Bangalore Book Festival

So today I made my way to Gayatri Vihar in the Palace Grounds to visit the Bangalore Book Festival, on its last day. It was interesting, though a bit crowded (what would you expect on the last day of an exhibition? and that too, when it’s a Sunday?). I didn’t buy much (just picked up two books) given the massive unread pile that lies at home. However, there was much scope for pertinent observations. Like I always do when I have a large number of unrelated pertinent observations, I’ll write this in bullet point form.

  • There were some 200 stalls. Actually, there might have been more. I didn’t keep count, despite the stalls having been numbered. Yeah, you can say that I wasn’t very observant.
  • All the major bookshops in Bangalore barring the multicity ones had set up shop there. I don’t really know what they were doing there. Or were they just trying to capture the market that only buys in fairs? Or did they set up stall there just to advertise themselves?
  • It seems like a lot of shops were trying to use the fair to get rid of inventory they wanted to discard. All they had to do was to stack all of this on one table and put a common price tag (say Rs. 50) on every book in that collection, and it was enough to draw insane crowds
  • One interesting stall at the fair had been set up by pothi.com an online self-publishing company. I’ll probably check them out sometime next year when I might want to publish a blook. Seems like an interesting business model they’ve got. Print on demand!
  • I also met the flipkart.com guys at the fair. Once again, they were there for advertising themselves. Need to check them out sometime. Given the kind of books I buy, I think online is the best place to get long tail stuff.
  • There was an incredibly large number of islamic publishing houses at the fair! And have you guys seen the “want qur an? call 98xxxxxxxx for free copy” hoardings all over the city? Wonder why the Bajrang Dal doesn’t target those
  • There was large vernacular presence at the fair. I remember reading in the papers that there was a quota for Kannada publishers, but there was reasonable presence for other languages also, like Gult, Tam, Mellu, Hindi
  • A large number of stalls were ideology driven. Publishing houses attached to cults had set up stalls, probably to further the cause of their own cult. So there was an ISKCON stall, a Ramakrishna Mutt stall, a Ramana Maharshi stall, etc.
  • Attendance at most of these niche stalls was quite thin, as people mostly crowded the stalls being run by bookstores in order to hunt for bargains. Attendance was also mostly thin at publisher-run stalls, making me wonder why most of these people had bothered to come to the fair at all.
  • I saw one awesomely funny banner at the place. It was by “Dr Partha Bagchi, the world leader in stammering for last 20 years” or some such thing. Was too lazy to pull out my phone and click pic. But it was a masterpiece of a banner
  • Another interesting ideological publisher there was “Leftword books”. Their two sales reps were in kurtas and carrying jholas (ok I made the latter part up). And they were sellling all sorts of left-wing books. Wonder who funds them! And they were also selling posters of Che for 10 bucks each
  • I wonder what impact this fair will have on bookstores in Bangalore in the next few days. Or probably it was mostly the non-regular book buyers who did business at the fair and so the regulars will be back at their favourite shops tomorrow.

I bought two books. Vedam Jaishankar’s Casting A Spell: A history of Karnataka cricket (I got it at Rs. 200, as opposed to a list price of Rs 500) and Ravi Vasudevan’s “Making Meaning in Indian Cinema”.

Randomizing advertisements

This 7.5 minute break in the middle of an IPL innings is a bad idea. The biggest problem is that everyone knows the exact length of the break, and can use it to do stuff – like cook, or clean, or crap, or fag, or maybe watch the Everton-Man U shootout. 7.5 minutes is a lot of ad time, but the problem is that absolutely no one will be watching them. So if you were a smart advertiser, you wouldn’t want to put your ad in that slot – you are better off taking an over break slot.

Now what I propose here is not applicable to cricket – at least I hope it’s not since conventionally you can’t slot ads whenever you want to (Lalit Modi thinks he can change that, though). I don’t know if this concept has already been implemented, and I’d be rather surprised if it hasn’t been. The basic idea is to randomize the length of advertising slots.

So you are watching your favourite soap and there’s a commercial break. And you go off into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. But you don’t really want to miss even a minute of the action, so you’ll go only if you know that the advertisements will go on for two minutes. Historical data tells you that the ads will last for two and a half minutes, and off you go. Now what if suddenly tomorrow there is only twenty seconds of advertisements and you end up missing a bit of the action? You curse yourself, and the soap, and the TV channel, and the TV, and Tata Sky, but you make a mental note not to go make tea during this break the next day.

Now, by randomizing the length of advertising breaks, channels can ensure that people actually watch the ads. If you don’t know if the break will last twenty seconds or two minutes, you are likely to sit glued to the TV, watching the same channel dishing out the ads. You are unlikely to go off to make tea, or to crap, or to channel surf, if you don’t know when programming might start next. You occasionally get pained – when the breaks are too long – but on the whole you end up watching most of the ads.

Yes, there is the chance that the viewer gets pained when the random length for ads that gets picked turns out to be really large. Also, if we shorten a few ad breaks, we should also lengthen a few others? Or increase the number of ad slots? Not really – is my argument.

The clincher here is that by randomizing length of ad breaks, you are increasing the TRPs for the ads! Yes your program may have high TRP but does that normally translate to ads? With this randomization procedure it does. And when this gets established, you can start charging higher for these slots. And if on an average you can charge a higher rate per second of advertisement, you can sure continue to run the program with a smaller number of ads?

It’s win all around. Customer wins because he gets more programming time than ad time. Advertiser wins because he gets more eyeballs for his ad. TV channel doesn’t lose since the loss of revenue from lesser number of ads is more than made up by the higher rate charged on the ads. In fact, by “holding” the customer, the channel ensures he continues watching this program rather than go off on a tangent while channel surfing.

Normally, I try to show situations where everyone can win by reducing the randomness in the system. This case is opposite. By introducing randomness in the system, everyone wins! I wonder if there is a fallacy here. Or maybe what I’ve written here is so obvious that everyone is implementing it and I’ve failed to notice since the only TV I see is sport (not american sport) which has fixed ad breaks.

IPL

It’s day one of the second edition of IPL and I’m already loving it. As has already been said by several people several times on Twitter today, it’s quite fitting that the three best performances of the day have come from Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble. The second match was extremely strong, even from a neutral perspective, and was very refreshing after the batfest that had been the first edition of the IPL.

One major blessing in disguise of moving the tournament to South Africa is the change in conditions – which is likely to lead to better cricket – in the sense of a better contest between bat and ball. Last year’s tournament was a joke in terms of the quality of cricket. There was absolutely nothing in it for the bowlers, and then they put NED after that and made things worse for themselves. Hopefully this promising start will lead to a better effort by bowlers this time round and we’ll have more games like the second one.

I’ve always maintained that the best ODIs are defences of low to moderate scores. The ideal ODI, in my opinion, will have the team batting first making 200-225, taking early wickets and putting pressure on the second team so that it ends up as a tight game (don’t care who wins). Sadly, the pitches they have been making nowadays seem to be creating 300+ games only which is why I’ve stopped watching ODIs.

Coming to the games today, the main mistake that Chennai Super Kings made was with respect to their batting order. A lot of people maintain that they messed up their team selection, and I agree with them – I would definitely have put in Vijay and Balaji instead of Parthiv and Joginder. But even the team that they started off wiht wasn’t too bad, where they messed up was in the chase.

When you are chasing a reasonably moderate total like 166 (equivalent to 250 in ODIs), you don’t need to pinch hit. I know Sri Lanka did that when they won WC96, but I’m more of a fan of Pakistan’s method in WC92 which is to first build a base and then have hitters coming in lower down the order to capitalize. Similarly, chasing 166 with Hayden at one end, what was required was a proper batsman at the other, and Dhoni sent in Flintoff. I think the match might have been sealed there.

It is all about slotting people into the right roles. Having Badrinath and Flintoff in the same team makes sense, but the role for each needs to be well-defined. Badrinath is an excellent “holding batsman” (the same role in which Dravid and Tendulkar excelled in today – and the role that Tendulkar plays in ODIs nowadays) – someone to hold one end up and rotate the strike while batsmen at the other end go for it, but he is incapable of slogging if he comes in with a large required run rate and not much time. And CSK didn’t desperately need to slog when Raina got out – all they needed was some consolidation and for one guy to stay while Hayden accelerated.

Similarly, when you look at Rajasthan’s lineup, you will notice that there are very few “proper batsmen” in the line-up, and a large number of “hitters”. How many people in the Rajasthan XI would you count on batting for you within the first 30 overs of an ODI? I can count Smith, Asnodkar and NK Patel, and maybe Ravindra Jadeja. The rest of the “batsmen” in their lineup (Pathan, Henderson, Mascarenhas) are all essentially hitters. And when conditions are not ideal for hitting, you can come unstuck.

If things continue to go the way they did today, teams will need to re-think their strategies. The slam-bang approach of last year won’t work and they will need to move towards “proper cricket”. Have proper batsmen and proper bowlers and proper keepers rather than having bits and pieces guys, and fill-in guys. Let’s see how things pan out.

I hereby predict that if things continue to go this way, Rajasthan Royals will recall Mohammed Kaif. Also, you might have noticed Uthappa shouting out to Kumble in Kannada about what to bowl (he frequently shouted “kaal muri” which literally translates to “leg break”). And that the Bangalore team has 5 guys from Bangalore – which perhaps enables them to indulge in this kind of “cipher”.