February 27, 2012

Making a mark on books

Filed under: Futures,Innovation,Technology — by xrematon @ 8:05 pm
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One of my favourite ‘treats’ to myself is browsing in charity shops for books. It is very easy and cost-efficient to buy books on Amazon, but ultimately a functional experience; it is very lovely to smell new books in a bookshop, but I get distracted by the amount of tempting choice on offer and end up being unhappily overwhelmed, often walking out empty ended.

But in charity shops, who knows what you will find? To be fair, most of the books are pretty easy to dismiss: chick lit, Mills & Boon, Wilbur Smith, Dan Brown etc. You also tend to find more high brow books, which have clearly hit public consciousness and are guaranteed to appear in most charity shop shelves, often in multiple quantities. How often I have sighed to find yet another  ‘Curious Incident of a Dog’, ‘Atonement’, ‘Captain Corelli’, ‘White Teeth’, ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ etc.

What I like best is to find something which I have sort of heard of but never got round to buying or getting from the library; or even better, something which intrigues me – an unexpected opportunity to be challenged and stretched.

Last week, I got a double-whammy of unexpected pleasures: I found a book which seemed unusual but interesting and, as I looked inside to get a better feel for the writing, I found the volume to be signed by the author (see picture below for proof!).

Looking at this signature made me wonder – how do you get signed copies of eBooks?

To be fair, some real books have less than real signatures – I am thinking of Margaret Atwood and her ingenious LongPen which enables her to sign a volume without actually being present in the room.

In doing some more research, I did come across a way in which it is possible for authors to make their mark on a virtual book. Using Kindlegraph as a platform, authors can send personalised inscriptions and signatures directly to the electronic reading devices of their fans.

But how about this for something even better? Stephen King gave people the opportunity to personalise a book with themselves. For the UK edition of ‘The Wind through the Keyhole’, you could upload your photo through the appropriate facebook page and there is a chance that you could appear on the back cover.

Nifty but I think I would prefer a signed copy!

February 16, 2012

In store, at home or both?

Filed under: Customer Service,Technology — by xrematon @ 3:42 pm
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Shops – are they in or out? It’s hard to tell. Forecasts for online shopping are pretty bullish, but then again, shiny stores appear here, there and everywhere. There was news the other week about Google getting in on the act.

Well, I must confess to being keen on online shopping as getting to places is not always straightforward when you don’t have a car, and then being in the shop can be pretty painful when you are restraining bored children.

However, last week, I tried a different type of shopping experience – without a shop but very much placed in the ‘real world’. A friend has recently become an ‘Usborne Book Lady’ and hosted her opening party at home. Now, I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty about whether this kind of selling makes sense. If you are after that – it’s easy to find more on the ever-informative Mumsnet – where it is clear some aren’t that keen on the whole idea.

what i really can’t understand with usbourne (or avon or pheonix) is that you can get it all on amazon or somewhere else at good prices. how do you make any money for the time put in? is it one huge con or are people happy to make a little money in the belief that they are actually achieving something? Whilst in the meantime these big companies are raking it in, asking for the workers to spread their name !!. The workers are evan BUYING their products to sell on! And the way i read it, it seems to be evolving almost of pyramid selling with one person taking on initiates to ‘manage’ …. it just seems to me someone is exploiting a strangely vulnerable (yet hugely strong (??)) sector of society – those who want to earn (however much that may be) whilst still wanting to be there at all times for their children.

Though I agree that you can just get it all on Amazon, the experience – in some ways – was very different to buying online.  Obviously, I could pick up the books, handle them, flick through the pages, all pretty crucial when you are getting items for fussy customers (children).  But, here’s the thing – what made it special: online,  you have to glean what you can from reading other people’s reviews; here I was surrounded by other mothers, who had children of the same age, who could share their wisdom and answer questions straight away. It was a real-life experience of hearing about other user’s opinions –  much vaunted as the critical feature for virtual shopping.

But I guess the killer question for some is whether it changed what I bought. On balance – yes – I got more – and know what I want to get next time.

PS Did I mention there are tea and cakes on tap too!

February 7, 2012

Personal experience of income inequality

Filed under: Business — by xrematon @ 11:42 am
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The UK media is having a field day kicking up a snowstorm of its own about excessive levels of pay – probably some are feeling relief that the spotlight is no longer so much on the press as it has been in the past couple of months with the Leveson inquiry.

There are strong views about the issue of high pay – revel in the vehemence of George Monbiot’s writing:

Obscene rewards for success are as socially corrosive as obscene rewards for failure. They reduce social mobility, enhance plutocratic power and allow the elite to inflict astonishing levels of damage on the environment. They create resentment and reduce the motivation of other workers, who see the greedy bosses as the personification of the company.

And then read about what it feels like on the other side – from the comments of one ex-trader:

It’s a hard thing for the other 99 percent to grasp, but for better or worse, that’s how they measure their value and self-worth: what their paycheck is. They’re being pilloried in the press and by the 99 percent. People in the industry are being treated like pariahs.

My contribution to the debate is based on personal experience. In 2004, I worked in India for a year in the local office of The Futures Company (then known as The Henley Centre). I wasn’t on a big salary, I didn’t have a juicy ex-pat deal and I was definitely carefully counting rupees in the face of surprisingly high rents in central Mumbai, but I was struck by how even what I was paid was a signficant multiple of what colleagues sitting around me were getting. These colleagues were freelancers working for IMRB (whose office space we shared). These individuals were paid on a daily basis and at the bottom of the professional pecking order. Based on rough calculations, I was probably getting ten times what they were, and I reckon the CEO  of the IMRB was getting at least ten times what I was.  To me, that seems like veritable income vertigo.

If I compare to what the situation would have been in the UK, I am pretty sure that none of my colleagues in London were ever paid ten times less than me and I would find  it hard to believe that our esteemed senior management earnt ten times my salary.

However, I have a final observation to offer: the situation in India was not quite as ‘ruthless’ as those calculations might seem. When there were times of celebration – for example birthdays or for some religious festival – it would be the senior staff who would pay out of their own pockets for treats, such as meals out, getting sweets in etc. It did feel like there was a recognition of some sort that noblesse oblige.

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