Saturday, January 12, 2013

Last Man In Tower - Aravind Adiga

Last Man In Tower is the second book of Aravind Adiga I reading after The White Tiger. I had liked The White Tiger and had picked "Last Man In Tower" with a lot of hope and am happy to say Aravind Adiga didn't disappoint me.

Last Man in Tower explores how money changes people? How far would people go for the sake of money? It pushes us to think does the convictions of one man out weigh the consensus of the many?

The story is about "Masterji"; The one man refusing to leave his home in the face of property development. Tower A of Vishram Society  is a pucca housing society established in the 1950s. A property developer "DarmenShah" offers to buy out the residents for mouth-watering sums, the principled masterji is the only one refusing the offer, determined not to surrender his sentimental attachment to his home and his right to live in it, in the name of greed. But as his neighours, the others in the building can't get the benefit from the offer until all agree tensions in the society. As the deadline to accept the offer looms - Friends turn enemies, acquaintances turn co-conspirators. His neighbours gradually take matters into their own hands, building up to a nice climax.

Arvind nicely explores the psyche of humans, How money can turn people, how friendships can break when money comes in between. He nicely shows the changes in thinking of the people, how one-by-one each neighbor gets seduced by money. Arvind again captures the changing India, he shows us the co-existence of both the slums and the high rises in Mumbai.

Arvind lets the reader decide with whom his/her sympathizes lie, With Masterji - who stands in the way of his neighbors' most audacious dreams, and whose integrity and incorruptibility borders on the improbable. Or with the middle-class neighbors for whom the windfall can make all their dreams come true. 

He makes us think what is the price growth? Will so called good people risk their humanity when faced with a chance to bag a lot of money? Who can we trust to stand by us when we take a lone stance? The breakdown of family life in modern India.

I give the "Last Man in Tower" a rating of 3/5. Its a  Gripping read, with the right mix of humor and suspense. At every point, the reader is wondering, "What's going to happen to the Masterji?" Arvind has etched out the Characters are well. It lost points because its not always a page turner, at some parts you feel he has stretched out the book.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Long Tail - Chris Anderson

In this book "The Long Tail" Chris Anderson expands on his article written in October 2004 on Wired called "The Long Tail"

Basically Chris Anderson is talking about an economic phenomena currently being created in the present world where we have almost unlimited choice because of the Internet. He talks of a future which is not "Hit-centric" but a future where "minorities" and "niches" thrive and everybody can find something to their taste. 

Anderson explains, "The theory of the Long Tail can be boiled down to this: Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail."

He mostly talks about the phenomena in Entertainment but the same can be observed in all walks of life. Take this case If you could watch Movies only at the Cinema hall near your house you would get a very limited choice and more-so your choice would be limited by the "HITS" or what is liked by majority of the customers of the Cinema Hall. But if you order movie DVDs from Netflix your choices explode by a factor of millions. Log in to YouTube your choices explode further. 

Long Tail can be explained by considering the figure on the Right. 

In most industries (films, music, books, etc.) a few hits make most of the money, and demand drops off quickly thereafter. But the Demand, however, doesn't drop to zero. 
The products in the Long Tail are less popular in a mass sense, but still popular in a niche sense. 
Basically the Demand never drops down to Zero.   What that means is that some businesses, like Amazon, Google Apple iTunes can make money not just on big hits, but by serving the long Tail. 

Anderson identifies three 'forces' that drives this Long Tail and the niches that populate it?

  1. More stuff is being produced. Technology and the internet make it cheaper and easier to record and distribute your own songs, publish your own writings and so on. This lengthens the tail.
  2. There is better access to niches, again thanks to the reach and economies on the net. This fattens the tail.
  3. Search and recommendations connect supply and demand. This drives business from hits to niches.
Anderson explains these 3 forces further in the book and further explains how the abundance of choice is both good for the customer and the marketer. He tries to take us beyond the entertainment industry where he explores how EBay, Lego,  Kitchenmaid etc also have explored and exploited the power of the long tail. This is where I feel Anderson loses the plot If I may say, he goes to explore "Long Tail" everywhere. 

He writes "there are now Long Tail markets practically everywhere you look," He calls offshoring the "Long Tail of labor," and online universities "the Long Tail of education." He quotes that there's a "Long Tail of national security" in which al-Qaida is a "supercharged niche supplier." At times, it feels he is just going around looking for examples to suit the theory.

I would further like to argue that their are many industries that don't rely on the economics of information products.  For E.g. Take the Steel Industry, which Anderson doesn't discuss, —The Long Tail doesn't seem to tell us much about the future of the steel industry. It's not really clear how Tata Steel or any other still company might benefit from expanding the types of steel it makes available. (There are different types of steel - Mild Steel, Hard Steel, Automotive Grade Steel etc). It would cost Tata Steel a lot to produce them, and few customers would require a very different type of steel. So basically no Long Tail in steel Biz. Same can be said for other industries dealing with physical products like Oil, Diamond etc

The other disappointment is that Anderson doesn't do a very good job of describing strategy choices for product producers. After the first 6 chapters you have understood the entire book, the rest of the book is just repetition. My advice would be don't read the book either. Read his 2004 article and you are all set.  

I will give the book a rating of 2/5. Anderson explores a phenomena successfully,  The reading of the sociological and physiological factors affecting the current world is interesting. But like I said the article is more than enough for it.