IMRAN's In My Humble Opinion

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Archive for the ‘Amazon’ Category

The Worst Of Times, The Best Of Times To Come?

Posted by imrananwar on March 13, 2009

Grim economic news is all around us. Not only are individuals facing the toughest economic times, businesses are hurting and entire industries are facing extinction. There has been a lot of discussion going on about several industries. Even though the headlines may be full of news about the problems faced by individual companies – like Citibank, AIG, Bank of America, General Motors and Chrysler – few are debating whether the entire automobile, banking, insurance or even real estate industries will shut down completely. But there are several industries whose very existence is being questioned.

These include the newspaper, music, book-publishing and Hollywood film industries. Each of these industries has been in flux for more than a decade. Each has had predictions associated with it that ranged from their growing even larger and more successful to completely dying within a matter of years. In the case of each of these industries, even more than changing consumer behavior, challenging economic times, bad management or unsustainable business models, the threat cited most frequently has been the Internet.

There are several key points I make to my consulting clients in the media and technology industries when starting a discussion on crafting their strategies for the next 10 and 20 years. The reality is that the Internet did change everything. What the Internet did was give every industry an opportunity to become stronger, more efficient, more effective and smarter. Or they had to choice simply to use the Internet as just another business tool – without any thought being given to reconsidering outdated business models.

The following four industries muddled along for the last 20 years. They talked about how they were leveraging the Internet. They even started several initiatives to show how they “got” the Internet. They bought nice domain names and set up slick websites. They even hired people and gave them fancy titles like Vice President of Internet Strategy etc. but they did not truly “get” it. They did not go back to the drawing board to re-evaluate their business models and see how the Internet could help or hurt, especially if bad economic times ever hit. That is exactly what the bad times did do. They hit, and they hit hard.

That is why these are the industries most at risk. A respected commentator and very powerful writer, Cory Doctorow, had written a good piece, in Internet Evolution, analyzing these four industries. He made some good points, but I had a slightly different opinion. Here is what I think about the following industries and how they can still survive, maybe even thrive, in the coming years.

– Newspapers

Even though old industries, and their biggest players, are often threatened by new technology – it can sometimes take 100 years or more for an entire industry to die. One way to ensure that death is for the industry not to take threats to its existence seriously. In the case of the newspaper industry it is already several hundred years old (well, almost).

In the past it survived by actively leveraging all the available new technologies, from the printing press to desktop publishing, not just to survive but to thrive.

When radio and TV started to be a threat to the printed newspaper, it was the newspaper owners that went on to own most of the radio and television stations. But that means they co-opted, not leveraged, the new technologies and challenging platforms.

The reason the newspaper is having such a hard time with the Internet, especially in these dire economic times, is two-fold.
One is that the element of huge investment requirements that former newspaper (and added radio/TV) empires were built on is now gone.

As a matter of fact, it is now a serious liability. Almost anyone can now start a “newspaper” or information service. Online news services now abound. There are even white label companies and websites allowing anybody to set up their own “newspaper” simply by slapping together a combination of news feeds from multiple sources. The newspaper industry, in the meantime, remains hobbled by huge investments in real estate, printing equipment, high salaries and administrative costs.

The second is still relying on the old economic business models. An over-reliance on advertising became a disaster when first the Internet took away a lot of the advertising revenue, and then the recession killed ad sales even more. I still think newspapers, as an industry, will not die any time soon. Newspapers still offer things online media cannot do at this time. Some are tangible, some intangible.

In tangible, the quality of print and the subtleties of layout and design are still unmatched on the fanciest LCD screens or in most complex HTML pages. Intangibles, like convenience, the ability to tear out an article for later reading, are important. But most of all, permanence of record and trust, are “solid intangibles” that newspapers have not yet learnt to push into the value proposition their readers associate with them.

In my humble opinion, newspapers will survive, in new and different forms. They need to leverage and market the tangible and intangible values they offer to grow. But they can only do so if and as soon as they figure out the ability to move from a bundled “all the news we see fit to print” to an unbundled, micro-payments enabled, micro-targeted, 100% customized, personal tool and service that readers cannot live without holding in their hands.

– Music

Ironically, the death of the music labels industry will actually be the rebirth of the music industry. I do not even refer to “the long tail” business model (where the idea is that instead of making lots of money from one big splash, one can make lots of money over a long period of time, or over a large number of small sales).

The new positive fact is that creators of music can get paid directly, even 100%, from their consumer and clients – without a middleman. That renders obsolete an entire industry built on many middle layers. That means that music as an industry can actually thrive now that it is unshackled and the long overused, even clichéd “disintermediation” is here to stay.

This new world will be the death toll for middle-later but it can be music to creators’ and consumers’ ears. This will require a new way of doing things. Music production and distribution online have already changed the way the business is starting to run. What is still missing is musicians, bands and other talent from getting on the electronic micro-payments bandwagon (no pun intended!).

As micro-payments become more prevalent (in my opinion, the indie music scene should be one of the biggest champions of that) I see huge opportunity for musicians of all types to make good money, – even without having to rely on live performances as a source of income.

– Books

Just like the introduction of electronic documents was supposed to have brought about the death of the paper-products industry, predictions of the demise of the book industry are premature. The future of the book industry is still being written. How and where and it’s published is still in the industry players’ hands.

What today’s technology is enabling people to do is to see themselves as potential authors, not just book buyers or readers. Lulu, Blurb, CafePress, XLibris and many others are offering to make us published authors for little cost. That means the actual number of book editions, eBooks or printed, will actually rise as almost everyone becomes an author. What will be surprising will be that the actual total number of physical book shipments will also rise.

This is almost similar to how more pages of paper went through laser printers the more documents became available to read online. In the case of the new books industry, will each one of them be a blockbuster? Most probably not.

However, even if the total number of blockbuster books physically printed goes down, in my humble opinion, the actual physical number of total books printed, using the newest services and technologies, will significantly rise.

At least for the next 30 years I still see authors believing in the higher perceived value of having a published paper-based book in their bookshelf than an eBook on their hard drive.

– Movies

Even though I am now equipped with a fully tapeless HD camera, and as well as the latest Apple tools for video editing, I do not foresee any of my creative endeavors, even in my wildest dreams, in any way threatening the amazing world of magic that comes from the best of Hollywood. (We’re talking about the good stuff, not a lot of the recent Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller stuff).

The fact that some Hollywood blockbuster movies can cost $300 million is not a sustainable business model. That is not because YouTube type videos threaten it, but because of the sheer lunacy of the numbers.

The huge chunk of money that is paid to movie stars, some making $25-$30 million per movie, regardless of how famous they are, is the biggest needed cut I see coming. The falling costs of special effects and computer animation, and easier availability of the skills for them, are becoming more tangible forces on the industry. That gives technologists and the IT industry a bigger cut of the next generation Hollywood Dollars Pie.

I foresee more, and better, Hollywood movies being made for a fraction of today’s costs., with more reasonably priced talent and higher reliance on technology and creativity of individuals, not large companies. Hollywood can do that while still being significantly better than most low-budget flicks, thereby ensuring it an audience worldwide, for many years to come.

Throw in the ability to make micro-payments for movies streamed or downloaded from the Internet to our devices of choice, and you can see a whole new revenue stream becoming available to sustain Hollywood as well as Bollywood.

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Imran Anwar is a New York and Miami based Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Internet pioneer, inventor, writer and TV personality. He can be reached through his web site http://imran.com and imran@imran.com . You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/imrananwar

Posted in 2009, Advertising, Amazon, Books, Business, Entrepreneur, Hollywood, Movies, Music, New Media, News, Newspapers, Opportunity, Publishing, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Profit From The Meltdown: Part 2: Huge Profit Opportunities In The Coming Recovery

Posted by imrananwar on October 22, 2008

Profit From The Meltdown:

Part 2: Huge Profit Opportunities In The Coming Recovery

By Imran Anwar

In the previous column we discussed why the current economic crisis appears far worse than it actually is. Yes, grave dangers exist if the world’s economies are mismanaged. But, so far, it appears that all major governments understand the global implications and are working together to stave off global ruin.

It is for this reason that I argue this may be the best time in the world to start investing, to take advantage of the huge opportunities and bargains that surround us, before everyone else does. This is especially true of younger generations, young families, and dynamic people who can afford to take a long term view more than someone close to retirement or already retired (unless they have significant amounts available to invest).

I believe the recession, though painful, will be short lived and will end soon into the Presidency of the new American President. This is especially true if history is any indicator. A Bush in the White House always leads this country into war and economic ruin, and his exit always leads to a historic economic recovery and the opportunity to create great wealth. I can hardly wait for Inauguration Day, 2009!

I also believe we will not have a global Great Depression version 2 between now and then.

There are several reasons for this. One is that most of the world governments and nations had learned several lessons from that historic crash of 1929 – which is referred to as The Great Depression. (I am not sure what was so "great" about it). In that particular crash, the then American administration had made many bad moves. That included not responding, not responding in time, then responding in a parochial, inward looking, protectionist way and doing too little too late.

You are not hearing me say that George W. Bush or his team of incompetent henchmen have done anything right. However, because we live in the Internet age, and most of world economies are so tightly intertwined, in general most of the developed world’s governments are working in unison to avoid a global meltdown, even while they recognize a recession is already underway.

How to minimize its damage, and to prevent it from turning into a domino effect – that brings the planet to its knees – is what they are fighting for. Bush and his team, and even Presidential candidate Senator John McCain, showed their cluelessness on the economy. At 9 AM one day McCain was saying the economy was strong. Two hours later he was saying the country (America) was in a grave crisis, as if a sudden earthquake had just taken place.

Then Bush’s Treasury Secretary Paulson said there were specific steps that would be just plain wrong – like the government taking equity stakes in American banks in exchange for large sums of capital. But, when the British, Europeans and Japanese governments did exactly that and saved their economies, literally a day later he was doing the same thing. So much for having any competent person in the White House team! (Maybe Bush can now say, "You’re doing a heckuva job Pauly"?)

But, regardless of how incompetent these people are, fortunately they are not the only ones who have a stake in saving the American economy from imploding.

There are countries with huge amounts of United States dollars stashed away in their banks. This includes countries like China. Even the Chinese Communist government, regardless of how disdainfully it may think of the United States, is smart enough to know that the greatest source of its wealth in recent years has been from manufacturing cheap goods that the American market just cannot get enough of buying.

Also, as few people realize, an American meltdown, of its economy or its currency, will also mean financial ruin for China in several ways. China’s growing working middle class depends on feeding the American consumption beast for it to survive and grow itself.

On top of that, over the least few years, despite participating in a world economy, and benefiting from capitalism and open markets, China has always manipulated its own currency to ensure its goods do not become too expensive to export. As a result, for several years, America has had a huge trade deficit with China, leading, effectively, to America owing China a lot of money.

Now its policy of protecting its own currency is coming back to bite China. That is because China is possibly the biggest non-American holder of huge reserves of Dollars. A crash of the Dollar can effectively wipe out China’s current economic wealth.

America, just like Pakistan right now, is hardly in a position to turn down economic support from any quarter. Sure, it’ll be a shameful and sad day for the United States to go begging to China. The one remaining superpower in both military and economic terms, before George W. Bush came into office, would actually now be dependent on a communist country like China to help save it’s capitalist society!

China, previously the source of cheap socks and itty-bitty cheap plastic toys could be and, I would say also for its own self-interest, has to be America’s economic savior.I also see this as a huge opportunity for Middle Eastern countries, also slush in Dollars and Petro-Dollars, to offer their help but leverage it to increase opportunities for their businesses. But, sadly, I have not seen much strategic exploitation of that of any significance. Sure, we have the occasional deal worth Billions (e.g. when a financially suffering chip-maker AMD has sold off a majority stake to ATIC of Abu Dhabi, an investment arm wholly-owned by the government of Abu Dhabi.

But, I do not see a concerted, strategic and financial effort on the part of Middle-Eastern, or Muslim, investors and entrepreneurs to exploit opportunities as I see Indian and Israeli companies doing. I can imagine us crying in 20 years about how not only do the Jews control Hollywood and the media but then how Indians and Israelis control Silicon Valley.

Yes, I do see that Arabs have started buying up real estate, the one business they understand well here in America (being among the biggest buyers of casinos and other entertainment properties also). But, can they leverage this to help establish a foothold for Arabs and Muslims in things like Venture Capital and other next-generation financial industries? Sadly, it does not appear that is even a goal for them. It seems real estate is already, correctly, being targeted for massive investments but not much else.

It is for this reason that I am quite confident that huge opportunities exist for Pakistani, Middle-Eastern and Muslim investors to benefit, not just from real estate, but also from many other opportunities to buy financial, corporate and technology company assets at bargain prices.

Even though, like everyone else, I took significant hits in the stock market during the last several months, I have actually increased my holdings, especially in stocks of Citibank, as well as Apple. I have also bought stocks of others, like Amazon, Pepsi-Cola, etc. that also got hammered a few days ago. But, the greatest upside I still see in the stock market is in companies like Apple, as well as other battered financial stocks.

Last but not least expensive desirable real estate is going to become even more expensive and more desirable as the market turns around, which is sure to do in the coming days. This will be true especially in the United States when my fellow Americans are smart enough to change the direction this country is headed in. It will happen even sooner if they elect a candidate who is not simply going to continue George W. Bush’s policies of economic disaster. We will find out on November 4.

But, don’t lose sight of the huge opportunity for real estate that exists in other markets too.

Major American institutions have created funds of several Billion Dollars to start buying real estate in countries including India. Thanks to the self-destructive tendencies of my fellow Pakistanis, people hardly consider Pakistan as a safe haven for their money (much less their bodies!), but as real estate investment takes off, there will also be a trickle-down or trickle-sideways (osmosis?) effect on Pakistani real estate prices.

I have been making my best efforts to interest American investors in also including Pakistan in the list of places that they invest in – but so far it has been a losing battle. I am hopeful in the new Administration in America (and some improvement in Pakistan’s war on terrorists) that the USA will feel a greater need to invest in Pakistan. But, similar huge opportunities exist for Pakistanis of means to invest in real estate in the United States and I am seeing that a lot more from clients that I advise on doing business in the USA.

All in all, I am not just hopeful, but certain, that the current recession will be a short one, though not without short-term pain. I am positive that savvy investors are going to start putting their money, and their instincts, to work before everyone else jumps back on the bandwagon. I am working to do that, and hope you will too!


Conclusion.

Posted in Amazon, Apple, Bush, Business, China, Citibank, Economy, Elections, Globalization, Imran, India, Investment, McCain, Opportunity, Pakistan, Pepsi, Politics, President | Leave a Comment »

 
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