a pretty picture every time I get to inbox zero. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s clean. I swipeswipeswipe all day long, resting easy knowing that those important emails will come back to me when I have time to answer them, and the rest disappear into my archive. There’s really only one problem with it: it’s not the native Gmail app.

I really want to love the native Gmail iOS app, but I just can’t. It’s missing some features that Mailbox has in spades, most notably a unified inbox and the ability to snooze emails to return to the inbox later for action.

But let’s be very clear about this, those features truly are the only good reason to use Mailbox over Gmail.

Which is to say that there are entire swaths of software companies out there that would literally go out of business if the major players – the Apples and Googles and Microsofts of the world – were to add a single feature to their own software. Hell, Gmail is probably going to put Sanebox out of business this week.

I’m not the first to say this, of course. Since Mailbox came out, it’s been criticized as not being an app, but only a feature (and let’s not forget the debacle over Mailbox’s launch strategy). But it got me to thinking about all kinds of other apps – and non-software examples too – that I use and love, but that I would probably stop using tomorrow if their major counterparts were to only add that single key feature.

A beautiful alternative to Keynote and Powerpoint, albeit limited in its functionality, I love the ability to search for images and auto-insert into my deck. Apple or Microsoft could add this in a heartbeat, and Haikudeck would be gone.

You never knew how good a taxi ride could be until you got into an Ubercab. Only one problem: most taxi companies, especially in big cities, could put them out of business by making one kickass app for dispatching and frictionless payments.

It’s my go-to calendar on my Mac for its mouse-free natural language appointment entry. Google Calendar got halfway there – the quick add feature is decent – but they’d only have to take it a step further to make Fantastical obsolete.

Google Hangouts
Admittedly this is a stretch, but the one killer feature I use here is cross-platform, multi-user video conferencing, especially mobile to computer. Skype already does this too, though multi-user requires a pro account. But Apple’s FaceTime comes up seriously short, especially if I want to talk to my Android-using parents. Building a FaceTime Android app isn’t as easy as flipping a switch, but it also isn’t out of the realm of possibility.


Most of these are David and Goliath stories, the little disruptor taking on the big established companies, and putting up a damn good fight because they’re packing a sling. But if Goliath had a sling (and let’s face it, it’s not that hard to make a sling), he’d crush David into a million little pieces.

Playing Golf

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I say to my wife, “When I was young, my mom sent me to take golf classes. She insisted that golfing was a necessary skill for success – that I would surely be closing big business deals on the golf course someday.”

And she says, “That’s because your mom had a very different concept of success.”

It’s true. My mom certainly didn’t think my success would look like it does. Hell, I didn’t think my life would look the way it does.

I don’t play golf, and probably never will, but I took those lessons diligently, learned to swing a club. Today I don’t see success as a deal closed on a golf course. Today success is a company, my company, and tomorrow it might be different, but right now, today, I’m an entrepreneur, and this is my success.

Visions of success

In business, we measure success in dollars, in technology, and in influence. We measure in customers, in traffic, in monthly average users. We measure in people. We measure in deals, in connections.

Artists measure in change. In fans. In ticket sales, and record sales, and merch sales, and streams and views and Likes. In platinum records. In fame, or lack thereof.

This is not a vision for success, only a measurement.

Maybe your success is a flashlight, leading you through the dark to the stage. Maybe success is a trendy loft office space in Manhattan. Maybe it’s an arena full of screaming teenagers. Maybe it’s a lake home and a portfolio of diversified investments. Maybe it’s a Nobel Prize, or a maybe it’s a Grammy. Maybe it’s just a paycheck every week and a roof over your head.

It’s these ideas of success, these premonitions and visualizations and conceptions of an idealized life we strive for and chase and claw and scratch our ways toward.

What does your success look like?

Dear Netflix, Please take my money: Deriving value in digital content

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I’m a devout streaming media user. I cut cable almost a year ago. I don’t buy music anymore, with the exception of vinyl, which I mostly buy as a keepsake, a way to physically interact with the music I most care about. Instead I stream via Rdioicon. Religiously.

I spent the better part of this past weekend watching Hemlock Grove, Netflix’s new original series about a town ransacked by werewolves and other supernatural phenomena. It’s not a phenomenal show (see what I did there?). And it’s not nearly as good as House of Cards, Netflix’s last original series release. Hemlock Grove is passable entertainment, fun to watch, mysterious enough to keep you engaged, but so laughably acted and directed that you have to wonder just exactly how it got greenlit. But one thing is for sure: I seriously got my $7.99 worth this month.

In a normal transaction of goods, the value equation is simple: cost < benefit. If this is equation is lopsided, the transaction rarely happens. But in digital goods, and streaming media as a subset, the cost/benefit relationship is a much more complicated one.

Depth of content

It’s all about selection, or what I like to call “the infinite jukebox” (watch out for another blog on this in the near future). Netflix has an adequate selection, but far from hitting the infinite capabilities. Compare to Vudu, Amazon Video on Demand, or any of the a la carte services and you’ll paint a rather sad picture of Netflix.

And that’s exactly why Netflix is in the original content game now. Unable to compete in a long tail market, Netflix has turned to the other end of the graph, aiming for quality over quantity.

Its worth pointing out that the value of this particular content lies in its exclusivity. And Amazon is now playing this game too, with it’s own Amazon Original Pilots.

Quality of content

As I mentioned, Hemlock Grove isn’t great TV, but it’s better than a whole lot of the other crap that passes on the networks. House of Cards was absolutely fantastic. And the upcoming Arrested Development season is probably my single most anticipated piece of television in, well, ever. As Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos says, “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.”

Ease of access

This one is more complicated than it sounds. It’s not just a matter of press-play-watch-TV, but a deep psychological shift in our understanding of what television is. Cable is a wasteland – an infinite jukebox with a broken needle – 1000 channels of stuff you don’t want, filtered by DVRs, overpriced thanks to the wonders of bundling, and ultimately the least satisfying service I’ve ever used. Ever. I’d rather deal with my cell phone provider than my cable company. That’s saying something.

The importance of the unique release structure of Netflix Original Series cannot be overstated. Full seasons at a time is the way we’ve consumed television since the early days of DVD, and it’s a truly amazing way to experience episodic content. I’m not saying weekly content releases are bad, but I think it works much better for programming that doesn’t fit into seasons. YouTube shows are a great example, as are daytime soap operas. But single-season episodic television shows just work better when you can binge on them. (Probably worth a separate discussion of how the proverbial water cooler has been affected by this shift.)


And in the end, it still comes down to this: is it worth $7.99 a month?

Wait, what? Is that even a question? How can we actually ask ourselves something like that? Isn’t it obvious?

Unfortunately it’s not obvious at all. We make ridiculous choices based on price every day, and we have a truly astonishing ability to neglect very simple price comparisons on nearly everything.

Netflix is 8 bucks a month. Cup of Starbucks is 3 bucks. Gas is 3-5 dollars per gallon. Milk is 3 dollars per gallon too. A bottle of water is a buck twenty-nine, which makes it actually about 8.25 a gallon (insane!). Monthly cable bills are somewhere around $60 for internet, and another $75 for television (even more for phone service, or the cable companies’ new product scam, home security systems). An Amazon Prime membership comes with most of the same programming as Netflix, and runs $79/year, which makes it $6.58/month. That’s right, it’s cheaper than Netflix, and gives you all the benefits of Prime shipping too. I spend ten bucks a month on my Rdio subscription. I used to spend $300 a month on music, back in the CD era, and I was perfectly happy doing so.

All this to say that price is relative, but every time we press the play button on our connected devices, we’re comparing the costs against a hundred other apples-to-oranges items that typically fall into our disposable income budgets.

For some, this decision isn’t so cut and dry. But in my opinion, Netflix is worth every penny.