Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Public Libraries: the lasting dinosaur

Even if you’re not involved in the publishing industry you cannot help but notice seismic changes the industry is experiencing: Business models are being reinvented, new entrants are redefining the value chain, and technology is changing how information is created, distributed and consumed. Mighty scions are quaking in their boots as they face aggressive barbarians at their gates.

Yet in the midst of this pitches battle is an island of serenity, and oasis of calmness, a Shangri-La of stability: the public library.

Unfazed by the realities, local governments continue to spend on public libraries stuck in the 18th century model of how knowledge is transferred: books are so scarce that they need to be housed in a central location and shared amongst readers.

My small town of Monroe, Connecticut, recently rebuilt the public library at a cost of $6 million dollars, and spends annually about $750 thousand dollars on the operation of our public library; only $73 thousand of which goes towards the purchase of books. For the same money Monroe could have bought its 19000 residents a Kindle DX and 10 books a year.

Amazon, B&N and others have made books cheap, accessible and ubiquitous. It will take Government a century before it catches up with this fact. In the interim, they spend gobs of money and get no discernable outcome.

I guess nostalgia has a price.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Revenge of the Mainframe, Part Deux

The biggest news of the week is Apple’s market cap surpassing Microsoft’s. I’m not impressed.

It’s “Big News” only in how it signals the ebb and flow of companies. A while back, accused of monopolistic practices, AT&T sought a consent decree from the FTC by jettisoning the 5 baby-bells. AT&T kept the long distance business, and got rid of the messy ‘last-mile’. The thinking at the time was that all action was going to be in the long distance business; after all it was the only profitable part of Ma-Bell’s.

Long distance is now a commodity, and the last mile of cabling, a conduit for broadband, is where all the action is (for now). If only those smart AT&T executives can call a mulligan…

Cloud computing is changing the value of assets and brands in the technology space, its creating new winners, new losers and many opportunities for new entrant to occupy new niches in the ecosystem. And it surely is changing what matters:

  • Intel’s competitive advantage is no longer the IA-32/64 architecture; it’s their manufacturing capabilities that count.
  • Windows is no longer Microsoft’s competitive advantage, it fact it’s now irrelevant. Servers migrating to the cloud as services, Office morphing into Office Live, and Xbox Live will drive future growth. More than any other player, Microsoft needs to reinvent itself. And quick.
  • Apple is no longer a technology company, it’s a design shop. Think Gucci with restrictive EULA (hey lady you cannot take this bag to Walmart! And no, you cannot keep your pink LCP in it either).
  • Google is now the leading force in Cloud Computer. But is poised to become the most hated company on earth. Replacing Microsoft, which replaced IBM, which replaced…. Ironic that Google’s motto is “do no evil”.
  • Most blood will be spilled in the mobile market where competition will drive innovation, while eroding margins. It will be fun to watch.
The good news is that new landscape will be more forgiving: No more zero-sum games played in a Thunderdome-like environment. And that is a good thing for the industry.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Failed Fourth Estate

Helen Thomas retired today, having outlived many of the news organizations she worked for, Helen’s career was cut short by a slip of the tongue that revealed a bias she’s held for many decades. Maybe, at 90, one stops caring about what people think, maybe senility finally got the upper hand.

Either way, one can be sure of two things: Helen’s views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have long inspired her reporting, and that she’s not the only one that carries a deep bias, nay, an unshakable world-view.

The concept that the press, the fourth estate, is the selfless, neutral, self-anointed watchdog that keeps the powerful in check on behalf the little guy is as fictional as a cost-cutting, budget-balancing, pay-go congress.

Each of them is, after all, an individual. All of them followed the same track, studied in the same schools, listened to the same professors, worked in the same newsrooms. They know less than most about what’s going on and so weave a story consistent with how they perceive the world. Even more than politicians, they live in a bubble insulated from the consequences of their decisions, secure in their holier-than-thou mission to inform the universe of a singularly uniform view of how said universe is supposed to act and what it’s supposed to know.

Not for long sister: as the monolithic news organizations decline, an army of citizen journalists are filling the void. Providing a spectrum of views on every issue – not one truth, but all truths are told. You decide.

Sure the burden is now on you. You must care enough about something to pay attention to it. To listen to the many voices and make up your own mind.

Mark Twain (or is it Oscar Wilde?) once said: “never pick a fight with someone that buys ink by the barrel”, luckily ink is now free.