The Kindle works

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on November 4, 2009

Teacher and travel writer Scott Allford recently asked in an article posted on Tourism Philippines why international media portray the Philippines in such a dim perspective, when it has attributes that easily rival those of its more popularly branded competitors such as Australia, Malaysia, and even tiny but oil-rich Brunei. As I’ve suggested regularly in recent weeks, there are two reasons the Philippines gets lousy press.

The first is reality. While the Philippines has all the wonderful attractions Mr. Allford describes-world-class business districts, historical attractions including ancient Spanish forts and churches, and stunning beaches and other natural beauty-it is much poorer than its rivals and has consistently failed to make substantial inroads into alleviating poverty and raising per capita income. Media justifiably ask why that is so when so much of the rest of the region has done a significantly better-if not perfect-job raising the standard of living for the majority of their peoples.

Second, is perception; or rather, the failure to manage perception of the Philippines’ positive attributes. For specific examples, I hope you recall my recent columns, “The Ultimate Goal,” last week; and “Managing Perception” a week earlier. The bottom line is what we don’t broadcast, we can’t expect our audience to remember. The Philippines is not managing its brand image; instead, its brand image is being managed by media because media are the only ones communicating effectively.

There are other reasons why the Philippines is not well understood internationally and is not considered a tier-one tourism destination or an attractive business investment opportunity-except for the business process outsourcing (BPO) and semiconductor industries. For example, the Philippines is hard to get to compared to its competitors because air travel is monopolized by Philippine Airlines. Bureaucratic red tape and rampant corruption contribute in a big way to negative perception as well.

Despite these hurdles to better brand perception for the Philippines, occasionally good things happen by surprise. The biggest surprises are the BPO and semiconductor industries. The semiconductor industry-which along with electronics accounts for about two thirds of exports-has prospered in the Philippines mostly because of the availability of a talented, comparatively low-cost work force and honest supervision by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. The sheen has worn off the Philippines for the industry in recent years, however, as a result of high, uncompetitive power rates, persistent hijacking of shipments bound for ports, and pressure from the Department of Finance to “rationalize” investment incentives.

The BPO industry-the Philippines most efficient generator of high-paying jobs-thrives today because another government-supported monopoly was dismantled during the administration of former president Joseph Estrada: telecoms. While the availability of talented, English-speaking young people with an affinity for western culture accounts for the Philippines popularity among BPO investors, the BPO industry was enabled when competition was introduced to the telecom industry, and with it, technology innovation.

If you can’t succeed by design, success by mistake or happenstance is totally acceptable in my view. In fact, governments for the most part can’t see the future. Governments can contribute to a prosperous future nevertheless when they create and sustain conditions that allow the private sector to capitalize on opportunity. Often, good things happen when government simply stays out of the way.

About a week ago, a small but significant experience began for me that illustrates this phenomenon. Earlier, Amazon announced that its eBook reader, the Kindle, would soon be available internationally. When I received a promotional e-mail from Amazon a week ago last Monday announcing that the Kindle is now available for the Philippines, I was hugely excited. I immediately went to the website, and within minutes had become the proud owner of a new Kindle.

When you purchase products on Amazon these days, you make a deposit for customs duties and taxes, which makes the shipment by DHL seamless to your doorstep. The Kindle arrived within four days, pre-programmed with my account information and with free 3G wireless connectivity. I don’t know which telecom firm supplies the connectivity, but it works like a dream. Minutes after I had opened the package, I had purchased my first eBook, a book on social media marketing, wirelessly.

I love the Kindle, and the way it works. The wireless connection, branded Whisper, is reliable. Books open in a snap, the ink-based technology used to “print” each page is supremely satisfying, and the functionality-bookmarks, search, jotting notes-does what it is supposed to do. But most of all I love the Kindle because it works as well here as anywhere else in the world-which is the way all things should be-despite a retail monopoly, high connectivity rates in the Philippines, and a hopelessly corrupt customs bureaucracy.

Despite all this, the Kindle works.

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