So Much to Blog About…

It’s been so long since I blogged outside of manga and anime that I feel a little overwhelmed by all the potential stuff that is going on that I could ramble on about.  I feel like the world is changing at an accelerated pace.  Also too much has happened in the past few weeks.  Here’s a list of stuff that’s clogging my brain:

  • Tokyo Pop bankruptcy — what series are going to be left hanging and do I have any time to finish up the translation of some of the series myself?  I probably don’t since I want to leave bandwidth for any new series from Bisco Hatori or Akane Ogura.
  • What’s the heck is Akadot doing?  — They are taking a great risk in changing what they sale.  I can no longer visit their website without being greatly offended.  But, I guess in the end, porn sells.  So I guess, more power to them, but they’ve lost me as a customer and an advocate. Additionally, they just found out that they can’t sell porn though the Kindle, which their parent company admits is an important source of revenue.  Oops…
  • The Epsilon Break-in — Now I can’t trust any e-mail I get from any company. :/
  • Osama Bin Laden is dead — nuff said.  I’m not worried about retaliation like other people.  I’m just relieved more than anything.
  • Royal Wedding Curiosity — I saw the pertinent clips
  • My iPad 2 –Flip Board has changed my life.  I take my iPad 2 to bed with me.  It’s my second husband.
  • Ad supported websites are a lie.  You can’t make much money from Google ads because less than .001% of visits result in the visitor clicking an ad link.  It would be far better for me to sell advertising space myself.

Honestly, I think a lot of my blogging has become Tweets on Twitter.  On Twitter I can write a few quick thoughts and let them float through the ether.  It’s more efficient than “rambling”.  The immediacy of Twitter is nice and I get more community feedback from Twitter than I do from this blog now that I’m on the outside world.

Thoughts on Borders Books Troubles

Borders Books is in bankruptcy and I’ve seen all kinds of blame going around.  I was most irritated by people who blamed customers for Borders demise.  That’s like saying the customer doesn’t know what they want and that we as customers should be joyful for whatever Borders brings to our lives.

I haven’t been to a Borders in months.  The last time I went, they were having a tent sale to get rid of awful books and the random non-book crap they sell.  Before that visit, I noticed that my Borders was selling fewer and fewer books in favor of the random non-book crap.  Most of this non-book crap is the random crazy-cat-lady crap you’d find at a Hallmark store.  If I can’t find any books I want to read at Borders, what am I supposed to do?  The obvious means available to me is an online book seller like Amazon.  Case-closed:  Amazon wins and Borders loses and has to at some point unload all that random non-book crap at pennies on the dollar.

I read a lot of manga and lately I’ve heard a lot of manga publishers and their related sympathizers complain that with Borders closing they will have fewer places to sell books.

Shelf space is limited and expensive and how are smaller titles to get attention when a bookstore has to stock all 50+ volumes of a wildly popular series like “Naruto”?  And then on top of that, they complain that have to put series on hiatus and forgo renewing licenses because customers aren’t buying the books from neither the physical bookstores or online bookstores.  It seems to me that something is fundamentally broken.  Here are some things that come to mind:

1. How many of us have room for 50 volumes of any series before we even talk about reading multiple series?

2. How many of us have $500 plus tax to spend on 50 volumes of any series.  Now ask yourself how many 12-year-olds have this kind of money?

The way manga is sold makes absolutely no sense and trying to sell manga like normal books is ridiculous.  I say to all the manga publishers out there, know your customers and take a commonsense approach to the space issue.  If there are more than 5 volumes, put it online, sell kids access they can buy for cash at a brick-and-mortar store, and charge a price that is commensurate with the age of your target audience (10 to 25-cents per chapter will do nicely).  Relying on a bookstore to push paper when shelf space is rare, manga is prolific and fractured, and the customers are used to reading stuff on the Internet is a losing proposition.  The Borders bankruptcy has nothing to do with manga publishers woes.  The manga publishers have yet to address their customers unmet needs and don’t seem to realize that it’s not the customers’ job to address the unmet needs of the publishers.

Back to Borders…What can Borders do to save itself.  Well…the obvious thing they can do is actually sell books.  In the end, though, I truly think there isn’t much Borders can do.  They can sell books online, but they need something to differentiate themselves from and improve upon the experiences Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer.  They could get smaller and more community connected.  I like small spaces with books, magazines, pastries, and hot drinks.  I also like places where there are knowledgeable sales people who like and know about the books they sell.  There’s nothing better than to go into a bookstore and ask what’s popular with 5-year-olds and have somebody help me chose the perfect present for my niece or my friends’ children.  Maybe they could position themselves as a “for profit library”.  People need help doing research and finding that special book for their special need.

I wish Borders all the luck in the world and I will return to my local Borders Bookstore once they stock actual books again.

In Response to R&D Productivity Metrics

It’s been 2-years since I thought about and responded to the question posed in this blog entry about R&D productivity metrics. The fundamental problem I had with the metrics is that they measured research and development productivity in terms of money in a forward looking manner.  I still maintain this is an easy way for decision makers to fool themselves into making silly decisions and leads to all sorts of  trouble when these prognostications get folded into the financial outlook a company feeds to Wall Street.

But what if we look at R&D in a way that’s more predictable for the nature of R&D, then maybe we can get a more straight forward answer about what R&D to invest in. I think research and development that has the potential to lead to more R&D and more products is the best kind of R&D.  In a way it’s an indirect way to look at money. Put another way, it would be better to do R&D that will lead to more R&D and that can be leveraged into a greater number of products than doing R&D that dead ends when the effort is completed.

Let’s go back for a little bit to think about why a company or a person might do research and development.

1.  A problem needs solving to enable a product

2.  A company wants to enter an existing market

3.  A company wants to create a new market

Problem solving on the fly is basically incidental R&D — a problem comes up, the problem gets solved and life goes on.

The next two reasons for doing R&D require some forethought.  Entering an existing market is difficult because in order to be successful you have to offer a product that is better than the existing products and you have to be able to see into the future to predict whether this market has life left in it.  For instance, I pity the companies that invested heavily in variable printing only to see things get suddenly flipped over by the Internet, e-readers, electronic displays, and the Sustainability Movement.  As for creating a new market, that’s even trickier.  In that case it’s R&D by dumb luck or your company employs some visionaries who can create a vision of the future that appeals to customers.  Dumb luck and visionaries who actually predict correctly are hard to come by.  I think, though, the thing that binds these two reason to do R&D is the need for excellent vintage charts.  And I don’t mean vintage charts with products that have more features as time go by.  What I mean are vintage charts that take technology development and connect them with the trajectory of the markets they are entering.  This of course means linking it to future customer needs and not necessarily some made up vision of the market in terms of dollars.  A good example of some good products that probably came from a good vintage charting are Apple’s iPod to iPod Touch to iPhone and Magic Mouse and eventually to iPad.  These all took the idea of “touch” and expanded it into a technology development that built upon itself to create a string of products with excellent sales.

In thinking about vintage charting, you have start with a vision of the ultimate product or products and then move backward to unlock what technology developments have to happen.  In that process, you can move forward and to the sides to see product adjacencies.  I think if you happen upon a base technology development effort that spawns a grand tree of potential products and other R&D efforts, then you’ve got yourself something to pursue.  Your initial R&D effort will be rewarded with a future filled with products and growth.

I think, though, such activities should be done with scientists, engineers, and marketing.  Too often vintage charts are left only to marketing or engineering managers alone in cones of isolation.  You need the scientists and engineers to isolate the fundamental technology development components and you need the marketing folks to provide insight about customers.  Most importantly, though, an organization needs to have people who can look at matters across engineering and marketing and also have a compelling vision of the future.  And no, I don’t mean a vision of 10% growth year over year until we’re huge.  That’s not a vision of the future.  Those are goals for Wall Street and such goals can only be met by money and financial math manipulation.  What I mean is a technology and product vision and perhaps a 20 – 40-year outlook on society (For example, in 20-years we will create a mechanical suit that will result in a super soldier, or in 10 years all forms of entertainment will be on-demand).  This is difficult in times when companies choose put themselves at the mercy of Wall Street.  However, at some point if a company truly wants to be successful, then they have to concentrate on making something real rather than running a scam to create money from nothing.  Also, in the end, strong sales and excitement about new products always pleases Wall Street…So…well…’nuff said, right? Now get out there and invent!

Some Thoughts on the Change in Publishing

Publishing is changing and the folks in media are screaming bloody murder (not that I blame them for doing so).  Spurred on by the success of Amazon’s Kindle and the iPad, things are moving a lot faster than they ever dreamed I suppose.  Just last month it was reported that Kindle Books sales over took the sales of hardcover books.  It sounds amazing at first glance until you think about how bulky and brick-like hard cover books are compared to the sleekness of the Kindle or the iPad, both in form and bookshelf space (or lack there of…).  Other than the changing form in which we consume printed media, something else is afoot.  There is a challenge to the foundation of traditional publishing itself.  I think we’ve all seen it, but for the most part denied it.  As self publishing becomes easier, the lack of authority rises.  I’ve talked about this before, but I think now I see two stark mirroring realities that can be best summed up as, “Anyone can publish almost anything they want.”  At first I thought “wow” and then this quickly turned into “oh no…”

I guess I’ll focus my thoughts on a subject I’m familiar with: manga.  Leaving aside the current legal controversies of scanlation, I’d rather think about the issues of “authority.”  The truth of the matter is anybody can do scanlation with the right software (or in some cases without).  When I speak of authority in scanlation, I mainly think about the project choices a group makes and whether the translation offered is any good. Continue reading Some Thoughts on the Change in Publishing

It’s Been a While Since I’ve Rambled

It’s been a while since I’ve written an entry in this blog.  I think this says a lot about the state of things.  In general, there’s not much to say, and, in general, there’s not much nice for me to say.

About a month ago while driving home from a night out at the movies, my husband asked me if I wanted to go to Best Buy or Fry’s and wander the aisles.  My response was, “For what?”  That’s when we came to the sad realization that, beyond the iPad, there is nothing for gadget freaks and computer nerds to be excited about right now.  3D TV repulses me and there’s no reason to buy a new TV just because it has yellow pixels.  There are no new speed leaps in PC hardware and I already have a multitude of iPods and PC’s in various form factors.  Ironically, the next day, while listening to Marketplace on my local Public Radio station, one of the news stories was about how sales at Best Buy had fallen.  I guess my husband and my sentiments are widespread.  There’s nothing new and wonderful to aspire to purchase (except for an iPad) and we are only buying on necessity for the purpose of replacing  broken items.  Sadly enough, our non-functioning XBOX360 doesn’t rise to the level of necessity.  We are now watching Netflix VOD on the laptop that’s connected to our TV.

This realization brought about further thoughts about the current state of things.  There’s a push/pull conundrum with the jobs situation.  People are holding back on spending because they feel insecure about their jobs and finances and companies aren’t hiring because there’s not enough demand for produces and services.  I think though, that job and financial insecurity are only a  part of the demand problem.  I think a big part of the demand problem is that there’s nothing exciting and new for consumers to consume.  Why do I say this?  Well, because of Apple, of course.  Despite the downturn, they continue to churn out great products and they don’t seem to be having any problem selling them to cash strapped consumers.  And believe me, my unemployed-behind is saving my husband’s money for a Christmas iPad.

I’m tired of hearing companies whine that they won’t hire because there’s no demand for their offerings.  My response to that line of complaints is “what are you offering?”  If it’s not something new and exciting, regardless of state of the economy, demand will slump.  In good times and bad companies have create demand by innovating and coming up with great new products to drive consumption.  So, in other words, big companies are going to have to spend some of the money they are sitting on, hire some people, and offer some great new products and services in order to kick start demand and spark the economy.  At the same time, there has to be investment in innovative small companies to get new ideas out.

My Dad likes to say that the economy won’t  revive until some sort of phenomenal shift happens — something on scale of the Internet or the steam engine.  I’m not sure if I agree.  It seems to me that there are a lot of “little” things that can get done, too.  Interestingly enough to me, it seems like clean energy isn’t fueling people’s imaginations.   I thought the clean energy revolution would be a phenomenal shift, but it isn’t.  Why?  I think it’s because oil is very much ingrain in our worldwide psyche.  I’m not sure I understand this emotional attachment to oil, but despite the damage being done to the Gulf, I hear the tears in people’s voice as they talk about the spilled oil ruining the environment, while at the same time, ruining job prospects and a way of life in which oil and fishing are intertwined.  The same is true for families in the coal mining industry — it’s like coal mining is part of the family.  It’s weird to me — why love something that kills you and hurts everyone on the planet?    Also, I think oil and coal are tangible whereas solar, wind, nuclear, and the biological and chemical methods of energy generation seem abstract to most people.   I imagine “blue collar” workers don’t see how they fit into a world that they associate with hard science and engineering — though, it seems entirely ridiculous to me, but understandable since BP saw it fit to fire the very engineers and scientists that could have prevented or more reasonably responded to the Gulf oil spill.  (By the way “technicians,”  “engineers,” and “scientists”  are not interchangeable!)  Anyhow…it seems to me that our reliance on fossil fuels is emotional and until that emotional tie is cut, other forms of energy generation cannot rise in its place.  The “everyday worker” has to see how they fit into a new energy future before they will buy into it.    Making alternative energy seem more accessible is a good problem for marketers to solve…

On the other fronts…well,  inventing new ways to print money never got us anywhere.  Yet, “Wall Street innovation” will continue, driven by finding new ways to scam people without technically breaking the law…personally, I don’t need it…but I imagine the new legislation that just passed will fuel a whole new round of “Wall Street Innovation…”

On a personal front, I’m watching and participating in the electronic manga revolution.  I want to be more active in it.  I think, though,  this is one of those things in which the large companies have to reach out to the smaller companies and hobbyist groups to get things moving in the right direction for consumers.  I just hope lawyers and greed don’t blind folks such that we end up losing the current opportunity.

About Nothing in Particular