Berlin Bolas

Airports and blogs seem to converge for me. I’m sitting in Frankfurt, waiting to connect to Lisbon, after a couple of days in Berlin, which by the way is a great city. I still haven’t managed to find the answer to one of my curiosities: the exact meaning of “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

There is an apocryphal tale that JFK’s famous words really mean “I am a donut”, and the expression should have been “Ich bin Berliner.” On beaches in Portugal, people make money in summer by walking back and forward shouting “bolas de Berlim”, and selling these donuts to hungry sunbathers. Kids love to imitate the shouting, introducing an extra measure of entropy into the mix.

I was in Berlin for a meeting and it reminded me of my very early days in Lisbon, starting out as a young graduate. It included, in unusually large proportions, people who insisted on talking loudly, repeatedly, and often saying not very much. When I first started out, that was the standard Portuguese technique: shout your opinions, interrupt proceedings, and generally impose your views through mayhem. In my mind, I christened this new group TLC: not for Tender Loving Care, but as the Talk Loudly Club.

On the outbound leg, I stopped by the airport bookstore to find out how to place The India Road there for sale. I had already done the same at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. Until the 11th October, it has an exhibition called “Encompassing the Globe” on the Portuguese Discoveries, which was originally produced by the Smithsonian Institution. Holland Cotter wrote an interesting article on it for the NY Times. If you’re in Lisbon, don’t miss it. The museum is in a pretty cool area of Lisbon anyway, and if after your visit you walk east towards Cais do Sodré, you go by the Ribeira, where the ships were built for India. The whole of that downtown area was levelled by the earthquake of 1755 and the following fire and tsunami. Many crucial records of the Portuguese XVth and XVIth century discoveries were lost forever. What I hadn’t realized was that the effects were also strongly felt in Seville, with a tsunami wave surging up the Guadalquivir.

Anyhow, back to selling books. Or rather, selling is not the key driver, I just want people out there to be aware of it, and decide if they want to read it. If as a result you buy a copy, great.

The reflection here is that the new business model for music, video, and now becoming more relevant for books is still only a partial empowerment. As many would-be artists have found on YouTube, the problem is not publishing your work, it’s the rest of it.

The simple equation is:

Exposure = Creation + Publication + Visibility


Success = Exposure + Acceptance

Materially, revenue is a (rather variable) function of success. As is happiness.

The net has done a great job of empowering the creation and publication (along with the duplication), and so far, the revenue dilution caused by illegal downloads has not obviously affected creativity. But since artists need to eat, it will tend to, unless the artist community is prepared to return to the system of patronage which fed the great painters of the renaissance, or starved the ones who were not so fortunate or competent. Or maybe artists will be supported through an internet tax.

So interestingly I’ve been getting mail shots about book fairs, my publisher in Portugal has asked for the go-ahead to begin publicizing the launch of “A Estrada da India” which is due out sometime in the fall… in other words, the classic marketing mechanisms which promote sales. This area is one where search engines, blogs, and the Long Tail (which I previously discussed) are not very useful.

The Long Tail, or Pareto distribution, came back to me as I discovered how to use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. I am driven by what Eddie Izzard calls technojoy (please don’t click the link yet, I’ll explain in a moment). “Look Inside” is great, but there is still the problem of finding the book in the first place. It’s like the book somewhere at the back of the store, which is really hard to find, before you can look inside – and it’s a gigantic store! So only sales, or cash (curiously called “bar” in German), bring it out of the back shelves and to the front. Physical bookstores, CD and DVD stores, get paid by publishers to promote books on the front racks. Just like supermarkets. I wonder if Amazon does it too? hmm…

I think yes. Thanks for holding on. Go look at that link now. If you’d clicked before you’d never have come back here, because Eddie Izzard was just brilliant back then!


One Response to “Berlin Bolas”

  1. JimmyBean Says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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