Posts tagged ‘Australia’


Another COVID-19 table: total infections as a proportion of tests done

07.04.2020

Peter Lambrechtsen rightly pointed out that COVID-19 per capita infection statistics aren’t as good as knowing the infection rate based on tests done, so at 2 a.m. I decided to crunch some numbers based on the stats I had on hand. These are many hours old now but hopefully still indicative of where things stand. Here you want a low percentage, and we are very fortunate to be sitting on 2·71 per cent. This site has tests per million as well, which I haven’t factored in. Taiwan and Hong Kong are looking even better on this measure; Australia isn’t looking too bad, either. The European and US numbers are sobering. Mainland China and the KSA haven’t released their testing numbers, only total infections.
   I don’t really want to go into fatality rates.

France 98,010 of 224,254 = 43·70%
Spain 140,510 of 355,000 = 39·58%
UK 51,608 of 252,958 = 20·40%
USA 369,179 of 1,941,052 = 19·02%
Italy 132,547 of 721,732 = 18·37%
Sweden 7,693 of 54,700 = 14·06%
Switzerland 22,242 of 167,429 = 13·28%
Germany 104,199 of 918,460 = 11·34%
New Zealand 1,160 of 42,826 = 2·71%
South Korea 10,331 of 461,233 = 2·24%
Singapore 1,375 of 65,000 = 2·12%
Australia 5,908 of 310,700 = 1·90%
Hong Kong 936 of 96,709 = 0·97%
Taiwan 376 of 39,011 = 0·96%

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Posted in China, France, Hong Kong, internet, New Zealand, Sweden, UK, USA | No Comments »


Saddened to see colleagues lose their jobs as we bid, ‘Auf wiedersehen, Heinrich Bauer Verlag’

03.04.2020

I am privy to some of the inner workings at Bauer Media through friends and colleagues, but I didn’t expect them to shut up shop in New Zealand, effective April 2.
   Depending on your politics, you’re in one of two camps.
   TV3, itself part of a foreign company who has made serious cutbacks during the lockdown, said Bauer had approached the government and offered to sell the business to them at a rock-bottom price in the hope of saving the 200-plus jobs there. The government declined. I believe that’s the angle foreign-owned media are adopting here.
   Both the PM and the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, have said that Bauer never applied for the wage subsidy, and never approached the government to see if it could be classified as an essential service to keep operating. Indeed, in the words of the PM, ‘Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies.’
   It’s murkier today as there is evidence that Bauer had, through the Magazine Publishers’ Association, lobbied for reclassification for it to be turned down, though the minister continues to say that it had never been raised with him and that Bauer had already committed to shutting up shop.
   Outside of “we said, they said”, my takes are, first, it was never likely that the government would want to be a magazine publisher. Various New Zealand governments have been pondering how to deal with state-owned media here, and there was little chance the latest inhabitants of the Beehive would add to this.
   We also know that Bauer had shut titles over the years due to poor performance, and Faafoi’s original statement expressly states that the Hamburg-based multinational had been ‘facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.’
   With these two facts in mind, the government would not have taken on the business to turn it around, especially while knowing the owner of Bauer Media (well, 85 per cent of it) has a personal worth of US$3,000 million and the company generated milliards in revenue per annum.
   I also have to point to its own harsh decisions over the years in shutting titles. In 2018, Bauer’s own Australian CEO told Ad News: ‘There’s a really interesting view that somehow we are here to provide a social service. The reality is we’re here to make money and if we can’t make money out of our magazines, we’ll sell them or we’ll close them.
   ‘We have an obligation, whether that’s a public company or private company, to make money for shareholders. If it doesn’t make money, why would we do it?’
   That, to me, sounds like the corporate position here as well, and no doubt Bauer’s bean counters will have crunched the numbers before yesterday’s announcement.
   I’ve had my own ideas how the stable could have evolved but it’s easy to talk about this with hindsight, so I won’t. Enough people are hurting.
   But I’d have applied for whatever the government offered to see if I could keep things going for a little while longer. Even if the writing was on the wall, it would have been nice to see my colleagues have a lifeline. Get one more issue of each title out after June. Maybe I’m just not as brutal. I mean, I’ve never defamed Rebel Wilson as Bauer’s Australian publications have. Maybe it’s different for a small independent.
   If I may use a sporting analogy, Bauer hasn’t let their players on to the field and kept them in the changing room, and more’s the pity.
   One comment I received yesterday was that Bauer wouldn’t have been in a position to pay its staff even with the government subsidy, with no advertising sales being generated. I’m not so sure, with annual global revenues of over €2,000 million. New Zealand was probably too unimportant to be saved by Bauer’s bosses in Hamburg. I guess we’ll never know.

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Posted in business, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing | No Comments »


Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden

19.02.2020


The 2009 Chevrolet Caprice SS, sold in the Middle East but made in Australia.

I came across a 2017 interview with former Holden chairman Peter Hanenberger, who was in charge when the company had its last number-one sales’ position in Australia. His words are prescient and everything he said then still applies today.
   He spent over four and a half decades at GM so he knows the company better than most. Since he departed in 2003 he had seven successors at the time of the interview; and I believe there have been a couple more since.
   A few interesting quotes.

‘It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.’
It feels like it. The sort of retreating it’s done, the dismantling of global operations, and the failure to see how global platforms can achieve economies of scale is something only a company beholden to quarterly stock price results will do. And it doesn’t help its longevity.
   Even Holden, which looked like it was going to simply depart the passenger-car sector at the end of last year before a full withdrawal now, tells us that there doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan in place that the US management is committed to. Not long ago they were going on about the two dozen models they planned to launch to field a competitive line-up.

‘For me General Motors was a global player. Today General Motors is shrinking to an American company with no foresight, which is in very bad shape, which has missed the market.’
Remember Hanenberger said this in 2017, when it still had presences in many Asian countries. In 2020 it very much looks like GM will be in the Americas (where it still fields reasonably complete line-ups, although God knows if they have anything in the pipeline to replace the existing models) and China. Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are gone or going, and western Europe went in 2017 before the interview.

‘Maybe it fits into the vision of Trump; America first. But how the world is going to work also in the future is not because of America first and America only. It’s global. I think there will be no GM in the near-future.’
Everyone else is desperate to do tie-ups while GM retreats. I think GM will still be around but it’ll be a Chinese firm.

‘I couldn’t give a shit what they thought in America.’
I don’t mean this as an anti-American quote, but I see it as a dig against bean counters (whatever their nationality) fixated on the short term and not motorheads who know their sector well.

‘For me Holden didn’t have enough product, and the second one [priority] was I wanted to get these cars they had into export. For me it was very clear the products they had could be exported and they should go on to export.’
You saw the failure of this in the early 2010s when Holden failed to keep its Middle Eastern deals, and the US models returned. It could have been so different, though I realize GM was very cash-strapped when they needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.
   Bruce Newton, who wrote the piece, says that the Middle East was worth up to 40,000 units per annum, with A$10,000 profit per car. It cost Holden A$20 million to develop them for left-hand drive. I’d have held on to that sort of opportunity for dear life.

‘There was nothing going on that was creative towards the future of Holden as in Australia, New Zealand and toward the export market. They just neglected this whole thing.’
That was Hanenberger when he visited his old workplace in 2006. With product development cycles the way they are, it’s no wonder they were so ill placed when the Middle Eastern markets lost interest in the VE Commodore and WM Caprice (as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice), and China in the Buick Park Avenue.
   It’s an interesting interview and perhaps one of the best post mortems for Holden, even if it wasn’t intended to be so three years ago.

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Posted in business, cars, China, leadership, USA | 1 Comment »


The death of Holden

17.02.2020

GM pulled out of Russia and India, so with hindsight, those of us Down Under, with a far smaller total population, shouldn’t have thought we were particularly special.
   Even where GM remains, such as South Korea, there’s a broken model range, with a big gap where the Cruze used to be.
   It’s becoming apparent that GM, with no more right-hand-drive markets to cater for, will be a company that only offers full lines in China and the Americas.
   Some GM-watchers have been calling for the demise of Holden for years, just as they had called for the deaths of Oldsmobile and Pontiac years before. But as I argued in a letter published in the (also-defunct) Condé Nast Portfolio, each brand occupies unique territory, and, had they not been diluted, could still appeal to certain buyers that more mainstream ones, e.g. Chevrolet, cannot reach.
   Holden was always a tough case in Australia, where we noted it was very tied to nationalism. Once local manufacture finished, its sales plummeted.
   It wasn’t the case in New Zealand, where all cars had been imported for decades and we never had the sense that Holden was our ‘own car’. However, GM New Zealand (as it then was) had created a handful of Holdens unique to this market that the Australians never saw. Once upon a time, it was a more independent beast.
   When Holden ceased Australian manufacture, sales didn’t drop the same way in this country. With Kiwis loving entries in the CD market, the Commodore isn’t an uncommon sight, and remains the choice of the police.
   But the same argument of economies of scale applies to New Zealand, a country with a population of five million: GM had no desire to allow this country much wiggle room compared with Australia. Whatever happened there would necessarily happen here.
   Those 600 jobs that are going include redundancies in New Zealand.
   Over the years it had seemed Holden was on life support. There was a golden age where the HQ series and its derivatives flew the Holden flag high, but after the oil crises, there was a real possibility the company could have bit the dust in the mid-1980s, becoming an import-only operation.
   A plan circulated within GM to replace the top Holdens with Cadillacs, while the rest of the range would be made up of cars from around the GM empire—which, in those days, included Opel and Isuzu.
   But the Australians won the day and the VN Commodore got the green light. By the end of the 1990s, Holden was in great shape, including an export programme for cars based off the VT Commodore.
   You could say history repeated itself with the global financial crisis in the late 2000s—where GM, keen to continue, asked for US$50,000 million from the US taxpayer. But perhaps more importantly, it sold the controlling stake in its venture with SAIC of China to its Chinese partner for a mere US$85 million. That was one deal that allowed GM to raise funds elsewhere, but it also saw the beginning of a technological transfer to China. Even after GM bought back the share, SAIC would get control of the JV’s sales’ company.
   Numerous SAIC cars were built on GM platforms—the Roewe 950, for example. Cars made by GM ventures began appearing with SAIC-owned brands—the MG Hector in India, a rebadged Baojun 530, for one; it also appears as the second-generation Chevrolet Captiva in some other markets. Once upon a time GM might have earned a royalty for any car built on its tech, but it’s unlikely here as the two companies share in the profits.
   While SAIC hasn’t succeeded with MG Down Under, you notice more of a push these days, and it has already made an impact in New Zealand with the Maxus commercial line-up, rebadged LDV. Export sales aren’t a big deal for the Chinese giant, but with the Chinese economy slowing, they could be eyeing up more international markets.
   With SAIC keen to get more of the action for themselves, GM’s operations in many of its outposts became irrelevant.
   Holden held on for dear life and arguably had one of its more competitive ranges for years—but in this context, GM might not have had much choice.
   It has little to do with the consolidation of markets and all to do with much higher-level strategic decisions. After all, hardly anyone in China will have grown up with idea of Holden being Australia’s own car.

This post also appears in Drivetribe and Lucire Men.

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Posted in business, cars, China, New Zealand, USA | 2 Comments »


GM’s Holden to abandon C and D car segments, delivering them on a silver platter to competitors

23.01.2020


Stuart Cowley for Lucire

I haven’t spoken to Holden New Zealand to see if we’re following suit, but as far as Australia’s concerned, 2020 will be the final year for the Astra and Commodore, as Holden transitions to selling only trucks (utes) and SUVs.
   Here we are, with its most competitive C- and D-segment models for a long time, and Holden decides to abandon them.
   New Zealand did briefly chart its own course recently with the Holden Spark, which it secured supply for even after its cancellation in Australia, but it’s unlikely to depart from what’s happening in Australia.
   Beyond the obvious question of ‘What will the cops drive now?’ it’s a sad development for a brand that’s been part of the Australasian motoring landscape for decades, even before 1948 if you count the Holden coachbuilt bodies before the war.
   Holden points to the rise in truck and SUV sales and the decline in passenger car ones, and, unlike Ford, it can’t blame a lack of marketing for them—over here, it’s been fairly consistent in promoting each one of its lines.
   Over in Australia, Holden sales collapsed when domestic production ended, but in New Zealand, where we have no such allegiance to ‘Buy Australian’, I saw some reasonable sales’ figures for the Opel Insignia B-based Commodore. And it is a good car.
   The chief reason, I imagine, is that after GM sold Opel to PSA, which seeks now to merge with FCA, it didn’t really want to buy cars off a competitor. And PSA really didn’t want to be paying royalties off each car it sold back to GM. Basically, the supply chain ain’t what it used to be.
   By 2021, PSA will launch a new Astra based on a platform to be shared with the third-generation Peugeot 308, and Insignia B’s days are numbered, too, as it transitions that to a PSA platform (if PSA doesn’t just cancel it altogether). GM would earn nothing from this 2021 model, so there would be no point going forth with it.
   GM has also killed off the Cruze in Korea, the US and México, leaving Argentina the only country that still makes it, so it wasn’t as though it had anything else in the C-segment that it could bring in to Australasia. Many of its Chinese-market models are on the GEM platform, regarded as too basic for our needs, and there seemed to be little point to getting them complied with our standards or having them engineered for right-hand drive. Basically, there isn’t an alternative.
   This frankly strikes me as all a bit defeatist, not unlike Ford’s decision to kill off all passenger car lines (bar Mustang) in the US a few years ago.
   Toyota will have you know that the C- (Corolla) and D- (Camry) segments are doing quite well for them, and they are quite happy to pick up some conquest sales from the Americans.
   I’m not sure if ‘We’re not doing that well there. Oh well, let’s give up,’ is much of an attitude to adopt when certain segments could reignite as consumer tastes shift. And if one really wanted to compete—if there was a will—then one could.
   What I fear is that GM isn’t Mystic Meg and even though my previous post was in jest, there is a serious point to it: people might wake up to the big frontal areas and poor aerodynamics and high centres of gravity and general irrelevance and inefficiency of the SUV for everyday use. I mean, I still can’t reconcile people complaining that petrol prices are too high while sitting in a stationary SUV with the engine on awaiting someone, anyone, to leave a spot so they can park right outside the shop they wish to go to. While claiming they are concerned about the planet. I have a C-segment car because I do think petrol is expensive. And even if you had an electric-powered SUV, you’re still affected by the laws of physics and your charge won’t go as far if the aerodynamics are poor. I thought we got all these lessons in the 1970s and 1980s.
   Just as I warned that killing Plymouth was a mistake for DaimlerChrysler—because recessions can come and people want budget brands—I question whether becoming the vendor of ‘Australia’s own truck’ is a smart tactic. There are some segments that have a base level of demand, or so I thought.

Of course, this leaves PSA to do the inevitable: launch Opel as a brand in this part of the world.
   Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller said as much when PSA bought the firm, and while his eyes were probably on China, they could apply equally here.
   I realize Opel flopped in Australia when an attempt was made a few years ago, but unlike Australia, Opel has a reasonable history here, with its Kadett GSis and a full line of Vectra As sold in the 1980s and 1990s. Kiwis know that the Opel Vectra and Holden Vectra are part of the same lineage. And I have to wonder if the brand, with its German heritage, would do well here.
   Imagine the scenario where Opel launches here in 2022 with not just Astra and Insignia (because Kiwis love their D-segment wagons, unlike the UK), but with the Crossland X and Grandland X as well.
   They’d have the goodwill of the Astra name (just as GM predicted), and there may be enough Kiwis who have positive impressions of their Vectra As. Even our family one sold recently to a South Islander after my friend, who bought it off me, decided to part ways with it. Mechanics still think highly of the Family II units those cars had.
   And somehow, I think being independent of GM is a good thing in this case—no conflict of interest, no wondering whether Mokka might cannibalize Trax, resulting in stunted marketing.
   The new design language is looking sharp and I think it would find favour among New Zealanders who are currently buying Volkswagens and Škodas. They’d also be a darn sight more reliable, too.
   If you’re thinking the market is too crowded, remember VW didn’t think so when it determined SEAT could have another crack in the late 2010s.
   I can’t be alone in thinking this—certainly Australian media were speculating if Inchcape could bring Opel in to their country this time last year. Who’ll take it on?

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Posted in business, cars, marketing, New Zealand, USA | No Comments »


History of the 2010s: a look back at the decade that was

02.01.2020

When I first wrote a satirical look back at the decade, which ran on this blog in December 2009 (on the old Blogger service, as I was helping a friend fight a six-month battle with Google to restore his blog), it was pretty easy to make up little fictions based on reality. This one, covering the decade just gone, was a different matter. No matter how you did it, often the reality would be stranger than the satire.
 
2010
The Australian establishment, especially large portions of its media, are shocked a woman could become prime minister. They spend her entire term telling the Australian public that this is morally wrong.
   Americans decide that they needed less honesty from television, so Simon Cowell leaves the US version of Pop Idol, American Idol.
   Donald Trump-hosted show The Apprentice gets its lowest ratings ever. He begins planning another show and brainstorms with his countrymen on Twitter.

   Long-running shows Ashes to Ashes and Lost end with exactly the same conclusion. Frustrated at years of investment in the two shows, the Anglosphere is so turned off television that they would rather form silos on social media websites to make their owners rich. Two guys in San Francisco spot the opportunity and invent Instagram.
   Jay Leno unquits The Tonight Show after discovering the $30 million per annum he made prior to leaving just couldn’t sustain his car collecting hobby.
   Kate loves Willy, so they get engaged.
 
2011
It’s revealed that Arnold Schwarzenegger does films, politics, and the family maid.
   Following the example of HH the Dalai Lama, Charlie Sheen decides to impart his wisdom to the masses, gaining an extra million Twitter followers as a result.
   Cheryl Cole starts on the US X Factor amid much buzz, then vanishes from the show. Only her dimples remain.
   Proving Apple is either a cult or a religion, Steve Jobs shrines appear all over the world after his passing.
   How I Met Your Mother concludes as we find out River Song is Amy Pond’s daughter.
   Kate loves Willy, so they get married.
 
Reality is stranger

   Facebook launches Timeline, but it actually doesn’t work on the 1st of each month as no one there has worked out there are time zones other than US Pacific. Still no one thinks they’re stupid.
   Google gets busted over its advertising preferences’ manager, which actually doesn’t stop gathering your preferences after you’ve opted out from having them gather your preferences. None of the other NAI members seem to have a problem with their opt-outs. As far as I can tell, Google has been lying about its opt-out for two years, affecting millions.
 
2012
President Obama finally figures out that same-sex marriage would not bring about disaster—that could safely be left to Big Tech, as it enjoys monopolies. As a result, Facebook has its IPO.
   Forget 2011’s Steve Jobs shrines, Jesus got a new look in Zaragoza, thanks to a repair job. Not everyone is enamoured with the updated Jesus, but it saves the town and numerous businesses.
   Prince Harry parties and brings a new meaning to ‘Las Vegas strip’. Got to have something to mark his grandmother’s 60th Jubilee.
   The Hunger Games makes stars of Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, although people over a certain age thought it was The Unger Games, a remake of The Odd Couple.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect a kid.
 
In the real world
   Malala Yousafzai kicks ass and a bullet to the head doesn’t stop her. If anything, it makes her stronger and grows her reputation.
   E. L. James gathers up her Twilight fan fic and puts it all into a book, called 50 Shades of Grey.
   Remember, this is where Boris Johnson is mayor: the London Olympics use the Kazakh national anthem from Borat. High five!
   Google gets busted over bypassing the ‘Do not track’ setting on Iphone Safari browsers by The Wall Street Journal. Despite trying to look innocent, it stops this the same day. Several US states’ attorneys-general decide this was such a gross violation of privacy that they fine Google a few hours’ earnings.

   Proving boys can do anything, Brad Pitt became the face of Chanel No. 5.
   Lana Del Rey has really good hair.
 
2013
Jennifer Lawrence brings publicity to her new film, Silver Linings Playbook, by falling at the Oscars.
   Miley Cyrus mainstreams twerking, which showed how far society had already descended. Her Dad’s ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ release in 1992 wasn’t considered a cultural high-point at the time: the apple does not fall far from the tree.
   Edward Snowden exposes mass surveillance on US citizens and even US allies. There is mass panic over the collection of data and the private sector pushes back, ensuring encryption of users’ private information … actually, nothing happened, and the NSA continued with its data collection while the Obama administration charged Snowden with a crime and tried to extradite him from Russia, where he had more freedom of speech.
   HM Queen Elizabeth II evens things up with Helen Mirren by winning a BAFTA for playing HM Queen Elizabeth II.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have a kid.
 
In the real world
   RIP Nelson Mandela.
 
2014

Ellen Degeneres broke Twitter with a selfie, but since everyone knew why, no one recalls if the fail whale went up.
   The world got a reminder not to upload private stuff to the cloud—as celebrities found out the hard way when their intimate pics were leaked. En masse, the world stopped uploading images to the cloud and to social media while they waited for Big Tech to fix things with their privacy … actually, nothing happened, and people uploaded more photos, in the hope that hackers would find them and release them.
   Scotland decides to stay part of the Union—for now. Of course they could trust London not to do something silly like leave the European Union.
   Bill Cosby makes Mel Gibson look respectable.
   Jay Leno decides he’s made enough for his car collecting hobby and leaves The Tonight Show, though he might still unquit. Watch your back, Jimmy.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect another kid.
         
In the real world
   You’ve heard of the website You Park Like a C***? An American exchange student in Tübingen wanted to be featured on You’re Stuck in a C***.
   RIP Robin Williams, one of the funniest actors on Earth.
 
2015
Volkswagen, trying to outdo its links to Nazism and allegations of labour relations’ corruption, recalls tens of millions of diesel vehicles to see how far its brand would stretch. The US plans to fine VW way more than Ford or GM when they cheated on emissions, because, foreign.
   Donald Trump hits on an idea for a new reality show where he runs for president. Casting begins.
   Steve Harvey named the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant. At this point, being ‘Harveyed’ is a fairly innocent term.
   Jon Snow is very much alive and continues fronting the news on Channel 4.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have another kid.
 
In the real world
   Forget that August 9, 1976 Sports Illustrated cover; Caitlyn Jenner appears on the cover of Vanity Fair.
 
2016
The Chicago Cubs win the World Series, as detailed in Grey’s Sports Almanac.
   In November, the unthinkable happens: Wellington has a massive rainstorm, followed by an earthquake that triggers a tsunami warning, followed by flooding and extreme fog that leave the city cut off from the rest of the country. Summer would be called off while citizens figured out what to do. The UFO invasion does not take place, though with local body elections, certain candidates were replaced by replicants.
   Kate loves Willy—and Harry loves Meghan. Not a bad way to mark HM the Queen’s 90th birthday.
 
In the real world
   The UK votes to leave the European Union: Nigel Farage is overjoyed, but Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s body language and facial expression reveal their dismay, and their words don’t match.
   I discover first-hand that Facebook is forcing downloads on people with the guise of ‘anti-malware’, even though this claim is dubious, and Facebook admits data are transferred back to the mother ship. I spend two years finding a journalist with the guts to write about it. Potentially millions have already been affected stretching to the beginning of the decade.
   RIP David Bowie.
 
2017
With the approval of the US audience, a massive, multi-channel series débuts, starring Donald J. Trump. It shows a dystopian America that elects a game show host its president, and warns us what can follow. This four-year experiment is expected to culminate in 2020 with an election special, which determines the series’ fate for a renewed batch of episodes.
   Kendall Jenner can do anything. She can solve riots with cans of Pepsi. Forget flower power.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect another kid.
 
In the real world
   La La Land wins the Oscar for Best Picture, until it was taken off them and Midnight wins the Oscar for Best Picture. Someone Harveyed (first definition): presenter Warren Beatty had been handed the wrong card.
   Someone unplugs British Airways’ computers, and all flights at Heathrow and Gatwick are cancelled.
   News of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment changes the meaning of getting ‘Harveyed’, and this one is far more horrific.
 
2018
Kanye West became Donald Trump’s biggest fan and joins the cast of his experimental four-year show. He plays an unhinged character who believes slavery was a choice.
   Harry loves Meg, and tie the knot. Meghan’s Dad, however, was too busy pursuing a career in modelling to attend.
   Taylor Swift gets the voters out, and the public hasn’t seen anything like this since David Hasselhoff brought down the Berlin Wall.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have another kid.
 
Reality is stranger
   Louise Matsakis at Wired writes the story on Facebook’s forced downloads, after I tipped her off. Facebook stopped pushing these downloads, after affecting millions and telling them it was for their own good.
   A month later, a pink-haired man named Christopher Wylie blew the lid on something much bigger: Facebook, in violation of a 2011 FTC consent decree, allowed a data company to harvest over 50 million users, swinging the outcome of the US presidential election.
   Roseanne comes back, Roseanne Barr Tweets something racist, Roseanne goes away.
   Some media job-shame actor Geoffrey Owens for working at Trader Joe’s; people come to his defence.
   Twelve boys are rescued from a cave in Thailand, after Elon Musk makes a coffin that others brand impractical, angering him so much he calls one of the rescuers ‘pedo guy’.
   Speaking of Elon, Tesla will call the cops on you if you’re a whistleblower, telling them you’re heading to work to shoot up the place.
   And yes, this does mean that the real news was whackier than the fiction.
 
2019
To keep the ratings up for his long-running show, Donald Trump gets jealous of Greta Thunberg, as she didn’t have to fake her Time Person of the Year cover.
   He heads to the UK for the D-Day commemorations, and bonds with HM the Queen, telling her, ‘My Dad was German and my Mum was Scottish, too.’

   The British attempt a remake of Donald Trump’s show. They search for a man who is born in New York, cheated on his first two wives, has five kids, funny hair, used to espouse more liberal views, before trying to sell ethnonationalism as part of his schtick. They find him: Boris Johnson, best known for his earlier work on Little Britain USA. Within weeks he’s already cheated on his partner Carrie by giving everyone in the UK a weak pound.
   Harry loves Meg, and this year, they didn’t need Kate and Willy to provide the baby news.
 
Reality is stranger
   Facebook says it will act in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, but by the following month, New Zealand’s privacy commissioner reveals they’ve done nothing, and are ‘morally bankrupt, pathological liars’.
   Twitter deletes the account of Will ‘Egg Boy’ Connolly, but not racist Australian politician Fraser Anning, again demonstrating how fearful they are of racists. Twitter also deleted an account that looked for anti-Semitic bots, as bots are good for business (just like Facebook).
   The Hong Kong police show their nostalgia for the British, by using the same colonial, “the natives are revolting” techniques once developed to quash piccaninnies.
   The UK charges in to the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Julian Assange, then subject him to psychological torture. The US and UK mainstream media continue vilifying him, while the Russian state media call it out.
   Mark Zuckerberg keeps meeting with right-wing figures, and people still want to keep making him rich by using Facebook, despite being lied to constantly about everything.

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Big Tech and advertising: the con is being revealed

13.11.2019

People are waking up to the fact that online advertising isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
   Last month, Bob Hoffman’s excellent The Ad Contrarian newsletter noted, ‘I believe the marketing industry has pissed away hundreds of billions of dollars on digital fairy tales and ad fraud over the past 10 years (in fact, I’m writing a book about it.) If I am right, and if the article in question is correct, we are in the midst of a business delusion unmatched in all of history.’ He linked to an article by Jesse Frederik and Mauritz Martin (also sent to me by another colleague), entitled ‘The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising’ in The Correspondent. In it, they cast doubt over the effectiveness of online ads, hidden behind buzzwords and the selection effect. If I understand the latter correctly, it means that people who are already predisposed to your offering are more likely to click on your ads, so the ads aren’t actually netting you new audiences.
   Here’s the example Frederik and Martin give:

Picture this. Luigi’s Pizzeria hires three teenagers to hand out coupons to passersby. After a few weeks of flyering, one of the three turns out to be a marketing genius. Customers keep showing up with coupons distributed by this particular kid. The other two can’t make any sense of it: how does he do it? When they ask him, he explains: “I stand in the waiting area of the pizzeria.”

   The summary is that despite these companies claiming there’s a correlation between advertising with them and some result, the truth is that no one actually knows.
   And the con is being perpetuated by the biggest names in the business.
   As Hoffman noted at the end of October:

A few decades ago the advertising industry decided they couldn’t trust the numbers they were being given by media. The result was the rise of third-party research, ratings, and auditing organizations.
   But there are still a few companies that refuse to allow independent, third-party auditing of their numbers.

   No surprises there. I’ve already talked about Facebook’s audience estimates having no relationship with the actual population, so we know they’re bogus.
   And, I imagine, they partly get away with it because of their scale. One result of the American economic orthodoxy these days is that monopolies are welcome—it’s the neoliberal school of thinking. Now, I went through law school being taught the Commerce Act 1986 and the Trade Practices Act 1974 over in Australia, and some US antitrust legislation. I was given all the economic arguments on why monopolies are bad, including the starvation of innovation in their sector.
   Roger McNamee put me right there in Zucked, essentially informing me that what I learned isn’t current practice in the US. And that is worrisome at the least.
   It does mean, in places like Europe which haven’t bought into this model, and who still have balls (as well as evidence), they’re happy to go after Google over their monopoly. And since our anti-monopoly legislation is still intact, and one hopes that we don’t suddenly change tack (since I know the Commerce Act is under review), we should fight those monopoly effects that Big Tech has in our country.
   What happens to monopolies? Well, if past behaviour is any indication, they can get broken up. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is simply recounting American history when she suggests that that’s what Facebook, Google and Amazon should endure. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats would have been united on this prospect, given the trusts that gave rise to their Sherman Act in 1890, protecting the public from market failures like these. Even a generation ago, they’d never have allowed companies to get this influential.
   Also a generation ago, we wouldn’t swallow the BS an advertising platform gave us without something to back it up. Right now, it seems we don’t have anything—and the industry is beginning to cry foul.


Lorie Shaull/Creative Commons Attribution–Share Alike 2·0

Regardless of your political stripes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren calling for the break-up of Big Tech made sense as recently as a generation ago.

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Why paywalls are getting more prevalent; and The Guardian Weekly rethought

10.11.2018

Megan McArdle’s excellent op–ed in The Washington Post, ‘A farewell to free journalism’, has been bookmarked on my phone for months. It’s a very good summary of where things are for digital media, and how the advent of Google and Facebook along with the democratization of the internet have reduced online advertising income to a pittance. There’s native advertising, of course, which Lucire and Lucire Men indulged in for a few years in the 2010s, and I remain a fan of it in terms of what it paid, but McArdle’s piece is a stark reminder of the real world: there ain’t enough of it to keep every newsroom funded.
   I’ll also say that I have been very tempted over the last year or two to start locking away some of Lucire’s 21 years of content behind a paywall, but part of me has a romantic notion (and you can see it in McArdle’s own writing) that information deserves to be free.
   Everyone should get a slice of the pie if they are putting up free content along with slots for Doubleclick ads, for instance, and those advertising networks operate on merit: get enough qualified visitors (and they do know who they are, since very few people opt out; in Facebook’s case opting out actually does nothing and they continue to track your preferences) and they’ll feed the ads through accordingly, whether you own a “real” publication or not.
   It wasn’t that long ago, however, when more premium ad networks worked with premium media, leaving Google’s Adsense to operate among amateurs. It felt like a two-tier ad market. Those days are long gone, since plenty of people were quite happy to pay the cheap rates for the latter.
   It’s why my loyal Desktop readers who took in my typography column every month between 1996 and 2010 do not see me there any more: we columnists were let go when the business model changed.
   All of this can exacerbate an already tricky situation, as the worse funded independent media get, the less likely we can afford to offer decent journalism, biasing the playing field in favour of corporate media that have deeper pockets. Google, as we have seen, no longer ranks media on merit, either: since they and Facebook control half of all online advertising revenue, and over 60 per cent in the US, it’s not in their interests to send readers to the most meritorious. It’s in their interests to send readers to the media with the deeper pockets and scalable servers that can handle large amounts of traffic with a lot of Google ads, so they make more money.
   It’s yet another reason to look at alternatives to Google if you wish to seek out decent independent media and support non-corporate voices. However, even my favoured search engine, Duck Duck Go, doesn’t have a specific news service, though it’s still a start.
   In our case, if we didn’t have a print edition as well as a web one, then online-only mightn’t be worthwhile sans paywall.

Tonight I was interested to see The Guardian Weekly in magazine format, a switch that happened on October 10.
   It’s a move that I predicted over a decade ago, when I said that magazines should occupy a ‘soft-cover coffee-table book’ niche (which is what the local edition of Lucire aims to do) and traditional newspapers could take the area occupied by the likes of Time and Newsweek.
   With the improvement in printing presses and the price of lightweight gloss paper it seemed a logical move. Add to changing reader habits—the same ones that drove the death of the broadsheet format in the UK—and the evolution of editorial and graphic design, I couldn’t see it heading any other way. Consequently, I think The Guardian will do rather well.

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Happy birthday: Autocade turns 10

07.03.2018


Above: Autocade can be hard work—and sometimes you have to put up less exciting vehicles, like the 2001–7 Chrysler Town & Country, for it to be a useful resource.

March 8, 2018 marks 10 years of Autocade.
   I’ve told the story before on this blog and elsewhere, about how the site came to be—annoyed by the inaccuracies and fictions of Wikipedia (who said the masses would be smart enough to get rid of the mistakes?), I took a leaf out of the late Michael Sedgwick’s book and created a wiki that had brief summaries of each model, the same way Sedgwick had structured his guides. I received an emailed threat from a well known British publisher (I’m looking at you, Haymarket, and as predicted in my reply, your thoughts proved to be totally baseless) when we started, and 12½ million page views later, we’re on 3,628 models (I think we finished the first day on 12), with our page on the Ford Fiesta Mk VII leading the count (other than the home page).
   Autocade began as a wiki but with so many bots trying to sign up, I closed off those registrations. There have really been about six contributors to the site, all told: myself and Keith Adams for the entries, Peter Jobes and Nigel Dunn for the tech, and two members of the public who offered copy; one fed it in directly back in the day when we were still allowing wiki modifications. I thank everyone for their contributions.
   A few years ago, I began running into people online who used Autocade but didn’t know I was behind it; it was very pleasing to see that it had become helpful to others. It also pleased me tremendously to see it referenced in Wikipedia, not always 100 per cent correctly, but as Autocade is the more accurate site on cars, this is the right way round.
   When a New Zealand magazine reviewed us, the editor noted that there were omissions, including his own car, a Mitsubishi Galant. Back then we were probably on 1,000 models, maybe fewer. All the Galants are now up, but Autocade remains a work in progress. The pace of adding pages has declined as life gets busier—each one takes, on average, 20 minutes to research and write. You wouldn’t think so from the brevity, but I want it to be accurate. I’m not perfect, which is why the pages get changed and updated: the stats say we’re running on 3·1 edits per page.
   But it looks like we’re covering enough for Autocade to be a reasonably useful resource for the internet public, especially some of the more obscure side notes in motoring history. China has proved a challenge because of the need to translate a lot of texts, and don’t think that my ethnicity is a great help. The US, believe it or not, has been difficult, because of the need to calculate cubic capacities accurately in metric (I opted to get it right to the cubic centimetre, not litres). However, it is an exciting time to be charting the course of automotive history, and because there are still so many gaps from the past that need to be filled, I have the chance to compare old and new and see how things have moved on even in my four-and-a-half decades on Earth.
   Since Sedgwick had done guides up to 1970, and paper references have been excellent taking us through the modern motor car’s history, I arbitrarily decided that Autocade would focus on 1970 and on. There are some exceptions, especially when model lines go back before 1970 and it would be a disservice to omit the earlier marks. But I wanted it to coincide roughly with my lifetime, so I could at least provide some commentary about how the vehicle was perceived at the time of launch. And the ’70s were a fascinating time to be watching the motor industry: those nations that were confident through most of the 20th century with the largest players (the US and UK) found themselves struggling, wondering how the Japanese, making scooters and motorcycles just decades before, were beating them with better quality and reliability. That decade’s Japanese cars are fascinating to study, and in Japan itself there is plenty of nostalgia for them now; you can see their evolution into more internationally styled product, rather than pastiches of others’, come the 1980s and on. The rise of Korea, Spain, China, India, Turkey, México and other countries as car-exporting nations has also been fascinating to watch. When Autocade started, Australia still had a domestic mass-produced car industry, Chrysler was still owned by Americans, and GM still had a portfolio of brands that included Pontiac and Saturn.
   I even used to go to one of the image galleries and, as many cars are listed by year, let the mouse scroll down the page. You can see periods grouped by certain colours, a sign of how cars both follow and establish fashion. There are stylistic trends: the garishness of smog-era US cars and the more logical efficiency of European ones at the same time; smoother designs of the 1980s and 1990s; a creeping fussiness and a concentration on showing the brand’s identity in the 2000s and 2010s. As some of the most noticeable consumer goods on the planet, cars make up a big part of the marketing profession.
   The site is large enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing an academic look at industry using the data gathered there; and I always thought it could be a useful book as well, bearing in mind that the images would need to be replaced with much higher-resolution fare.
   For now, I’m going to keep on plodding as we commence Autocade’s second decade. The Salon de Genève has brought forth some exciting débutantes, but then I should get more of the Chrysler Town & Country vans up …

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Too many white cars make fake news

17.09.2017


A photo taken in Wellington with a test car I had for Lucire. White cars aren’t the over-represented colour in New Zealand: guess from this photo what is.

A friend of mine put me on to this Fairfax Press Stuff article, entitled ‘Silly Car Question #16: Why are there so many white cars?’. It’s a silly question all right, because I haven’t noticed this phenomenon in New Zealand at all, and if any colour is over-represented, it’s the silver–grey tones. It seems like “fake news”, and if you read on, then there’s more to support that assertion.
   ‘It’s because every second car imported from Asia is white – literally. Latest research tells us that 48 per cent of all vehicles manufactured in Asia, particularly Japan, are painted white.’ (My friend, of Chinese descent, summarized jokingly, ‘It’s our fault,’ and my thought was, ‘Not again.’)
   Let’s break this one sentence down. The author says that we source a lot of our used cars from Japan, hence this 48 per cent figure is reflected in the New Zealand fleet. But you only need to ask yourself a simple question here: how many of those white cars made in Japan (or Korea, or India, or Thailand) stay in those countries to become used imports to New Zealand? These nations are net exporters of cars, so whatever trickles on to the Japanese home market will be a smaller percentage of that 48. How many are white—we don’t have that statistic, but, as I noted, it’s certainly not reflected in the cars on our roads. Now, if we’re talking Tahiti, where there are a lot of white cars, then that’s another story—and that is likely to do with white reflecting light in a hot climate. As this is a foreign-owned newspaper group, then perhaps the author does not live in New Zealand, or if he does, maybe he hangs around taxi ranks a lot.
   Let’s go a bit further: ‘Statistics gathered by Axalta Coating Sytems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, showed that worldwide 37 per cent of all new vehicles built during 2016 were painted white, which was up two percentage points on 2015’ and ‘All this leads to the next obvious question: why are all these cars painted white? / It may be because that’s what the manufacturers want.’
   From what I can tell, this article was cobbled together from two sets of statistics. A bit of research wouldn’t have been remiss. However, it is a sign of the times, and even we’re guilty of taking a release at face value to get news out. But the result on Stuff just doesn’t make much sense.
   James Newburrie, a car enthusiast and IT security specialist, has a far more reasonable answer to the high number of silver (and dull-coloured, which includes white) cars, which he gave me permission to quote in May 2016:

Car colours are fairly well correlated with consumer confidence. In an environment where consumer confidence is high, regular cars are likely to be available in all sorts of bright and lurid colours (purple, green, yellow, etc). As consumer confidence tanks, people start to think more about resale value and they chose more “universal” colours (the kind of colours no one hates: Silver, conservative blues, etc).
   Cars directed at young people tend to be cheaper and maintain strong colours throughout the cycle – but to keep costs down they tend to stay around red, black, white, blue and silver, perhaps with one “girly” colour if it is a small car. Cars directed to financially secure people as second cars, like sports cars for instance, tend to be more vibrantly coloured, because your buying into the dream.
   So, in the 1950s while the economy was good, people bought cars in bright colours with lots of colours, the oil crisis comes along and they go to white and beige, the 80s come along and we all vomit from car colours, the recession we had to have leads to boredom, then everything is awesome again and you can buy a metallic purple Falcon, or a metallic orange commodore – then the great recession and we’re all bored to death again.
   Consumer confidence probably is just starting to recover now. If history is any indication, there will be a point where people just go “oh screw worrying” and then they will see that other people aren’t worried anymore and they’ll say “screw worrying” etc … and we will snap back.

   Follow that up with what car dealers are now selling, and bingo, you might have a serviceable article.

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