Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Yikes! Drug Co. Wrote Its Own “Independent Doctor Reports”

If you see my pulse racing and my heart pounding, it’s not because I ran up a mountain.. It’s not because I took medication and this was a side effect.

It’s because the New York Times reports that drug companies routinely write their own research studies on new drugs, and then find prestigious doctors to sign them

“It almost calls into question all legitimate research that’s been conducted by the pharmaceutical industry with the academic physician,” said Dr. Ross, whose article, written with colleagues, was published Wednesday in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. and posted Tuesday on the journal’s Web site.

Oh yes, and the red flag was a study on Merck’s now-discredited drug Vioxx.

Gasp. Cough. Splutter.

Now–some disclosure before anyone accuses me of being a hypocrite: I don’t object to ghostwriting in principle. As a commercial writer-for-hire, I have seen my stuff go out under other people’s names many times, even on the cover of a book. Ironically enough, one of those was a bylined article in the New York Times that cribbed heavily from a press release I had written several years earlier for a client. I don’t see that as much different from having an accountant prepare my tax return.

But I see a fundamental difference between helping a client be a more effective marketer by writing stuff for the client to use as if it were his or her own, and putting together the research material that the government and the public use to determine if a new drug is safe. And the latter strikes me, at least, as definitely over the line.

I poked around and located the original JAMA article, which you can click to read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tibet: Is the Media Showing the Truth?

Here’s a website that shows falsely captioned photos as well as photos cropped in such a way as to completely change their meaning. The topic is the violence in Tibet–but according to this site, many of the pictures are actually from India or Nepal, or show things other than the Chinese anti-Tibet violence that they purport to.

Let me state my biases upfront:

• I am a supporter of the Free Tibet movement, and have been so since 1978 when I learned about Chinese repression there
• I have been increasingly aware of what appears to be a disinformation campaign by the Chinese government to discredit the Free Tibet movement–and I recognize the possibility that this website could be part of that disinformation campaign
• I attended a speech by the Dalai Lama in 1982, and in 1993 my wife and I hosted a young Tibetan woman for over a year, as part of the Tibetan Refugee Resettlement Project

Still, even as a supporter of Tibetan freedom, I am appalled to see this apparent media distortion, even though it helps “my side.”

I’m no photo expert, and it’s possible that this site is offering Photoshopped doctoring of its own, or is mislabeling the pictures. But my gut tells me the captions on this website are accurate, and that the mainstream media in the US, Germany, France, Asia, and UK have run photos that claim to show one thing and actually show something completely different. It’s not the first time this has happened; one prominent example in the relatively recent past is the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad–made to look like a huge an enthusiastic, locally originated event that was actually staged by US Marines in front of a small crowd that may have been comprised primarily of supporters of the discredited Ahmed Chalabi.

Which does make me wonder whether the CIA or similar organizations have their fingers in this apparent distortion of the Tibet reportage, and wonder who has been feeding the media these islabeled or cropped-to-distortion images.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Scandal Hits Travel Guidebook Industry

Those who travel frequently know that different guidebook brands cater to different tastes. If you want American-style hotels and restaurants and don’t mind paying well for them, pick up Fodor. If you don’t mind sweeping off the bugs before you roll out your sleeping bag on a hard youth hostel bench, grab Let’s Go. If you’re on a low but not rock-bottom budget and you want some degree of comfort but nothing fancy, that’s Frommer.

And then there are three major guidebook series for adventure travelers, focusing the experience on offbeat experiences most tourists will never see: Moon, Rough Guides, and Lonely Planet.

Now comes a report of a major scandal at Lonely Planet: Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reports that one of its most published writers, Thomas Kohnstamm, not only violated the company’s firm (and understandable) policy of not accepting comps (freebies from hospitality and tourism organizations seeking good coverage)–but worse, he did his Colombia guidebook from the comfort of San Francisco:

“They didn’t pay me enough to go Colombia,” he said.

“I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian Consulate.

This same writer is quoted in a New York Times article on the lives of guidebook writers that one of his highlights last year was going “out partying in Bogotá and met a lot of cool people. It can be kind of addictive.”

Which Thomas Kohnstamm should we believe?

The International Herald Tribune issued a strong denial by Lonely Planet, which turns out to be majority-owned by the BBC.

And it turns out Kohnstamm was not assigned to the part of the Colombia guidebook that requires in-person visits. Lonely Plant Publisher Piers Picard…

called that claim “disingenuous” because he was hired to write about the country’s history, not to travel there to review accommodation and restaurants. That work was done by two other authors.

As a journalist, I can tell you that it is thoroughly possible to do a very good story of that sort without setting foot in a place. Phone or e-mail interviews and some research with validated sources can be plenty.

So why did Kohnstamm claim in the NY Times article that he was partying in Colombia’s capital? What are his real reasons for dragging his own name through the mud in order to apparently discredit Lonely Planet?

Friday, April 11, 2008

McCain Lies, Misses Votes; Cheney, Rice Tied to Torture Policy

If McCain is an example of “straight talk,” I shudder to think of what the crooked guys look like.

Here’s another lie and amplification of what it means. According to Cliff Schecter on AlterNet, McCain’s official calendar had him missing a key vote on the neocon agenda because he was in California–BUT he managed to show up for 15 other votes of lesser importance that day.

Schecter writes,

According to the Washington Post database tracking Senate “vote missers,” McCain had missed a whopping 261 of 468 votes, or almost 56 percent, by March 2008. McCain is understandably busy running for president — and all the candidates running for that highest of offices in 2008 have shown a poor record in showing up for votes. But number of votes missed is one thing; which votes you miss is another. McCain the maverick has missed votes in a way that betrays a calculated strategy: namely, to avoid going on the record when doing so would be politically risky.

Not exactly a “profile in courage”–or integrity.

Meanwhile, in the we-knew-that-already department, for the first time, the mainstream media has clearly delivered the link between torture policies and the highest levels of government. Here’s the AP story directly linking Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice to the torture policies, expressed in a way that made even John Ashcroft (who was present, as was Colin Powell) uncomfortable.

And just what does it take to get our spineless Congressional leadership to get off the dime and start impeachment procedings?

Monday, April 07, 2008

OK, Who’s Got the Deceptive Ad Here?

Patrick Byers over at the Responsible Marketing blog has a post today comparing TV ads from the Indoor Tanning Association and the American Association of Dermatology. You can view the ads and vote for which you find more believable.

Here’s what I wrote in his comment field:

What I find really disingenuous about the trade assn. ad is they say sunlight has these benefits (which it does), but then they say, go use a tanning bad–where’s the Vitamin D in that?

And the idea of a conspiracy with sunscreen manufacturers is just ludicrous.

My sister married a dermatologist, and her whole family is always well-armored when they go out. Me, I try to get out in the sun, but I live in New England. If I’m in a tropical clime or going to be out for many hours, I generally wear at least a hat and maybe a little sunscreen.

Tanning beds? I always assumed they’d have bad health consequences, and have never tried one–nor will I.

What do you think?

Martin Luther King’s Deeper Legacy

Great tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. in an Op-Ed by Taylor Branch in today’s New York Times. The article goes waaaaay beyond the standard establishment tributes, and even the progressive pieces that recognize the unity of his call to end racial injustice and his call to end the Vietnam war.

I particularly love these two paragraphs–not in any way to trivialize the struggle of blacks, but to clearly show how many other social movements (including the environmental movement, which Branch doesn’t mention) drew strength, inspiration, and tactics from King and the Civil Rights movement generally:

Dr. King said the movement would liberate not only segregated black people but also the white South. Surely this is true. You never heard of the Sun Belt when the South was segregated. The movement spread prosperity in a region previously unfit even for professional sports teams. My mayor in Atlanta during the civil rights era, Ivan Allen Jr., said that as soon as the civil rights bill was signed in 1964, we built a baseball stadium on land we didn’t own, with money we didn’t have, for a team we hadn’t found, and quickly lured the Milwaukee Braves. Miami organized a football team called the Dolphins.

The movement also de-stigmatized white Southern politics, creating two-party competition. It opened doors for the disabled, and began to lift fear from homosexuals before the modern notion of “gay” was in use. Not for 2,000 years of rabbinic Judaism had there been much thought of female rabbis, but the first ordination took place soon after the movement shed its fresh light on the meaning of equal souls. Now we think nothing of female rabbis and cantors and, yes, female Episcopal priests and bishops, with their colleagues of every background. Parents now take for granted opportunities their children inherit from the Montgomery bus boycott.

King was still alive when I started, before I even reached my teens, exploring nonviolent social change. Over and over again, I found evidence that nonviolent mass movements are far more likely than armed struggle to create lasting, powerful social progress, and that the revolutions achieved nonviolently are much harder to corrupt (not impossible, as we saw under Indira Gandhi)–and yes, organized mass nonviolence can even work against brutal dictatorships. Some of the most effective resistance to the Nazis was through nonviolence, including (but far from limited to) the famous heroic defiance of the King of Denmark after he surrendered his country, riding his horse through the streets of Copenhagen with a yellow star pinned to his clothing in solidarity with the Jews–and inspiring his Danes to save thousands of Jewish lives with a clandestine boatlift to neutral Sweden. And of course there was the massive nonviolent revolt led my M.K. Gandhi against the brutal British colonial regime in India.

In our own time, we’ve seen nonviolence achieve miracles, not only in the US Civil Rights struggle, but also, to name a few examples,

• Solidarity driving the Communists from power in Poland
• Safe energy activists at Seabrook (I was there!) and around the country making it politically impossible to build more nuclear power plants for the next three decades (we might have to fight that one again, I’m afraid)
• The end of apartheid in South Africa, in a struggle that was largely nonviolent (contrast that with Zimbabwe, where the “freedom fighter” Robert Mugabe turned out to be every bit as much a dictatorial thug as Ian Smith had been)

I totally agree with Branch that many of the social movements of the last four years would have been much harder to envision and carry out had it not been for the Civil Rights movement. That movement inspired us not to take injustice lying down, and showed us tools to fight for justice that maintained our dignity, that needed no weapons or weapons training, and that created long-lasting change. Labor, environmentalists, feminists, and poor people’s movements are just some of the many who have learned from Dr. King and his movement.

For more on effective nonviolent organizing, I strongly recommend the works of Gene Sharp. I read the three-volume The Politics of Nonviolent Action more than 25 years ago, and it still left an impresion on me. Not an easy read, but incredibly wrthwhile.

And meanwhile, I’ll have to put Taylor Branch’s 3-part history of the Civil Rights movement, Parting the Waters/Pillar of Fire/At Canaan’s Edge, on my reading list.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Writing & Publishing Orgs Line Up to Condemn Amazon’s Bullying

In the last couple of days, quite a number of “players” in the world of publishing have taken a stand against Amazon’s completely unreasonable demand that digital publishers use their digital printer.

Among those lining up: PMA (formerly known as Publishers Marketing Association, in the process of rebranding as Independent Book Publishers Association–the statement doesn’t seem to be on their website as yet), SPAN (Small Publishers of North America)–in a wonderful more-with-honey-than-with-vinegar letter by Scott Flora, and the Authors Guild, in a very strongly worded statement. I expect my own union, National Writers Union, to join the fray,but haven’t seen a statement yet.

PMA’s Terry Nathan said,

On behalf of all the small and independent publishers whose businesses are in jeopardy, we urge Amazon to reconsider its position. Over the years, Jeff Bezos and his company have given small and independent publishers a level playing field to compete with the largest of companies. Suddenly, this magnificent playing field has been converted into a ‘members only’ club, to the detriment of those very publishers who have contributed to Amazon’s success. We will continue to monitor developments in the weeks ahead.

The company with the most to lose in this brouhaha, Lightning Source, a/k/a LSI, also had a statement. Here’s a piece of it:

Lightning Source has been following the recent press coverage and discussions about
and BookSurge. We are aware of the concern this is causing the publishing community. The issue centers around tying the availability of your books and terms of sale at to the production of books at the subsidiary BookSurge, specifically requiring you to use BookSurge in order to sell on Amazon.

Like you, we are very concerned about any conduct that would serve to limit a publishers choice in supply chain partners and to negatively impact the cost of your products to consumers. We believe that choice and selection of best of class services are critical to the long term success of publishers and a vibrant book market.

Lightning Source continues to provide the highest quality digital on demand print and distribution services for every one of our customers. All your titles continue to be available to all of our channel partners, including, with immediate availability for shipment within 24 hours.

Oh, and here’s the letter I personally wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos:

Dear Mr. Bezos:

As a publisher, an affiliate, an author, a client of Infinity, and a customer, and as someone who devotes an entire chapter in my seventh book, Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers to working with Amazon, I am deeply distressed by your decision to channel all digital-printed books through Booksurge. I believe this is both restraint of trade and an undue burden on your publisher vendors.

Please reconsider a move that will tarnish Amazon’s brand:
Severely impact your long-held brand promise of “Earth’s largest selection”
Create an unfriendly reputation among tens of thousands of authors who have chosen subsidy publishing
Diminish Amazon’s standing as the place of first resort for resources along the middle and end of the “long tail”
Encourage customers, affiliates, and vendors to defect

Unless I receive a response that you are changing your policy no later than April 15, I will be directing my assistant to remove all affiliate links to from our nine websites, and replace them with links to and/or BookSense. As someone who writes about business ethics, I cannot in good conscience stand by idly while you do this.

I will also do my best to disseminate my appeal through the publishing community.

In sadness,
Shel Horowitz - 413-586-2388
–>Join the Business Ethics Pledge - Ten Years to Change the World,
One Signature at a Time (please tell your friends)

Marketing consulting * copywriting * publishing assistance * speaking

Amazon’s response is being widely distributed under the names of several different staffers, and which in my mind is more than a little disingenuous (see the Author’s Guild statement, above, for more believable motivations). My copy was signed by Jennifer Bledsoe.

Let’s hope all these statements will help the “swing votes” among the subsidy houses (who are the first to lose their buy buttons if they don’t kowtow) enough spine to resist this.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pentagon, Keep Your Dirty Hands Off My Blog! Bloggers, Unite!

Demcoracy Now reports on a particularly nasty initiative to hack into bloggers. Here’s the full report:

Military Considers Recruiting & Hiring Bloggers

In media news, new questions are being raised over the relationship between the Pentagon and bloggers. has uncovered a 2006 study written for the U.S. Special Operations Command that suggests the military should clandestinely recruit or hire prominent bloggers. The report stated “Hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering.” The report also suggested the Pentagon hack blogs that promote messages that are antithetical to U.S. interests. The report went on to say: “Hacking the site and subtly changing the messages and data—merely a few words or phrases—may be sufficient to begin destroying the blogger’s credibility with the audience. “

At first I thought it might be an April Fool’s joke, especially when a Google search for pentagon blogging hack didn’t turn up anything useful. But I traced back the quote to its authors, James Kinniburgh and Dorothy Denning, and from there easily located the source document. It’s right there, on page 35.

Is this what we’re paying our tax dollars to fund? For the government to go into our blogs and twist our words for their own purposes? Is this why the founders of our country incorporated the First Amendment? Does anyone else remember what George Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith did for a living in the totalitarian 1984? He rewrote published newspapers to parrot the government’s current line, working in the “Ministry of Truth”

Bloggers–do NOT stand for this! If I find they’ve been int my blog, I’ll be on the phone with the ACLU and the National Writers Union immediately.

Once again, this administration is using 1984 as a playbook. It’s time to say NO.

PS–to bloggers thinking about taking the Pentagon’s pay for placing soft stories, all I can say is…DONT. The blogosphere is all about credibility; this would kill yours faster than you can say “Armstrong Williams.”

Bloggers need to protest en masse, and make it clear that we will not stand for this.

Ethical Products “Recession-Proof”

Ethical Corporation magazine, a UK offering that’s always interesting, has a wonderful cheery article on ethical corporations will fare better in a recession.

This echoes many of the sentiments I discuss in my own award-winning sixth book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First– –that when you establish customer loyalty based on ethics and sustainability, those customers will give you the benefit of the doubt.

For those who buy on energy efficiency, the higher prices will not be a deterrent compared to long-term savings. And those who seek out fairly traded goods,

Jim Hawker, spokesman for green insurance group IBuyEco, goes as far as to say: “Ethical brands are recession-proof – they are perceived as luxury consumer goods, targeted at a niche market that will be less affected by the credit constraints of a recession.”

In fact, the opportunity is growing, they say–and here’s a conclusion I personally haven’t seen articulated before (and fully support):

According to research by the Climate Group, consumers not only expect leading brands to have strategies in place to tackle climate change issues, but also expect these brands to help consumers develop their own strategies, via the choice of products and services made available to them.

For the companies responding to this demand, it is an exercise in brand building.

I believe this is very much true, and smart companies have been educating their consumers on social issues as they relate to product choices for decades. But I haven’t seen anyone talk about this from a brand-building point of view before, nor have I seen the argument that consumers increasingly rely on these companies to provide that education.

Ken McArthur’s Grand Viral Marketing Experiment

For years, I’ve been a proponent of viral marketing; as one among may examples, it’s the main tool I’ve used to gain support for the Business Ethics Pledge.

One of the best viral marketers I know is Ken McArthur, known for his joint-venture Internet marketing conferences. I met Ken several years ago at one of Fred Gleeck’s book marketing conferences, and then again a few years later at Mark Victor Hansen’s book marketing conference. We’ve stayed in touch. And since meeting him, Ive noticed that he crops up absolutely everywhere.

Yet even though he’s obviously been gong to book marketing conferences for years, he didn’t have a book. Now, he’s finally about to release IMPACT: How to Get Noticed, Motivate Millions and Make a Difference in a Noisy World (yes, its an affiliate link). I’ve been one of his many informal advisors, and even commented to him a few months ago that I also have a book title that ends with “in a Noisy World” (Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, published in 2000 by Chelsea Green

Frugal marketing genius that he is, Ken wouldn’t be content with an ordinary book launch–so he created one of the most powerful viral marketing ideas I’ve ever seen. I wish I’d thought of it.

You know the concept of internships: students donate labor in exchange for training. Ken has taken this to an extreme: he recruited over 100 people to be his unpaid Internet marketing corps, in exchange for learning all his tricks via a series of conference calls. What a perfect example of the Abundance Principle at work! The six-week program started tonight.

I decided that one of my contributions to the effort would be to chronicle it here. So thus, my key takeaways from call #1:

• 100 people can have a huge impact in a number of ways, for example all contacting the same key influencer, or divvying up John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Book (fewer than 10 ideas per participant)
• Not only are affiliate commissions an effective motivator, but you can motivate your affiliates further by making the deal open-ended. When people sign up for Ken’s affiliate program, they will not only earn a couple of bucks on the book, but also on all sorts of backend products from now to eternity–products that will pay many times better than the book sale.
• Ken is providing tasks and thus not only training others but outsourcing the ground work. He asked participants to generate lists of key contacts, blogs, forums, and potential joint venture partners.

This is an easy one for me, as I know a lot of people in the independent publishing sector. Except that I can’t really separate influencers from JV partners. But because what he’s doing is newsworthy in the publishing world and in the Internet marketing world, I have a number of people I could approach to let them know about what’s going on, including John Kremer, Dan Poynter, Fern Reiss, Patricia Frey, and Joan Stewart–all very big names in the world he’s trying to reach.

Ken being Ken, he makes it quite worthwhile to visit his site, offering a truckload of quality resources just for dropping by.

Is this your chance to learn from a master launcher, without paying thousands of dollars for a product? I think it might just be.