Archive for the ‘Business strategy’ Category

Open email to Amazon

September 7, 2011

Here’s the text of an email I sent to Amazon‘s customer services, about my last-minute decision NOT to buy several albums of music from the store.

Having read the terms and conditions I have decided not to make a purchase for the following reasons:
1) I don’t understand what Amazon’s “right to withdraw” software means for my MP3 download. Does it mean that I can pay for a download and Amazon can, without warning, disable the download? If so, that sounds like a rubbish deal.

2) Ownership. I understand the restrictions on retransmitting and not sharing MP3s, but the statement that I do not own the download begs the question: what exactly am I paying for if I don’t own the download?

3) Cross border restrictions: I currently live in the UK, but I have lived in other countries and I may go and live in the USA. Am I supposed to destroy my UK downloads every time I go and live in another country? What if I spend half my time in the USA and the other half in the UK? Am I not allowed to keep one set of files? Seems very inconvenient.

Consequence: I have never yet bought any downloaded music. At £0.79 a track and my likely target of 1,000 pieces, that’s about £800 of lost business for Amazon. What benefit are you getting that’s worth annoying potential customers this much?

Kind regards,
Antoine Clarke

The one where I defend Bill Gates

August 5, 2010

I believe it was Spike Milligan who once said “money can’t buy friends, but you can get a better class of enemy.” He wasn’t accounting for envy.

Until the British general election in May, which saw off a government that seemed to be trying to combine all the worst aspects of incompetent socialism with the nastier instincts of fascism (racialist immigration policies, ever more puritanical and police-intrusive legislation), the British left had a nasty, but identifiable purpose.

Now it has none.

This article in the Guardian is the sort of dog vomit one would expect to see in an Ayn Rand parody of a collectivist newsrag.

Bill Gates is big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself (and I hasten to add, has never offered me any inducements to speak his mind). I’m writing this on an old Mac because I don’t trust the first billion copies of Windows 7 to be free of bugs.

(Would a free copy of Vista be a bribe or a threat, I wonder? Pleease, nooo! I’ll say what you want, but don’t put Vista on my poor laptop, noooo!)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also has its issues for me: it’s rather more politically correct than I would like it (but hey, it’s up to me to make $30 billion and decide how I spend it, right?), and with size and leverage, comes the power to make big mistakes, rather than smaller ones.

Specifically, in a region of an African country where the Gates Foundation chooses to back a malaria project, this will tend to dwarf existing efforts to, say, distribute a vaccine for schistosomiasis (the reason I won’t take my shoes or socks off in some parts of Egypt). The concern is that in the short term, the effect will be to incite most of the health workers to sign up for Gates’ campaign. (more…)

A test for the “Wisdom of Crowds”

January 10, 2010

Tomorrow (that’s Monday, 11th January 2010), I shall be giving a talk about James Surowiecki’s excellent little book, The Wisdom of Crowds, at the Institute of Education in London, at an event organised by “the other LA.”

Given the inclement weather, the fact it’s the first meeting of the year, there’s a new venue, I only told friends about it this evening, and the problem that either the speaker or the subject might not be as exciting to others as it is to me, I consider this a good test.

If no one shows up, how can I possibly argue that crowds lack wisdom? But then if I’m right, surely lots of people will want to know more about it.

I shall be talking about markets, taxes, voting, opinion polls and fairness. There will also be a little quiz.

If you cannot (or will not!) make it, I suggest Surowiecki’s book to anyone remotely interested in psychology, economics or epistemology, or to use less fancy language: how people think, work together and acquire and use knowledge.

It’s very readable, it has only one error of reasoning in my opinion [not fair to tell yet] and the only technical flaw is the lack of an index.

[UPDATE 8 Feb 2010: The flaw mentioned above is the claim that taxpayers consent to being taxed. The missing ingredient is the extent to which coercion (actual or potential) affect one’s decision to comply with taxation or not. If the various tax authorities of the world did not have the power to drag people before courts, confiscate assets and prison sentences weren’t relatively longer than say, for stealing food, I imagine that tax revenue rates would plummet.]

2009 and all that…

January 1, 2010

Every year since 1997, I have compiled a list of 100 New Year’s resolutions, spread over such areas as my debt vs savings, reminders to keep in touch with various family members, an income target, commitments on fitness, reading, study, hobbies and travel. It’s about as personal a document as I ever produce so don’t expect me to broadcast it. I look at it roughly once a month, to keep some track of how I’m doing.

Originally, I started with 56 things I wanted to do in 1995, then a few more got added in ’96, before I found myself with a list of 97 items in 1997, at which point I thought of rounding it up.

I don’t have an easy way of getting a list of all the things I did do, and some are repeated each year, but it now stands at 218, though only nine were successes in 2009.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few definite things I wouldn’t have done without the list: flying to New York in Concorde, visiting a new country each year (Greece, Ireland, Egypt, the Netherlands, and I’m not counting years where I went to several others [e.g. Italy, the Vatican, the Czech Republic since it split from Slovakia]) and taking part in the Hastings Christmas Chess Tournament (where I won a prize).

I might never have enrolled on my MBA course in 2008 (I’d been toying with the idea for many years), would not have moved when I did in 2003 or bought a camera last May.

On the other hand, I have only once exceeded my income target, in 2003, which I hope reflects the high bar I set myself… For better or for worse, my strategic direction for the year is set with my resolutions.

Perhaps it’s me, but yesterday I found myself asking “where does the idea of New Year’s resolutions come from?” Is it modern, like Mother’s Day in France or turkey for Christmas lunch? Is it ancient, like the seven-day week?

Wikipedia was surprisingly vague on this topic, and most of the claims of antiquity are not well documented (astrologers claiming a Babylonian origin [link in French] are not entirely without an interest in talking up that culture).

The reason I doubt the ancient world as being the original source of the NY resolution custom, is that it seems too modern a preoccupation to think about “must write to mother more often” or “must go to the gym more often.”

There were Jubilee Years announced roughly four times a century by the Popes since 1300AD, which included releasing people from their debts and making pilgrimages, but the NY resolutions seem more personal, more of a form of self-development.

Fortunately, Fugitive Ink had some leads, after I’d suggested that diarists would provide a good starting point:

Possibly, though, I’d start the research slightly earlier than you would – amongst the puritan diarists of the mid-17th century, both in England and the American colonies. They were, after all, great makes of ‘resolutions’ and no slouches when it came to making self-improving promises to God.

When I first started thinking about this, I worried that such pious folk might find the secular New Year insufficiently significant to be worth much in the way of resolutions. But then I had a swift glance at Ralph Josselin’s diary. (He was an Essex clergyman, 1616-83, of broadly puritan inclination, although remaining in Anglican orders.) Look at this, from 1653:

http://linux02.lib.cam.ac.uk/earlscolne/diary/70006970.htm

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly a ‘resolution’ per se (despite the odd fact that the word ‘resolution’ occurs in the next sentence), and Josselin is always asking God to do things like that, but all the same, Josselin is evidently using the occasion to ask God to give him ‘a new holy heart’, which in some sense comes rather close to the ‘make me a better person’ end of the contemporary NYR scale, if not the ‘lose a stone’ end of it.

It strikes me therefore that there is no obvious answer to my question, but that the habit of making commitments for the coming year (whether praying for help in achieving them or not) is a reflection of the emergence of a belief in the possible redemption of Man on Earth.

If it did date from Babylonian times, and if it really had persisted through the ages, I wonder if it could be considered one of the most enduring expressions of individual self-development?

I want my sharks with sharp teeth

December 7, 2009

A discussion in the New York Times about whether a law firm should refuse to hire qualified people on the grounds that they have worked with the Federalist Society (described as an U.S. conservative-minded group). The bigot who wanted an excuse to refuse to hire people who weren’t as “liberal” as himself admitted that the candidates had all the qualities for the job, apart from sharing the same ideology with him.

Although the NY Times “Ethicist” argued that political views should not be used to discriminate the following concludes the article.

UPDATE: Believing that all the applicants were qualified, but able to hire only a few, this person recommended rejecting each member of the Federalist Society.

[HT: Instapundit]

I say: Good. I want my sharks to be mean, nasty, spiteful, ruthless, vicious, vindictive and petty. I want the people who are generous of spirit on the jury, and then only if I’m the defendant.

There is just one tiny snag. I’m not sure that a law firm that only hires people with the same viewpoint, will be as effective at avoiding groupthink and losing cases because the attorneys all agreed on a bad case strategy. I wonder how one could avoid that?

Brontosaurus mocks “endangered” elephant

June 18, 2009

According to TIME magazine: Facebook is for Old Fogies.

To which I can only comment: that’s like a brontosaurus calling an elephant “endangered.”

Hat tip: Ward Supplee‘s Twitter feed.

Oh, I almost forgot. TIME has a Facebook page (no link because some things are best left to die). I wonder if Facebook advertises in TIME. I’m guessing not.

Making the best of a bad mess?

October 26, 2008

I am not a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. I also find the claims that this is a “big club” somewhat ridiculous, as the last time that title could accurately be described was in 1961. However, as someone who is interested in businesses and the people that run them, I have to give credit where it’s due to chairman Daniel Levy.

The performance of the management of Spurs over the past summer has verged on the farcical. The person responsible for this state of affairs was Mr Levy.

However, the actions over the past few weeks, have, in retrospect been handled as effectively as I think they could have been.

First, the club had a series of games that, if keeping the team coach Juande Ramos and his assistant Gustavo Poyet (both very capable people and likely to succeed in other circumstances) was going to work, they had a chance.

First Spurs won a game on September 24, but in the useless Carling Cup (the competition the club won last season) and against Newcastle United, a club which at the time, if anything, was in an even worse state.

So at least, Mr Levy knew his coach and players could break their winning duck in the Premier League.

But then, against Portsmouth on September 28, there was a 2-0 defeat (made worse by a former player scoring the first goal).

This was followed this month by: 1-1 draw in Poland against Wisla Krakow in the UEFA Cup; defeat 0-1 at home against newly-promoted Hull City; defeat 1-2 away to Stoke City (another newbie); and defeat 0-2 away to Udinese (Italy) in the UEFA Cup.

Today, against Bolton Wanderers, a struggling team but currently above the relegation zone, was the last chance before tough matches against big rivals Arsenal, then Liverpool, Dynamo Zagreb in the UEFA Cup and Manchester City on November 9.

In my view, Bolton was the only credible chance of a win, but not with the existing set-up.

Mr Levy has therefore publicly owned up to the error of trying to have a coach/sporting director double act, the latter being Damien Comolli, who became a hate figure for many Spurs supporters. He sacked, Messers Ramos, Poyet and Comolli (with other coaches going) and swiftly appointed Harry Redknapp as the replacement, reportedly offering £5 million in compensation to the latter’s current employer.

In addition to a change of personnel, the result is a complete change of management strategy and how players will be treated. I don’t think it’s a surprise that today, Spurs beat Bolton 2-0 for the first league win of the season after 8 previous failures.

Mr Levy also provided a rationale for his position, making no excuses for not being flamboyant or for taking a commercially-minded view of the club. He did so in an open letter to the club’s supporters, which in my view was bold and clever.

By his actions in the past 48 hours, Daniel Levy has given his club a chance to turn things around, and made exactly the sort of appointment that could succeed. Mr Redknapp is renowned as a football manager for two skills: buying and selling players, and getting players other people have given up on and getting them to perform to their potential. It would be hard to argue that he isn’t exactly what Spurs need.

For Portsmouth, where Harry Redknapp was going a fine job and which has assembled a squad of players who have formed a strong working relationship with their boss, it could be a disaster. But that’s not Mr Levy’s problem.

When deciding whether to sack a manager, several factors come into the equation. One of these is “who is the best person to get us out of this hole?” Juante Ramos, whose spoken English was frankly not better than my Spanish would be after almost exactly a year, did not appear to communicate well with players from the touchline, according to this report for example. The sporting director Mr Commoli’s handling of transfers was, to put it mildly, incomprehensible to Spurs supporters and the media.

It may not work: the transfer window for players remains shut until the end of the year, by which time it may be too late to effect a rescue, the current strikers in the club squad do not seem capable of playing as a complementary unit, another indictment of Mr Commoli’s handling of the last transfer window in July and August.

But some chance is infinitely better than none. Will Tottenham Hotspur supporters be mollified? My guess is that they will, at least till the end of the season next May.

Crying out for a blog: Sarah Palin and Joe Kinnear

October 4, 2008

This week, we’ve seen two people who are crying out for a blog: Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for the Vice Presidency of the U.S.A. and Joe Kinnear, the caretaker manager of Newcastle United Football Club. Both have been the targets what one could call “the media narrative” or hostile bias.

Mrs Palin, the Governor of Alaska, let off steam in an interview on Fox News here.

Joe Kinnear vented with a lot of “c” and “f” four letter words here.

In both cases, they suffer from the need to communicate to an audience in order to succeed. But both are people that the media has decided must fail: one for being a Republican, the other for being old and not photogenic.

They both need to break out of the media box and interact with the public. Joe Kinnear bluntly announced he will not give press conferences again and will offer exclusives to two local newspapers, as a way of communicating to Newcastle FC supporters.

I’d like to think that Governor Palin is much too nice, but may have fantasized, to have this exchange with Katie Couric:

Joe Kinnear: Which one is Simon Bird [Daily Mirror’s north-east football writer]?
Simon Bird: Me.
JK: You’re a c**t.
SB: Thank you.

Funnily enough, I anticipated this sort of thing in 2003 when the Big Blog Company was starting up. I was asked by its founders to suggest some ideas for the types of businesses that would want to blog.

I said: “politicians and football clubs.”

I was very gently informed that I was completely wrong. Politicians could never tell the truth long enough to write a credible blog and football cannot possibly involve a communication, besides its sport and sport has nothing to do with blogging.

I regret to say that the Big Blog Company, despite some success, has never really made it as a major business. But, if instead of ignoring my suggestions, tBBC had taken the idea seriously, we can see where this could have led.

One cleverest use of blogging in the sporting world has been by the Association of Tennis Professionals to boost the popularity (and therefore commercial bankability) of tennis players. The ATP offered blogs for ALL ITS MEMBERS. Here are a couple of examples.
Daniela Hantuchova
Venus Williams

Today, the hardcore tennis fan reads the players views directly, unfiltered by the media. The media get their stories from the blogs too, but on terms dictated by the players. Someone, somewhere, has made a lot of money setting up these blogs.
It’s a shame that a silly bias against sport as a serious business meant that it wasn’t tBBC.

With politicians, to be fair, it would have been very hard to ignore the political blogging going on in the early 2000s. The business strategy I would have proposed would have been to offer all the political parties a deal to set up blogs for all parliamentary candidates. And I would have offered the Welsh Nationalists to do it for free as a demonstration for the other parties (about 38 seats in Wales last time I looked). But 633 seats in the Westminster Parliament.

As with tennis players under the ATP brand, a fair amount of standardization would have been possible. Lots of boot camps for politicians (tennis players I suspect don’t do group events quite as well).

But this wasn’t a business that tBBC wanted. Perhaps they should bid to do the PalinBlog and the JKblog.

The Big O: Oprah’s Obama Opera

September 10, 2008

Notice: I wrote back in February about Suzy Orman’s use of the “Oprah Effect” to promote her books. My only regret is that, because I wanted to focus on the copyright versus open source element, I did not make it clear that Oprah Winfrey was the vehicle for the million-copy giveaway. Despite the criticisms I have made, and which to her credit Oprah has allowed to be posted on her website, I’m more for her than against.

The story begins with this entry on The Drudge Report:

Oprah Winfrey may have introduced Democrat Barack Obama to the women of America — but the talkshow queen is not rushing to embrace the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket!

Oprah’s staff is sharply divided on the merits of booking Sarah Palin, sources tell the DRUDGE REPORT.

“Half of her staff really wants Sarah Palin on,” an insider explains. “Oprah’s website is getting tons of requests to put her on, but Oprah and a couple of her top people are adamantly against it because of Obama.”

One executive close to Winfrey is warning any Palin ban could ignite a dramatic backlash!

Drudge also claimed that both Oprah nor show producer Sheri Salata had “refused” to comment and that both had donated substantial amounts to Senator Barack Obama’s (Democrat, Illinois) campaign for the U.S. presidency.

So far, nothing much for me to comment on. It’s a straightforward case of political bias, but Oprah is only harming her own commercial credibility with some of her viewers, so what?

Here, the response by Harpo Productions, Oprah’s company, was like pouring petrol on a fire. Being posted to Oprah’s discussion community allowed a storm to erupt:

“The item in today’s Drudge Report is categorically untrue. There has been absolutely no discussion about having Sarah Palin on my show. At the beginning of this presidential campaign when I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates. I agree that Sarah Palin would be a fantastic interview, and I would love to have her on after the campaign is over.” – Oprah Winfrey, September 5, 2008

Now I decided to join in, focusing the point that either there had been no discussion, hinting at a Stalinist management style, or the statement was an obvious lie, which is bad for the “role model” business.

Here’s my response: (more…)

Suze Orman MUST be wrong?

February 17, 2008

Suze Orman is not enforcing her intellectual property rights the Gestapo way by treating all her potential customers as criminals.

What does the author of The Courage to Be Rich and The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom (*) know about money? The clowns, who claim that a nine year old kid who downloads a pop song is “costing” the price of a retail CD to a recording company, might do well to ask that.

Let’s see. She gives away over a million copies of her new book Women & Money. That must be a loss of $14,970,000 in sales at the discounted Amazon price! Well, no it isn’t.

Despite being available for a period as a free download, Women & Money was ranked number six on Amazon’s bestseller list when NBC talked about. When I checked just now (18:36 GMT) the book was UP to number two on the Amazon ranking.

I recently vowed to never buy a music CD, DVD, or download until the industry stopped treating me like a perp and more like a customer. I think I shall buy a copy of the Women & Money. Now that really is $14.95 in sales. I hope it makes a good gift.

(*) I have both these books and have used the latter when looking at specific money issues. I shall be reading both this year and reviewing them in due course. First impression is very good.