Friday, September 18, 2009

Virgin Media broadband customer review

The Virgin Media broadband fiasco continues. Late yesterday the household was blessed with connectivity and I managed to post up the blog entry I’d written earlier. The problem, it seemed, was solved. However, at 8.30 this morning I turned on the modem and found no service yet again.

I am now a master of the Virgin Media helpline system. Not through any natural ability. Rather, through repetition. I phoned up, keyed in the numbers before the voice could ask me for them and was put through to a charming Indian man who asked me to turn things off and turn them on again, report on which lights flashed and which lights didn’t, tell him which operating system I was using and eventually informed me that there was a problem in my area but engineers were working on it and the service would be back by 6pm.

‘How many more days will the service be out?’ I asked.

‘It will be back by 6pm today.’

‘That’s what I was told yesterday.’


‘And the day before. And the day before that.’


‘So when will this problem be over?’

‘At 6pm today.’

Whatever they are paying their helpline staff it isn’t enough. The guy must be
facing a screen which tells him to tell me this stuff. It is ludicrous, frankly. He knows it. I know it. But he delivers the lines faultlessly. He is polite, concerned and does not deviate a hair’s breadth from the script. I’ve spoken to seven or eight of these helpline workers in the last week. They have all been charming.
It seems that Virgin media have wisely invested in their complaints department. Shame about the broadband service.

If you are a Leicester customer of Virgin Media and are having problems could I suggest you phone the helpline on 151. Key in the numbers 2 followed by 3 and wait while it tells you to turn everything off and then on again. They’ll play you a bit of music, then someone will speak to you. Ask for a refund and they should credit you £5. Today I asked for a substantial refund and was told I would be credited £10. Tomorrow I intend to ask for an enormous refund.

But then again, if you are a Leicester Virgin Media broadband customer you probably won’t be able to read this.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Virgin Media – Broadband Service Review

Virgin Media’s broken broadband service is to blame for the lack of blog entries this week. Yes, let’s say that again so that the search engines find this page. My customer review of Virgin Media’s broadband service: in my recent experience it is highly unreliable.

For the last week or so Virgin Media broadband has been cutting out for chunks of five or ten minutes at a time. Then three days ago the service stopped completely. I called the help line and discovered I was not alone. The entire LE3 postcode area was apparently experiencing problems. No broadband and no cable television. But all would be well by 6pm. That’s what I was told.

The forecast proved correct. By 6pm we were up and running again. The problem was over.

Except that it cut again the following morning. I was getting used to the automated help line by this time and, having memorised the route through the maze, could key in the various number choices without waiting to be prompted by that insufferably cheery voice.

Yes there was a new problem, they said. A faulty fuse somewhere. But all would be well later on very soon.

When it happened again today I began to see a pattern. The service is on until work starts in the morning and then off until work finishes in the evening.

‘I suspect your engineers may be cutting me off,’ I said to the helpline worker.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘They are working to upgrade your area. But it will all be over soon.’

‘This was planned?’

‘Yes,’ she said.

‘Then why didn’t Virgin Media bother to tell its customers?’

‘It will be up and running by 6pm,’ she said.

‘And tomorrow?’

‘Your area is being upgraded.’

So here I am, composing my blog entry offline in the hope that the Virgin Media engineers may have a tea break and let me back onto the Information Superhighway at some stage.

Coincidentally, Virgin Media just hiked the price of their broadband. The justification? The service was going to be better.

Mr Branson, you are a highly successful dyslexic, an inspiration to dyslexics like me. But your Virgin brand is not looking so shiny right now. Quite frankly this service is shoddy.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Yarn - Podcast 6

Here is the final part of YARN. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The cost of a Paperback

The year is 2020. It costs £5 to buy a paperback novel. £3 if it is one of the few hundred titles being stocked on the shelves of your local supermarket. Most of that money is needed to cover the direct costs of producing the physical book. Ink, paper, printing and binding. Some is needed to cover transport. The shop takes a chunk to cover its overheads and to keep its shareholders happy. How much goes to the author? A few pence per copy.

Alternatively you can buy your novel as a download and read it on your shiny new book reader. How much for? There is no printing, no transport and no shelf stacking. Shall we say, fifty pence for the author and fifty pence to cover the website design and management?

What about a third possibility – read the book online courtesy of Google and see a few adverts along the way. The author gets a few fractions of a penny from the advertising revenue. You pay nothing.

What do publishers do in this crisp new digital world? They have already out-sourced the job of selecting the best novels. Literary agents do that. As for editing – literary agents increasingly take a hand in that too. Cover design is usually subcontracted. Publishers rarely spend money on advertising for authors who are not already famous. All that is left is the sales team who work so hard going bookshop to bookshop. But with digital distribution, the bookshops are not needed.
A world without publishers?

It is a world in which anyone and everyone can publish by themselves. Digital distribution – costing so little it is basically free – makes this easy. I am lucky enough to have seen many as yet unpublished but wonderful books in manuscript form. But I have seen a far larger number of badly written manuscripts. In 2020 are all of them being published?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Google Book Settlement

The Google Book Settlement debate is heating up. Hundreds of millions of dollars are on the table. It seems like a lot of money until you remember that it is the entire future of writing and publishing industry that is being shaped.

In yesterday's blog post I wrote about business models in which artists give their work away for free. But here we seem to have a business model in which an artist's work is given away by someone else.

The crux of the matter is this - Google took it upon themselves to digitize huge numbers of books in order to offer them in whole or in part through the Internet. Some of these books would be out of copyright - in America if not in the UK. In other cases the copyright holders could not be found. And where a copyright holder could be found, some money might flow back to them from Google.

Although an author opt-out has now been offered by Google as part of the legal settlement, some authors are less than happy to have had so little say in the formation of the deal. There is also disquiet among the other Internet giants, who are presumably worried about the hold Google is going to gain over the digital distribution of books - which is surely the future of publishing.

Google has been parading supporters of the deal ahead of any final legal decision. One advocate apparently said: "We see access to knowledge as a civil right. Information enables individuals to learn, to create and to pursue their dreams. Access to knowledge defines the meaning of equal opportunity in a democratic society."

Hard to argue with that. Who would vote against spreading knowledge? Until you remember that the 'knowledge' being offered includes the creative work of individuals. You and me.

Is this the future of publishing: that all creative work will be accessed for free, and interspersed with adverts, from which revenue a trickle will return to the authors? Is the concept of copyright now so unworkable that this becomes the only way for artists to make a living?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Giving it away - a business model

Making money by giving things away free seems, on the face of it, to be a contradiction. But I have recently noticed several people who have done just this - and done it with great success.

But first an example of the traditional business model. This morning I found a podcast about a subject I was interested in. Naturally, I started listening to it. I hoped to get some free advice from a person who knows what he is talking about. What I actually heard was a sales pitch for a workshop from person who apparently knows what he is talking about. He hinted at the content of his workshop without actually giving any details. The method was named but not described.

And who could blame him? If I could get the content for free, why would I sign up for the course? This is the traditional business model.

But here are three examples of people who have become successful through giving things away for free.

1) David Blaine the street magician. Think back before the endurance stunts. He made his name by approaching people on the street and giving free magic shows. And not just the casual coin disappearing stuff that your uncle does to amuse the kids. These were sophisticated illusions which must have taken much time and effort to perfect and set up.

Of course, he had someone with a camera there to film it all. And he would later sell the show to TV stations. But at the point of origin, he was apparently giving something away.

2) How about the graffiti artist Banksy? Sneaking out in the night and spray painting works of art onto people's walls. Giving it away. Take a close look at his work and it becomes clear that a huge amount of thought, preparation and skill goes into what he does. People who find a Banksy on something that belongs to them can go and sell it if they want. It could easily be worth tens of thousands of pounds.

The public interest he has generated through this is so huge that money must be pouring in. I bought a copy of his book so I could enjoy the pictures. The very wealthy might buy an original canvas.

3) And if that doesn't convince you, how about the film maker Chris Jones? His blog is like a masterclass in the film industry. There is no sense that he is holding things back so we will be more inclined to buy one of his books or go to one of his workshops. He is open and frank about the projects he is involved with.

I have no idea if this was his idea from the start, but when he needed money to make a short film, he simply asked for £50 from everyone. And such was the respect his readers and other contacts held him in that they gave freely. The money came in and the film Gone Fishing was made. (I'm sure you already know, it reached the final shortlist of 10 films for the Oscars).

The outstanding feature of each of the above examples is that the artists didn't give away their leftovers. They gave away the very best.