I wonder sometimes if the digital economy is free riding on our eyeballs. Since so much valuation of today’s companies tends to depend on sales volume from advertising revenue, in turn dependent on how many hits, likes, clicks, tweets, forwards and comments we provide free, not to mention bots—which are fabricated versions of all these. The more our eyes pass over a webpage, the more we add value to that page, subsidising the page owner, for then the more advertising potential the website can claim. But is this turning much of the web into mere wallpaper for ads? Our eyeballs convey billions of dollars of valuation to digital companies of all kinds, but are we getting back the value we are creating in better products, or customer experiences? I doubt it.
The more we look, the more there is to look at, or so it seems, and is it my imagination but are websites now forcing us into more clicks to get to basic information, which can be racked up as signs of interest? We provide our eyeballs, and fingertips, then marketeers brag about our doing it, a transfer of value from us to them. Just last week, the venerable New York Times referred to its business strategy as “monetising our audience”—meaning us, the readers, digital and print—for the sake of ad revenue.
I’m not sure I want to be monetised. But free riding by companies may not be confined to eyeballs. We also transfer value through participating in the increasing DIY nature of the so-called service economy, surely a paradox. Doing for ourselves what others used to do for us strikes me as a wholesale transfer of value from us to them—for which we get little productive reward, and which tends to value, shall we say, the doodads around the product, rather than the product itself.
Take airlines, perhaps the most vivid example of de-emphasis of the actual tangible product—the flight—in favour of intangibles, the extraneous new revenue lines that have little to do with flight. Of course, the core competence of an airline is the journey delivered at a speed common to all planes of the same type. And, part of that core competence also used to be customer service. Today, the downward cost-control spiral presses, and airlines seek to offload as much cost to us, the passengers, as possible, such as offloading check-in to online operations and away from human interaction in all but the premium classes, and even they now seem to be squeezed. And, in cabin, business class seems more and more about over-the-top meals and wine choices, rather than calm elite ambiance.
Of course many travellers find it convenient to check-in online and print out their own boarding pass, and the more we do that, the more the airline saves money. But has the airline industry transferred that new value to us? I don’t feel it, whereas on the other hand, we have the explosion of nuisance charges, such as bag charges, charging for seat assignments, and now even extra charges for reserving on the telephone. And ad hoc overweight policies that are impossible to follow, especially on low-cost airlines, which can be the only option on some routes, especially in Asia. Recently, in Thailand, I was charged 1300 Baht for a short flight, but then got whacked with a 2000 Baht overweight charge for 10 kilos. I should have known the fare was too low to be real. “Read the conditions,” said the indifferent airline airport manager to my protest—“it’s on your boarding pass…You could have bought more overweight allowance in advance.” Well, no one had offered me a menu of fares that would have covered the overweight luggage and, as for the boarding pass, indeed the conditions were printed there but the flimsy critical document looked more like a receipt for toothpaste from a 7-11, and I had almost crumpled it up by mistake.
Then, there is a constant upselling of doodads. In flight duty-free is one case, a practice that is itself a nuisance in flight, all the more because the harried in-cabin staff seem to detest having to push those carts up and down the aisles. And, recently, I received an email blast from a leading international carrier promoting its new line of amenity kits—tiered amenity kits to correspond to its business class and frequent flyer levels. This seems patently ridiculous to me—for what can truly be distinguishing about an amenity kit? And one can only imagine the cabin havoc as passengers start to complain that they have been issued the wrong amenities—beneath them and their fare grade. Surely dreaming up Type A, B and C amenity kits cannot be a truly productive use of marketing dollars, or corporate brain power. But, in both the case of overweight luggage and the amenity kit, the business model seems to say the actual flight is an afterthought, compared to the extras.
Business model disruption is dynamic, for sure, but transferring value to unproductive and parasitic intangibles may be hollowing out the very economic energy we seek to create. But then, I guess we could start counter-monetising, charging those who charge us for using us. That would truly be disruptive. BM
說到選股，一切皆關乎對細節的認真探究，這正正是木星資產管理的優勝之處。因此，由文智華（Avinash Vazirani）管理的木星印度精選SICAV基金，自2008年中推出起表現一直跑贏基準指數。 為表彰此方面的卓著表現，基金已獲評為《指標》2016年度基金大獎印度股票「同級最佳」基金。
他提出五個將帶動印度公司的長遠盈利能力，但目前仍被市場低估的因素，包括：政治穩定性、引入「福利直接轉帳」（DBT）計劃、在全國實施商品及服務稅（GST）、增加高速互聯網的覆蓋率，以及把人民的實體儲蓄轉化成金融儲蓄。去年十一月，總理納倫德拉・莫迪（Narendra Modi）決定廢除大面額現鈔的流通，或稱「廢鈔」，是對印度經濟有重大影響的事件。此項令人震驚的公佈，主要為了遏制恐怖主義發展，杜絕不明來歷的黑錢。由於被剔出法定貨幣的鈔票，包括主要為500 盧比及 1,000 盧比鈔票，佔總流通現鈔量的86%，或約2,200 億元，此舉對「黑市」經濟及官方經濟均構成直接衝擊。