Friday, December 08, 2006

Times admits the basic truth of online: Their offline brand can be a liability online.

I don't know how many people noticed, but the matrimonial site of the Times Group,, just became For those of you who came in late, even old hands at, the flagship online property from the times group, had their misgivings about being 'stuck' with the Times name, and all the associations that go with it, good and bad.

The dropping of the decidedly strange sounding name is a confirmation of the feeling that offline media brands are not so easily transferable to the net, thanks to the major doffrence in demographics.

Another big media fairm that might surprise with the name of it's online avtar might be HT Media, which will soon launch it's widely anticipated business daily.
Also, the trend above seems to offer some really interesting opportuities to the no. 5, 6 and 7 players in key segments like matrimonials, jobs, property etc.
Some of the biggest, and cash rich media players have failed to create anything online as of now, notably Deccan Chronocle, HT Media, The Hindu group etc. They might find it worthwhile to tie-up /buy these relatively small but established online players, and merge their own online classified offerings with theirs.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Breaking News, aka Broke for news. One case where the loser could be winning.

Ever wondered where the national media got the names that they have for breaking news? Some call it News flash, some call it Just in, and of course, some call it breaking news. I suspect he answer lies with two really interesting companies in the advertising space, and (e4m)
These two sites have a lot of news on the Indian advertising and media industries, though agencyfaqs trumpets its marketing orientation too. As they competed increasingly for news, they were the earliest starters of the breaking news concept, where they would shoot an emailer to their subscribers with the 'breaking news'.
E4m has clearly decided to make the breaking news story its sole reason for existence. They even sent out a mailer recently with a screenshot of the site with SIX breaking news stories:) It's another story that all six were actually press releases, which only e4m had the gall to send out as breaking news. The much more conservative and clearly more 'edit' led agencyfaqs has opted to play a balancing game, posting these stories on the site only, instead of sending out mailers, under the moniker 'Latest' or something like that.

The point here is, do their subscribers actually like getting so many mailers, at a time when spam has virtually taken over the email systems? On a typical day, these sites, especially e4m, send almost 6-7 mails to their subscribers, including one daily news mail. I suspect, the only one people look forward to is the news mail, which is also the one they originally subscribed for.

A check at their registration pages confirms this. While the conservative agencyfaqs has a clear option for people to choose to select the extra mailers, e4m pretty much rolls you in.

So in my book, agencyfaqs does come off better, for its slightly more sophisticated approach. From what I can see, it hasn't hurt the advertising they get one bit too. E4m needs to decide whether they really want to be stuck with the news leader role, after a news is only one part of hat these professionals require for their work. I think agencyfaqs approach of a wider pffering will work better in the long term.

Why did I write the above post about these two?

because besides subscribing to their mailers (and a little tired of the crap, I must say), I have a feeling that both are going to be scouting for money soon, and potential investors , if they are sophisticated enough, might just plump for the faqs bandwagon, rather than e4m's shrill pitch.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Flying on your advance, the low cost way

The low cost revolution might have made travelling much easier and cheaper, but it has not come without it's own pettiness. If the parsimony with ANY feature was not enough, most airlines seem to follow a strange practice when it comes to cancellations. While all of them charge a fee ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 650 for cancelling, most, it seems, donot want to return the money you have paid even after that. Go Air, Spice Jet, Kingfisher, they all give you a 'credit note' instead of a refund of the remaining amount. The idea being that you use the note the next time you travel.

My issue here is that most people who use these airlines seek the lowest fares, and chances are not great that the next time, they will find it with the same airline. On top of that, since these credit notes come with an expiry date of six months to a year, it is unfair to expect the person to use it well within that time. Especially since a lot of their travellers are not necessarily frequent travellers. In fact, going by the Air Deccan claim of 40% first timers on their planes, we would seem to have a serious issue with repeat usage in any case.

Most importantly, by sticking to your money despite charging a cancellation fee, I feel the airlines are simply doing something wrong, and need to be pulled up for it. A better option would be to give the person the option of zero/lower cancellation fees in case he opts for the credit note. One of the excuses I have been given is that the process of reversing credit card payments is too painful, or even that some banks charge a fee. I don't think any of these hold water.

Even a government company like the Indian railway cataring company ( , which books railway tickets for the Indian railways, has a fantastic system where refunds come to you within a week, and in case of errors in booking the ticket, the same day even. Clearly, one case where the private players need to learn from a government monopoly on customer orientation.
Mr. Leaders, pls spare us the cliches

When will the cliches end? After every atrocity in India, we get to hear the same old cliches. About a resilient citizenry (the media had really taken a shine to this one, this time), how we will not be cowed down, and some more garbage. What's more, in the interest of national security, criticism of the security network and political class is also muted down by the media. And these were the same guys who were pillorying the same people for not anticipating the most predictable event in our country's history yet again. The rains.

And then, on top of everything else, comes this headline about our PM. "India will not be cowed down". "We will not be afraid". Wonderful. I am so happy that at least our PM seems to have so much confidence in us. For the truth is, Mr Singh, I am very very afraid. Of a bunch of lunatics who seem to be able to do pretty much what they want, when they want, and wherever they want. I am afraid of them, and our security network, which will probably go ahead and in their usual ham handed way to show results, knock off a few innocent people, or small time goons, and claim that another 'nefarious plot' has been foiled.

Please give us a reason to feel a little secure. By simply making available information more transparently. By showing us where the money is being spent.

Having said that, I am a little tired by two comments in today's TOI.. From Mr Pritish Nandy, and Bachi Karkaria. Mr Nandy I respect tremendously for his views, but I think he let himself down by finishing off his lament with a demand for more money for Mumbai. Perhaps his tribute to the Sena, to whom he owes his Rajya Sabha seat? Ms Karkaria did likewise for entirely unfathomable reasons. Or perhaps she is simply trying to keep a bridge going with the state govt for her paper, which perforce has to indulge in some criticism. I am sick and tired of the argument that Mumbai delivers 30% of Income tax, 20% of excise and more, and gets peanuts in return. The fact is, most of that income tax is paid by earning and doing business with the rest of the country. It is paid by professionals in Mumbai who, every now and then are made to wonder whether the Mumbaikar really wants him/her, if the Shiv Sena is to be believed. Ditto for the excise duty. I mean, if Tata Sons happens to be headquartered in Mumbai, surely you wouldn't ascribe all of TCS's taxes paid to Mumbai? Or TiSCO's?

I think messrs Nandy and Karkaria wouild be better of starting off a move to use the RTI more effectively in the city, to see just how and where the money they get right now is spent.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Carnage at D-Dtreet

So the expected finally happened. And as usual, it looks like its the poor retail investor who will take the biggest hit, having come to the party last. However, that is not the purpose of this post.
My heart goes out to a most unexpected casualty, and that is Air Deccan. India's lowest cost, and the one with the biggest heart, has been dealt a body blow.
The poor guys must be wondering how much more off their timing for the IPO could have been. Not only has it been swept aside in the gale force of the market crash, it will also put at serious risk, their future plans. In a worst case scenario, it could also mean someone like Kingfisher Airlines buying in. And that my friends, would pretty much end all the fun we have been having with the air fares in the past two years. With that itching to be a monopoly Jet already pocketing Sahara, we will be back to a bunch of three players, with shares in the range of 25-30, who will happily fix the prices.

For those of you who have never actually travelled Air Deccan, or even travelled it, only to come cursing out of the experience, the inescapable fact is that no other factor is as responsible for the current low fares all round, than this Airline. In fact, ominously, the whole upturn in the economy and it's subsequent results on all other activities were practically signalled by the arrival of Air Deccan's Rs 1 for a ticket ads. People thought those were unbelievable, till you started meeting the first guys who actually travelled to share the tale, and before you knew it, a lot else was within reach.

And now, with an IPO dream in tatters, creditors barking at the door, and a promoter down to his last quarter share in the company, things couldn't get tougher fopr the airline. Of course, like all else they have done, Captain Gopinath didn't make life easier for himself by pushing his luck with the IPO valuation too, pricing it a clear 30-40% more than he shd have, I reckon. Anyway, that is the nature of the man, to push for things just a tad under impossible.

So there we are. I haven't applied for the IPO, for reasons mentioned above, but I do hope, sincerely, that this sirlibe sails through this storm safely.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Not everyone gets his due

We've all been through it. The feeling that comeuppance will surely come to the person who seems to have jumped lines. The sleazeball who managed to get promoted faster by licking the boss, the dumb girl who rose because of her 'looks', or the regular cases of nepotism where the owner's son/nephew/whatever gets to to take charge without knowning zilch.

Well, I've got bad news for you guys. All these so called underserving people donot necessarily meet a messy end, trying to atone for their 'mistake'. Chances are, unless they are complete retards, they would survive, and in a lot of cases, even thrive. Why? Because, if you are in a seat of power, knowledge will also flow to you at a preferential rate. I've seen this work through out my life, including with myself too.

In my case, I had joined this financial firm which promptly put me in charge of managing theoir receivables in a region. I knew zilch about their famous processes, customers or even how to go about doing it. But luckily, we had vendors who used to actually do it for us. Seeing a new man in charge, the vendors took no time in doing everything they could to curry favour, including sharing pretty much every trade secret, if only to undercut the other guy.. Result was, after a difficult three months, I had learnt enough to actually pull off the best subsequent 9 month performance the region had ever seen, leading to all round praises and bonuses.

This was a phenomenon I was to repeat, with me on the other side. As I joined an online media company dependent on advertising, we quickly realised that our prospective clients knew zilch about online ads, how you could track them, etc. Thus, we began a programme of touching as many as we could, trying to give them as simple, and as comprehensive understanding of the net as possible, to obviate the need for them to believe our competitor, who preferred to take the easy way out and just sell at any cost with any claim it took. result is, three years after we started, some of my earliest clients , who used to call every week on one aspect or the other, are respected within their comoanies for their understanding of the net.

So the moral of the story is, donlt expect just hard work to take you places, as all the 100 most important guys of the century would have you believe.. Work hard, but make sure it gets noticed, even if you have to quit to make your point.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

So what's happening with Indian media?

First we had the rash of IPO's from Deccan Chronicle, HT Media, Jagran Prakashan, Cyber Media and even the reticent Sun TV. And now we have the stratospheric valuations for all of these... In between all this, the biggest media daddy of them all, the Bennett Coleman Group, has been busy DIVESTING, or hedging it's investment in Radio through an IPO, while busily investing like a portfolio investor in everything but media. The last one was Air Deccan, and before that, they have been in textile comoanies, IT companies, fashion, retail and god knows what else. While remaining privately held of course.

So do they know something that investors don't? I think investors shd note this at least.

A key factor, based on my own experience would be the ability of media companies to straddle, and manage well, the various delivery models. So to expect a good TV guy to do well in print, as well as Radio and internet, which investors seem to be betting on, is a bit dicey. So go ahead in invest in pure play guys like Radio Mirchi, Jagran Prakashan, but watch out when the excess valuation is built on 'natural' expansions into outdoor, TV, print or whatever they don't do right now.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Well, if you are going to be a regular here, I will do my best to make it rewarding, by sharing all I can on the areas that I think I have some knowledge of. Which would be Consumer Finance, Media and everything else I follow as a hobby.
The name denotes an ambition, to ensure customer service standards in India rise to a level where we can feel nice about being customers! As the rants, and hopefully some raves too, in the ensuing days will demonstrate, we still have some way to go there.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

When Jet Airways missed it all

Jet's recent travails on its Air Sahara takeover only remind me of their earlier misses. Seems to be a classic case of being used to getting things done their own way, by ways that were certainly not transparent.

How they imagines the slots issue will not hold up things is umimaginable. Or even worse, they probably got into the deal precisely for those 'assets', hoping to milk the monopoly it would have given them at Delhi and Mumbai. But guess what, this might make them finally wake up and smell the coffee!

While you have to admit, once at the airport, they were better than everyone by a huge margin. But all that seems to be under strain now. Like the fact that their online ticketing, or booking process came in later than most, and sucked, when it came to the most important aspect. Value buying.

Similarly, woe betide you if you need to cancel a ticket booked online. besides the frightful charge, you also need to go to their office to do it. Even Indian Railways does better, making transfers back online now.