More power to Google

On Thursday, Google’s latest project that will allow people to read books that have gone out of print, will go live. In partnership with On Demand Books, the Espresso Book Machine will print in 4 minutes flat, on demand, any book of upto 300 pages from a list of over 2 million books whose copyright period has expired or whose authors have given permission for them to be used by Google. All this at a cost of less than $10 to the user and $3 to the bookshop that owns the vending machine, which is to cover the cost of the materials. The machine costs a whopping $100,000 but quite a few locations already have it, including Blackwell’s in London. Here’s how it works:

I was really glad to read about this, and hope that it does not run into stormy weather like the Google Books deal has, where the US Justice Department has urged a New York court to reject this deal. Just as with the continuing debate over free, I wonder how long anyone can prevent it from coming to life. Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ is selling more e-copies on the Kindle than hard copies via Amazon, and that’s because there are enough people are willing to buy the e-version though they have access to the hard copy. If the situation is reversed and enough people decide they’d prefer to read out-of print books in the flesh rather than online, where Google Books will likely have an e-copy available, can Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo, who are among the companies that object to the Google Books deal, continue to stand their ground? THAT will be an interesting conversation to follow.

Microsoft India’s new marketing initiatives, Ford Ka asks you to Go Find It and thoughts on the first Monocle Weekly

Happy New Year to all! This post is going to be a bit long, not because I’m going to recap the last year, don’t worry (!!), but because I’ve been meaning to blog for ages and didn’t get down to it till now, so there are a lot of things I’m going to mention…

First, I was informed that Microsoft India has launched Win with Search to make the process of searching for things more fun, where you have the opportunity to win free talktime when you play. It may not be a big thing to win free talktime here in the Western world, but if you’re a student on a pay-as-you-go (pre-paid) scheme in India, then I can see this being attractive. If you have some time on your hands, then you can also try this game. To promote Windows Live in the country, they’ve also launched the Windows and Me campaign. I particularly enjoyed watching the arranged marriage video on the site’s main page – I think it’s pretty funny and an accurate summary of how the arranged marriage deal works in the country!
Next, Ford has launched a new campaign for the new Ford Ka, where you can download a 3D application for your Nokia phone (if its a model from the last 2 years) – or a Windows Mobile camera phone – and then point your phone at the 3D marker to see things in a new light. More at Go Find It. Essentially, the campaign aims to target young people who like digital technology, like the car itself – which apparently uses a lot of it. I can’t vouch for it since I obviously haven’t driven the car, but it seems an interesting vehicle to look at if I were in the market for one. The campaign itself has some intriguing elements, like a film guide to street art around Shoreditch
Moving on, I listened to the first Monocle podcast the other day and can recommend it. The introductory programme had a range of speakers including Alain de Botton speaking about the forecast for 2009. Some of the things that were mentioned included the return of craft in CD covers (something I’ve been thinking about for a while), the aging of society in Japan, the fact that people are going to spend more time thinking about what they spend their money on, that delivering values will be of prime importance for brands (like Stumptown Coffee, a small American coffee brand that invests in things like bringing the people who grow their coffee beans in places like Africa, to the U.S, on internships. Their consumers buy that value when they buy their coffee from Stumptown, in effect). Fiona Wilson, Monocle’s Asia Bureau Chief, mentioned something that I wouldn’t have believed to be true if I’d randomly heard it: iTunes does not dominate the market in Japan (Hallelujah!). She also mentioned one brand I really like – Uniqlo, and said that despite the economic downturn, they are continuously shifting millions of pairs of jeans because of the superior retail experience they offer – which is something that Western retail environments need to work on. Further, it seems people in Korea are approaching life from a craft-based perspective. When I read about Anthropologie’s craft workshops, I thought the trend had spread to the West pretty quickly!! On a more serious note, it links back to what was mentioned in the Monocle podcast – the importance of adding value in what you deliver.
OK, that’s it for now. Bring on 2009. 

Welcome to the new Windows world…or not

The first Microsoft teaser ad with Gates and Seinfeld didn’t leave me shouting ‘Wow!’. The second one was a bit better, if longer and slightly protracted. What you need to know is that there are going to be many, many more – but not with Seinfeld. For now, he’s going to be kept on the back-burner and apparently we’re going to see the likes of Eva Longoria, Deepak Chopra and Pharrell Williams advocating Microsoft instead. All of these people are just a small part of a much larger campaign that Microsoft has set in motion to buffer Apple and their ‘I’m a PC‘ ads that poke fun at the software giant. As I wrote those words – software giant – I realised that when I think software, I still think Microsoft and Windows. Apple only really comes to mind when I think of fancy gadgets. (Google would be a different monolith altogether). And Microsoft has clearly taken the stance that they want to go head-to-head with Apple, not Google, through this campaign, ‘without taking them through the mud’

Anyway, ‘life without walls‘, the theme of the campaign, is soon going to be taken to the next level by allowing users to submit photos depicting the idea that they too are PCs (the new Microsoft-defined PC’s though) on, some of which will be chosen to be displayed on electronic banners on Times Square, and others on Microsoft web banners. 
And that’s only the beginning of their new marketing journey. Read more here. 
Clearly, this is a strategy that is so tightly tailored to ending, or continuing rather, the ‘PC-not PC’ war, that I can’t help but wonder if in all that planning, they’ve forgotten that Apple’s not really their only competitor. They have to go up against the bad name they created for themselves – that’s the bigger demon. Whether the increased number of web mentions of their campaign will get them the larger consumer base they’re looking for (or should be looking for) is questionable. For me, all this is just entertainment. At the end of the day, if the product isn’t friendly, I’m not going to use it, no matter what Seinfeld or Longoria say. And that’s the hard truth, $300 million campaign or not. Perhaps it would have been a more prudent strategy to come up with something creative that told me why Microsoft has now changed for the better, not why the phrase ‘I’m a PC’ is yours and not Apple’s. Apple may be fancier, but does that make their products better? If it does, you’ve got a problem, Seattle.