Tuesday, September 11, 2007

RG Madden on design and Australian culture

I wanted to quote:

"[The Ford motor car is] Pound for pound, the best cars in the world - our culture threw that up. You don't have to put a kangraroo on it. It is what it is." And he cites that there are seven Australian designers working for Alessi.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Commodisation is a word I'm hearing a lot

It seems to be a business buzz word at the moment - something businesses should fear. So here is a definition.

A commodity is a product that is completely undifferentiated. If a product becomes less differentiated, so that buyers care less about who they buy from, this change is called commoditisation.
The key effect of commoditisation is that it reduces the pricing power of the producer: if products become more alike from a buyer's point of view they will tend to buy the cheapest.
Commoditisation is a key reason why many growth markets disappoint investors. Sales volumes grow as expected but, as the market matures, prices come under pressure and margins shrink. This is a key issue to consider when picking growth stocks.
In order to avoid commoditisation companies need to be able to differentiate their products with something unique, that is not easily copied by competitors, and which is valued by customers. This may take the form of a strong brand, a technology lead, good design, good retail locations, or anything else that will convince customers not buy the cheapest product. The alternative to avoiding commoditisation is, of course, to compete on price.

I'm not sure how that applies to the book trade.

My understanding of comoditization in the publishing context is the the quality of book stops mattering and the marketing, including the choice of author/subject/celebrity, becomes everything, and the success of the book is then thought to depend on the size of theadvance and the concomitant size of the marketing spend. It's what's happened to a good chunk of UK publishing. It appeals to publishers because it removes uncontrollable variables, like the quailty of the writing, from the equation.

The gorgeously sounding word "fungible" is an allied definition; A commodity is fungible if it is perfectly interchangeable with any other of the same type and class. So a fungible celebrity biography is one that is perfectly interchangeable with any other celebrity biography.

Heyward article in Saturday's Age

I read with interest Michael Heyward's article "Word wise, book poor" in Saturday's Age. It was a spacious and fascinatng review of the state publishing in this country. I found much I agreed with and quite a bit I disagreed with - a sharp and enjoyable stimulus to thought.

First it pips me off that independent children's publishing get so little recognition both in the broader community (including festivals), within government, and even within our own independent publishing community. Michael doesn't include children's publishing in the para "Independent publishing shows signs of life…" (I'd like to see a Books Alive for children's books - start kids reading, keep them reading in the teen years and you build a community of "cuirious habitual readers".)

I agree its a good time for independent publishing, that it was a tragedy that the stylish McPhee Gribble folded into Penguin (they did blaze an amazing path), and that branch-plant publishing slowed the development of publishing infrastructure (but has enable the independents to access excellent distribution).

The economy is chuffing along and the independent publishers seem to be doing quite nicely in its wake. Times are golden for books. $2.5billion at the till, bigger than film ($867 million at the till of which only $40 million was for Australian films) and recorded music combined. The comparison Michael makes between Nobel-prize winning Patrick White selling 30,000 copies in 1973 and Kate Grenville selling more than 100,000 copies of The Secret River is a sign of how far we have come. And we need more astute, quick-witted publishers like Michael, Henry Rosenbloom and Rod Hare both within and without the corporate walls.

I'm not convinced of the necessarily beneficial effects of government spending though. I think the failure of our film industry is in part a result of its dependence on government funding. The need for government spending sent it on a downward sprial,;the dependence on a beauracratic decision-making process has worked against the quick-witted and the astute and favored the earnest. Govenment money is a two edged sword. I think PLR and ELR have been a huge success because they reflect people's choices.

I like Michael's suggestion of a national non-fiction prize; and what about government support for the CBCA awards?

If you missed the article, it is well working fishing the paper out of the recycling bin and having a read.

Friday, September 07, 2007

e book

We have to read Anna Karenina for my book group, and I started by printing pages from a download from Project Gutenberg - worked but a little clumsy, so now I've downloaded the e-book software for my Palm Pilot, and I'm going to give it a shot, reading my first e-book.

I'll let you know how I go.

NSW's Premiers shortlist

A huge congratulations to black dog authors Lili Wilkinson (Joan of Arc) and Peter Mcinnis (The Kokoda Track) for their shortlisting in the NSW Premier's History Awards.

The Kokoda Track is the clearest and most readable description of the experience of the Militia and the AIF on the Kokoda Track. It's not just for kids. And congratulations to Karen, the editor, and Guy, the map-maker.

And I was particularly pleased to see a non-Australian topic be recognized by the judges with Lili's Joan. It's a terrific book - the fictionalized voices extraordinary - and then when you've finished Joan please start reading Lili's latest - Scatterheart