Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Consulting & advisory, research notes, in the press, about bubblegen,
next wednesdays.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Humour of the day

Would you pay $15000 for air?

Spray on mud sold as SUV accessory

(Via Marginal Revolution)

-- Mahashunyam // 6:37 PM //


Human Pacman at the Mixed Reality Lab of NTU Singapore is just way too cool!

(Via Terranova).

-- Mahashunyam // 3:24 AM //

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Big Picture

TIME Asia Magazine: How to Lose Friends -- Jun. 13, 2005

Did I mention that I think Kishore Mahbubani just rocks?

-- Mahashunyam // 6:13 PM //

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Media 2.0 - Why And How Much Should You Open Up Your Goods?

"...Seriously though. It's all a great idea, but his case study was "House Music 1980-2005"?? How are producers of underground house music today any better off today than, for example, a local bar band was in the 70s? Did I miss the point here?

I was hoping for some actual models as to WHY a content producer should do all the opening up. His "Three sources of Media 2.0 Value" slide seemed to omit any value for the content to the original producer. Hmm...."

Says Mick at Ian's blog. I think these are great questions, so let me spend what little blogging time I have today discussing them.

First, why should content producers open up? Well, the reason in my model is straightforward: when you open up, complementarity happens. That is, other people can add cool stuff (like complements; mods, playlists, tags, etc) which increases the value of your good.

Now, obviously, in a perfect imitation world - one where everything you make can be costlessly, instantaneously ripped - opening up is a dominated strategy always and everywhere for everyone.

But most content producers don't (and will never) live in such a world. This is what the Snowball Effect is really about, and it's a point I should have made more explicit. By the time others get around to ripping your good and eroding your margins, you've already shifted the game: you've not only created more, but you've also made it more difficult to imitate.

For example, mods which are specific to your game, tags which refer specifically to you, playlists which cite your track, not theirs, etc, etc. These complements act as imitation/entry barriers, because of increasing returns, which make switching away from your good, and to the imitators', much more costly.

Now, that's economics. Here's the strategic bit, which I'm a bit hesitant to discuss, because content providers wanna feed me to sharks every time I do. The point is that if you don't open up your goods, someone else likely will. It's a pre-emption game.

Like it or not, we now live in a world where plasticity drives value. Grey markets arbitrage digital media property rights away with ease. I split my time between three continents; on all three, I can get my PS2 chipped for a few bucks, and defeat the region encoding on my DVD player as long as I have a Net connection.

To use a relevant example, think about how much value Nullsoft/Napster/etc captured from the music industry because they refused to open up even partially, with simple digital distribution and ideas like playlists. The more you focus on locking things up, the worse off you are in the long-run, because you build exactly the wrong competences - you build competences that result in rigid, not plastic, goods.

Now, this points to another dimension, which is in some upcoming work. In the short-run, how much should you open up in order to maximize profitability? This is a function of how far along the spectrum of goods and services you are (or your value chain is). The more to the services side, the more complements you can help prosumers produce cheaply, so the better off you are opening up more.

On the other hand, if you can only produce goods, and can't provide the services which let prosumers produce cheap complements, then you're better off closing your goods, since it will difficult to generate snowball dynamics (or even if they do get generated, those players providing services will capture the rent).

For example, let's say you can only produce tracks and albums, but not playlists, GarageBand, iTunes, or BitTorrent. Then you're only providing goods, not services - and you can't capture the rents that flow from complementarity. So you're better off closing off your goods in the short-run, but this builds exactly the wrong competences for long-run success. This is exactly the problem the music industry's created for itself - a competence trap.

As to how house producers are better off than bar bands...I think this a is a great question. Here's my answer: on average, house producers make more money per output, gain more utility from what they do, and crucially, are more productive. This makes everyone along the value chain better off - consumers, suppliers, distributors.

Or, you could think about the counterfactual and just look at clubs: there wouldn't be so many house clubs in most cities if house producers weren't better off than bar bands - house producers would choose to be bar bands.

I think the forces I outlined - openness, decentralization, etc - have hugely increased the gains to everyone involved in the house music value chain - that's why I chose it as an example.

Now, all this ultrageekery points to kind of a rich irony with Yahoo 360. I think it's cool, but I couldn't leave this as a comment; I'd like to chat with Ian, but I can't contact him - because Yahoo 360 is a closed beta. Ha ha.

-- umair // 9:36 PM //

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Tariffs, Wars, and the Economics of Protection:Lessons from the History of American Textile

"The fierce tariff struggles of 19th century America illuminate the important role trade policy could play in determining the course of history. And as a major player in the protectionist movement, the textile industry was more than knee-deep in the controversy.

This paper is organized into two main parts, the first of which provides a brief review of the development of textile protection during the 19th century, and its role in shaping the period�s political turmoil which culminated in the War Between the States. The second part of this paper seeks to unravel the causes behind Southern hostility against the protective tariff through the lens of Austrian economics, with particular emphasis on its subjective theory of value. The protectionist doctrine, which enforcement is herein argued to be Lincoln�s true motivation for war, is further examined from the standpoint of natural rights theory."

This was a fascinating economic history lesson for me. Also, there's an interesting application of the Austrian subjective value theory to defend free trade on moral grounds based upon the sanctity of fundamental human freedoms. Highly recommended reading for the anti-globalization brigade.

It's amazing to see how the economic drivers of textile industry have remained constant over centuries. History continues to repeat itself:

United Textile/Fiber Industry Seeks China Safeguard Action

-- Mahashunyam // 7:28 PM //

Monday, June 06, 2005

Apple, Intel, and DRM vs Plasticity

So there's been a raging blogosphere debate about why Apple's shifting to Intel - I've wanted to blog this, but haven't had time lately. IMHO, The reason's straightforward: Hollywood and evil label record labels.

As I've said before, Apple's intent is to become the digital media monopsonist - the single buyer/distributor/etailer of the digital mediaverse. Once it does this, it can start a squeeze play, and eventually run a disintermediation play.

Now, a nice way to lock in it's already dominant position with labels, publishers, etc, is, of course, to lock down it's hardware. Hollywood and evil record labels, we we all know, are more than a little paranoid about this.

Hence, the Intel deal - I don't buy the hype about PowerPC chips running too hot, etc. The strategic rationale, I think, is simply that by offering suppliers a Total DRM platform, Apple creates a much stronger value prop.

Or so it thinks - as you and I know, Apple's much better off educating labels and publishers about why exactly rigid DRM is a bad idea; because it erodes the plasticity of media goods, and so massively limits value creation.

So the value prop gets built in one direction, but collapses in the other. Not exactly blindingly smart analytical thinking from Apple.

Most interestingly, all of this nonsense gives a HUGE advantage to marginal players who care a lot more about innovation than an outmoded notion of property rights - emerging Chinese and Indian chip guys, AMD, etc.

-- umair // 3:40 PM //


Hagel, Goldhaber, and Attention

John Hagel has a blog. You should read it - John is an old-school e-commerce strategy guru. His thinking has informed a lot of my arguments.

He has a great post about Media 2.0, citing my presentations, relating them to Goldhaber's Attention Economy.

I read Goldhaber a while back - and while I agree with the premise somewhat, and, like John says, I guess it's kind of unconsciously informed my notion of a coming era of attention scarcity, the thing that turned me off about the book was the latter two-thirds.

Goldhaber's strategic advice, I thought, was kind of mystifying - IIRC, he said everything has to become a 'performance' with everyone as an 'actor'.

I think this is exactly the wrong thing to do, because in a networked economy, where consumption externalities reveals consumers' satsifaction with the goods they've chosen, to put it bluntly, bs walks.

Investing in quality is a dominant strategy, and investing in 'performance' - ie marketing - gets easily dominated, because viral and network effects are superior economic forces to marketing scale/scope economies.

-- umair // 3:24 PM //

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Trade and Poverty

-- Mahashunyam // 5:12 PM //


Bangalored in Beijing

An Indian CEO's impression of Beijing. Competition is indeed a very powerful driver of India's quest to race China to the top.

-- Mahashunyam // 1:56 AM //



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