Flash Update: Second ship comes in? You have to understand, I wait years for these things. And most of my ships sink. So I was as astonished as anyone a couple of days ago when Calton Homes (CN) – which I described here August 13 at 60 cents a share – announced it had reached a definitive agreement with Centex to sell its core business for about $1.70 a share. According to the September 2 press release, Centex will pay $50 million and assume all CN’s debt. CN will trade its only asset (so far as I know) – the home building subsidiary – for this $50 million. At which point perhaps the CEO will blow it all somehow; but with 11 million shares himself, I’m guessing he’ll at least try not to. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

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Is it possible Amazon is my first true love/hate relationship? Love the company, hate the stock? Probably not, because “hate the stock” is too strong after it has dropped 60 or 70 points. I just think it’s still way risky and overpriced. But I have such admiration for how well this pipsqueak has managed to “do it right” – and I am short so few shares – I can’t say I’d hate to see it break through all the likely upcoming obstacles to a touchdown. (To see what such a future would look like for Amazon, see tomorrow’s column.)

I consider that a long shot, but when did Americans not root for the long shot?

That said, check out www.bookblvd.com which will lead you to the lowest online book prices around – often from a company called A1 Books. And note that you shouldn’t have to type barnesandnoble to get there – someone told me “bn.com” works just as well. When I tried, it didn’t; but if it doesn’t ordinarily work, what is Barnes & Noble thinking? For a fraction of the millions they’re spending on ads, surely they could buy that URL and make it synonymous with barnesandnoble.com. I know it’s moot once you bookmark the site, but I’m convinced a little thing like this is a BIG thing to the lazy among us (which is 90% of us) and to the uncertain spellers (40%).

Anyway, here’s the latest smart thing Amazon has done – as amply and amusingly chronicled in The Wall Street Journal two or three weeks ago, but in case you missed it. Rather than just list the top 10 or top 100 sellers for the past week, Amazon (and only Amazon) has taken to ranking ALL books – and updating those rankings hourly for the top 10,000 (daily for the next 100,000; monthly for the rest, which run up past 1 million).

So here’s what’s so smart. I love Barnes & Noble, yes. Barnes & Noble has been very good to me. Barnes & Noble even has my latest number in a few of its windows and featured at 40% off on its Web site. (No, it’s not about money – don’t ask/don’t tell.) But the Barnes & Noble Web site doesn’t yet have this ranking gimmick.

  • So guess where authors quickly become addicted to going on the Net? Precisely. We’re like little over-the-counter CEO’s addicted to checking our own stock prices – which in our case is the Amazon rank. I’ve seen my investment guide ricochet from 235 to 1,400 and back to 639 in a matter of hours. One night, when I saw it slipping, I couldn’t resist – I clicked and bought one. Sure enough, an hour later I was back up a bit. (Amazon’s computer assigns weight not just to sales but – even more – to how recent those sales were. A sale 10 minutes ago counts for much more than a sale yesterday, let alone 10 days or 10 months ago.)
  • And guess where at least some authors are going to send their friends to order their books. That’s right.
  • And guess to what sales-ranking list thousands of newspaper and magazine articles will likely refer (as others refer to the Fortune 500 or the Forbes 400 rankings). That’s right, too.

And that’s why Amazon is so smart.

On top of which, once the software was written – a process I expect took one bright guy or gal the better part of a day – this little gimmick is a trivial expense. The computer just does it.

Barnes & Noble and Borders (and A1 Books and the on-line music/video/software stores) may well come up with great ideas of their own and leapfrog Amazon. For example, Barnes & Noble has begun awarding frequent flier miles via an outfit called ClickRewards (see www.clickrewards.com). But sometimes small size can be a plus. You can just sense the guys at Amazon are having fun.

As I was while their stock was dropping from 140 to 73.

 

 

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