About Val Skelton

I am the editor of Information Today, Europe. On the main site, we cover news and publish feature articles by information, research and knoweldge practitioners and thought leaders. On this blog, we aim to cover other topics of interest to our readers.

Author Archive | Val Skelton

VAT on books and e-books – global survey

The International Publishers Association (IPA) and PriceWaterhouse Coopers have published the results of their latest global survey of VAT charged on books and e-books.

The research covered 51 countries, including 34 European countries (the US was not included because of the ‘complexities’ of its sales tax regime).  The report gathers current tax data and also analyses trends.

Since the last report was published, standard VAT rates around the world have been increasing and are, on average, higher in Europe than the rest of the world.  EU law also stipulates that booksellers must charge the full VAT rate for e-books while printed books are often granted discounted rates.  France and Luxembourg have reduced the rates charged on e-books and the European Commission has initiated court proceedings against them.

All of the major publishing markets in the survey (Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK) provide for reduced VAT rates or exemptions, at least for printed books.

Overall, approximately 50% of countries surveyed continue to apply the standard (i.e. higher) VAT rate to e-books.  Overall, Denmark applies the highest VAT rate – 25% on both print and e-books.

The report concludes that the trend towards bringing e-books into special VAT regimes should be encouraged to create a level playing field for all publications, irrespective of the format.

The IPA further stated that the current regime in Europe discriminates against e-books and is “inconsistent, technophobic … and unfair.”

The full report can be downloaded here

Women in business – still under-represented at the top

“Still no progress after years of no progress”

Gender equality in politics continues to be a news story.  In the UK, the leader of the opposition stated the Prime Minister was failing women.  Four female MPs from the ruling party’s most recent intake have already made it clear they don’t want to stand again at the next election although they may not have explained exactly what it is about the way that UK politics works that makes them want to leave.  Complaints of sexism (and indeed mockery of regional accents) in the House of Commons don’t come as a surprise to any of us who watch the debates on television or from the public gallery.

We’ve covered gender quotas on this blog before when two of Germany’s political parties reached a compromise over quotas.  Similarly we’ve covered the representation of women at the top of businesses.  The latest research suggests that not much is changing or improving.

The 2013 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors finds that there has been no change at all in the representation of women at a senior level in America’s top corporations:

  • Women held only 16.9% of board seats in 2013—no change from last year
  • In both 2012 and 2013, less than one-fifth of companies had 25% or more women directors
  • 10% had no women serving on their boards.
  • Less than one-quarter of companies had three or more women directors serving together in both 2012 and 2013.

In the UK, Spencer Stuart’s UK Board Index 2013 (available via this link) found that women account for just under 18% of the total directors in the UK’s top 150 companies – although this figure at least is climbing.  In the last year, 38% of all newly appointed directors are women.

The latest figures for Europe (the EU-27 countries) show that women make up 16% of board members.  The highest representations are in Finland (29.1%) and Latvia (29%).  Although the number of companies with no women on the board has decreased from 35% in 2010 to 23% in 2013, there are still very few companies with women at the very top as CEOs. or Chair.  All countries are falling far short of the EU’s 2020 40% representation objective.

Europe: competitiveness and innovation

Europe has a reputation as being unfriendly to innovators – but is this fact or perception?

International business school INSEAD set out to uncover the truth.  First, as part of INSEAD’s European Competitive Initiative, it surveyed 1300 business leaders around the world to find out what they felt about the current state of innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe.  Staggeringly, only 2% of the respondents disagreed with the statement “Europe’s innovation is hampered by a lack of culture of innovation and entrepreneurship”.

However, this was not because of a lack of quality people.  Most of those surveyed lay the blame firmly with European governments and institutions.  This negative view was held particularly strongly by non-Europeans.  When asked how they felt about the future of Europe, high percentages expressed concern or worry:

  • 83% of Latin American respondents
  • 74% of BRIC country respondents
  • 65% Asian country respondents
  • 60% of African respondents

That survey deals with perceptions of innovation in Europe.  But what does the data say?  In fact surveys and data from INSEAD and other institutions including the World Economic Forum paint a different picture.

The Global Innovation Index places six European countries in the top ten (in descending order Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands and the UK).  In fact, when the 2011 scores are aggregated across regions, Europe scores equally with North America.

Europe scores well in The World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report 2013 – particularly the Nordic countries and the UK.

Europe certainly has some work to do to change the perception of it as being unfriendly to innovators and entrepreneurs.

INSEAD’s European Competitiveness Initiative hopes to help business leaders in Europe by disseminating research, best practice and lessons learned.

 

The news behind a paywall – a success story from the Netherlands

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are often cited as paywall success stories.  But how are smaller news outlets making paywalls succeed?

In the Netherlands, a news site called De Correspondent set a world record in crowdfunded journalism.

In September 2013 it took just eight days for 15,000 donors to raise over one million Euros.  The site has over 25,000 ‘members’, each of whom pays 5 Euros a month to access the site.

De Correspondent has succeeded because it has brought a fresh approach to digital only journalism.  Elements of its ‘manifesto’ challenge traditional aspects of news journalism.

  • Commercial model – the site is advertisement-free and has a profit ceiling of 5%.  They want to ‘sell content to readers, not readers to advertisers’.
  • Not ‘readers’ but ‘participants’.  The site was created to enable much more than reader comment.  Instead, it has a focus on building relationships between people and acknowledges the expertise of the community.  ‘Dialogue not ‘monologue’
  • A focus on themes and connections – the site moves beyond traditional news categories such as ‘business’ or ‘international’ and instead aims to make sense of a globalised world
  • Like-minded people – not target audiences
  • An emphasis on fact-checking – and emotion

The power of community has been used to fund the site, and to develop its content.  It is also the way in which the word is spread.  De Correspondent limits its advertising to promoting some articles via Facebook.  All other marketing is conducted by the members who share with their friends and followers.

Further reading:  De Correspondent website; GigaOm

When digital projects go wrong – lessons learned from the BBC

The UK’s National Audit Office has published its report into the failure of the BBC’s Digital Media Initiative.

The BBC’s Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was meant to enable BBC staff to create and share video and audio material on their desktops.  The BBC decided to create its own customised product.  However the DMI failed to deliver on its promise and was abandoned in 2013 at a cost of over £100 million.

Key stages in the project

  • The vision – the DMI would combine production features, a digital archive and a new archive database.
  • Project approval processes – the project was approved by the BBC Trust in January 2008
  • Consultants appointed – Siemens were granted a £79 million project in February 2008
  • Siemens contract terminated in September 2009 and the project was brought in-house – a new delivery date of February 2011 was set
  • In May 2012 a whistle-blower contacts the BBC Trust with concerns they are being misled about project progress
  • Work is halted in November 2012 pending a review and permanently halted in 2013

Too much focus on the technology – not enough on changing working practices

If the DMI was to achieve everything the BBC stated, it should have placed more emphasis on changing working practices with regards to archiving and production processes.  Instead, the project reporting processes focused almost entirely on the technology rather than considering changes to business practice.  Differences between the expectations of future users and those developing the technology were unresolved.

Poor governance and project management

  • When the BBC brought the project in-house it failed to appoint a senior project ‘owner’.  Instead, responsibilities were split across divisions.
  • The executive board applied insufficient scrutiny to the project when its attention was fixed on other major projects including the London 2012 Olympics
  • When the project was brought in-house there was little time left in the project plan to meet deadlines.  Neither did the BBC properly assess the value for money or risks of bringing the project in-house
  • Reporting processes were ‘not fit for purpose’.

The full NAO report is available here.

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Being happy with the ordinary

Researchers explore what makes us happy – and how this changes with age.

In a series of studies, Cassie Mogilner and Amit Bhattacharjee considered what they defined as ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ experiences.

Ordinary experiences are defined as frequent, common and part of everyday life – organising a cupboard or sharing a meal with family or friends.

Extraordinary experiences are uncommon and infrequent – a trip around the world for example, or bungee jumping or achieving a life milestone.

The research concluded that younger people get more happiness from extraordinary events or experiences but as people get older, ordinary experiences are increasingly associated with happiness.

The pair then went on to use Facebook to ask participants about whether their most recent status update described an ordinary or extraordinary event. The participants were asked to rate an experience using certain adjectives.  While extraordinary experiences were viewed as self-defining by people of all ages, “ordinary experiences were viewed as more self-defining by older participants than younger ones, becoming increasingly self-defining with age.”

Self-definition

Irrespective of how old the participants were, it was the self-defining events which made them the happiest.  What was changing was the nature of the experiences which people were using to define themselves.

The researchers believe the findings will have an impact on how organisations market and position products and services.

“A happy life includes both the extraordinary and the ordinary, and the central question is not only which, but when.”

More on this work from the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton).

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Education and employment – “two crises – one paradox”

Why is there such wide-scale youth unemployment while vacancies remain unfilled? 

Consultancy firm McKinsey has published the results of a research project* into two related global crises – high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of people with critical job skills.

  • Worldwide young people (16-24) are three times more likely to be out of work than their parents.
  • Global research suggest there are 75 million unemployed young people
  • Youth unemployment rates in South Africa, Greece and Spain exceed 50%
  • Only 43% of employers reported there was an adequate supply of qualified entry-level candidates
  • Half of the young people interviewed were unclear that their further/higher education had improved their chances of finding work
  • 36% of employers report a lack of skills is causing significant problems in terms of cost, quality and time

Are graduates ready for the job market?

There are striking differences between the stakeholder groups when it comes to assessing the job-readiness of graduates.  Only 42% of employers and 45% of young people believe they are ready for the job market; 72% of educators believe they are.

A way forward

The research gathers some success stories but acknowledges there needs to be a massive scaling up. Its recommendations include:

  • Collect and disseminate data – high quality data allows countries and approaches to be benchmarked
  • Increase the number of sector-wide collaborations – the most transformative interventions have involved multi-partner, sector level initiatives
  • Create a system that bridges the gap between educators and employers – current examples include Australia’s new Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency which has been established to drive greater collaboration between government, industry and educators.

*The research focuses on Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UK, US.  Young people, employers and educators were involved in the project.

Download the full report.

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Growing Europe’s economy: the role of ICT

The European Commission has published a scenario-based report on how the innovative rollout of ICT can bring about economic growth.

The report, written by The Conference Board, considers two driving forces:

  • The pace of economic growth – fast or slow
  • The European digital market – fragmented or integrated

By placing these forces on a simple ‘two-by-two’ axis, the report explores four possible 2017 scenarios.

Scenario one – The Digital Rainforest

In this scenario, an integrated Europe-wide market for ICT is able to take advantage of global improvements in the economy to compete worldwide.  In this market, rapid growth and change requires flexibility and agility and the market is likely to be characterised by constant change and disruption

Scenario two – The Digital Glasshouse

In this scenario, the integrated EU marketplace is hampered by slow economic growth.  However, Europe will benefit from an internal market that functions more smoothly.

Scenario three – The Digital Desert

Here, slow global economic growth and a fragmented marketplace hampers the growth of the European ICT market

Scenario four – The Digital Savannah

In which the EU market remains fractured but worldwide growth means many firms simply ignore the European market seeking to grow beyond Europe’s borders

Recommendations

The report calls for rapid action to ensure that the European market can maximise tis potential as the world’s largest economic bloc.  A high quality and affordable infrastructure of high speed fixed and mobile broadband is vital.  At the same time, efforts to upskill the population must be improved and a regulatory environment, which supports sector growth, must be established.

“National governments and the European Commission must commit to a long-term coherent and strategic vision for the role of ICT, reforming and investing where necessary…. To further innovation and [lead] by example”

More information.

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‘Convergence is King’ in the new information industry

In the new information industry, neither content nor technology is king.  It is the unique combination of both which is driving the sector.

With the start of a new year comes a flurry of reports and posts predicting emerging trends for the year ahead.

One of the most interesting to emerge so far is Outsell’s Information Industry Outlook 2014 report.  Last year, Outsell explored the theme ‘the new normal’ (which was the key theme for Internet Librarian International in 2011).  This year’s report, ‘Convergence Now!’ explores new partnerships and the creation of new information products that bring together community and commerce.

The report explores an information industry that includes both the ‘traditional’ (e.g. news and yellow pages, both of which are declining) and new players.  Growth information sectors include educational technology, health IT and marketing services.

Convergence – key trends

  • New partners, new competition – industry leaders such as Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier are partnering and competing with for example IBM, Deloitte, Oracle
  • No more ‘mobile’ or ‘digital’ - a new focus on cross-media approaches mean these words will gradually disappear and we will be offering simply ‘services’ or ‘strategy’
  • New solutions – combining content, software, community and commerce to create platforms that support workflow
  • Face-to-face – at the same time in-person events which offer ‘extended engagement’ are a strong market
  • EdTech – the move to digital will not be rapid but will continue.  A hybrid model market will continue for years
  •  STM – Open Science is ‘here to stay’ – bringing threats and opportunities to the industry

As usual, the report concludes with a list of companies to watch over the next year.  These include big established players, such as Amazon and Elsevier, but a number of new players working in the content market.  Examples include Hypothes.is, a non-profit offering ‘open annotation’.

The report is free to download from Outsell.

Christmas food in the library

The Guildhall Library, in the City of London, holds the UK’s largest collection of food and wine related materials, including many early recipes.  This massive collection formed the basis of a lecture by Peter Ross, the Librarian, on the history of Christmas food in the UK.

The traditional image of Christmas fare, including large turkeys and Christmas puddings, is associated with the Victorian era – particularly the Christmas feasts described by Dickens in Pickwick Papers and of course A Christmas Carol.  Turkeys were first imported into the UK in 1526 – and they became popular very quickly.  Before this time, medieval Christmas feasts (for the wealthy at least) featured peacock, swan and decorative pies baked with inedible pastry crusts.  For the very wealthy, servants were employed to carve food into bite-size morsels and dress it in sauce.  Forks had not yet been invented.

Medieval life was very much dictated by the church – and this included the concept of ‘fast days’ when no meat could be consumed.  Not only was Christmas a ‘feast’ holiday, but it made sense to slaughter animals to save on the expense of feeding them through the lean winter months.

Diaries are a wonderful resource for those interested in the history of Christmas food.  Samuel Pepys’ 17th century diaries describe several Christmas meals, featuring beef, mince pies and ‘plum pottage’ – perhaps an early form of plum – or Christmas – pudding.  Parson James Woodforde kept diaries for many years in the 18th century, describing Christmas dinners as a student at Cambridge University and later the dinners he provided for parishioners (boiled rabbit, onion sauce, beef, plum pudding and mince pies).

The traditional twelfth night cake featured tokens which encouraged those who found them to ‘reverse roles’ – acting as for example the king or queen for the party.  Role reversal is of course featured in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  As this tradition began to die out, the tokens or charms were transferred into Christmas puddings.

Visit Guildhall Library’s website for more information on its collection of food-related material.

cat with figgy puddingMerry Christmas – and no eating in the library please!

Cat with figgy pudding – courtesy of PeonInChief via Flickr.

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