Democratic times for ideas

In literally the last 8 weeks or so I have been involved with starting a new business. It’s over at Onix Central but for the purposes of this post it really could be just about any business.

What I wanted to write a little about is essentially in the face of all the doom and gloom in our midst just what great times we live in. And how fantastic it is that we are surrounded by so much empowering (and often free) technology that enables us to do so much with (quite frankly) so little. Just how democratic this makes capitalism is (for me) something that I hope will never lose it’s shine.

I thought I would give a quick run through of some of the tools; applications and software that has enabled us to start a business from scratch; to develop our products; let people know about what we do; sell (although I use this term very advisedly – not sure anyone would call what we do ‘selling’ as such); communicate with both with our customers and between ourselves and deliver our products and services. Many of these tools will in fact be very familiar to almost any one reading this post.

So, a little about our setup. We run a software and publishing services business. Emma, my business partner is based in the Uk and I am based between the UK and Stockholm in Sweden. We have not met since we formed the business. Emma is on a PC and I am on Mac. I mention this as this again is one of the issues that in recent times has all but largely disappeared.

Without further ado and in no particular order:

1) Actually, I said in no particular order but number one with a bullet has to be Skype. Emma and I talk probably a good three or four times a day on Skype – for free. We also use this as our primary instant messenger client – largely because we have it open all the time anyway and also it tends on the whole to be the easiest and most reliable for sending small files between ourselves which is sometimes very helpful. It is also used to communicate with clients. And don’t forget all for free. Yes, I know we take it for granted but let’s repeat it and let it sink in for a moment – all for free. Free!Skype

As well as being a free VOIP application (with video) it is also a very useful and affordable IP telephone system. Our client base already in this very short term separated by in some cases many thousands of miles. So, Skype gives us the opportunity to have a number in each of our client’s countries that they can call for support or enquiries. A number that is local to them.

We can also call out to any phone (landline or mobile) anywhere in the world for flat affordable rates. Yesterday in the course of about 20 mins I rang someone on a cell phone in Singapore; made two calls to Oxford in the Uk and then a short call to Stockholm. All for the princely sum of about 35p! Contrast that with the traditional costs of the telecoms of even a couple of years or so ago. And, let’s leave aside cell/mobile roaming charges even today.

It makes communication in our business wherever we are and irrespective of the location of our clients – easy and affordable (if not, often, effectively free).

Dropbox2) To the real ‘in no particular part of our list’. Drop Box. This is free (for up to 2gb and then you can pay $99 a year to upgrade to 50gb). It essentially gives you space on the internet which mirrors folders on your hard disk. You can also have shared folders – so for example, Emma and I have a folder called Onix Central which is mirrored across all our machines with Drop Box installed. Oh and it doesn’t care if it is a Mac or a PC. For instance, I am mostly on a Mac laptop but use  Windows Vista also on that same machine and work often on a 24″ iMac (for the fantastic screen real estate). Emma is on a Windows XP desktop and has a laptop also.

So, when we are working on software; documents or just about anything we simply save to the Drop Box and whether we are 70 or a thousand miles apart it makes little difference. There are no limits on file sizes – if it is a text file of a few k or a database of 400 mb all can be shared.

Anyway, almost certainly there are other options out there but for us this one does exactly what it says on the tin and really helps with pretty much every aspect of what we do.


3) A few years ago (2001 or so) when I founded a software business you could of course trade emails with people and even the odd phone call. But, at some point when you wanted to demo your software or service you often had to get on a plane/train/bus/get in your car and go see people. It would generally eat your day and eat your money. But, you did it because it was quite simply a cost of doing business. And, if people wanted training then you had little option but also to get on a plane and physically go somewhere. And again all these attendant costs had to come out of somewhere.

Roll forward to 2009. And with gotomeeting you can demo to people; train people or just collaborate on a project all over the internet. Oh, and for less each month than the amount you would have dropped in the airport bar waiting for your plane. Again, sure they are many other options available but for us gotomeeting seems to do all the things we need.

youtube4) Youtube. Yes, I know I know in terms of quality and so on it is not great (although much better recently). But, so many of the other sites had a number of restrictions of one form or another that we ended up back here. What youtube does for use is enable us to share videos of demos of our software, post support tutorials, and of course get the myriad of free stuff that we provide to help publishers out to people in a way that just works. Oh, and is free. In time, we will probably develop our own solution but come on in 8 weeks – what do you want from us?

5) And lastly Google. When we very very first started and we needed an email address; to share documents; or just have a calendar Google did pretty much what we needed. We have since moved on and developed our own set of tools and of course have our own domain and so on. But, it was certainly helpful to start with. But, we do use one particular part of their service still every day and as we build our web presence it provides us with invaluable assistance in tweaking our content; tracking responses and just seeing who is interested in us and what we are about. Google Analytics – and again free.Google Analytics

Ok, well I could go and on. But, you get the idea. And hovering above all this of course is the internet without which none of this would be possible.

So, with the help of these tools what in these few weeks have we achieved? In that time we have:

  • Built a suite of products and service
  • Constructed and populated with content a website
  • Written manuals and how to guides for all our software
  • Produced buckets of videos to support our software
  • Written mountains of free content for publishers to do much more for themselves
  • Have 477 contacts within publishers with whom we have spoken/exchanged correspondence
  • 72 open publisher enquiries from 7 countries
  • 7 Actual customers
  • And booked 31 meetings so far for the upcoming London Book Fair

In conclusion, as well as hopefully highlighting some useful tools what I really wanted to drive at was that really anyone can do just what we did. That we live in times; with these tools and all these options (often for free) that you can just have an idea and create your own business. So, if the traditional barriers of capital are removed and the technical requirements are greatly diminished surely this means that the focus is on ideas and the products and services that flow from that creativity. Surely, how it should be?

Oh, and the best bit? You get to be your own boss and if you lose your job it really is nobodies fault but your own. In short, your fate really is in your own hands. So, just get on with it.


Filed under: Business, Onix Central, Technology

MacBook Pro screens

I know that there has been a lot of quite frankly nonsense talked about the fact that the 15″ MacBook Pros only now come in glossy screens. I don’t do high end graphic work/photo retouching so can’t comment on what (if any) effect the glossy screen has. And to be blunt I strongly suspect many of the people who whinge about it on various blogs don’t either or for that matter even own one of the machines.

On the whole I have to say I love the screen. Colours pop and it is a pleasure to work with; watch movies on etc etc.

My issue with it as someone who does have to travel around a great deal is the effect is has on battery life. Not in general use but when there is strong light you have to have the brightness up so high just to be able to work that it just devours the battery. And for me as someone for whom my machine is very much my constant companion; contains my life and the tool which enables me to earn my living that is an almost constant concern. I am that man sat at the table in the bar at Edinburgh station or Arlanda Airport with the cable snaking out of his bag into the nearest powerpoint (little tip: if a space has to be vacuumed then there is an electrical point there somewhere – you just have to find it).

This is a shot of me just attempting to write a post for this very blog whilst having my morning coffee:

MacBook Pro Screen Reflecting

Now that is a problem as I am quite commonly in brightly lit rooms and as the summer approaches in Sweden I tend to work almost exclusively outside or at cafe tables around the city.

And the screen is also a magnet for any dust floating around which again means that you have to set the brightness artificially high just to work. I know why they give you that little black dust cloth when you buy the thing now:

MacBook Pro Screen Dusty

Does any of this mean that I would buy another computer? No, of course not. Like anything it’s a balance and the quality of the screen for 90% of the time that I am using the machine more than makes up a drained battery occasionally.

I suppose what I’m badly saying is so much of what you read and a little of what you hear is just nonsense. If it bothers you don’t buy it and if you’re not ever likely to buy it and you’re one of those people who endlessly comment on blog posts about how it is all so terrible and how could Apple do this (etc etc etc) then seriously just get out more.

Filed under: Apple, Technology, ,

The glorious Stephen Fry and his new tech column in the Guardian

Read here.

Filed under: Apple, Technology

Getting to the nitty gritty …

Spent last Thursday at the e4books forum event thing at RIBA in Portland Place. This was an event for all parts of the publishing chain (publishers; distributors and books sellers). Designed to … well to be honest I’m not entirely sure. The message was at base that we should be doing everything electronically by May 2008. This is of course fair enough. But there was no real information about how to do it in reality.

This is mirrored on the BIC and e4books websites. Lots of ‘we need to be doing everything electronically’ but not much of the how this may actually (and practically) be achieved. And really they’ve been at this for years. I think everyone gets the principle but if you can’t ground it with terms and steps people can relate to then it will remain an abstract concept. Seriously look at their websites and tell me I’m wrong.

The presentations on Thursday (with one very notable exception – which I will come to shortly) were no real help at all. I am sure the BIC/e4books people are all jolly well meaning but had little to say of any real help to under resourced businesses trying to live up to the challenge set of electronically trading by May 2008. There was no information about what tools to use; the practical steps needing to be undertaken; and how much any of this may cost.

The presentation from the bookseller person was all very well meaning but boiled down to have MS office; use email and oh back your stuff up. I mean really its two thousand and seven for fucks sake.

The one exception was Emma’s (of Snowbooks) presentation who illustrated just how you may practically start becoming Onix compliant; what this has cost her organisation; what the benefits have been; and what other advantages you may reap from having all your title information in one place and being able to generate industry standard Onix XML from it. This was real stuff that people could relate to. Publishers understand the message that if you make a little initial effort to tidy up your title information (which you kind of need to do anyway) and get it all one place then you will save hours and days or time each month. Further, getting complete and timely information to those charged with selling your books will help you sell more books and not just one or two percent but according to Barnes & Noble between sixty and 70 per cent more. And even, further! That same information may be used to generate your AIs (title info sheets); catalogues and just about anything you need.

Emma demonstrated that it need not be expensive or require masses of technical ability. The most expensive application used was our Anko Title Manager at $240 for unlimited titles and including one click Onix generation everything else was free.

BIC should be stepping up to the plate on this. At the end of the presentations the delegates were exhorted to speak to the suppliers exhibiting. But again in reality what good was that actually supposed to do for them? Apart from us nobody there would be prepared to give them a price or a live demo of actually what they might get for their money.

Come on people – cut to the fucking chase! Enough already.


Filed under: Publishing, Technology

5th July e4books London

Will be in London exhibiting at the e4books event at RIBA in London on the 5th of July. If you would like to book some time then please do not hesitate to drop me a line and we can organise for you.

More details from the BIC/e4books website.

Filed under: Publishing, Technology

Must be doing something right

If you can get people to buy devices for a couple hundred dollars or so from a vending machine on an airport concourse …

ipod machine

Filed under: Airports, Apple, Technology

University presses

At last got to Minneapolis for the AAUP AGM and the database panel later today. After nightmare 4am check in at Arlanda.

Arlanda 4am

I’m here until I go to New York on Sunday so, if you want to meet and review the Anko Publishing Manager in person then just drop me a line. I am pretty booked already but have a couple of slots at the extremes of the day tomorrow.

Ramada view

Filed under: Airports, Hotels, Onix, Publishing, Technology

Last.fm for books


Don’t know what it is about the Shelfari project that just doesn’t sit right with me. I think it has a bit too much of a ‘me to’ feel about it. Oh, for some reason the name just irritates me. Just can picture the meeting and the people in it who came up with it. Anyway, will give it a go. Understand why Amazon has stuck some money in it and no doubt will go on to be very successful. Isn’t it at base  just librarything with some money?

Filed under: Publishing, Technology

Old media bumps into Web 2.0

Was interested (particulary as a user) in the acquisition by CBS of last.fm hopefully this will mean only good things going forward. But, the track record of more traditional media companies buying such companies isn’t great so we will just have to see. You may read little more about it here.


Filed under: Music, Technology

Great suggestion for a PubML

Really like this post on the Salt Publishing blog which makes absolute sense. What Chris is proposing is an XML standard for trade publishers. So, the form of  publishing texts could be proscribed and described this would make the moving of texts between publishers and delivery to different media so much easier as standard tools etc. could be used.

When I first worked in publishing it was on such models for legal texts (almost 20 years ago now!).

With trade publishers (well some of them anyway!) looking increasingly at reusing/re purposing  their content in a myriad of different electronic media the same requirements come to the fore. It just would make life so much easier in the longer term for everyone. For what it’s worth I am more than happy to throw in some time and help out.

Filed under: Publishing, Technology

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