On Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

Kaizen – Japanese meaning (“Good change”)

For a while now I have been associated with various continuous improvement activities both at office and home, which has been a humbling experience. When we know things are not going as expected or there is a shortcoming in the way it is executed, there are two ways to look at it. First approach is to blame/penalize/criticize some or all the people associated with it, including self. This results in accumulation of negative energy eventually leads nowhere other than cribbing and complaining. Second option is to seek ways to improve the situation by having continuous improvement mindset. When I was referring back to some standard philosophy, I came across Kaizen introduced by Japanese post world war as a waste reduction in a system and aiming towards continuous improvement, which is both philosophy and practice.

Let us consider the following situations:

  • Given the nature of a project or work, existing standard project management execution frameworks (ex: Sprint) doesn’t work due to some internal issues
  • Given time-frame of the project, process/life-cycle compliance goes out of window, resulting in lesser process compliance
  • At home, we often have situation where we end up running/searching for photocopies of necessary documents (ex: passport) which is not available when required

As mentioned above, it is very easy to complain and pass on the buck (saying person X, who is responsible for this has not done his/her job). On the other hand, if we take small but steady steps towards improvement, with bigger inspiration in mind then thing start turning into a different situation. Personally it results in the following:

  • By accepting the fact that something is not correct, brings down ego of individuals by making us humble
  • Ensures individuals take up inspirational mindset, thereby approaching things from solution point of view rather than problem alone
  • True test of persistence, as the journey of continuous improvement never ends
  • Over a period time creates a systematic and practical approach to innovation which makes huge difference to individual and business

Japanese started off with automotive industry with no background, when their country was in debacle. In my opinion being humble and taking up mindset to improve things over a period of time has paid them tremendously by creating Toyotas and Sony’s of the world. By adopting some of these practices by understanding the philosophy definitely make a difference for us and people around us both in workplace and in family.

Are you ready to take up this journey?

Book retailing: Traditional v/s online

Recently I had a casual conversation with owner of a large scale book store. His is a family owned business, been in book retailing for decades with great passion for reading. Upon further discussions he mentioned about his book retailing business heading south (for months together) due to the emergence of e-commerce portals like Flipkart. It is quite obvious that e-commerce portals enjoy benefits of on-demand inventory, lesser operational costs (ex: rental) and direct supplier relationships helps to offer a better price. Added to that, most of Indian e-commerce portals are backed by heavy funds from venture capitalists, which help them to provide un-realistic discounts on books with additional benefits like free shipping, cash-on-delivery etc. Over a period of time, these e-commerce portals build valuation for the company based on number of transactions and incrementally grow by bringing more products (apparels, electronics, toys etc…) thereby becoming online mega store. On the other hand, traditional book retailers are struggling to keep up their operations with increasing rental/labor costs, overhead of inventory and limitation of not able to offer higher discount as it will affect their bottom line.

As a matter of fact this problem is not new. In countries like US e-commerce portals (likes of Amazon) took away significant market share from traditional book stores but some of them re-invented themselves and survived this challenge. I was wondering what Indian book stores (considering Indian context) can do to compete fiercely online bookstores. Here are some of my ideas which can be considered:

  • Similar to book stores of the west (ex: Barns and Noble) traditional book stores should re-shape themselves as modern libraries by creating a compelling reading experience around it. Readers should be compelled to walk in, take a look of their choice and spend hours in the shop by going thru their favorites. By adding additional factors (like coffee shop, comfortable table & chairs for reading, offering sample chapters for free etc…) these book shops can attract regular visitors who will potentially end up buying these books
  • There are some specific types of books (ex: Children books) come in various shape, size and weight, which is still not comfortable to buy online. As a parent I spent lot of time considering these aspects before buying book for my daughter by physically visiting the shop. Such type of books still has a lot of ‘touch-and-feel’ factor associated with it. Traditional retailers should think of some special promotions and tie-ups to push these books thru young parents and readers
  • Among adult readers (both fiction and non-fiction) there is a strong possibility to build a community based on common interest. Such communities combined with social media can be made as early adapters of new releases and share their viewpoints in terms of face-to-face get together, sharing book reviews, meeting authors directly and exchanging book related practical experiences. Such community should be provided with special discounts and covered under loyalty programs, thereby attacking clusters
  • Even now many of the traditional shop owners are expecting customers to physically walk into the shop and order for books. This should be changed by adapting home delivery based on phone order, building a micro-site for the bookstore where alternative channels of reaching out to the customer. Such new channels should be backed with excellent customer service in terms of delivery time and quality to re-invent the whole business.

I am not sure if any of the traditional book store owners got necessary mindset to re-invent their business by adopting new ways to sell books in this digital era. Unless they adapt to this change and re-invent the way they do business, it is going to be extremely difficult to survive.

Aakash (Ubislate 7Ci) review

Aakash - Ubislate 7Ci - Review

I purchased Aakash few months back, thought of writing review on multiple aspects. To give a background, Aakash is an ultra low-cost tablet innovated and manufactured by DataWind. This organization also partnered with Government of India for distributing Aakash with subsidized option for school students, which is expected to transform education. My main requirement was to have an ultra-low cost tablet for my four year old daughter, mainly for viewing videos from YouTube. I was not bothered about anything else, so the requirement was very simple and straightforward.

Purchase experience

Pros – Made an online purchase from Datawind’s website (http://www.ubislate.com/) by placing order for Ubislate 7Bi model which comes with resistive touch screen with 3000 INR. Since they operate with razor thin margin, there is no credit card option. Only debit cards are accepted for free shipping. If you are paying by cash (on delivery), additional purchase charge is added. Overall purchase flow was smooth similar to popular ecommerce websites.

Cons – Please don’t go by the service level guarantee they claim in website (ex: 48 hour shipping). I got a call-back after about two weeks of placing the order regarding confirmation. The call center executive by default started talking in Punjabi + Hindi mixture as they are based out of Amristar. Surprisingly executive mentioned Ubislate 7Bi is out of production, but they will ship me an upgraded version (Ubislate 7Ci with capacitive touch screen) with no additional cost. I happily opted for it; shipment reached me a week later. Totally it took three weeks of shipment time. Some of my friends also mentioned about delayed shipments. So if you are looking for faster shipping with immediate use in mind think twice before opting for Ubislate.

User experience:

Overall build quality and packaging looks good, especially considering ultra low-cost option.     Ubislate 7Ci comes with 7″ touch screen, Wi-Fi interface, 512 MB RAM with Android ICS (v4.0.3), which matches my requirement of YouTube viewing using home wireless Internet.  Typical device sign-up is done with Google ID worked seamlessly. I was able to immediately install many applications from Google Store, without any major problem. The out-of the-box experience was really good.

However after using the device for some time, I observed applications took long time to load, even basic browsing became a pain. On a frequent basis, I need to use their “killapp” option to clean up unwanted processes to free up some memory. By default all applications gets installed into device internal memory, by moving some of them into external SD card (comes with 2 GB storage) made my device reasonably faster.  Battery backup also very poor, device hardly works for 2-3 hours at a stretch. Many occasions I found booting screen doesn’t show up after charging the device and I ended up doing “plug-and-pray”. This also makes me wonder if the device would ultimately stop functioning some day or the other!

Transforming education?

Aakash was projected as the tablet for transforming education in India by using ultra low-cost plus internet connection as a “one-stop” solution. I have serious concerns on how it can really help school students. Given the not-so-favorable user experience (mainly power backup & speed) adding, slower internet connection (especially in rural areas) would make the experience even worse. By the time I write this post, there are enough and more articles in the web about how this device is already failing big time in mass market adoption. Even though there is a definite market opportunity, once again bad execution failed to capitalize the opportunity. It will be another version of Simputer story.

Bottom line – Don’t buy this device, I am repenting for buying it. My daughter is not using it at all, continue to use home computer or smart phones for watching YouTube!

Bowling coach to Sachin Tendulkar – Make sense?

Of course it doesn’t make sense!

Why do anybody want to appoint a bowling coach to the greatest batsman that cricket has ever produced? Why do we want him to get better with bowling when he is so good at batting? He has been pretty decent part-time bowler who bowled few overs and got some crucial wickets (with some special ones like 1993 Hero cup semi finals against South Africa) as well. All he did for his two decades of historical cricketing career was to bat, bat and just bat!

When I look beyond Sachin, here are the key attributes of Indian top order today:

Sehwag/Gambhir (attacking, aggressive) – Apt for first 15 overs

Virat Kohli (controlled aggression, matured stroke-player) – Apt for 15-35 overs

Raina/Dhoni/Yuvraj (excellent strikers who can effortlessly clear the field plus great finishers of the game) – Apt for 35-50 overs

Of course, when wickets fall early, batsman should adapt to the situation and play. Definitely, this batting order is not arrived in a random fashion. It is arranged based on which position a batsman is exactly good at, based on his natural game. It is done with specific intent in mind so that the possibility of success in a match can be maximized.

Cut to corporate! In teams we end up having different set of people who has different set of strengths. For example in a product development team I typically find individuals who are good in different areas – innovation, requirement analysis, customer interfacing, coding, software designing, user experience, crisis handling, quality assurance, critical problem solving ability and some all-rounders who can do all the above mentioned roles fairly well. It becomes extremely important to have right people in right roles (similar to cricket batting order) to maximize success of the team. Again “success” here could mean anything – increased customer satisfaction, increased sales numbers, quality and on-time product launch etc.

Its always a puzzle and challenging task to identify what individuals are actually good at and provide them with right set of opportunities. In my opinion this is THE critical responsibility of leader who should spend good amount of time in doing that. When roles are identified according to individual’s strengths and corresponding responsibilities are defined, it can be completely left with individuals to produce desired result. When individuals feel they are doing the job where they are good at, it automatically increases their self esteem thereby lifting the overall moral of the individual. In summary is multiples result produced by the team. Let me explain this with some example.

Say an individual A who is extremely good at finding new technology and passionate about innovation. Driven by his creative mental ability he can almost always suggest a new way to get things done. However he may not be a process oriented individual, who might even think process kills creativity. There could be another individual B, who is meticulous when it comes to getting things done by following the process with 100% discipline. He would love to do same things again and again and improve it over a period of time. For him the maximum pleasure comes from continuously refining it, whereas for the former case it could be continuously creating something always. Given the core strength of individuals, they need to be placed in appropriate nature of work. For example A can be part of organizational technology incubation team, which demands frequent survey of latest technology and suggest future business possibilities. B can be placed as a customer facing individual who can champion by following meticulous steps with each and every customer, failing which can cause customer dis-satisfaction. Now what if these roles are reversed? The answer is obvious – planned disaster! A will get completely bored and frustrated with customer facing and B will get scared to come up with new things very frequently.

Identifying individual strengths and providing them with right roles is not always 100% possible in an organization, where there could be multiple options. The team/business may not require a particular strength or skill which an individual is good at. In such cases it is much better to rotate individuals to different opportunities inside the organization where their skills can be utilized in a better manner. Or in some worst scenario, it is better to let them go (or they will get frustrated and leave the organization) rather than wasting both individual and organization’s time. In some cases there would be a possibility that the individual skills matches to the role to a larger extent (say 80%) who can be still provided support for making him effective in the role.  In some other cases individuals need to be rotated across different roles (ex: R & D -> marking) to expose them different aspects of the business, which is part of leadership building process. As a direct impact, this will immediately reflect in an individual’s performance ratings. I will talk more about this in a separate post.

BOOK REVIEW: The new age of Innovation

Author(s): CK Prahalad and MS Krishnan

The context of innovation has been over the years. In the world of business (especially the ones which are consumer centric) providing superior ‘customer experience’ has become the core, on which organizations build their competitive advantage. However building this customer experience (which varies from one customer to other) is not easy to build from the organization point of view, as they may not have all the necessary resources to do that. This is precisely where leveraging global networks (thanks to the power of Internet) and co-creating value along with customers become very critical, thus forming the new age of Innovation. In the book titled ‘The new Age of Innovation’ authors CK Prahalad and MS Krishnan provide a framework for building this new age of innovation in organizations, which is essential to stay competitive.

Before jumping into details of the book, let us understand the concept with a simple example: The iPhone ecosystem. Given the fact that Apple iPhone (and Apps) are used by millions of customers worldwide, they will have unique set of application requirements depending on their need (ex: App for a local eCommerce site). However Apple alone cannot achieve it by developing millions of applications as they may not have the necessary resources to do that. In order to address specific customer needs, releases a Software Development Kit (SDK) using which can be used by any individual for developing applications and host it as a part of the App-store. This is precisely what authors call it as N = 1, R = G model of innovation. In order to address a unique requirement of a customer (N = 1) firm can leverage Resources (R) that are available globally (G).  In the similar lines of Apple, many organizations are innovating around this N =1, R = G model, some of the examples being Wal-Mart (retail) and ICICI (Banking).

After introducing this new model of innovation, authors dive deep into intricacies in subsequent chapters by taking various aspects and case studies. The first aspect talks about having robust business processes, which lay foundation for innovation as it integrates business strategy, business process and operations. The very process of doing a business activity differently can act as a competitive differentiators, thereby enabling innovation. ICICI Bank in India is a classic example where they transformed the face of Indian banking system by being successfully executing the business process innovation. Also by consistently building on the process they are able to introduce services like internet banking, online trading account, cost-effective support system etc. The subsequent chapter talks about deriving useful insights (ex: customer behavior and expectations) with data analytics by listening deeper into customer transactions. The analytical information derived can be used to take specific actions (ex: Dynamic configuration of resources, continuous improvement, strategic redirection) in order to meet customer/market expectations. Especially for organizations like UPS or FedEx, deriving useful intelligence information from global supply chain becomes critical.

Third aspect of innovation is about having robust Information and Communication Technology (ICT) architecture where building scalable and intelligent systems for responding to unique customer demands.  For example, Google accesses 40 billion distinct pages to create unique personalized experience (N = 1) for its customers, which is aided by strong internal ICT architecture. All the above mentioned three aspects (business process, analytics, ICT architecture) cannot be successfully implemented if organization and its people are not flexible and adaptable enough to cope with changing business environment. In order to achieve the desired results, strong organization commitment should be there in terms of senior management evangelism, strong accountability with alignment and clear understanding of ICT architecture, which is covered in subsequent chapters.

The people goal can be achieved only when the organization evolves by taking real time decision backed up with strong data-points, strong yet flexible organizational structure and pro-actively addressing customer issues. The other key point is to improve the capability of the organization by understanding and continuously making competency improvement in the organization. Authors explain various case studies (ex: Madras Cements) and how they have leveraged the people part to gain business advantage out of it. The final chapter of the book talks about a list of agenda those global managers to adapt for making the innovation work in their teams and organizations.

In my opinion, the context of Innovation has changed to a larger extent recently. What was initially considered as a “cool product” may not necessarily innovative in business sense as it may not make the organizational business successful. Taking customers and their unique experiences into account is a very important for innovating in business today, where many aspects mentioned in the book can be handy. Another very interesting observation is to see many case studies from various Indian companies and their innovation models, which is quite inspiring.

Customizing open source software

The Open Source and Linux saga seem to be never ending for me!

All of a sudden my Windows 7 installation stopped booting up, probably due to virus attack. Again bitten by the interest of Open Source I installed Open SUSE 12.1 as my desktop operating system as I was pretty happy with it using from my Virtual Box earlier. The installation process was a breeze, all basic functionality including wireless interface (where I head problems with Ubuntu 10.01) came up without any issue. Just about when I thought everything is fine (which I have been thinking for the past 10 years) one major problem popped up.

I have a Toshiba Satellite L640 model, which started heating up a lot after the Open Suse installation. Add to my woes, battery backup was hardly happening for 10 minutes. In spite of searching many online forums (and reading some stuff about ACPI interface) I couldn’t find a solution to fix the problem. While many of the threads in discussion forms acknowledge the problem, there was no solution available. Even if it exists it would be too geeky, might involve making some hacks which was not so obvious. With pretty decent understanding of Linux internals I was not able to figure it out the solution, let alone a novice customer finding it. The bottom line is many of the consumer (ex: laptop issues) specific issues don’t have an organized approach of solving the issue.

This incident popped few interesting questions in my mind. As Open Source provider, we can’t expect Open SUSE community to provide solutions for every other possible consumer hardware available in the market. Since the open source development done by thousands of developers around the world, we can’t expect them to know the vendor specific implementation information (ex: hardware spec) available. On the other hand I am not sure if it is Toshiba’s responsibility to release compatible software. Does this incompatibility issue offer some business opportunity?

In the enterprise side Redhat has implemented a model where basic Open Source software is provided at a very nominal cost but they make money by selling customization services. In the similar lines does providing open source software customization services for consumer markets offer valuable proposition? Can some innovative options thought of implementing such services and make it business viable? Currently not able to do a complete business analysis of this, but definitely this area can be explored with some innovative approaches.

Top five for Twitter

The micro blogging platform Twitter has emerged as a powerful medium to exchange short messages called ‘tweets’ which has a maximum of 140 characters. Introduced as a social networking platform, this small yet powerful idea has outgrown itself to emerge as one of the powerful marketing tools. If you are a small and medium business owner, and are trying to offer any product or service online, Twitter is one application you just cannot afford to miss out. Here are the top5 reasons for using Twitter.

One – Promotion medium: To start with Twitter can be easily used as a medium to promote your product or service that you or your organization is offering. You can post simple ‘tweets’ regarding your offering and initial user base (beta) can be built in no time. The more ‘followers’ for your profile, the bigger the use base is. These ‘followers’ are the set of people to whom you can directly communicate with about your product/service. It could build critical mass for promotional events etc. As everyone who uses ‘Twitter’ is a customer, this offers an easy to directly reach them.

Two -The ‘Viral’ way: The ultimate power of Twitter comes from its ability to create viral messages about your product or service. Remember everybody in the Twitter world is capable of writing Tweets, which can help you to generate excellent word-of-mouth promotion for your product or service. Within minutes people express their views in through ‘Tweets’, which can heavily influence their followers, who can influence more people to know about your product/service. In a way it works as a multi layered structure, where everybody can be a influence the other.  These influencers will eventually get converted into more number of people becoming aware of your service/product and eventually will turn into customers of the service or product you are trying to offer via online. With traditional marketing getting redefined with the power of Internet, Twitter is ‘The tool’ you should look forward to generate the buzz.

Three – Can you listen? As every Tweet can be influential, it can be of two ways. In case a few users are unhappy with your offering, you can get instant feedback by monitoring their ‘Tweets’. Twitter offers excellent search facilities (http://search.twitter.com/) through which you get to know what people are saying about your offering. In simple terms it helps you “listen” to your customers, which is a great opportunity to improve your product/service.

Four – Online branding: How can we miss this? Twitter helps you to build a great online identity, thereby building a better brand. As it acts as a two way communication platform with your prospective customers, our digital impression can be built using twitter. The more authentic and engaging conversation (in form of Tweets) you have, the trust among customers can be built easily. Being successful in Twittering can put forth your personality and a unique style thereby offering a competitive advantage.

Five – It’s Free! Last, but not the least. Unlike other marketing vehicles like promotional events or brochure distribution, Twittering can be started without spending even a rupee. Given the current economic condition and shoe-string budgets, Twitter is the tool for marketers to look forward.  Andy Sernovitz one of the proliferators of word-of-mouth marketing put it as “infinite power” this divide by zero (cost) can give an infinite output advantage to your business. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to enter new world of ‘Tweets’!!

I wrote this article some time back for MyBangalore portal. Here is the link to the original article.

Innovation – Type8 –Channel [Case: New Horizon Media]

In our ten part Innovation series, let us look New Horizon Media’s channel innovation as the eighth article.

The book publishing business has gone thru multiple changes in the recent years, which I have been covering in my part articles. India, with diversified set of languages offers significant opportunity for the publishing industry both in print and electronic formats. However, with infrastructure (physical & electronic) challenges, building channels and newer ways to reach customers is always a challenging task especially when it comes to books. New Horizon Media (NHM), a Chennai based publishing house has brought in significant change in terms of the way books are sold to consumers by building channels, similar to FMCG way. Sounds interesting? Read on.

NHM primarily publishes Tamil books, which are sold thru existing channels like — online shopping site, books fairs conduced in various cities and by building the resellers across the state. In spite of having all these channels, NHM found they are still not covering the bigger set of readers, who come from tier-2 and tier-3 cities. A different and innovative model needs to be thought for ensuring their reach. That’s they the idea of FMCG base model kicked in – What if books can be sold like a paste or soap? How about creating thousands of small outlets across the state by applying FMCG model into book publishing? What if books can be made available in Kirana shop in your street corner?

To implement this idea, NHM set up their own stockists (exactly like the FMCG industry) in each small town to whom they supply books. These stockists, in turn, supply NHM publications to a whole range of non-bookshop outlets in that town, such as stationary stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, and even restaurants and textile stores. Assume a case, where you are purchasing diabetic medicine for your aged parent from the medical shop, where you also find a book titled ‘How to control diabetes?’ Assume another case where your family members are busy shopping in a textile store, where they are going to spend next two hours and you are bored. Won’t you feel like picking up a book to kill time?

This is precisely what they have implemented by partnering with various shops across the state by leveraging the adjacency factor. As most of NHM books are priced in the range of 70-100 INR, customers won’t mind paying for it as it is slightly more than buying a magazine. Today NHM has about 2500 such outlets across the state, which has changed the way books are distributed in the state.

By identifying such retail outlets as a new channel for books distribution, NHM is able to transform the vernacular book publishing industry. Apart from the distribution channels, NHM has also created a niche market for translated books. Many of the latest best sellers (ex: India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha) is available in Tamil now which is addressing relatively high end customers. I will cover this aspect in a different article.

Innovation – Type7 – Service [Case: Flipkart]

In our ten part Innovation series, let us look into Flipkart under ‘service innovation’ (type7) category.

For folks who don’t know what Flipkart is all about, here is a simple definition – Indian version of Amazon. Couple of ex-Amazon engineers setup Flipkart mainly to provide high quality on-time delivery service, which was lacking in Indian context for a while. Before Flipkart came, there were many popular e-commerce websites (ex: Indiaplaza) who were doing reasonably well. However there were few issues are the services:

  • Delivery: Getting on-time delivery of online orders was an issue, thanks to logistics challenges that exist in India even today. Except for few reliable courier services (ex: Blue-dart), majority of them offer sub-standard service. Of course, I don’t want to talk about Indian postal service, which never improved over the years.
  • Reliability: Except tech-savvy folks, many people see issues to go online as they still perceive making online payments is not safe. Alternative approaches need to be taken to reach such customers who definitely had a need.
  • Support: Many of the e-commerce sites don’t provide 24×7 support even today. Also there are many concerns (ex:  not providing on-time responses etc.) that made online shopping experience as a non-pleasant one.

Flipkart understood each of these issues in a deeper manner and solved them from customer context. The most important factor behind Flipkart’s success was to understand the core issue of logistics much earlier. Building an online website and listing a bunch of items is relatively easier than ensuring that the shipped goods reach customers on or ahead of time, resulting in customer delight. In order to ensure proper delivery of goods, Flipkart has setup their own logistics firm ensuring timely delivery of the goods ordered from the site. Apart from that, Flipkart added 24×7 support service for ensuring timely addressing of customer issues.

However the main killer for Flipkart came in the form of ‘Cash-on-delivery’ (COD) service for purchases made thru’ the site, which addressed reliability issue. The COD came as a very good option for customers by providing an option to pay cash only when goods are delivered at their doorstep. By consistently executing on such small but really value adding services (another example being free shipping) from customer perspective, Flipkart is able to emerge as a strongest ecommerce site in India today.

Recently I have been hearing few concerns (about delivery time, non-sustainable discounts etc…). Never the less, by having a strong customer base built with service DNA is really an Innovation in Indian context.

What more examples you can think of when it comes to service innovation?

The Long Tail of book publishing

My previous post about Long Tail, primarily highlighted the concept behind this new model, based on the book written by Chris Anderson. The concept of Long Tail can be applied to any industry/business. This is mainly because any traditional setup today can go ‘digital’, thanks to the Internet. As a book lover, I thought of coving Long Tail aspects of book publishing industry in this post. In the lines of music, the publishing industry is primarily driven by ‘best sellers’ thanks to their sheer volume. For a niche writer getting an individual’s book published is not all the early, as publishers need to make upfront investment in terms of editing, printing and distributing books using traditional retail model. Since they are unsure of the success, niche writers and their content remained in backdoors for years together. Thanks to the Long Tail, niche writers can gain significant opportunity to get their books published by creating a viable business around. Want to know how details? Read on.

To start with, content creation is happening in the Internet at an alarming phase. For example, anybody can start writing by creating blog sites at free of cost (ex: Blogger, WordPress).  Over the years, such free services evolved big time by offering user friendly interface, advanced editing options, SEO optimization methods and interfacing with social media (Facebook, Twitter etc). All of them can be setup in minutes by doing simple ‘drag-and-drop’ approach. Such democratization of tools has resulted in billions of people flocking into blogosphere, as the blog setup is a ‘non-event’ today. As long as an individual is passionate about writing, he can create wonderful contents in no time. I have personally gone thru this experience by initially setting up Blogspot, followed by Jwritings. Such individual writers (including me) have a set of readers who regularly follow, comment and share the content. There are more than 100 million blog sites around the world, which is really a huge number.

Now comes making a book out of such contents. Thanks to the digitization, there are many of ‘Print on Demand’ (POD) solution providers who can take these contents and create a book out of it using the digital printing, even if it is a single copy. This is way different from traditional offset printing industry, as the printer need to print minimum number of copies in order to ensure business viability. For example, if you want to print wedding cards any offset printer today will not print anything less than a minimum number (say 100). In case of digital printing there are no such minimum or maximum numbers exist as things happen ‘on demand’.  In India, I have come across Pothi and Cinnamonteal who offer such POD services. Apart from POD, they also offer conversion, editing and formatting services where the author can design the complete book, which is ready for sale.

The whole distribution and sales can be done online using multiple options. POD service provider themselves offer online shopping cart where the books can be listed. Other options include the author creating a listing in his own blog (by integrating payment gateway) or list it in some of the popular online stores. In case the author has contacts with a retailer, it can be pushed via traditional channels as well. The most important point is, everything happens with button click on the Internet. From the POD provider’s perspective, he can create a community of writers from the Internet, group them and create ‘less number of more books’ ecosystem, which is what Long Tail is all about. Since there is no physical infrastructure required, bunch of existing overheads (supply chain management, demand vs. supply issues, stock management, retailer commission etc…) are automatically removed thanks to the ‘Long Tail’ digital Internet.

There is another dimension for digital publishing, which comes in the form of ‘e-books’. By creating the digital form of books (say in form of PDF document) plus associating Digital Rights Management (DRM), these books can be pushed to any possible device (PC, Tablet, Mobile phone), thereby opening up a new market. Amazon Kindle is already leveraging this model, but when it comes to emerging markets like India challenges are way different which I called out in my post about Aakash ecosystem.  When I wrote the Long Tail book review, couple of my seniors referred to few other (related) examples:

  • Krishnanum Radhayum – A Malayalam movie which became popular thanks to its marketing and release in YouTube. How can we compare this with getting a chance to direct a feature film?
  • BookPrep – POD service offered by Hewlett-Packard (HP) where readers can print some of the old classics which are not currently in print. MagCloud is another example where Magazines can be created using POD.

What other examples one can think of when it comes to Long Tail? How this digital transformation will alter other traditional industries like retail?