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Dec. 31st, 2007

One of my favourite parts from Joe Sacco's rivetting 'Palestine'

Jai Bajrang Bali

Just finished reading Chris Anderson’s, fascinating book, ‘The Long Tail’, which transcends genre definition as a whole. It deals with economics/psychology/technology/consumerism. The central premise of the book deals with ‘How endless choice is creating unlimited demand’.

In other words, the book explains the phenomena of how consumer interests are increasingly shifting from being driven by a ‘hit’ culture to actually exploring things which are not mainstream, viz, niches.

“The mass of niches has always existed, but as the cost of reaching it falls-consumers finding niche products, and niche products finding consumers-it’s suddenly becoming a cultural and economic force to be reckoned with”

This phenomena is also referred to as ‘The Long Tail’, with reference to how in demand curve, the first thing you notice is that all the action appears to be in a tiny number of things on the left hand. Those are the hits. However, instead of focusing our attention at the left of the curve, there appears to be an interesting trend towards the right of the curve.

Firstly the curve doesn’t exactly taper off towards zero. It only looks that way because the hits have compressed the vertical scale. But on a closer inspection, the far end of the Tail actually is a microcosm of various niches, which might not individually amount to much, but many of these niches have sub-niches and so on, which in aggregate amounts to quite an eclectic range.

The book goes on to cite three fundamental reasons for the growth of the Long Tail:

Democratization of production
Democratization of distribution
The power of collective intelligence

Democratization of production refers to the process of production no longer being the sole domain of manufacturers. Increasingly, user generated content is being created, which is not subject to the whims and fancies of recording label executives. This has been aided because of the vast array of digital tools at the disposal of individuals. In other words, creative tools like Windows moviemaker etc have ensured that amateur moviemakers can make their movies without having to do the rounds of Hollywood studios or kowtowing to the powers that be and surrendering their creative license.

Democratization of distribution refers to the increasing influence of the online delivery model as compared to the current bricks and mortar system of distribution. In other words, websites like Rhapsody, I tunes, Amazon, You tube etc offer an increasing choice for the consumer which bypasses the existing handicap of brick and mortar stores, viz, shelf space.

The power of collective intelligence refers to the growing tribe of influencers on popular culture, viz, Page rank on Google, Reader reviews on Amazon, blogs etc. Unlike a traditional system, where you didn’t know where to look to gauge the efficacy of a particular product, the power of influencers is engaging. Particularly, in the case of niche items, review and word of mouth make a difference, because there is not much available by way of mainstream media to assist in the decision making process.

Niches by definition do not appeal to the lowest common denominator, hence, the need for collective intelligence to influence the decision making process.

In respect of the true roots of the Long Tail and unlimited shelf space, Chris Anderson gives the example of Sears Roebuck, whose catalogue-retailing model was the first example of creating unlimited shelf space. Incidentally, farmers in rural America could order a wide range of products from the Sears Roebuck catalogue, which was a tome. The catalogue, often in excess of 800 pages comprised every possible product that a consumer could conceive of. Due to the advent of transportation, Sears Roebuck also had to invest in traditional brick and mortar stores, and this entailed sufficient investment in what many consider to be the beginning of supply chain management.

An interesting topic raised in the books is as to whether prices should go down with demand as you travel down the Tail? Or should they rise as they concentrate on appealing to niche audiences?

The answer is to distinguish between “want” markets and “need markets”. In other word, ‘Need markets” are typically those in which customers know what they are looking for and just cant find it anywhere, except, say online. In want markets, we are very particular of what we want, and are more price insensitive. A typical example of this is White Drongo, which caters to a very niche market, viz, manga and graphic novels. Hence, on bestsellers such as Sandman or Watchmen, there might be a discount of say 10 to 15 per cent. However, incase of niche titles like say Osama Tezuka’s Ode to Kirohito, the discount might be zero or very marginal.

However, music is a “need market”, as for the right price, we might be willing to experiment with older titles and obscure artists too.

Broadly speaking, the Long Tail is about abundance, owing to abundant shelf space, abundant distribution and abundant choice. However, this tends to go against the grain of traditional economics, which deals with making choices under scarcity. In other words, how to allocate scarce resources.

“Clearly abundance (also known as “plentitude”) is all around us. Moore’s Law is a classic example. What Carver Mead, the semiconductor pioneer, recognized in 1970 when he encouraged his students to “waste transistors” was that transistors were becoming abundant, which is to say effectively free. This shift in thinking form making the most of scarce computing resources to “wasting” cycles by say, drawing windows and icons on the screen led to the Mac and the PC revolution.

…And indeed, the abundance of the Long Tail is still surrounded by constraints. Although there are near infinite selection of media, there is still a scarcity of human attention and hours in a day. Our disposable income is also limited. On some level, it’s a fixed pie game.

To conclude, The Long Tail is something I can relate to considering the fact that I don’t tend to be influenced by ‘hitism’, which’ so pervades mainstream culture. I have slightly eclectic tastes, as do lots of my friends and the Long Tail is very relevant to us.

Batman returns

Watched a Tendlya innings with a school boy’s enthusiasm after a very long time this morning. India predictably got off to a wobbly start with Zen master Jaffer and Dravid falling cheaply.

Tendlya had that glint in his eye which harked back to his innings of 116 at Melbourne in the 1998 tour. Coming off a humiliating defeat in the previous test, Tendlya launched a blistering attack, being particularly severe on Warnie. Today’s innings had the irreverence which we so associate with Sachin. He didn’t flinch when Lee subjected him to some chin music. He stood unruffled and promptly dispatched the loose deliveries, which the Aussies offered like misers, only occasionally. The whole package was coming together.

The ominous six off Brad Hogg was the highlight in his brief innings. Compared to England, where he seemed a bit bogged down, this innings had all the usual characteristics of a Sachin innings. He comfortably punched deliveries off his pads and sneaked those improbable two’s, though the MCG is a really big ground. The distinguishable factor when Tendlya is on song is evidenced by the footwork on his trademark cover drive. The chin upright and the bat close to the body reminded one of the principles laid down in Don Bradman’s book’ The Art of Batting’, which is the bible of modern day batting.

This Aussie series is of particular interest to all and sundry as it is probably the last time that the Fab Four would perform in their capacity as cricketers here.Who knows??Channel 9 can wink away Tendlya for a lucrative deal??the Tendlya and Warnie show!!!!. The mind boggles

Brahminical Rites!!!

Went to Brahmin’s Cafe today after hazaar time. Was getting comfortably numb with the typical darshini fare. As usual, the throng of ROMEO’s (Retired Old Men Eating Outside) were at their usual best, putting polite conservation with the adigebatru’s. The thing about Brahmin’s, which amazes me, is the quick turn around time. An order of vada, khara bath and coffee is churned within a span of 3-5 minutes. This ensures that a steady stream of junta keep striding in without having to wait. And, unlike Michael Porter’s competitive strategy theory viz, the trade off between volumes and margins, Brahmin’s actually has managed to strike a fine balance between the two. The vada, idli and kharabath are priced at Rs 9 and the coffee at Rs 6, which obviously includes a sufficient mark up to cover the costs incurred (and the additional helpings of chutney). This is one conundrum, which many existing darshini’s, sparing Vidyarthi Bhavan, Central Tiffin Room etc haven’t managed to crack.

An interesting thought struck me while I watched two maami’s wolf down hot vada’s in an auto. Keeping in mind, the rich culinary delights that South Bangalore has to offer (sorry Joshua, Santosh, Vivek, Sohan and Sai, this is strictly vegetarian fare, I am referring to), it would be nice, if a tour is organized covering the troika of MTR, for puri-sagu, Vidyarthi Bhavan, for its famed bennai masala dosa and Brahmins for the best idlis in town. This could be accommodated along with an option of visiting the Bull Temple/ watching a movie at Urvashi or generally soaking in the temples in and around Shankar matt/ Basavanagaudi. Interesting!!!


Brearley and Moore meet Apu!!!!

As Vivek rightly said, our blogs are becoming chronicles of our boredom and redundancy. Moving on, watched Satyajit Ray’s ‘Apur Sansar’ yesterday, courtesy the Satyajit Ray tribute that’s playing this entire month on Zee Studio. The movie is based on the novel ’Aparijito’ by Bibithibushan Bandhopadhyay. The protagonist Apur played in a docile manner by Soumitra Chatterjee is a typical jhola doting intellectual, who manages to eke out a living, doing odd jobs, such as writing in literary journals, taking tuition classes etc. He has an acquaintance Pulu, who satiates his desire for literature by gifting him Lawrence, Keats, Dostoevsky etc.

On a lark, he visits Pulu’s village as a welcome relief from the vagaries of city life and the incessant pressure from his land lord. Things take an abrupt turn while he is in Khulna. Pulu’s cousin Aparna (played by a demure debutant, Sharmila Tagore) is to get wedded. On the day of the wedding, it transpires that the groom is actually a lunatic and the alliance is abruptly broken. In order to salvage the pride of the family, Pulu propositions Apur with the prospect of marrying Aparna. Apur is initially disbelieving, but later gives in.

The travails of the newly married couple in Calcutta lend itself to some humorous moments in the film. However, the idyllic life is shattered, when Aparna dies at childbirth. This event completely transforms Apu. He is shell shocked, and becomes a loner giving up the quest of publishing his novel, and also disowning his son, Kajal. Subsequently, we see Kajal being mischievous and playing pranks on the village folk. Theses scenes are very reminiscent of Durga’s childhood (Apu’s sister), as portrayed in Pather Panchali.

The film ends on a note of reconciliation, with Kajal willing to befriend his father after the initial animosity shown towards him. As the title of this blog indicates, the evening after watching the movie, progressed into an extended reading session of Alan Moore’s seminal masterpiece ‘From Hell’. This book gives me an intellectual high and I prefer reading it in snatches, to savor the experience. I also commenced Mike Brearley’s ‘The Art of Captaincy’ which has an interesting foreword by Sam Mendes (of American Beauty fame). The initial bits are interesting, with the Ashes experiences of the 70’s and 80’s being the centre stage for Brearley to show his acumen. Will probably post a long review shortly.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas!!!

Read this manuscript of Fear and loathing in Las Vegas..interesting


Wake me up when October ends!!!

Aah..October has finally come to an end and with it the itinerant deadline for filing corporate income tax returns. It's been a grueling month with my nocturnal activities having been on an upswing(relax..am still rambling on about work). Haven't managed to do much reading/schmoozing this past month. Managed to read Marcus Berkmann's 'Zimmerman', which explores cricket at an age when your mind is willing, but the body is not..great look at that quintessentially English pastime, village cricket.I also managed to read a pacy satire book by Edmund Huntes, wife of the former Pommie spinner, Phil Edmund's, as she recollects her trip down under in 1993, when England retained the Ashes. The book is a follow up to her 1986 book 'Another Bloody Tour', where she travelled to the West Indies and saw England being pummeled by the West Indian pace attack.

In other news, my fellow intern at work gave me some hazaar movies, which i gleefully lapped up!!!Have so far watched Wong Kar wai's'In the mood for Love', which is a nice movie with a great title track called Yumenji's theme. And yesterday, being Rajyotsava day, i re read Daniel Clowes seminal graphic novel, 'Ghost World'. Nice angst filled book and typically Amercian. Got hazaar fucked in the Landmark quiz, but Sai placed third!!!.

To top it up, watched this absolutely zany movie called' The Aristocrats' which is a re-telling of the world's 'dirtiest' joke, by the greatest comedians of our times..absolutely cranium dumbing movie!!!


Infinite rampage!!!

Enjoyed a super sunday with back to back quizzes at Daly and IIM.Sathya's comix quiz was as enthralling as his previous edition. Sohan and me managed to place second and also pocketed a couple of sin city issues in the bargain. The open quiz was sleisha different with Arul doing a quiz with a very different contour(standout question of the day was the pic commemorating Marcel Marceau's obit..masterpiece!!!).

The IIM quiz was very nice, inspite of it being a hardcore open quiz, Messrs Sohan, Sai and me managed a 'tidy effort' to paraphrase Richie Benaud. The usual suspects aced the prelims and made it to the finals. Harsha Bhogle was his usual self sans the usual cricketing metaphors(where was his trusted aide Gautam Bhimani???). Stuck around till the stage two which was incidentally put up by Sai at our open in December!!!.

I just discovered this new Japanese artist Tatsuya Ishida who is kinda interesting with his storyline..Sample this cartoon