Kindle and iTunes

Kindle and iTunes

I was browsing for an MP3 player last Sunday, but I couldn’t choose between the low quality offerings in the store, and the DRM enabled higher priced offerings of Sony and Apple. Of course, the bigger question with these ‘tied devices’ is the availability of songs to international markets.

Here in Taiwan, iPods are very popular, but is there an iTunes store? No. Can you buy on any other iTunes store? No. When is iTunes going to open? Who knows: Apple has made no announcement. In other words, we can’t legally buy music downloads here from any number of retailers for the same reasons… While this is a bearable situation, as long as there are CDs available… one day CDs sales will vanish… what then?

With iTunes not being available in a significant number of countries, and Kindle just starting out… the availability of books on Kindle will obviously be restricted. Throw in DRM, regional restrictions… and there you have Regionalization of the book market devices, meaning that if for any reason you don’t fit the profile, you won’t be able to buy a device, and even if you do, you can’t use the Kindle shop. With Kindle, it’s going to be much the same. Books will become region-coded. That is going to be really scary.

Let’s hope that Amazon don’t take such a ‘restricted’ world view of the Kindle, otherwise… the DRM and copyright notices will make books regional, too. I’m not hopeful given the use of Sprint’s Whisper network for distributing material.

While I don’t pirate music or books, I am a frustrated user who finds it difficult to get music or reading matter that I like legally. But will the American-centric publishers ever wake up to the market they are NOT serving?

Spending Money for the Public Good: Yet another sign of excess?

On January 18th, the local government issued some vouchers to all permanent residents and locals in Taiwan. These vouchers amounted to NT$3600 (about US$107) for every man, woman and child on the island. For some families, it was quite a big windfall, but for most it isn’t. The money is in the form of a coupon or voucher that can be used until September 30th this year to purchase goods and service at most places on the island. They were issued in the form of 500’s and 200’s. If you failed to collect yours, you still have plenty of time until the end of April.


Yes, those are mine sitting on the desk the night I got them. Well, like any good member of the public, I did my duty. I finally used mine to purchase a new mobile phone. Indeed, I went rather over the limit with my purchase. But that’s what happens when you get mad at your old telephone company. I switched to a new company and bought a much better plan. Much Better. It’s very bad form to piss off your customers. More on my purchase later…

Should you swipe at all?

But I was wondering, sitting there with my credit card at the ready. Swipe! Swipe! Swipe! But will that be enough to save the world from the hangover of excess over the last few years? Really, will it? When the government tells its people to spend, rather than save, one has to wonder whose interests it is serving.

Could it be that what is good for individuals and families (cost cutting, sensible saving, reducing debt…) may be bad for the economy (lost jobs, decreased sales, less borrowing…) but what is good for the economy may be ruinous for individuals ( when things get bad, spend, borrow, and cut your savings…). It’s difficult to believe that ordinary families will be persuaded to part with hard-earned cash in the face of such uncertainty.

But why the vouchers?

It’s rare that the government actually provides such a concrete measure to increase spending. Perhaps the usual formula of cutting interest rates has failed to stimulate spending in any great measure. I mean, who in their right mind will spend more money when they are likely to be fired. Rather they will curtail unnecessary expenses, save more in the bank, and make do. None of which will help stimulate demand. Even bribing your public won’t help, will it?

Making something from nothing!

Evil ideas? So it got me wondering. Is it possible to take the $3600 and make some money with it? You’re not allowed to exchange the money for cash, can’t put it in the bank, or even give change for the money. So I brainstormed some ideas.

1. Buy some frames, pay for image processing, and sell some of your photographs as individually signed pictures to people you know, at a market, or to a store. You can limit the series or produce extra pictures to special order…

2. Buy a large item at a warehouse store, repackage it as a smaller items, find a way to add value (by packaging, including other items, through location, …). Buy a large box of instant or fresh coffee bags, a box of sugar packets and creamer, a box of paper cups. Make up sets of each, then sell them to office workers.

There’s no limit to your creativity. You don’t need a big budget, but you do need a sense of where your market is. Once you know your market, creating a product shouldn’t be difficult if you know how to sell to that market. What other ways can you use these coupons? Did you get them? What did you do with them?

Why can’t British retailers succeed in Taiwan?

Another British retailer bites the dust in Taiwan, and the list of failures gets longer…

  • TESCO – sold out to Carrefour;
  • BOOTS – merged counters and business with Watson’s;
  • Marks & Spencer – Now closing;
  • Mothercare – only a few stores in Taiwan;

… can anyone add to this list?

In the rush to expand, many British companies are eager to expand in Asian markets… but they fail to grasp the complexities of the local market, the sheer amount of competition, the fickle nature of Taiwanese shoppers, and the importance of branding, but the worst sin of all: thinking you can make a quick buck here. What’s weirder is that each of these companies has successful operations in other Asian countries, including Thailand, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore… So what’s going on?

Lets start with TESCO. TESCO entered the local market and opened stores in Taipei, Taoyuen, and a few other locations. They were intending to open in December 2000 after purchasing their first location from Makro Asia. Shortly after they expanded to four stores in Taiwan, and a bullish statement by Peter Bracher, head of Tesco International Corporate Affairs, made it clear that they were intending to open upto 10 stores by 2004/5. Then in September 2005, Tesco sold their stores in Taiwan to Carrefour and closed them early in 2006. So what went wrong?

Well, I don’t have access to any of the sales figures, but as a customer I shopped their on more than one occasion. Frankly, I was not impressed. The format of the store was quite similar to the Carrefour stores that dot the island, the product quality for the local products were just not good enough, and they were very slow to introduce their own branded local products. There was an assumption that their typical model would work in Taiwan without sufficient localization. Only later on, when sales lagged, did the management act to introduce local products, such as Tesco Rice or Tesco Oil. While the pricing for these products were quite keen, we weren’t very keen on the freshness of the products, or the store arrangements.