Reading metrics

The Kindle and it’s brethren are likely to change the book industry forever – similar to the way the iPod changed the music industry.  I used to be a skeptic, thinking that the “feel” of the book would be hard to replicate.  But a friend asked me the right question – “Do you think your kids will have a bookshelf or a kindle?”  Put that way, I see little hope for the paper version.

Now, I read of a great way in which digitally read books can be analysed and the metrics used to impact our purchase behaviour.  The Kindle has a software called Whispersync which tracks your movement across a book.  This gives Amazon some pretty cool data on user beahviour.  Musicmachinery has this great feature on the metrics you could start reporting.  Some of my favourites from the list:

  • Most Abandoned – the books and/or authors that are most frequently left unfinished.  What book is the most abandoned book of all time? (My money is on ‘A Brief History of Time’)
  • Pageturner – the top books ordered by average number of words read per reading session.  Does the average Harry Potter fan read more of the book in one sitting than the average Twilight fan?
  • Burning the midnight oil – books that keep people up late at night
  • Most Re-read – which books are read over and over again?  A related metric – which are the most re-read passages?  Is it when Frodo claims the ring,  or when Bella almost gets hit by a car?
  • Mystery cheats – which books have their last chapter read before other chapters
  • Trophy Books – books that are most frequently purchased, but never actually read
  • Entertainment value – the books with the lowest overall cost per hour of reading (including all re-reads)

I like this.  Imagine using these metrics instead of the critic reviews or the (sometimes dishonest) blurbs that accompany most books.  More power to the Kindle!

The IPL’s home run

The IPL figures in Fast Company’s list of most innovative companies.  # 22 overall and # 2 on the sports list.

The IPL has transformed cricket, establishing a new model that shows how a nearly 500-year-old game can be revamped, restructured, and tailored to today’s short attention spans and entertainment infrastructure — and succeed wildly

Now I wish we could find a way to do that for a few more sports in India!

Opening challenge

How do you induct a person into your company?  What is the first assignment you give him?

Is it a beamer at 150 kmph aimed at the head?  Or, a gentle full toss outside off-stump?

Will the person need all his skills to survive the initial period?  Or will he gain the confidence to succeed in this environment?

Are you emotionally invested in his success?

Making money in education

The foreign universities bill aspires to impose economic constraints on foreign players by creating an investment requirement of ~ $ 11 Mn and prohibiting them from repatriating profits from their academic ventures.  So why should anyone want to enter India?  Unless they’re into philanthropy, or just plain nuts?

Well the truth is that there are enough ways to still make money for a foreign educational provider.  This report in Mint reveals more than usual

Foreign universities want to expand their presence in India, senior administrators at these universities say, but they don’t expect to immediately build their own campuses even if the law is passed…“My research has shown that there is tremendous interest in India and a whole gamut of potential ways to interact, but setting up a campus in India is not what every institute is interested in doing,” Green said, adding that the interest in India is more in research partnerships and cooperation

Read between the lines.  One can set up technical partnerships with Indian colleges and charge a royalty (for practically nothing).  The Indian college advertises their foreign tie-up for selling seats and increasing their prices.  Everyone wins.

Similarly, there are several colleges that are keen to get foreign faculty – preferably famous ones – on their board.  Even if it’s for a few days, or for an executive workshop / programme.   The big ones aren’t averse to this practice either.  There’s a lot of money in such programmes.

Those who are interested in the big game, can set up operating companies that manage the entire academic programmes.  This is similar to how hotel operators work – get someone to create the shell and then operate them for a fees / royalty.

There are other ways too.  Point is, that the regulations will never prevent a foreign player from making money, or repatriating it.  It only creates perverse incentives to circumvent the system.

The Cleantech Race

green investment

Needless to say, India isn’t winning.  Full report here.

Competing with Pirates

Given the incredibly short life-cycles of entertainment products, piracy can have a serious impact on profitability of content publishers.

Moser Baer seems to have found the answer, and is a classic New-Product-Lifecycle player. Compete, rather than complain.  While all the entertainment labels moaned and groaned about piracy, Moser Baer acquired a portfolio of titles and flooded the market with low priced titles.  How did they do it?  My guess:

1. Leveraged their production capacity for optical disks (classic forward integration)

2. Acquired a large portfolio of titles on the cheap (typically old and neglected titles.  The owners were happy to get anything for them)

3. Reduced packaging costs (paper jackets instead of fancy boxes)

4. Micro-retailed their products to hit the local grocery store – not just the music shops (which are increasingly losing relevance anyway)

5. Took a portfolio view on profitability, instead of focusing on single titles

Over the last few years, the price of DVDs has collapsed in the market (Rs 50-200 for “original” DVDs and Rs 30 for “pirated” DVDs; earlier these numbers were Rs 400-500 for originals and Rs 60-100 for copies).  But the sales of legit DVDs has probably grown.  Interestingly, many of the retailers of pirated DVDs now stock Moser Baer DVDs.  They can’t compete much on price anymore, and as one of them told me “We also want to sell original”.  For Moser Baer, which treated the market like a new-comer and not like an incumbent, it has been a rapid rise.

Are you still trying old-product-life-cycle strategies?  Does your industry run the risk of a Moser Baer coming in?

How to build a brand in 6 weeks

Advertise during the IPL.   Micromax is now the third largest mobile phone company in India, after Nokia and Samsung, and above Sony Ericsson and Motorola.  It’s expensive, but where else do you get such a large number of eyeballs (Gaurav excluded) over such a short period of time.

The habits of leaders

Aakash Chopra has a brilliant post on Cricinfo about the secrets of leading teams.   I particularly liked the interpretation he puts on leadership by example.

Some mistake this sort of captaincy with just performance on the field, but there’s more to it. The captain’s conduct is the easiest way to send a message across. If a captain is disciplined, like Rahul Dravid or Ricky Ponting, whose work ethics are immaculate, the team follows suit automatically. You’ll see both Dravid and Ponting do fielding drills even after a long training session, when they can easily be avoided, and that’s signal enough for others to go the extra yard. Perhaps the one-handed catch Dravid took against the Mumbai Indians last week wouldn’t have been possible without those extra drills.

On the contrary, since Warne thinks that warming up before a match is not a very useful exercise, his team stayed away from it in the second edition of the IPL. While it worked for Warne, others found it difficult to do without, and perhaps the results reflected that.

Fantastic point, and it feeds in very nicely with Jim Collin’s theory on level 5 leadership

The term “Level 5” refers to a five-level hierarchy. Level 1 relates to individual capability, Level 2 to team skills, Level 3 to managerial competence, and Level 4 to leadership as traditionally conceived. Level 5 leaders possess the skills of levels 1 to 4 but also have an “extra dimension”: a paradoxical blend of personal humility (“I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job”) and professional will (“sell the mills”). They are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves.

It’s really hard for any of us to acquire the talent of a superstar, but we can follow their habits and be the best we can.  That, is probably all that a leader needs of the team.

Why we need foreign (or any) universities in India

Gaurav made the point that foreign participation in Indian education is no bad thing.  Here are some numbers.

India’s Gross Enrollment Rate (GER) for higher education was 10% in the middle of the decade.  In the early 80’s, the number was 4%.  China is at 20%, Brazil at 27%, Japan at 55% – and they are not the highest.

Against this background, the target for 2012 was set at 15% by the UGC.   Even this modest target would require India to add another 12,000 colleges and 240 universities.  This would mean an infrastructure increase of 50% or more.

Who’s going to do this?

Private education is necessary for filling the educational void in India.  And it doesn’t matter whether those filling the gap are Indian or foreign!

Bollywood heist movies…written in Canada?

You’ve seen the movie- a young tech-wiz becomes a thief and a master of disguises, and then goes around the world with his attractive female accomplice to steal notable pieces of jewely, artwork and ATMs. He uses 13 identities and lots more disguises. He uses infra-red cameras, breaks free easily from police lockups and sometimes steals and hides precious jewelery just for the thrill. Police catch him only through a lucky break.

This could be the Dhoom series. It could, however, be all too real.

It would come as no surprise to you, then, that I almost fell off my comfy red chair when I came across n article in this month’s Wired Magazine. In fact, after I read the article, I went online to confirm if this wasn’t an April Fool hoax perpetrated by the magazine. If this is a hoax, it’s been in the works for about 4 years (since I could find online articles/news clips dating that far back).

Here is the original article

Here is a photo of the jewel that was stolen, and kept hidden, by Gerard Blanchard. It was too famous to sell and, in any case, he stole it for the thrill, not the money!

The stolen necklace

What’s even more interesting is that the Canadian cops who nailed the thief had called their operation “Project Kite“. More articles here.

I wonder if there’s a dood sitting in Bombay whose day job is reading police blotters from across the world!