Hoping For Good Luck, On Friday The 13th

This has been quite an eventful week in New York. The previous few weeks of economic decline, bad financial news, increasing unemployment numbers and other news of global distress had been pushing the New York Stock Exchange consistently and constantly lower and lower.

Things were so bad that people would have preferred a return of the stress-filled yo-yo stock market days, where one at least had a 50-50 chance of making or losing money!

From a high of almost 13,000 the NYSE reached 6500 and there was talk of it even heading lower. There were fears that it might even fall below 6000 before all is said and done.

This decline continued while the flood of bad news also continued unabated. The only silver lining one could see around these ominous dark clouds was that most companies were choosing to do greater layoffs than they need and reducing costs as much as they can.

Even though each job lost is something that can mean the destruction of dreams of a family, sadly, for big businesses it is all a numbers game. Companies generally prefer to dish out all their bad news in one lump rather than dish it out piecemeal. It is generally easier to recover from a massive jolt and negative dip in stock prices over a few weeks or months. It is harder to get over the malaise that can cripple a company’s stock price if the bad news, no matter how small, just keeps coming every few weeks.

What’s that suggests to me, and keep in mind that I’m no financial adviser, is that most companies may be gearing up to have better than expected results at the end of the March quarter. Or, at least results that are less terrible than the market anticipates. Either one of these could potentially mean a rise in stock prices in April.

Even before the end of the quarter, a few pieces of good news have come out. One of them was that Citibank has been profitable for the last two months. This is the giant global behemoth that is one of those banks considered too large to be allowed to fail. This news came shortly after the bank’s stock was trading at as low as one Dollar per share, a far cry from nearly $60 per share it used to be.

Anybody who bought those shares at the ridiculously low price of one Dollar literally made a profit of 35% in one day, as investors suddenly found their greed outweighing their fear.

Financial company stocks in general benefited from this uptick in the stock market. Most major stocks have been rising consistently for the last few days, though I expect some drops as profit-taking starts again.

Even though it is far too early to claim that the market will not plumb new lows, but more than likely, one year from now economists and other so-called experts will analyse and say that the recovery had begun at an anaemic but measurable rate in these weeks.

President Barack Obama and his team have had most of their focus on the American economy – as well as the global recession that still imperils the world. But in the meantime other serious matters of the world continue to demand attention.

As is consistent with Pakistan and its self-destructive ways, once again American media and Pakistan bashers have gotten ample opportunity to raise the specter of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists – should the country spill further into anarchy.

The recent blatant and brazen terrorist attacks in the metropolitan city of Lahore, the despicable attempts to kill the Sri Lankan Cricket team and the evil murder of police officers and innocent bystanders there showed how almost no part of Pakistan is safe. This was an attack obviously not carried out by Taleban type thugs but by some well-organised but equally evil professionally trained gang of killers.

The Taleban continue to remain in the news, especially Pakistan ceding control of Swat and other regions to what are perceived as extremist groups. American drone and missile strikes continue to kill Pakistanis, innocent or otherwise, with disturbing regularity. India continues to rattle its sabers in the guise of demanding justice for the Mumbai attacks. In other words, there is no possible threat, internal or external, military, economic, political or social that Pakistan does not face.

Yet our shameless, spineless, gutless, clueless and witless politicians continue to fight over who sits at the head of the table – while this ship of state is rapidly sinking. Unlike even the Titanic, Pakistan is like a ship whose captain has been aiming it at every single iceberg he can see. On top of that, the ship has been torpedoed from behind. Its own crew is setting fire to cabins and furniture while others are busy looting what they can.

It is no wonder therefore that foreign powers, including America, find that the only way to control Pakistan, even to keep it from self-destructing, is to manage it not as friends but as masters. And, Pakistani politicians are quite OK with that.

From politicians, I want to shift to lawyers. Every country in the world has its share of lawyer jokes. For the last one year, and once again this month, it happens to be Pakistan’s lawyers and barristers, who have taken up the challenge to restore democracy and justice.

A profession that relies not on regular salaries but on almost daily work in the courthouse has once again stepped up, at great cost to its self, economically, professionally, personally. Today I must salute the lawyers and other professionals of Pakistan, not just for bringing down one dictator, but for ensuring that Pakistanis as a nation see that they can choose and control what the government can or cannot do when an elected person tries to act as a dictator.

Will democracy rule or will Pakistan sink into the abyss of chaos and anarchy?

The fact that things have come to this stage in itself is a tragedy. For the first time in more than 60 years we had an opportunity to establish state institutions. This was a historic opportunity because so many forces lined up in a once in a century series of events. The sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto, the professionalism of General Kayani, the sensibility of some political leaders and the great courage of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry and fellow judges. Rarely had so many forces lined up to restore true democracy to Pakistan. And, sadly, rarely have historic opportunities of such greatness been grasped in Pakistan.

As I am writing these lines in New York – on this 13th of March – I am hoping for some good luck for Pakistan. The only positive news is that some sort of compromise may be in the works in Islamabad. I, like millions of Pakistanis, can only hope and pray for that miracle and some Good Luck, today, on Friday The 13th.


This article was in client publications on Friday the 13th, 2009.

Imran Anwar is a New York 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

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

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

IMRAN.TV: (Urdu) “What’s Next In Pakistan-India, Palestine-Israel Issues & Obama Administration?”

Imran Anwar, IMRAN.TV, New York, Local video feed clip of Pakistani TV channel’s question:

Q. What is the situation in America and what comes next for India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine and other issues under the Obama administration?

What is your opinion?

Category: News & Politics

IMRAN.TV: (Urdu) “What Are People’s Expectations From Obama?”

Imran Anwar, IMRAN.TV, New York, Local video feed clip of Urdu TV channel’s question:

Q. What are people’s expectations of President Barack Hussein Obama?

What is your opinion?

Category: News & Politics

Real World News Of Real World News Media Making News In Virtual World

Recent news items mention how CNN, the global, respected, cable news leader, has established a presence in Second Life, a virtual world online.

Even though I have cautiously resisted jumping on the Second Life bandwagon (for fear of wasting time even more than I do at present), this seemingly innocuous news item has far greater long term impact on an industry, and society, than, say, Citibank or McDonald’s creating a presence.

For the most part, even large companies like these are merely touching the tip of the benefits iceberg that a real viable virtual world presence will bring businesses in real world terms.

News, by its nature, is the most well suited to that virtual world being leveraged in the real world.

A virtual burger sold by McDonald’s will not fill my hunger, virtual or real. Sure, some bank’s virtual branch could lend me virtual money in Second Life to buy some virtual property there – while they could charge me a fee in the real world, costing me real Dollars.

But, a virtual CNN reporter asking me a question of my virtual persona (especially if it is based on my true identity) can get the same valuable (or useless) insights as if they had met me in Atlanta or New York.

A citizen journalist in Pakistan could provide detailed accounts of dictator Pervez Musharaff’s latest hooliganism against journalists, judges and the Constitution of Pakistan in a virtual world, far quicker, safer and better than than it could be done in the real world.

That is one small aspect and there are many more. Here are the key points to keep in mind particularly for large businesses:

– Real world businesses can be in virtual worlds merely for appearing virtually cool

– Some large businesses can make small incremental revenues quickly in the real world by leveraging “services” delivered in the virtual world

– News media are ideally positioned to leverage virtual world presences for real world benefits far greater than other industries can experience at this stage.

What do you think – “really”?