News, media & communications

A new chapter for digital books

Media such as music, movies and newspapers have all gone digital so why not books? Until now, a lack of content, a paucity of bookstores selling online material and clumsy digital devices (hardware) have kept digital books off the shelves. However, content and hardware are all about to be re-aligned and this will almost certainly be a catalyst for a revolution in book publishing. For example, Sony is about to launch a product called the Sony Reader that will closely resemble the look and feel of a real book. The device uses E-ink which mimics ‘real’ type through the use of tiny pixels. Interestingly, the new technology does not need power to display the type unless the ‘page’ is turned so up to twenty books can be read before the device needs to be recharged. Sony is also launching a digital bookstore containing about 10,000 titles, which can be downloaded in much the same way as music from iTunes. Other developments in this field include a Chinese company (Jinke) that is hoping to sell e-books to schools and IRex Technologies (part of the Dutch Phillip’s Corporation) which is launching a digital book reader later this year. Google is digitalizing millions of books held in the world’s biggest libraries and Random House and Harper Collins plan to digitalise 25,000 titles each. Last year also launched Amazon Shorts - a collection of 49 cent short literary downloads. So what are some of the consequences of a boom in supply and demand for digital books? One change might be the fact that publishing becomes faster - authors will be able to react to events spontaneously. Another change is that people will become used to carrying around their favourite books much in the same way that they now carry around their favourite music. Anyone for an Apple iBook? (Yes that is a prediction!).
Ref: Business Week (US) Online 27 February 2006, ‘Digital Books Start A New Chapter’, B. Helm Also see Nikkei Weekly (Japan) 9 January 2006, ‘Cell phones turn portal for novels, manga’, S. Sasaki
Search words: e-books, digital books, digital, content

Re-booting Social Networks is a new invitation only website from Nike (content) and Google (technology) that aims to unite football (soccer) fans in 140 countries in 14 languages. The site is a social networking site in the same mould as in Brazil and in the US the latter of which was recently bought by NewsCorp. Whether or not the site works will depend in part on the content and if users feel that it is authentic or just an outpost of the Nike marketing department. Meanwhile, a US media researcher called Danah Boyd ( says that young people are flocking to sites like because physical spaces where they can meet without restrictions are becoming few and far between. For example, many malls in the US (and Europe) are now banning teens that are not accompanied by adults, or imposing dress restrictions, and there is a definite attitudinal and behavioural shift emerging as the result of a combination of increased Internet usage and restrictions on physical mobility and access.
Ref: Business Week (US) 20 March 2006, ‘Nike, Google, Kick Off Social-Networking Site’, S. Holmes See also Futurewire (US) 24 February 2006, and
Search words: social networks, networks, spaces, meeting places

Mobile industry trends

According to the mobile (cell) phone industry has grown accustomed to rapid growth and change as an enabler. However, recent structural, technological and behavioural trends are starting to call into question many assumptions about how the industry operates and where it will move to in the future. Future uncertainties include the level of threat poised by discount mobile service providers, margin erosion on basic services such as SMS due to increased competition, the use of outsourcing to minimalise OPEX, CAPEX on infrastructure, micro-segmentation of products and services, new business models, mobile penetration versus SIM-penetration and the complexity of the value chain. For example, a major part of Vodafone’s business model is its mobiles-only strategy, yet this is looking increasingly unsound as other telecoms start to merge their mobile and fixed-line networks to offer bundles of services and discounts to customers who buy more than one product.
Ref: (US) 27 February 2006, ‘Stand reports mobile trends’. The Economist (UK) 28 January 2006, ‘Vodafone: Calling for a rethink’.
Search words: mobile trends, cell phones, telecoms


Back in January someone called Brian Pickerell posted a comment on his blog savaging legislation that would make Wal-Mart spend more money on employee healthcare. Given the recent negative press about Wal-Mart in the mainstream press, this comment must have been music to the company’s PR people. Indeed the comment was so pro-Wal-Mart that they could have written it themselves – which of course they did. Meanwhile Coca-Cola was (allegedly) receiving some fantastic comments on its new no-sugar drink Coke Zero on blogs in Australia. You guessed it, they were written by Coke’s own, unidentified, employees. There aren’t a lot of rules in blogdom (and nobody is suggesting that companies shouldn’t post comments on blogs or feed information to bloggers) but one of the most basic rules is that if you reprint something you attribute it. Equally, you shouldn’t pretend you’re someone you’re not. Perhaps this is something that the supposedly blog savvy media consultants might like to point out to their clients in the future.
Ref: Australian Financial Review (Aus) 9 March 2006, ‘Bloggers in a spin for Wal-Mart’, M. Barbaro See also The Economist (UK) 11 February 2006, ‘The blog in the corporate machine’
Search words: blogs, blogging, truth, information

What’s new at the movies?

Hollywood is looking like a disaster movie. Ticket sales in the US fell 5% between 2002 and 2005 and a recent Australian survey says that 31% of people now go to the movies less often. Then again, the trend is hardly new. Cinema attendances have been falling for more than fifty years. In 1946, 4.067 billion movie tickets were sold (at an average price of US 42 cents). Last year it was 1.4 billion (at US $6.34 each). Of course, in the 1940s cinemas had a monopoly, whereas these days you can watch the moving image in the cinema, at home on a DVD or on the latest video iPod. Indeed, given that 128 million people go online in the US every day, it won’t be very long until films are realised simultaneously and digitally across all of these and other formats (digital projection in cinemas will save studios an estimated US$1 billion per year alone). We may even see premieres in Wal-Mart in the future. As a sequel to this seismic shift, we can also expect to see some other big changes in how films are made and seen. The average US film now costs close to US $100 million to make and distribution is concentrated on two or three critical holiday periods. Costs are out of control, audiences are declining and DVD sales aren’t moving either. However, people gathering to watch films isn’t going to disappear completely. As life becomes more virtual (and single-person households rise) there will be a need for groups to gather together to enjoy stories, and physical experiences – like in cinemas – are difficult to emulate online. For example, football matches in the US are screened live on TV but attendances are not declining. But it will be the customers, not the studios, who call the shots. These days you can, increasingly, watch whatever you want whenever you want on any device you want - which could still spell trouble for intermediaries like cinemas – and if that doesn’t satisfy you can always make your own movie. Machinima is the word given to people (usually tech-savvy gamers) who make their own animated films using off-the-shelf game software like The Movies from These films won’t take over completely, because we will still want to see movie stars and extra-special effects. Moreover, the more films become available anywhere the more we will crave films that can only be seen in cinemas.
Ref: Australian Financial Review Magazine (Aus) M.Narch 2006, ‘The last picture show’, See also Time (US) 20 March 2006, ‘Can this man save the movies? (Again?), R. Corliss. Business Week (US) 26 December 2005, ‘Young Spielbergs by the thousands’, C. Matlack.
Search words: film, movies, Hollywood, cinemas, meeting places