Archive for December 14, 2012

Fun with Numbers 12-12-12 edition

The promotion that I ran with Amazon (Kindle version available to download free any time on December 12, 2012) has just ended, and being the web metrics geek that I am, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the results.

First of all, a big Thank You! to all those who helped.

There were lots of emails, Facebook posts, Google Plus shares and Tweets flying around yesterday.  Lots of people heard about Giving Back for the first time, and lots of them were moved to take action and download the book.

I view the promotion as a big success.  According to Amazon’s stats, 673 copies were downloaded during the 24 hour period.

That’s about twice as many people as had the book before, (the existing base was mostly print, only a handful of digital copies), bringing the total to more than 1,000.  If you’re running the math on the financial attractiveness of writing a book, my advice is to keep your day job.  🙂

Amazon doesn’t provide a lot of stats about where the “Kindle Direct Publishing” purchases come from, so I’ll make some guesses.  Most people who tweeted, created Facebook posts or forwarded an email used the link that I provided ( which encoded my affiliate tag.  From the Amazon Associates report, I can tell there were 664 clicks on that link on 12/12/12.  I’d assume the conversion rate from “looking at the product page” to “downloading the Free Kindle version” was pretty high, so I think that the affiliate tagged links count for a large fraction (80%+) of all the buyers.

Some of the chronological highlights of the day

But that doesn’t give adequate credit to the people who wrote Facebook posts (13 that I’m aware of), commented on, shared or liked those posts (about 20), liked the Giving Back Facebook page (18 new people yesterday), tweeted or re-tweeted (15 or so), or the 2 Google Plus posts and 2 more shares and 3 posts on Amazon.

In addition to the Kindle downloads, 4 people bought paperback copies.  That may not sound like much, but for me, it’s a big day (like I said, keep your day job.)

The other exciting thing was seeing my book climb the ranks.  That’s one thing that Amazon does very well.  They segment their catalog at a granularity that books can fairly easily rank in *some* category.  My print version lands in the “Books > Business & Investing > Jobs & Careers > Volunteer Work” category, and while I don’t know the full formula, the 4 copies I sold on the 12th were enough to push me up to #16 in the ranking, which will decay over time probably dropping me out of the Top 100 by the end of the day tomorrow (of course, if I sell more copies, I could climb rather than fall….[Wow!  That happened!  3 more copies early on the 13th carried me all the way to #4, though now on the way back down.])

The digital version appears in two categories:

Non-fiction > Advice & How To > Parenting > Family Activities

Non-fiction > Business & Investing > Professions & Industries > Non-Profit Organization & Charities

Amazon tracks “Free” Kindle content separately from “Paid” Kindle content, with Top 100 ranking lists for both types in all of the categories and sub-categories.  So, as the promotion ended, and my content changed from “Free” back to “Paid”, all of the standing I’d built up in the rankings disappeared.  (Presumably, it would return, although be decayed, if I made the content free again.)  Anyway, the top rankings that I received in each category (again, Kindle Free content only) were:

  • Non-Profit Organizations & Charities:  #1
  • Professions and Industries:  #1
  • Family Activities:  #3
  • Parenting:  #6
  • Business & Investing:  #8
  • Advice & How To:  #26
  • Non-Fiction:  Not Ranked.  I never quite made it to the top #100, but I must have been close.  When I was #8 in Business & Investing, the #6 book was #97 in Non-fiction.  So, I’m pretty sure I was in the Top 150.  Plus, if you look at the “Non-fiction” category, a bunch of the top entries are actually fiction.
  • Overall:  #398

For those of you who were around for the “Flash Mob” print-book launch back in August, these results were better, with 20 copies sold at that virtual event.  I sent this invitation to a larger group, and was more intentional about asking people to share it.  And, hey, a free Kindle version is something that’s easier to pass along to a friend or acquaintance than a suggestion to buy an $18 paperback….

I was also surprised/impressed with the amount of free Kindle content that seemed interesting.      See for example, The Top 100 Non-Fiction “best-sellers”.

Finally, I’ll note that promoting the give-away was a good excuse to get back in touch with some friends I hadn’t heard from in years, so that was another great benefit!

[The Facebook page stats are on a longer latency, and I’m still waiting for them to come in.  I’ll perhaps add a bit more color for reach and virality when Facebook provides the information.]


Microfinance in the Philippines

I had a question from a friend and former co-worker about how her family in the Philippines might get involved in microcredit. Here’s my response:

Background information on Microfinance in the Philippines

You can learn more about the overall situation in the Philippines from country level reports from either:

MIX Market’s Country report for the Philippines (with country level stats, and a listing of known microfinance institutions with their number of borrowers and loans outstanding).  The Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX Market) is my go-to source for industry level stats.  It’s self-reported data from the MFI’s, but has the broadest coverage I’m aware of.

Opportunity International’s Philippines presence has a strong presence in the Philippines, they started working there in 1981, and now have nearly 3/4 of a million borrowers in their network (about 1/4 of all the borrowers, according to the MIX report).

Funding Loans in the Philippines

Different organizations let you have a direct connection with “your” borrower (in most cases, the borrowers have already received loans, and you are funding them retroactively, allowing the MFI to free its capital to make another loan…), they differ in what you get back.  All provide the satisfaction of knowing you helped another person in need.

Nothing Back (a 100% tax-deductible donation)

Opportunity International lets you fund loans to individuals in the Philippines (and elsewhere) through their “Fund a Loan” program. ($10 minimum)

Josefina Yabut, an Opportunity International borrower who sells school supplies

Principal Back, but no interest lets you choose individuals who will get your money, and you receive repayments from them (through Kiva) as the loan is re-paid.  (There is risk of losing your principal if the borrowers default.)  You can cash out (get a check back from Kiva) or re-cycle your money into another loan.   Right now (December 8, 2012), they’re “fully funded” with no loans that need funding on their site.  (Congratulations!)

Principal Back, plus interest (1-2% typically)

Microplace also offers the ability to choose your borrower, but here, you receive a portion of the interest paid as well as the return of your principal (again, assuming no default).  Microplace has a different set of offerings based on which state you live in (not all of the investments have been approved for all of the states), and you can choose by country, so their current listing for the Philippines (link might not work for you…  Apply Geographic Filter for Southeast Asia, and then Philippines)  is an OikoCredit loan for 1 year offering 1% interest.  This loan appears to cover many different countries, it’s not clear if your money would definitely be going to the Philippines.

Mid-Peninsula Global Coolers initial meeting

I attended the first organizing/exploratory meeting today of a group concerned about climate change, convened by First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto.  The meeting sprung out of the showing of Bill McKibben’s movie/discussion, which many of the attendees had also viewed.  (See my blog post on Climate Change and Big Carbon for a summary and analysis.)

A few reactions to today’s meeting:

  1. The focus on Divestiture (from Big Oil) companies, suggested by McKibbens’ group was divisive.  Some people were in favor, some felt that it was better to be activist shareholders.  Some thought that it would be too hard to achieve, some thought that even if it were achieved, it wouldn’t impact the behavior of the oil companies.  Some worried about the impact it would have on school endowments or pension funds.  Some felt that personal divestiture was too small to be relevant, but a surprising number of people seemed prepared to take personal action.

  3. Information sharing:  A good chunk of the meeting was spent on sharing what other organizations are already in operation (locally), and what resources they have.  There was more discussion about how to appropriately share information from this meeting (and continue to collaborate in an online, distributed fashion, as well as in real life).  I took the first part as a sign that the climate change fighters are still pretty fragmented, without a clear “go-to” repository for the information.  I took the second part to guess that we’re probably still 12-24 months behind where all of the online support for groups stuff will “just work”.  Google Groups ended up being the tool of choice, and this was probably a less than average tech savvy group from Silicon Valley, but average or better given the country at large.

  5. Personal responsibility vs. having other people do it:  Even in this group of activists, (albeit more aging activists than young ones–someone jokingly said we should call the group “Fossils against Fossil Fuels”) there was still a mix of personal responsibility and personal avoidance.  Aside from the recent Leaf buyer, there wasn’t a lot of talk about making personal reductions in air travel, car trips, or personal/home energy usage.  There were a couple of instances where work was neatly dodged (assigned to someone not in the room, or nearly dropped).  There was the hope/expectation that the younger generation (not really represented in the room) would be more active in the front lines.

  7.  Under-appreciated good ideas:Sven, the Leaf Buyer, had a nice idea that I thought was PR genius:  with the North Pole ice-free during the summer (coming soon!) where will Santa live?

    Vanessa raised what I thought was the most hopeful point of the day, though I think she stopped short of its conclusion:  The cost (per KWH) of carbon-based energy is continuing to rise (although US-based fracking may put the rise on hold for a while…) while the cost of alternative-based energy is falling.  After they cross, why would people buy “dirty” energy?  I guess I view this as the best plan:  move as fast as we can to make alternatives as cheap as we can, making carbon-based fuel uneconomic. Perhaps lobby to also make carbon-based more expensive with a CO2 emission tax to hasten the crossing point.


  9. Energy independence for the US:  Given that people in the room were also (generally) dedicated peace advocates, there was excitement behind the prospect that we could end our reliance on foreign oil, and the meddling in the affairs of the Middle East, and reliance on military might and a trillion dollar defense budget.  That sounded good, but if it did so at the cost of staying on the petroleum-based energy infrastructure, is it a sufficient win?



My take on Divestiture

I’m of the opinion that we should not bother wasting time/political capital on divestiture.  Big Oil is such a huge part of our economy, and of the market indices, you’d need to target not only direct holdings, but also indexed funds, and create an alternative index fund (“ex-Oil”) that got a lot of traction.  Vanguard, the largest shareholder has $20B of XOM, just under 5% of the outstanding shares.  So, even if the largest share holder (which would have to move all of its account holders to this hypothetical market index ex-oil fund) assigned a value of $0 to its holdings (and somehow created poisoned shares that couldn’t be traded, and didn’t increase the value of the remaining shares), it would probably only cut 5% of the value of the company, which would be unfortunate, but probably not game-changing for XOM.

I share the opinion that divestiture wouldn’t really impact company behavior.  A really successful divestiture movement might drive stock price down 20% (destroying $80B of shareholder value in Exxon-Mobil alone…) but macroeconomic conditions might do the same thing, and we wouldn’t really expect XOM to do anything (behave differently). Given the level of profitability, I assume that they’re not really dependent on sale of stock to fund operations or service debt.  Perhaps management and officers of the company would be influenced by the stock price impact that would harm options-based compensation?  Maybe, but I’d cynically bet that the board would let them off the hook, re-price options saying it’s “not their fault”.

People aren’t really ready to boycott petroleum.  On a personal level, the petroleum needed for car and airplane fuel, especially, is just too much a part of our life to imagine doing without.  On a national level, we can’t seem to reach an agreement to cut usage of the rich countries, and can’t find common moral ground to insist poor countries stop short of the energy-intensity required to create products and lifestyles to rival what we have.

What *do* I recommend?

  1. Investment in alternatives, and diffusing them as quickly as possible.  Make carbon-based fuel uneconomical. Redirect Big Oil subsidies into alternatives.
  2. Taxation on carbon emissions.  A cap-and-trade system like the one which recently went live in California.
  3. Measures to limit global population growth.  Access to good family planning resources in the US and the developing world.  Reduction in child mortality to reduce family sizes.
  4. Start planning climate change mitigation strategies.  I’m not ready to try geoengineering (too easy to have unintended consequences), but maybe trying to keep cities farther away from the coast, plan where the best farmland is likely to be, encourage a vegetarian diet, etc.
  5. Making personal commitments to use energy more efficiently and stay informed of the situation.