Skip to content

Just Let Me Pay Dammit…

July 2, 2009

There is a very real risk of me sounding like an old fart, but this whole “free is the future” thing is undoubtedly the dumbest debate since the “branding gives you bigger orgasms” thing from last year.

Chris Anderson’s new book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” which is not all free (Hyperion; $26.99) and apparently (I haven’t read it) full of stuff like this…

Journalism as a profession will share the stage with journalism as an avocation. Meanwhile, others may use their skills to teach and organize amateurs to do a better job covering their own communities, becoming more editor/coach than writer. If so, leveraging the Free—paying people to get other people to write for non-monetary rewards—may not be the enemy of professional journalists. Instead, it may be their salvation.

…which would certainly help me have a giggle if nothing else illustrates the paradox of the so-called debate. In this book which someone has to shell out twenty seven bucks for the author encourages paid journalists to transform themselves into new gurus teaching how to motivate others to pump stuff out for free. He manages to endorse a form of slavery (as long as you are the slave master and getting paid) in a book (which you have paid for) in the effort to ultimately convince yourself that the total demise of your profession is actually the salvation.

I haven’t heard so much twisted bollocks since I left the gloomy art school amphitheatres and a headful of equally trite Derrida lectures at the end of the eighties.

The desperate desire of new gurus is pretty much the same as any other gurus from the past (you remember the ones with skinny legs, big beards, and cloth diaper-looking underpants) which is to convince people to follow them. The latest hook is to convince people to create their own followers in a thinly-veiled attempt to mask their own salivation at the idea of having hordes of virtual readers following them.

Some are altruists (in the same way as some of those swami dudes probably were) and really do try to think this crap through in the name of helping the nameless thousands on their statistics counters but there are others who are starting to rub this jaded little cynic the wrong way.

Newspapers are dying according to Anderson because they aren’t free. I can get the info faster and fresher on the internet and in the race to be fast and fresh you just can’t beat the speed of the geeks armed with 140 characters and an internet connection. So why would I pay to have the weekend papers delivered to my house to read with my coffee on a Sunday morning? Why would I want to relax with my wife and chat about current affairs? Or answer tricky political questions from my kids like why can’t we all be Presidents at the same time? Why do I keep renewing my subscription? Is it for the ten dollar watch?

For Seth the fat lady is all but singing…

Like all dying industries, the old perfect businesses will whine, criticize, demonize and most of all, lobby for relief. It won’t work. The big reason is simple:

In a world of free, everyone can play.

Yeah, well, everyone could play before. And did. I’m always surprised by intelligent people who are convinced no one had a conversation with anyone else before you could quantify it by the number of friends you have on Twitter or what your Technorati rank is or whatever the hell the newest and shiniest version of this crap is. Seth finds it ironic that people buy his books which means two things – 1/ like a lot of people he has a tough time using the word ironic correctly and 2/ it kind of screws up his idea that all powerful editors squeezed out thousands of wannabe writers because they were so obsessed by making money out of the business of writing that it is now dying and journalism is on the front line.

Publishing was supposed to die with desktop publishing (remember that?),TV was supposed to be dying with TiVo (or whatever it was), we were all supposed to be dead with swine flu, bird flu, mad-cow disease etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

If I’m getting slow and stale it’s fine by me because in the race to be fast and fresh I just can’t keep up with all the killing.


The Start of the Circle.

May 28, 2009

I just left this comment over at Bob Hoffman’s blog who wonders why people take marketing and ad people for idiots. I understand what he means and have suffered the ‘retarded eight year old look’ from accounts people as I talk about wacky things like creating cohesion through word of mouth and earning the respect of clients to deserve their business as they babble to me about financial snapshots and forecasts. Anyway here’s what I wrote, tell me what you think…

Finance, Operations, Production and Engineering exist to manage the existing business. They are all the people you hire when you already have a company and by default customers. It’s easy to be glib when you don’t have to figure out ways to get the business in through the door (trust me glib is what I do best).

But marketing is the start of the process. Marketing is all we have. No one buys a product because the accounts are up to date. No one even buys a product because the turnover time from production line 3 to 4 is next to nothing. No one cares.

Sure, all of this stuff is important to keep the company turning once it starts but the reason why marketing people get carried away with their own magnificence is because if the product isn’t tailored to the market no one buys the damn thing. If no one buys then it doesn’t matter how nice the books look, or how fast the boys in production are changing lines or how well engineered the components are. If no one buys, none of these bright cookies go to work in the morning.

All these jobs exist because someone somewhere has already bought the product.

Me? Think too much? Nah…

May 9, 2009


I visited some clients of my wife’s the other day who have the most incredible garden. Apart from the fact they bought and renovated a twelfth century castle here in the west of France (which is a big feat) the most impressive thing is the garden around it.

The castle itself was a wreck with pig sheds tacked onto it by centuries of farmers whose priorities didn’t reside in the history or beauty of the site but, well, with their pigs I guess. Once all of the rickety iron and rusty machines were cleared out the castle needed serious work by serious tradesmen and all of that is nice for the before and after photos but the real treasure is the amount of work required to create the gardens which surround the four sides of the castle.

The owners created the gardens themselves. With no help. With no prior knowledge. And with a total unconsciousness which allowed them to plunge into a project which has taken a lifetime. Waterfalls, hedgerows, hidden benches and sculptures, mazes, rivers, ponds, swimming pools, vegetables, vines, lawn mown so cleanly you could vacuum it…it’s really impossible to describe the gardens but it takes about an hour to do the loop.

So, I asked the lady of the house what her and her husband were thinking before starting out and she looked at me with amusement and said – “If we had started thinking we wouldn’t have started the garden at all.”

There you go. How much does thinking really help and how much does it hold you back? How many times have you thought about that room which needs painting before anticipating the scale of the job and feeling a wave of fatigue and by some miracle finding something else (preferably less labor intensive) which needs doing?

Some smart cookie called Loran Nordgren at The Kellogg School of Management is asking this question – “What is consciousness good for?” What he is coming up with is a difference in thought structure which affect our decision making capacity.

Explained Nordgren, “Conscious thought is like a spotlight on a decision. It illuminates very brightly, but only a particular, narrow aspect of the problem. It has very limited processing capacity. Unconscious thought, on the other hand, is more like a child’s night light, casting a dim light on the entire decision space without focusing in on any one particular thing.”

It’s a neat article and in a context where analytical thinking in business has taken a kick in the gut (“Oops we didn’t see a world financial crisis coming but have a look at these super graphs we made”), sometimes there is virtue in plunging into the unknown and coming out the other end with something unexpected.

Heads up to Tom Asacker and Olivier Blanchard.

English Has Gone Global.

April 30, 2009

Roger Cohen from the New York Times uncannily summarized a conversation I had yesterday (except far more elegantly). Yes, English has gone global and no, differences between cultures have not been tapped out like nails which poke up a little too far in the parquetry. Read on…

A poet friend, Vincent Katz, was over for dinner the other night and asked me with a twinkle in his eye if I was “knackered.” Katz came to poetry via rock ’n roll, and to Oxford via the University of Chicago, and along the way he picked up some English vernacular.


The word — meaning more than tired, beat — transported me to the England of my youth, a place of hissing gas fires, metered hot water, contempt for “the Continent,” schoolboys in corduroy shorts, crows over the rubbish dumps, skinheads on the tube, Pink Floyd in Hyde Park, soggy leaves and solid fog.

Aging is like that. The memories pile up. More things are done for the last time than the first. It doesn’t take much to be transported.

Yes, I was knackered — and suddenly nostalgic for the churning clouds of London, the damp mustiness of pre-prosperous England, and the mist hovering in an Oxford dawn.

I dug out a diary I kept at university in the early ’70s and found this: “Sunday morning: the allotments dotted with stooping figures. Steaming water poured over gleaming cars. The papers. This England.”

And this:

Loose summer dresses catching in the crotch
The leather boys stick together
With coffee on the benches.
Tulips dying gape open-mouthed
At the fruit rotting after lunch.

That England’s gone, of course, it’s had its glossy makeover like everywhere else. Gastropubs shun bangers and lumpy mash and even Leeds is trendy.

But language is another story. Katz told me how uncomfortable he felt saying “loo” for the first time. The unthinkable alternative was to ask some bloke for the “bathroom.”

What for, mate?

Katz read classics at St. John’s College (viewed as a too-beautiful refuge of sporty underachievers by my own Balliol) and he summed up the experience this way: “I began to realize (what I should have known all along) that I was living in a completely different culture. It was just as alien to me as France would have been, or Spain, or Italy, or Germany. There is the illusion that we speak the same language, but we really don’t.”

Yes, the illusion is there. The United States freed itself from Britain in a revolution but had to opt for subtler forms of sedition when it came to the language.

I remember getting in a row with an editor and friend, Richard Berry, after writing “car park.” No such thing in American, Berry said. Come on! It’s where you put your car, Richard. Nope, he insisted, parking lot.

I was miffed. I was gutted. (Look that up, Richard.)

“Well done, love,” I told my 14-year-old son the other day. “Well done, love!” he parroted in that scorn-dripping tone teenagers reserve for their Paleolithic parents, weaving an English patter into his Brooklynese. “You mean: Good job!”


Jobs, the work ethic — no escape from them in the United States, where finishing a meal in a restaurant prompts the death-penalty-meriting: “Are you still working on that?” When I took an English test to become a U.S. citizen a few years back, one of the three sentences in my dictation was: “I plan to work very hard every day.”


America works, every day, its youthful ambition still boundless. England, having seen everything go pear-shaped, relieved of the burden of running a ropey world, boozes and says it’s sorry and prefers a lie-in.

“Oxford was the only place I’ve heard someone use ‘mayn’t’ completely casually,” Katz wrote. “I began to long for those usages — grammatically unimpeachable and stylistically extravagant — and be on the lookout for them. I had a friend who used ‘Crumbs!’ as an exclamation, something I’d only ever read in books or seen in movies.”

Crumbs! It’s been yonks since I heard that or peered through the windscreen over the bonnet at lorries on the motorway. I thought I’d left England behind — its rucksacks and trousers and chemists and fortnights — you know, the full Anglo monty — until I got too knackered to resist.

Katz continued: “After a year or so of tuning into the subtleties of the English language, something quite remarkable occurred — I began to perceive many different layers of expression in ways the British communicate. Where they are often criticized by Americans for being cold, I began to see endless expressions of warmth. Where they might be considered narrow-minded, I found instead some of the most open-minded, progressive minds I have encountered.”

English tolerance can be as uplifting as American idealism, that many-faceted and quizzical “quite” seeing U.S. “hope.”

Since my student walks to the Isis past the wet autumn leaves smoking rather than burning, English has gone global. In fact, the world’s lingua franca is now bad English. It’s strange then that a U.S. president who speaks good English, far better than his predecessor, seems able to communicate with that world. This may even be Barack Obama’s biggest achievement in his first 100 days.


Facebook, what Facebook?

April 18, 2009


The problem with being right too early is that you pass for a idiot.

Ah, the insufferable conversations with the geeks and new gurus about the net worth of Facebook. I almost long for that time machine I invented when I was eight so I could re-live the stupidity of it all and at least have a giggle this time around.

I published a post called Air on this blog on July the 10th, 2008.

Here are the juiciest bits for those who define too difficult as moving a cursor and clicking:

Here’s my take…the internet contains a wealth of information with billions of people clicking around on it and a handful of balding knuckleheads who are trying to predict what slack jawed twenty year olds are going to want to click on next. The Generation Y kids have no notion of loyalty (nor should they and if you think this is bad what until you see the generation coming up behind them) so anything which looks cool will be clicked on, tried out, explored, understood then like the amorphous mass of lemmings they are they will move away just as mysteriously as they arrived.

The knuckleheads who ran around looking for investment capital to wangle a few ex-Google people to build the sites and who came up with meaty business plans are left scratching their heads as to why they now feel slightly older and a lot poorer than before.

So what’s missing? I’ll tell you – money.
No one really knows how to make money out of these waves of popularity so no one knows if they are working in the right direction or if they are wasting their time. Facebook is the most obvious and unfortunate case. The estimated net worth of Facebook was cried out at billions of dollars. “As much as 15 billion dollars!” the headlines told us. This figure was based on a number of factors which add up to thin air in the end and I would love to see the estimated net worth of Facebook in three years time. What is interesting is Facebook had access to a whole bunch of people who were blathering on like good little evangelists about how great it was and no one was spending any money and no one was making any money. So what do they do? They start cumulating personal details in an effort to do things which may turn into sustainable income which, of course rubbed everyone the wrong way and they have nosedived ever since.

The internet is air like a service is air. If your business plan doesn’t have an understandable way of generating money from these services then do something else. If part of your business plan is to be wildly popular then so be it, but if you are wildly popular with non paying, non sustainable clients then keep on digging.

Now this article from Le Figaro jumps out at me today:

La valorisation de Facebook divisée par quatre

Valorisé 15 milliards de dollars il y a deux ans, Facebook ne pèserait plus que 4 milliards.

Le jeune patron de Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, cherche de l’argent frais. Selon plusieurs blogs d’information, le jeune millionnaire et son conseil d’administration auraient reçu ces derniers jours des offres de fonds d’investissement qui valoriseraient Facebook à deux et à quatre milliards de dollars seulement. Mais le président de Facebook aurait décliné ces propositions jugées insuffisantes.

Car on est très loin des 15 milliards de dollars que pesait le site de socialisation, lorsqu’en octobre 2007, Microsoft avait versé 240 millions de dollars pour s’offrir seulement 1,6 % du capital.

En deux ans, la valeur de Facebook a fondu malgré un succès grandissant après des internautes du monde entier. La vedette de la Toile enregistre des records d’audience : selon le cabinet ComScore, le site caracole au sixième rang des sites Internet dans le monde avec 275 millions de visiteurs en février, dont 100 millions rien qu’en Europe. Près du tiers du temps que les internautes européens passent sur des sites de socialisation est consacré à Facebook, selon ComScore.

If you can’t read French then…Wired asks the question – Facebook is Worth … What Exactly?

All we might actually know is that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the board met yesterday, if that. But at least three news outlets are reporting that the social network rejected a cash infusion from private equity firms that would have valued it at $4 billion or $2 billion, and that the company sees itself as something more like $5 billion material.

Take your pick, but either of those admittedly heady numbers are a far cry from the $15 billion valuation implied by Microsoft’s $240 million investment for a 1.6% stake in October 2007, a month before the U.S. recession began but a year before it started devaluing everything from real stuff like houses and cars to … other things, like popular web 2.0 startups.

Yeah, well I may be just a schmuck
with a consultancy business in France but if you can’t separate the shit from the shinola pretty soon 15 billion becomes 4 which before you know it becomes nothing at all. Facebook feels like it’s going the way of last seasons yoyos and finally I might be able to forget about the time I’ve pissed away in pretend conversations with starry-eyed geeks belittling my refusal to blindly embrace their new revolutions.

Why do you want to make money?

April 17, 2009


If you have a business then ask yourself this question – Why do you want to make money?

It sounds dumb but if your answer is not clear or if you answer is “to make more money” well, this is kind of dumb too. Businesses are just people working together in the same direction to create and provide a common service or product or in other words – businesses are people.

And people are funny.

We dream of making money to do dreamy things because most of the time we don’t have any money so it’s a type of endorphin shot to imagine ourselves at the head of a fortune answering a couple of phone calls from our villas on the beach in some palm tree-infested part of the world.

I buy a lottery ticket only when my chances are at their slimmest to win. When the jackpot hits 100 million I’ll go like all the other starry-eyed sheep and buy myself one grill. I pretty much know I’m not going to win but I could win. So, I’m in with my infinitesimal chance of taking home the cash and the value this has in letting my mind wander over all of the possibilities and all of the things I need to do once I have the jackpot is worth the two bucks I paid for the ticket. I’m already a winner. I just bought myself a little daydream. If I had one chance in ten of winning five buck I probably wouldn’t make the detour in my car to buy the ticket but give me one chance in seventy million and I’m there! Like I said people are funny.

So in business making profit is the name of the game. This is by default. It’s not positive nor negative. No profit, no business, and that’s the bottom line.

But businesses are not created to just stay afloat which begs the question again – why are they created?

They are created to make projects and jobs and a difference in this world. They are created to meet a need, to fill a hole in the fabric of society. They are created to bring people together and to construct the future. Your clients want to pay for this. They want to be a part of the dream you are creating. We are organic matter hurtling through an organic universe and to find inspiration along the way is one of the most valuable assets you can possibly conceive. It’s not accounting, it’s life.

So, I’ll ask you again – Why do you want to make money?


April 5, 2009