|Something quite curious and fascinating is happening in the Indian newspaper space. A fissure is opening between some of the most powerful newspapers and the industry association, the INS. Over a document format launched by Adobe in 1993—PDFs.|
With India’s strict national lockdown disrupting newspaper deliveries across India, PDFs started taking their place. “Piracy and theft!” screamed the INS.
|In an advisory sent out to its members on April 30, the Indian Newspaper Society, a pressure group which works to protect the interest of the newspaper industry, has called it “piracy and theft of epaper”. “A lot of newspapers are available in the epaper format online in the morning every day, some of them being paid and some being free. Many users are actually copying the newspaper and creating PDFs which they circulate in Whatsapp and Telegram groups to the readers, leading to a loss in both subscription revenue for the print newspapers as well as epapers digitally,” the secretary general of INS said in the advisory, adding that it was illegal and publications were trying to tackle it in their own ways.|
The INS has not minced its words. It has exhorted its member organisations to take legal action against offenders, especially against Whatsapp and Telegram administrators. Newspapers want to stop free circulation of epapers. Is it a good idea in a pandemic? Newslaundry
|And yet, this morning, like many others preceding it, this is the notification I received from an app called MyGate.|
|Clicking the link leads to this page, which lists 18 newspapers in PDF form. |
Why is MyGate, an app whose primary function is to allow users to buzz in visitors and delivery people at their apartment’s security gates, offering newspaper PDFs? And why are leading newspapers, including the Times of India (lndia’s largest English newspaper), allowing it to “pirate” their PDFs?
Because habits eat piracy for breakfast.
The newspaper reading habit is one of the most powerful ones out there. While the absolute number of those with the habit might be coming down, for those who do, it is very valuable. Look where print delivery scores on the value axis for the New York Times, per this interesting analysis of its pricing by the Price Intelligently blog.
|The newspaper habit, for those who have it, is almost like a drug. It’s the kind of focused, scheduled attention that advertisers crave and newspapers monetise.|
But the newspaper habit is also an antiquated one. Once broken, there’s no coming back.
Which is why the Times Group, India’s largest news publisher, actually sued the online news website The Print for even hinting at the possibility that Covid-19 could be transmitted via newspapers.
But why don’t readers just head over to newspaper websites, you must be wondering, instead of scrolling through massive and clunky PDFs? Because most newspaper websites in India are actually entirely different beasts compared to their print siblings.
Often run by different teams, these websites are stuffed with content and ads designed to cater to lower-quality (but significantly larger) audiences who don’t pay even a single rupee. Here’s a comparison of Times of India, the newspaper, and Times of India, the website.
|So, if you were an Indian newspaper publisher forced to choose between a potentially fatal 30-60 day break in your readers’ morning newspaper habit versus tolerating temporary “piracy” through PDFs, which one would you pick?|
PDFs of course.
|Dark clouds over comfort and service|
Let’s be honest: flying sucks.
Long queues to check your bags in, cramped seats on the flight, cold sandwiches. There are few attractions to flying, except the time it saves you. (Not applicable to those flying business or first class, but read on.)
Now, you’re going to enjoy it even less, and you can thank the novel coronavirus for that.
The Indian government has asked airlines and airports for their inputs on the new draft rules for resumption of flights. This includes asking passengers to fill out a questionnaire on any past Covid infection and making them wear disposable personal protective equipment (PPE).
There is even a proposal to have airport outlets selling PPE.
|The shops will be located inside the check-in area, near the departure area or on the city-side of the airport as per the availability of space. These shops will sell PPE equipment of different categories of face masks, gloves, disposable goggles, coverall or gowns and sanitizers to travellers with the goods having specifications as per the guidelines of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Coming soon: PPE shop at airports, The Economic Times|
|It’s hard to picture a two-hour domestic flight with PPE on, leave alone a long-haul international journey. Whatever little comfort you had on flights might be a thing of the past.|
Some global airlines, like Emirates, have already unveiled uniforms with PPE for their crew.
|Source: Emirates Airline|
|What’s particularly worrying is that the new norms of flying could strike at the heart of what airlines want you to remember them for: service. |
For instance, Emirates Airline has said there will be no magazines for passengers to peruse. Airlines will also limit the foods on offer, if they serve them at all. Business class flyers may not be too kicked at the thought of having a pre-packaged meal. That’s not all.
|Interactions between business class passengers and cabin crew members, during a medium haul flight, will come down from about 14-15 interactions to about three to four interactions. Covid: Tight screening, no meals…, Mint|
|With masks being mandatory for the foreseeable future, passengers may not be able to take solace in the cabin crew’s facial cues for reassurance when the weather is choppy, as a flight attendant points out in this article. Airlines—at least the ones that are afloat and have some money to spend on promotion—can no longer turn to advertising campaigns with visuals of beaming and uber-helpful staff.|
|Workplace surveillance isn’t just about precaution|
Thank you for ordering. The chef’s temperature measured at 12:05 pm is 98F. He has sanitised his hands twice in the last half hour, is wearing a mask and has maintained social distance.
No, this isn’t (entirely) happening yet. But tech solutions to make it happen aren’t far away.
Take a bluetooth and internet-enabled automatic hand sanitiser. What used to be a system based on trust now essentially needs to be made mandatory. Sanitising your hands is no longer just a good habit, it is indispensable.
And tech is great to keep track.
Are your employees regularly sanitising their hands?
Have they removed their mask for an extended period of time?
Is anyone running a high temperature?
Who has not been taking the prescriptions seriously?
In the US, Amazon is using thermal cameras to constantly keep tabs on warehouse employees’ body temperature. There are already tools that raise an alarm if employees come too close to each other. And the high-tech hand sanitiser is becoming a reality too, courtesy an American hygiene product company using Microsoft’s Azure Internet of Things platform:
|A recent innovation for the system will even allow the hand sanitizer dispensers to communicate with employee badges via Bluetooth to monitor the hand cleaning behavior of specific job roles or individuals. That information can be used to intervene and provide additional coaching or guidance to improve hygiene. Improving Health And Hygiene With Purell, Azure, And IoT, Forbes|
|But using tech to ensure a healthy, safe workplace is only one part of the story. |
If people know that removing their mask for too long or being impatient and pushing ahead in the restroom line will get them onto an excel sheet of unsafe behaviour, they might be more careful.
But the reason employers may be open to such technology, in spite of potential costs, is that it helps outsource accountability.
It essentially says—look, we did all we could, we’re not just saying it, we’ve even got proof. It also creates a parallel, private surveillance system to subject employees to a new level of scrutiny. Biological and behavioral to boot.
A digital Panopticon, anyone?
|Uber doesn’t have a choice|
Uber seems to be under attack from all quarters.
Well, to be fair, it’s not just Uber. DoorDash, Ola, Lyft and the entire global ride-share economy is hurting. In the US, rides have dried up to the dire extent of 70-80%. It’s not very different in parts of Asia. In Hong Kong for instance, Uber’s ridership fell by 45%. In India, Uber and Ola both had to suspend their services for a large part of the lockdown. Things seem to be hobbling back to normalcy though.
It’s not just business. Regulations have also come after platforms like Uber in the US for failing to address the needs of their gig-workforce. A hundred Uber and Lyft drivers even protested outside of Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco yesterday, demanding the companies pay into the state’s unemployment insurance fund.
If the platforms were to comply, they’re liable to pay out $413 million dollars in back-pay for drivers to the state of California.
Like I said, it’s a 360-degree whip.
Without doubt, ride-hailing/sharing services have stepped up during the pandemic. They have provided fleets for meeting essential demands—ferrying medics and frontline workers around and leasing to food delivery companies. But it’s done nothing to salvage their earnings.
Amidst all the gloom, there is one ray of light, especially for Uber:
|While our Rides business has been hit hard by the ongoing pandemic, we have taken quick action to preserve the strength of our balance sheet, focus additional resources on Uber Eats, and prepare us for any recovery scenario. Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber|
|The demand for Eats grew 89% in April. Excluding India. |
Now, Uber had to sell its Eats business in India. It simply wasn’t working out. But with the pandemic shutting down transport, this move couldn’t come at a worse time. Uber had wanted to focus solely on its rides business. In India, it made pacts with public transportation agencies like the Delhi Metro and tied up with electric bike-share company Yulu to provide end-to-end mobility. It was doubling down on the smaller form-factor to compete with Ola’s offerings in the auto and two-wheeler space (via Vogo).
The lockdown might be winding down. But it only means that social distancing norms will be in full force. Even in green and orange zones, where Uber is allowed to function, only 2 people can ride in a vehicle. No elders, no kids, unless there’s an emergency. Plus, who knows how many more lockdowns will be needed before things finally go back to normal? That’s possibly why news broke this week that Uber has made an all-stock investment in Grubhub.
Khosrowshahi’s previous comments on the sale of Eats must now ring loud in Uber’s ears:
|India remains an exceptionally important market to Uber and we will continue to invest in growing our local Rides business, which is already the clear category leader. We have been very impressed by Zomato’s ability to grow rapidly in a capital-efficient manner and we wish them continued success. Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber|
|As they say, be careful what you wish for.|
|Who’s got an eye on whom?|
The pandemic has forced virtually everything to become, well… virtual. And that goes for companies and their annual general meetings (AGM), too. But Britain’s biggest listed companies had to be goaded to hold virtual AGMs after many opted to simply hold them behind closed doors. This included Barclays, currently the subject of an activist campaign. Ahem!
Last week, India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) allowed companies to hold virtual AGMs. This, of course, is welcome in the current situation. But the permission left a few matters unresolved.
|While the notification resolved the big issue of holding an AGM rather than avoiding it, there are still lot of unanswered questions. The MCA notification is silent on recording of attendance of members, proxies and their rights to vote, manner of raising queries and their responses, recording of minutes. Lockdown 3: MCA allows companies to hold AGMs via video conferencing, Mint|
|That’s on note keeping. For some, the biggest pitfall will be missing out on the nuances of an in-person meeting.|
|Kolkata-based Vinay Bagri has also been going to AGMs, over the last few years. He says physical presence helps pick up on the body language of the management. Also missed would be other intangibles, such as interacting with fellow shareholders.|
Amit Tandon, founder and managing director of Institutional Investor Advisory Services India (IiAS), agreed that interactions were richer offline. Other shareholders may rant about the management or highlight flaws. One may not be able to see this to the same degree in a virtual setting, he pointed out. Shareholders unhappy with virtual AGM concept, but little choice available, Business Standard
|Going virtual also means the AGM has to, or can, be a more orchestrated event. For instance, companies could ask investors to send questions beforehand and cherry pick the ones they want to answer. And in such cases, it’s mostly the smaller guy who loses.|
|Retail shareholders are likely to be the most affected. Institutional investors have numerous platforms to engage with company managements, but for small and retail investors, shareholder meetings are the only opportunity for shareholder engagement. The virtual reality of shareholder meetings, Moneycontrol|
|But, all said and done, it’s not as if all AGMs are Woodstock for Capitalists. While a sizable number do show up, they are a fraction of total shareholders.|
|Bulk to bin|
It’s not just companies that have supply chain issues with more inventory than they can sell. Lockdown has turned people into compulsive hoarders.
|As a trip to the store has come to entail wearing a mask, dodging fellow shoppers and worrying about the risks to store workers, many people are cutting back on visits. Plenty have stopped going altogether, but grocery delivery apps have minimum orders, and some websites sell only large quantities. What to Do With 50 Pounds of Potatoes? The Quandaries of Bulk Buying, The New York Times|
|People have a lot of food stock to get through. In that case, one might go on to invent Instagram-worthy recipes.|
|Ms. Hurgin, 33, used to buy fresh produce to use the same day, but in quarantine thought that frozen vegetables would last longer. Collards have become a central part of her meals, even though she had never cooked with them before. Ms. Hurgin has made collard green soups, stews, frittatas and omelets. Buying in bulk has given her confidence to become more flexible and resourceful in order to keep ingredients from going to waste. |
“I haven’t tried a collard green smoothie,” she wondered aloud. “That might be something.”
|The less creative ones, however, will let boredom or bugs get to their stash, eventually binning it, triggering massive food wastage, even at a household level.|