Mar 312014

5 years late. But still makes a lot of sense…

“Why do people think “free” means diminished quality in one instance, and not in another? It turns out that our feelings about “free” are relative, not absolute. If something used to cost money and now doesn’t, we tend to correlate that with a decline in quality. But if something never cost money, we don’t feel the same way. A free bagel is probably stale, but free ketchup in a restaurant is fine. Nobody thinks that Google is an inferior search engine because it doesn’t charge.”

And this

With magazines it can clearly be effective to charge a minimal price, instead of nothing. But in most cases, just a penny—a seemingly inconsequential price—can stop the vast majority of consumers in their tracks. A single penny doesn’t really mean anything to us economically. So why does it have so much impact?
The answer is that it makes us think about the choice. That alone is a disincentive to continue. It’s as if our brains were wired to raise a flag every time we’re confronted with a price. This is the “is it worth it?” flag. If you charge a price, any price, we are forced to ask ourselves if we really want to open our wallets. But if the price is zero, that flag never goes up and the decision just got easier.
The proper name for that flag is what George Washington University economist Nick Szabo has dubbed “mental transaction costs.” These are, simply, the toll of thinking. We’re all a bit lazy and we’d rather not think about things if we don’t have to. So we tend to choose things that require the least thinking.

“The phrase “transaction costs” has its roots in the theory of the firm, Nobel Prize–winning economist Ronald Coase’s explanation that companies exist to minimize the communications overhead within and between teams. This refers mostly to the cognitive load of having to process information—figuring out who should do what, whom to trust, and the like.
Szabo extended this to purchasing decisions. He looked at the idea of “micropayments,” financial systems that would allow you to pay fractions of a cent per Web page you read, or millieuros for each comic strip you download. All these schemes are destined to fail, Szabo concluded, because although they minimize the economic costs of choices, they still have all the cognitive costs.”

Excerpt From: Anderson, Chris. “Free: The Future of a Radical Price.”

Despite the title – the books costs money :)

Mar 312014

“free” is a word with an extraordinary ability to reset consumer psychology, create new markets, break old ones, and make almost any product more attractive. He also figured out that “free” didn’t mean profitless. It just meant that the route from product to revenue was indirect, something that would become enshrined in the retail playbook as the concept of a “loss leader.”

Excerpt From: Anderson, Chris. “Free: The Future of a Radical Price.” Hyperion, 2009-07-06T18:30:00+00:00. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

Mar 302014

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And here are some of my top stories/story arcs featuring the Bat

Batman Year 1 - Frank Miller – a no brainer really. It took Batman out of the daylight and placed him firmly back into the night.


Written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli – the comic series is set in an almost dystopian world. It is into this world that Bruce Wayne returns, from his travels, to start his mission against crime. The treatment – both in terms of writing and in terms of illustrations and inking is Noir. It is almost as though Phillip Marlowe stepped out of Chandler’s world into the DC universe.

gordon 1The story is told from two points of view – Bruce Wayne in his battle against crime as a vigilante – later to become Batman, and Jim Gordon as he tries to impose order in the city of Gotham – against all odds. The relentless voice over – both Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon –  the world with no heroes, a world with shades of grey – tending to black not white, where the somewhat heroes compromise with their values to achieve their goals – it is amazing the dimensions Miller and Mazzuccheli achieved in print.The scene where Gordon waits for the corrupt cop,  Flass and then proceeds to take the law into his own hands to send out a message – that he can cross the line to keep his family safe – is quite poignant. Surprisingly, the year one animated adaptation made recently, is stripped of all these nuances. 


The comic is as much about Jim  Gordon’s year one as it is Batman’s year one. And as both men learn to cope with Gotham, crime and the cops – most of whom are bent beyond belief – they build a relationship that is as much of mutual convenience as it is of mutual respect. Christopher’s Nolan Batman Trilogy – especially Batman Begins –  borrows a lot from the story line as well as the characterization – of not just Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon, but the city of Gotham – warts and all. In fact, the scene where the Batman breaks through the glass roof to throw down the gauntlet – so as to speak – is right from the comic book.

The story telling is tight- the entire story is 4 30 page comics, the art outstanding – the coloring especially giving that sense of a world without light, a world that holds more shadows than brightness, and that brings out the moral ambiguity of the city. It is a world of thugs, pimps and whores – where the rich are rich because they are bent, and in turn the buy off everyone to keep quiet.

If you are a comic fan, this is a must buy for your collection. Avoid the video. 


bat god

Grant Morrison had a great run on Batman in JLA – his Batman was less angst filled, less driven by survivor’s guilt and more driven by
the fact that he was better than most (especially those with super powers) and therefore it was his duty to keep the world safe from idiots (especially those with super powers). This version of batman seems to be having more fun while being batman than other versions of him. Bat God rather than Batman. The Batman in this version is so brilliant, so ahead of the curve, that he can – and he does – take on God like entities and win.  Do check out the entire run


gothicBefore Grant Morrison wrote about BatGod, he had Batman encounter the Devil. Possibly the scariest, spookiest, scariest  comic book that i have ever read (no I don’t read horror) – and didnt’ know what this was about when i got it. Gothic - lives up to its name in more ways than one. The story is about a deal with the Devil from ages ago, the man who makes the deal with the devil, and the Batman. There is one particular scene when the young Bruce Wayne confronts the villain “whisper”, in the teacher’s study. Enough to keep you awake at night.

Once again, exceedingly tight story telling and a sense of menace that is pervasive. Do not read this on a dark and stormy night when you are alone at home.

nmlOne of my all time favorite arcs was No Mans Land – that ran across the best part of a year across all the Bat titles. At the core of the series was a Gotham condemned by the US Government, and the people who are left behind. Bruce Wayne, leaves Gotham in light of the US Government decision, and the city is left to a beleaguered militia (there is no police force anymore) and various criminals who slug it out. In this scenario, someone picks up the bat symbol and begins bringing back hope to the people of Gotham. Some fantastic writing by different authors – some beautiful scenes and an ending that will stay with you for ever. like Year One, this is as much Gordon’s story as it is Batman’s. This is a must read series.

There are a whole bunch of others that are brilliant –

  • The Man who Laughs by Ed Brubacker and The Killing Joke by Alan Moore  both look at the Batman’s (very complex) relationship with the Joker.
  • The Loeb and Sale Trilogy – Long Haloween, Dark Victory and Haunted Knight- explore the facet of Batman that is often ignored – that of the Detective. These three, like year one, are firmly in the noir space. The stories also explore the Batman’s growing attraction to Catwoman, and Bruce Waynes fascination with Selina Kyle.

I have been hearing great things about Scott Snyder’s run on Batman, but i simply haven’t had the time over the last two years to read (let alone read comics) – one of the things i hope to make time for in the year(s) to come. Maybe stuff i can read post retirement..  :D

Incidentally, i was introduced to the character of Batman by my maternal grandmother – when i was sub 10. she would tell me stories with batman as hero (authored by her) and which had a very desi context. This was before i ever read a comic or saw a batman film. :D



Mar 232014

… yes if you have content worth charging for.

And, this brings me to a conversation i had a decade ago, while a channel was in the process of being launched. The channel was meant to be free to air and was designed for maximum reach. A few days before the launch I was asked if we could charge x per month (x was a figure greater than 10 – a lot in those days). The problem was simple, will someone pay Rs.X for something that was meant to be free – thank fully the promoters appreciated that perspective.

Will quality pay for itself ? It is anyone’s guess, because quality itself is a relative concept. Unfortunately – quality in content is often mixed up with esoteric, unreadable, stuff. And when you tell people you want ‘quality’ content – it conjures up visions of turgid academic writing , closed fonts, design from the 1940’s (where it looks like it is a manual typeset), no pictures, and the dryness of a tender announcement.

Offer for subsciption

Offer for subscription

Which is why this is such an interesting experiment. NYT has used the drug dealer’s methodology of hooking customers. Catch them cheap (99 cents for 12 weeks) and then some $8 a month.

With content, i think it is important to get people to start thinking about paying. You may not charge – but if you are giving it away free, it needs to feel like a favour to the user. The sense that they are privileged in getting what your are putting out, for nothing.

As a consumer, I like the idea of free content. As a producer, I need to think of ways to make it pay – be it ticket sales, paywalls, monthly subs – whatever.  As someone who has produced content (in what ever form) for the best part of two decades if there is one thing i know it is this – someone has to pay for it – Either the advertiser, or the subscriber or Santa Claus. Given that the advertising pie is finite, and Santa Claus does not exist – that leaves the subscriber :)

Needless to say, i have purchased a subscription to the NYT. Let us see if i will renew it :) 

Mar 202014

My column in today’s DNA

It is election season and, therefore, it must be the time for rhetoric, more rhetoric and even more rhetoric. Each party and its supporters are trying to pitch themselves to us, the voters, and each trying to get us to vote for them. While political leaders and party workers are traversing the length and breadth of India, trying to woo the masses in the blistering heat, their more privileged keyboard warriors are using their fingers to good effect, drumming up support on social media. And, it is social media, especially Twitter, with its concentration of journalists, editors, film stars, politicians, would-be politicians, policy makers, industrialists, media magnates, bankrupt tycoons, cricketers and the rest, that makes for the most entertainment. Because there is nothing as funny as serious, sanctimonious rhetoric in 140 characters, especially when you sneak some time to yourself to look at the phone on a tough working day. It is the sheer chutzpah in the pronouncements, the dauntless confidence with which people mouth inanities, the gumption with which inaccuracies and factual errors are put forward as ‘truth’ and the sheer pizzazz of the entire thing that makes you wonder if Twitter has taken its place in the sun as the provider of multiple streams of live commentary for what promises to be the greatest show on earth — the Indian elections. If only one could charge entertainment tax on the proceedings, the current account deficit would probably be wiped out.
So what are they fighting for? Politicians and political parties are fighting for power. They — especially the BJP and Congress — would prefer absolute power — 272 seats all to themselves, without their allies spoiling their party. Will they get it is anyone’s guess, but that doesn’t prevent them from projecting the confidence of being able to make that figure. But, to keep their options open, you do occasionally hear murmurs of a ‘larger NDA’ or “UPA III”.
While it is easy to figure what the politicians want, the role of their supporters on social media is slightly more complex. Their aim seems to be less about converting neutrals or voters who have not made up their mind into votes, and more on keeping the faithful gathered and motivated in the days leading up to the elections. It is a vital role that they play — the social media warriors — in terms of fact-checking, repudiating, muddying the waters, creating a ‘what if’ scenario in the mind of the public. While BJP supporters had the lead in the utilisation of social media for rallying and attacking, more recently the Congress and the AAP have joined in. As a result social media, in general, and Twitter, in particular, have become a battleground of ideas, allegations, innuendos and camaraderie. In my mind, the role of the partisans on social media is interesting because of the space that they occupy between the media and the party. They take corridor-level gossip from the party and drawing room chatter and blast them into a somewhat public space dominated by the traditional media, and when traditional media picks up this gossip, it gets carried back into social media for further conversations. Recently in a media conference, a point was made about mainstream media watching its audience (us), monitoring them via social media posts on shows and news, and using this instant feedback and chatter to fine tune content offerings But, a far more interesting phenomenon that we are observing in these elections is that a part of this audience, realising that it is being watched, are indulging in a sort of behaviour that feeds content to the media only to promote the former’s agenda. For a media professional, it’s a fairly fascinating phenomenon.

The other thing very clear in these elections is this: The mask of media neutrality has finally fallen off and is being left for dead. Journalists do not even pretend to have a lack of bias. When leading anchors don the political mantle, and prominent journalists push the agendas of political parties without joining them, then you cannot help but wonder, how much of the content that they put out is biased and how long ago did this begin? This is not about voting preferences. You can still vote for who you believe in and try and be balanced in content. It is about pushing political agendas in the name of journalism. In an ideal world the bias should impact ratings. But, as recent studies in the United States show, it is the ratings of those seemingly unbiased platforms that are falling when compared to those who take partisan views. Research also reveals that audiences are more and more looking for views that dovetail with their own. They don’t want the bland neutrality of Doordarshan. They much prefer the fire and brimstone of the evening news anchor who demands answers on behalf of the nation.

Way back in 1964, Barry Goldwater, the American Republican Party candidate for President, in a speech declared: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”. It seems that our media — mainstream and social — have taken this speech to heart. Except that liberty and justice are no longer absolutes but relative to whom they support. For example, outrage on suggested curbs of freedom of speech is not universal but defended by party supporters and opposed by detractors.

We are in for fun ride where truth is falsity, and falsity is truth. So who do we, the people, trust? The answer, surprisingly, is each other. According to a recent Zee Media Taleem Poll on the state of the nation, while 54% said that they relied on electronic media for their views and opinions, 30% still rely on friends and peer groups for ‘truth’. In a world where truth becomes an elusive commodity, it is little surprise that we are getting back to a more traditional way of making up our mind: our own personal social networks.