This invocation, spoken by the referee to initiate a scrummage in the English game of Rugby Union, has been echoing through what remains of my mind in a weekend where, as ever in my place at Twickenham, I have watched England eke out a gritty victory against the French. American readers may jump a paragraph if they will at this point, or join with me in wonderment at the glories of time transfer (my son and I came home to analyse the game in painstaking detail using slow-mo on a previously recorded version, and then spent this afternoon joyously alternating between coverage of Scotland v Ireland from Edinburgh and India v England at cricket, live from Bangalore). Masters of Time and Distance, and only beholden to the Laws of Commerce (I was unable to see previous games in the US since ESPN hold the rights for excerpts and summaries!). But when this wonderful sporting escapism shrugs off the constraints of territoriality and becomes a live factor on my Tablet the dynamics of daily life change again (phone call from my daughter at university this evening: unable to complete essay because too much distraction on time-lapse internet TV). We must bear in mind that it was sports coverage (in the soon to end days of geographical exclusivity) as much as anything else that built the House of Murdoch, so this is no trivial subject matter. Nor is my concern that my children may never qualify for anything at all if they have to shrug off a barrage of media possibilities and temptations never made available to me.

And this is a futuristic conversation in another sense, and perhaps I should now make an alarming confession. I do not own an iPad. I can defend this and increasingly often have to do so, by saying that “I never buy before 6.0” (makes one sound smugly superior instead of poor and outdated) or, even more often “I am waiting for the HTC Flyer”! This usually throws the inquisitor off the scent – either he does not recognize the Taiwanese industry wunderkind, whose smartphone is so readily promoted by Google at present, or he has heard of the Flyer, due to launch later this year, and can debate with me on the merits of  having a 420 gramme machine (same weight as a paperback, half the weight of an iPad), on which you can draw or write as well as use touch screen access. By this time I have covered my tracks on the ownership issue, and we part agreeing on how clunky the iPad really is. Until next Wednesday, that is, when Apple unveil iPad 2.0 and the pressure mounts again for me to come aboard.

I have been having some excellent debates in recent weeks about this unrefereed scrummage which is technology innovation, and its impact on the rapidly moving world of  business and professional information. At the moment so many of our preconceptions are built around the consumer uses of the tablet world and around the access advantages that the devices provide in business and elsewhere for travellers, that we are not yet tuned into the impact that this mobile computing power could have on our workflow activities and the integration of still separate elements of our intranet and extranet worlds. In my view, carrying your connectivity on a Tablet will place renewed pressure on improvements in voice-text transliteration, and at last begin to move machine language translation from the esoteric to the standard. Words spoken will need to be stored and subject to textual analysis, as well as being copied to third parties. Documents exchanged will need to exist multi-lingually where necessary. And nothing will be stored that cannot also be heard. All of this will ready the tablet to its eventual role, as portended by the laptop releasing us from the desk, as the complete personal assistant – the PDA  comes to fruition at long last. Then I will discard my Blackberry, throw out the Netbook that loyally travels thousands of miles with me and embrace the Future. But, since you ask, I am currently at Pause, and not yet Engage.

Finally, some updating of previous efforts here. In the first instance it is always good to remind ourselves of past worlds and where we came from, and the trading statement of Yell, the yellow pages publisher who named itself after its online service but never really invested in it does that splendidly.  Pre-tax profits in the nine months to December were halved and revenue was 11.8 % off target. In its UK businesses print revenue went down 22.3% and online went up 1.8 %. Recovery is proving worse than recession. Like much of the newspaper world, this advertising sector is now dead wood, in my view. While it remains interesting to see who can recreate in digital services the hyperlocal environments that once gave rise to local newspaper publishing, the heirs to  classified advertising directories are now fully entrenched in network marketplaces. Time to write the history here.

And can the same be said of consumer book publishers? Not quite yet, perhaps, but since I wrote about Ms Amanda Hocking (26 year old care assistant from Minnesota with 4 paranormal romances in the USA Today bestseller list last month), other evidence of successful self-publishing comes to light. This time it is British thriller writer Stephen Leather. Although an established conventionally published author, his latest novellas were rejected by Hodder and Stoughton (Hachette) as being too short. So he published them, like Ms Hocking, on Amazon. One, a gritty everyday tale of a serial killer in New York, has topped the Amazon bestseller download list for 7 weeks, and his other works have been at the top, he estimates, for 90% of the past 3 months.  He claims in interviews to sell 2000 books a day, and to be earning £11,000 a month from this activity, but this is not what interests me most. Like Ms Hocking, his works are short, and sell for $0.99 /£0.70. I smell a trend – short enough and cheap enough to read on the train!  I don’t commute and don’t have an iPad, but I do see that survival as a publisher may mean moving one’s focus to where the buyers are going. Or is that just old-fashioned consultancy talk!


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1 Comment so far

  1. Kevin Mangan on March 1, 2011 09:09

    I read your blog about Google and now this one. I was trying to put my finger on it. Something familiar. Yes, I can hear in the variety of anecodal incidents the echoes of Pan African travel which were often the substance of digressions you made when faced with an employee looking for a pay rise. Nice to see that you are still lucid, travelling and digressing! Should you wish ever to catch up, I would be pleased to get in touch.