There’s Only One Amazon, and for Amazon’s Partners That’s a Problem

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Last week, Amazon introduced its Prime Now app to Portland. Our city joins 10 more where Amazon Prime members can place free, 2-hour delivery orders at popular local businesses — in Portland, participating stores include New Seasons Market, Uwajimaya, World Foods, and Cupcake Jones. And when you simply can’t wait for your Kombucha, cupcakes, and organic dish soap, a $7.99 fee buys you delivery within the hour.

The announcement spun me back a decade—to my years as the director of marketing and development at Powell’s Books, to the time when we went into business with Amazon.

By the early 2000s, Powell’s already had a business relationship with Amazon; like many booksellers, we posted our inventory on secondary sales platforms such as Alibris, eBay, and Amazon Marketplace. Then news came through back channels that Amazon didn’t know what to do with its overstock. Up in Seattle, they were sitting on thousands of recently published books that hadn’t turned out to be quite as popular as the company’s buyers had hoped. Apparently Amazon had better things to do with its warehouse space than store surplus copies of The South Beach Diet Cookbook. Powell’s did not.

Amazon started selling overstock to us by the pallet. Many pallets. Powell’s was unique among potential buyers in that we sold enough books to replenish in such bulk, and Portland is just a short drive down I-5 from Amazon. We made easy partners.

Those books quickly became our most profitable inventory. They sold much faster than used books, and at a far greater profit than new ones. Priced at a discount, a viable market existed for them. So Powell’s bought more and more. And then Powell’s bought more warehouse space to accommodate the more and more. Our dot-com and marketing teams moved from a 10,000-square foot building in the gentrifying Pearl District to a 60,000-square foot warehouse on the edge of the city. Our staff grew in order to handle all these books: receiving them off trucks, unpacking boxes, data entering and shelving, and then only a few weeks later pulling the same books from those shelves and packing them to ship. We got very good at all that.

We weren’t naive. No one doubted that we needed to diversify our inventory sources. We had no illusions about our business partner.

Trouble was, there were no other sources of such fast-selling books at such low prices. There was only Amazon.

And of course they stopped selling to us. Amazon realized that they could make more money by holding onto the books a while longer and selling directly to their own customers; and when they were ready, they did. But not until we’d invested in infrastructure and equipment, not until we’d hired staff, not until we’d scaled to serve customers who thereafter didn’t find many of the books they’d come to expect in our stores and at That sucked.

New Seasons is a beloved Portland-based grocery chain. I want it to thrive—for the city’s sake, for the employees’ sake, for all the charitable causes the company supports and because my eating life would be a total shambles without their prepared foods. So I can’t help wondering: What is New Seasons’ plan if Prime Now catches on? How will their model evolve to handle the growth? They’ll need new and expanded supply chains, right? What else? More warehouse space and staff? Will they ramp-up investments in technology? Can they maintain the superior food quality and best-in-town in-store experience?

The articles I’ve read haven’t mentioned how much money Amazon takes from each transaction through Prime Now, but you can bet it’s a healthy cut. That means that as the delivery app catches on, an ever-increasing proportion of New Seasons’ revenue will be generated at smaller margins.

And all of that revenue, day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter, will be dependent upon the functionality and features of the app, which no doubt Amazon will reinvent when and how it pleases.

I’d like to ask a publisher, or any of Amazon’s other so-called partners: How should these businesses protect themselves for the day when “The Everything Store” deems that it’s no longer in its best interest to make the partners as profitable? Or, worse and just as likely, once Amazon has established the local infrastructure and customer base to compete directly.

As a dedicated New Seasons customer, I hope they have a plan.

One Community, One Million Trees: “Tree for All” Video for Clean Water Services

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In 2014, public and private partners in the Tualatin River watershed set out to plant a million trees and shrubs in one planting season.

It was a privilege to document the Tree for All project for our clients at Clean Water Services, and to see first-hand the incredible work done by regional partners like Friends of Trees, Solve, Cascade Education Corps, Westside Economic Alliance, Scholls Valley Native Nursery LLC, and many more.

Nine months after volunteers put the first tree in the ground, we’re proud to share their story.

Narrative Mechanics Workshop: “How to Design and Deploy Strategy for Arts Marketing Success”

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Team Sheepscot has serious roots in the Portland arts community: Dave spent years as the director of marketing at Powell’s, and I covered arts and culture as a writer and editor for nearly a decade. So naturally, when the Regional Arts and Culture Council invited us to host an arts marketing workshop for artists and organizations, we jumped at the chance.

On Saturday, April 4, Sheepscot will present “Narrative Mechanics: How to Design and Deploy Strategy for Arts Marketing Success“:

“YOU HAVE A GREAT STORY TO TELL, but where do you begin? What’s the best way to frame your narrative to ensure that you’re making an impact with the right audiences? From public events and print materials to social media platforms, how should you allocate resources to best achieve your goals?

Learn to construct a story that will resonate with your audience, inspire actions that benefit your bottom line, and evolve over time as your relationship to fans and consumers changes.”

Narrative Mechanics:
How to Design and Deploy Strategy for Arts Marketing Success
Saturday April 4th, 2015; 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Location: Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), 511 NW Broadway, Portland, OR 97209
Cost: $30

Joshua Ferris | All literary art is basically the art of perspective

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We invited author Joshua Ferris to a party at my house, to talk about his novels and share ideas about how stories get made.

Each party guest brought a unique perspective on narrative mechanics. Among us: an illustrator, a publisher, a biographer, a teacher, a playwright, a recording engineer, a creative director, a magazine editor, an actor, and a consumer experience designer.

We put a wireless mic on Josh as soon as he arrived.

People mostly hung out in the kitchen, as people at parties will. Lisa and Michael roamed inside and out, shooting on Canon DSLRs.

My friend since middle school tended bar. (Thanks, Vitz.)

We drank and mingled. For a while, everybody gathered in the living room to talk as a group. And then before that could get old, we disassembled to drink and mingle some more.

Josh’s most recent novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The paperback edition hits stores on March 10.

Voices of Oregon Culture: Meet Gary, Nathan, Anne-Marie, and More

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The Oregon Cultural Trust supports arts, heritage and humanities nonprofits across the state of Oregon. And the Trust itself is funded by a unique tax credit: Donate to any of more than 1400 qualifying nonprofits by the end of the year, make a matching donation to the Trust, and receive the whole match back on your taxes.

If you’re not convinced, just take a look at these videos Sheepscot made to showcase some of the worthy nonprofits supported by the Trust, including Oregon Humanities and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

To see more videos in our Voices of Oregon Culture series, visit the Oregon Cultural Trust’s website.

Design Week Portland: “Our Architectural Narrative”

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The crowd and panelists

On Tuesday, October 7th at Mississippi Studios, Sheepscot Creative invited five panelists from Portland’s design, planning, and preservation communities to discuss our city’s architectural narrative. The conversation covered tremendous ground, but it revolved around one central question: What do the buildings we choose to construct, inhabit, restore, and demolish tell the world about us?

The panel was moderated by Sheepscot’s president, Dave Weich, and featured Joe Zehnder, chief planner at the City of Portland; Reiko Hillyer, assistant professor of history at Lewis & Clark college; Peggy Moretti, executive director of Restore Oregon; David Staczek, principal at ZGF Architects; and Portlandia production designer Tyler Robinson. (For more details on our guests, see “Meet the Panelists.”) More than 100 people turned out for the event, which also featured a reading from Live Wire head writer Courtenay Hameister and music from’s DJ Bobby D.

Portland Past Present Future: Our Architectural Narrative was a 2104 Design Week Portland event sponsored by

Event sandwich board

• Download an edited transcript of the conversation, or view the whole thing here.

• View a photo gallery of stills from the event.

• Read preview coverage from Portland Monthly and the Portland Business Journal.

• Listen to the complete audio recording on SoundCloud:

Show us your Portland, Portland

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What building—existing or long-since demolished—says ‘Portland’ to you?

Post a photo or a few short sentences in the comments section below. Everyone who posts (including you!) will be eligible to win one of two $30 gift certificates to Mississippi Studios. We’ll pick and announce winners on October 4th.

What got us thinking about Portland buildings? On October 7th, we’re joining Design Week Portland and to host Portland Past Present Future: Our Architectural Narrative.

See what we have planned and click for tickets.

Cultural Trust Donations on the Rise

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Up! Up! Up with clients! We’re positively thrilled about the Oregon Cultural Trust’s 2013 fundraising results: a 25% increase over 2012 through the Willamette Week Give!Guide, with a $100,000 increase in giving on the last day of the year alone! Plus almost 1,000 new Facebook likes.

Here’s one, extra large (48-feet wide, to be exact) element of our campaign: the billboard we designed using Holly Andres’ photograph of Cheryl Strayed from our work with Holly in 2012. It spent six weeks at two locations in downtown Portland.

Read all about it in the Cultural Trust’s eNews.

Advice on Digital Communications from the 2013 Oregon Arts Summit

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At Monday’s Oregon Arts Summit, I participated in a panel called “Media, Community, and Conversation,” which focused on “reliable, flexible tools for creating meaningful engagement, expanding dialogue, and generating enthusiasm for arts programming.” Here’s the original script of my presentation. (Special thanks to Portland Emerging Arts Leaders for the invitation.)
Today I want to talk about how your digital strategy should emerge naturally from organization’s objectives.

I’ll start by giving a simple example from our recent work.

In designing a new website for the Oregon Arts Commission, as we discussed their goals and reviewed content on the site we’d be replacing, we discovered that a simple, evocative description of their work and impact remained conspicuously absent. A typical user is unlikely to download a PDF and dig through your strategic plan; nor should they need to. And yet it’s vitally important that people know why you exist and what difference you make in the community.

We wanted to make this information as easy as possible to digest, so our team created a very short (48-seconds), animated infographic to do the job.

That’s really all I want to say about our work with the Arts Commission for now. Just that example.

Start with your objectives. Ask, How can digital tools serve them? Not, How can we have a Facebook presence? Don’t just decide, We should really be on Twitter. The question is: What new opportunities do these tools present that could help us achieve our mission?

“Digital” is your website. It’s your newsletter and blog. It’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. It’sFoursquare and it’s Yelp. It’s iTunes, Kindle, Google and Bing. It’s every app you haven’t yet heard of because you only have so much time in the day, right? Vivino—do you know Vivino yet? It’s likeShazaam for wine: You snap a picture of the label on a bottle, Vivino recognizes what wine you’re drinking. You get ratings and prices and comments from other users; if you choose, you can contribute to those comment threads, or you can simply save your ratings and your tasting notes privately so that next time you’re dumbfounded in the wine aisle of Fred Meyer in an instant you can retrieve the name of that Montepulciano you loved but can’t remember.

“Digital” is also the platforms and more broadly the technologies that no one’s thought of yet. Maybe some kid who’s learning about creativity at one of your workshops or in one of your audiences will imagine one into reality someday; there are boys and girls out there today who twenty years from now are going to be on the cover of Wired, for who knows what inconceivable expansion of what we now know to be possible, some technology that soon enough we’ll take for granted, such as, for example, carrying a phone, a camera, a notebook, a calculator, an atlas, a jukebox, a set of encyclopedias, a newsstand, a movie theater, and, yes, a wine steward in your purse or the pocket of your jeans.

The point being: More and more, like it or not, “digital” describes a state in which your audiences and funders spend much of their lives. Think, yourself, of the hours in your typical day, from when you wake up until you go bed. How many of your hours pass without either sharing or consuming some form of digital communication? Think about it. You checked your email or the weather or last night’s scores; you texted your spouse or your son; you snuck in a few minutes of Words with Friends. Now think about your organization and your goals for building not just audiences but communities. Pretty much every hour of the day, potentially, you have access to them. The New York Times this morning referred to contemporary American culture as “an always-on society.”

There’s tremendous competition for your audiences’ time, that’s true.

To be successful, you will have to make yourselves vulnerable. And you will have take risks. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the secrets to healthy digital relationships are not altogether different from the secrets to healthy face-to-face relationships: Have empathy. Give of yourself. Don’t make it all about you. Dare I say, love freely.

So, back to the beginning: What are your objectives?

Now, consider: What resources do you have? Potential funding or partnerships…staff members with a jones for this stuff. It’s possible—I would argue it’s even likely—that one or two impassioned staff members who thrive on digital communication will achieve more in a fraction of the time of a full-time hire who doesn’t naturally inhabit digital worlds.

Give them structure. Set purposeful, measurable goals. Empower them. Encourage the occasional failure. And then harness the creativity and dedication in your organization to apply these tools and technologies toward your success.