Marc Andreessen’s Library: Books still have power

September 15, 2016

Books still have power.  Did you know that the Silicon Valley venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz has a carefully curated library of 800 books in its waiting room?  A lot of people do now, because of this article in Wired magazine by Cade Metz. Each of the books has been selected and placed there by Marc Andreessen, the firm’s co-founder (and one of the original Internet browser inventors through Netscape).  The collection – focussing on Hollywood, Silicon Valley and computer programming – is so legendary that “as authors and publicists come through, many of them slot in their own books—sometimes in bulk”, Metz writes.  “Andreessen is the room. And the room still has the desired effect: It makes you want to talk to the people inside.”

According to the article and the photographs accompanying it, the library includes many of my favourites, including Neal Gabler’s An Empire of Their Own:  How the Jews Invested Hollywood, David Thomson’s The Whole Equation:  A History of Hollywood and Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus.

andreessen-library-bookshelf


Uber promotion crosses to the material world

August 31, 2016

There is no doubt that the digital world is changing our lives in profound ways.  Not only publishing, film and television production/distribution, newspapers and music are affected.  Accommodation – think Airbnb.  And of course now taxis and ride-sharing: think Uber.

So it comes as a shock when a digital organisation does promotion and advertising in the “material world”.  That’s just what Uber did in downtown Sydney, with a host of people handing out Uber “starter” discount cards (see below).  Perhaps there is a limit as to how much promotion can reach in the digital world?

Uber


The Intern and The Internship films have a common theme – the importance of wisdom and age

September 8, 2015

I have yet not seen the new Robert de Niro/Anne Hathaway film “The Intern”:  it opens here in Australia in mid-October, a few weeks after the US opening on 25 September.

According to the trailer (see below), this film has a whole lot in common with another film with which it may be confused: “The Internship” (2013) – which, by the way, for reasons I cannot fathom is MY MOST POPULAR POST EVER (yes. the upper case letters are on purpose).  By latest count, I have had somewhere upwards of 4,000 or more views of my review of “The Internship”.

From the trailer, one major theme of “The Intern” is that even in this “dot.com” age of youth culture and 25 year old CEOs, maturity, wisdom and experience are still valued.  That clearly was a theme of “The Internship”, and what a comforting theme it is … for those who are in the baby boomer generation who see our skills dating and the digital economy undergoing such rapid and profound changes.

The “tag line” of “The Intern” is “Experience never gets old”.  A fantasy?  Perhaps.  More like probably.

I think ageism in the workplace is a far more significant phenomenon than the professional experience of a 70 year old (the Robert de Niro character) being recognised by a corporation (except, of course, if you are a major investor, with lots of cash … but that’s a whole other story).

But “good on you”, Nancy Meyers – a baby boomer if there ever was one (born 1949), for keeping our fantasies alive.

View the trailer here:

 


Australian spatial economics

August 19, 2014

Even in this digital, online world, it’s no secret that all economic activity has an important element of physical space.

Economists and geographers know this. In fact, a whole field of study is devoted to it, and it’s called economic geography.

Unfortunately, the spatial dimension to our work and our consumer lives is something that government policy makers, economic planners and regulators often seem to forget or never even consider. Too many government policies and programs assume that we are all sitting in the same space – presumably (when here in Australia) within a five to ten kilometre radius of the central business district of one of our capital cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide – or perhaps Canberra (but certainly not Darwin or Hobart).

Here in Australia, about two-thirds of us live in the capital cities, making Australia (despite our “outback” and rural myths) one of the most urbanised countries on earth. Singapore, city-state that it is (with a 100 percent urbanisation), we are not. But more than 89 percent of us live in urban areas, not far behind Japan and South Korea (both at 91 percent).

So the high rate of Australian urbanisation means we can assume geography is not significant, right? Wrong. With our massive continent and our sprawling cities, we have a number of regions that experience profound and intense geographic disadvantage. Think western Sydney, western Melbourne and most regional, rural and remote areas.

The fact is that employment and economic activity is NOT evenly spread along with the population, despite our high urbanisation rate. Economic activity is particularly concentrated in and around the major central business districts, a point made comprehensively and convincingly in a report from the Grattan Institute entitled “Mapping Australia’s economy: Cities as engines of prosperity”, by Jane-Frances Kelly and Paul Donegan.

The Institute summarises the situation:

More than three-quarters of all economic activity in Australia happens on less than one per cent of the nation’s land mass. In today’s services-driven economy, Australia’s cities are the engines of material prosperity.

For a long time agriculture was the backbone of our economy, as we rode on the sheep’s back. After World War Two prosperity shifted to suburbia, with manufacturing employing one in four Australians. This report shows that Australia’s economy is increasingly driven by knowledge-intensive services located in Australia’s large cities. Within these cities the most intense and productive economic activity is concentrated around central business districts and a small number of other business hubs. The way these areas draw large numbers of businesses and workers together makes them all more productive.

Key facts from the report include:
– “Eighty percent of the value of all goods and services produced in Australia is generated on just 0.2 percent of hte nation’s land mass.”
– The CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne – just 7.1 square kilometres – generated $118 billion during the 2011/12 financial year, almost 10 percent of Australia’s economic activity.

And the major reason for the intense economic activity? The concentrations are of “highly knowledge-intensive and specialised services such as funds management, insurance, design, engineering and international education”, with highly skilled workers. And it is the physical “proximity to suppliers, customers and partners” that promotes efficiency, generating “opportunities to come up with new ideas and ways of working” (report, p. 1).

So there you go. We communicate via digital means and at great distances quicker and easier than ever. But yet, we still prefer – in fact, many of us need – to be physically close in order to work efficiently. Economic planners take note.

Mapping Australia's economy


Has the “Digital Tipping Point” arrived?

August 2, 2014

Yes, says Deloitte Australia: the “digital tipping point” has definitely arrived, with permanent and irrevocable changes to our information and entertainment consumption.

According to Deloitte, here in Australia this happened some time in this past year. To summarise the main points of their 2014 Media Consumer Survey, the “digital tipping points” here in Australia are:

– Using the Internet is likely to eclipse watching TV as the preferred source of entertainment within a matter of months.
– We have gone “tablet mad” across all age groups – more than half (53%) of Australian survey respondents are now ‘digital omnivores’ – owners of a tablet, laptop and smart-phone, up significantly from 28% last year.
– Smartphone ownership is at 81%, an increase of 21% over the last three years.

Other findings include:
– When we watch hit TV shows, we “binge”: some 72% of their survey participants watch back-to-back episodes (three or more) in one sitting – and more than a quarter of us (26%) are doing this once a week.

– And there’s very bad (and not surprising) news for newspapers, with 92% of Australian survey respondents unwilling to pay for news online:

Compared with other surveyed countries, Australia has the lowest newspaper subscription rates per household, whether print or digital (22%), compared with the top ranking Japan (53%), the UK (51%) and China (44%). An additional 8% have digital-only subscriptions. Within the surveyed population, newspaper subscriptions have declined by 5% over the past three years while digital-only subscriptions have grown by 26%, albeit from a very low base.

Some interesting good news for print magazines:

We love our printed mags – the printed magazine is still holding its own and remains the preferred way to read magazine content (49% of all survey respondents). Nearly half (49%) of magazine subscribers indicated that if the price of their favourite magazine was the same for various options of physical or digital copies, they would prefer to receive the physical copy only, rather than both.

And here’s a cool infographic that summarises the key findings.

Overstating the facts? Probably, as it’s not likely that their survey reached many of the bottom 20 percent of Australians, who experience “digital exclusion”. But the trends are apparent.

Still not convinced that the digital has changed our communication forever? A recent Time magazine article by Katy Steinmetz (August 4, 2014 here in Australia, published a week earlier in North America), notes, “The total number of words in all text messages sent every three months exceeds the word count of all books ever published, according to text-analytics firm Idibon”, which is a genuinely “new age” company  that is based – where else – in San Francisco.

Food for thought.


Symbol of the digital age

April 21, 2014

Here is a metaphor for our digital age, a beautifully painted large colour sign on the outside of a corner shop in Armidale NSW – a regional centre in northern New South Wales, about seven hours drive north of Sydney and five hours drive south of Brisbane.  “The Trading Post” was one of the early “buy-and-sell” services in Australia, and for many years operated as a paper (I am quite certain that it has wholly gone online).

So the lovely ad here – partially covered with green ivy – is certainly a symbol of our digital age.

Trading Post on sale here Armidale April2014


Why is there no major commercial video streaming service in Australia?

January 27, 2014

So, why is there no major commercial video streaming service in Australia?  Australia is one of the richest countries in the world (by some accounts one of the top two, per capita).  We have a sophisticated and well-developed tech sector.  We have very high rates of literacy.  We love the audio visual media.

In August of 2013, BRW reported that, “Netflix’s subscriber base represents 30 per cent of all US households, while Quickflix has managed only a 1 per cent penetration into Australian living rooms.”  The article gives a number of reasons:  Australia’s “free to air” broadcast culture, and by contrast to Australians, Americans “are used to paying for content”; Australia’s smaller market; punitive download limits on many Australian internet plans (I believe that one); and limited access to content because of output deals.

But, as for paying for content – really?  Has anyone noticed how expensive cinema attendance and DVDs (as well as books, for that matter) are in this country?  Australia is one of the biggest profit centre country for the Hollywood studios.  How many American cinemas charge $21 a ticket, which is normal in Sydney these days?  And somehow Australians don’t pay for content?  Please.

But the last paragraph of the article is the real giveaway, the one that matters:

Then there are the users who change their IP address to get around country restrictions and pay for access to Netflix from Australia – that’s eating into Quickflix’s growth potential, as is the continued base of people willing to delve into the dark craft of piracy to download movies and TV shows.

For years, there have been rumours and half-announcements about Netflix coming to Australia, but the widespread IP shielding that allows Netflix access from this country may be a disincentive.  Look at Amazon – the biggest bookseller in this country, including extensive Kindle distribution, without one bit physical infrastructure – and possibly not even any staff.  With Amazon’s move into video production and digital streaming, who needs an on-the-ground presence?  The Amazon model:  let the internet service providers and Australia Post do the distribution work for them.

Getting bigger?  Yes.  For example, here is a copy of an advertisement for Amazon’s new video series, a full page from a November 2013 issue of The New Yorker:

Alpha House Amazon ad