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Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Job

I've been working for a publishing company for the last few weeks and felt I should share the insight into the industry this has given me. The company that I work for publishes interview-based business books concentrating on and presenting one particular economic sector in a variety of countries. A book consists of eight chapters each filled with maybe eight interviews as well as chapter-opening editorials and a variety of interactive features (fora, maps and the such). We are part of a whole industry focusing on this kind of work and on the face of it the idea doesn't sound that bad. A bit boring maybe because of the heavy concentration on companies' fate, but nothing out of the ordinary. In reality we are part of an industry of leeches, supposedly with us being the good guys, but still living off of others achievements.

Basically, what we do is we go to a country and try to do interviews with all relevant CEOs in the sector which we cover there. These interviews we collect in a book format. The book is sold, but we make our money on advertisement that we try to sell those same executives. Now, this might be something I personally find boring (and it is) and unattractive, but it is not per se bad or distasteful to provide a forum for advertisement and make your living like that. The moral problem for me lies in the fact that we lie and cheat the whole time to achieve our goals. We pretend to be journalists in order to get the interview (which is not true, we create content in order to sell advertisement, not the other way around). We lie about our distribution numbers (I suspect that the number of executives supposedly reading our books is a fourth of what we claim it to be). We sell a product (an ad) that most people in this industry don't need and if they did I have serious doubts about its effectiveness.

The book we sell and the advertisement in it is pointless for two maybe three reasons. Firstly, the distribution numbers we cite are wrong, there are simply not enough readers. Secondly, even the executives receiving our book are unlikely to actually read through it carefully or even handle it longer than a few minutes (I might be wrong about this and am willing to concede this point). Thirdly, our publication is useless as an analytical tool, it is a number of interviews which the executives are allowed to edit themselves. Obviously no one talks about his companies' weaknesses. Anyone basing their business decision on this has himself to blame only. That is also the reason why advertising is pointless for these companies. They are not dealing with individual customers deciding between an expensive Coke and a cheap same-product no-brand-name soft drink, they are trying to attract companies handling millions not willing to invest based on an ad they saw somewhere at some point.

The funny (or ironic) thing is that we are the good guys in this industry. Others pretend to work for Fox or CNN or The Economist and charge astronomical figures to run features on those platforms (which is then surprisingly called or something like that). We charge less (even if still a lot) and produce a book that is of significantly higher quality than our competitors' products. Still, that doesn't change the underlying morality issues of this industry. I don't have a problem with a hard-fought capitalist system (I might not necessarily take part in it all that much, but that's a different story), this is different. Historically (the last few years in any case) my company has focused on publishing these kind of books in the Middle East. There they try to obtain a partnership with someone in the government (or pretend to have that kind of agreement) and because of the autocratic, non-transparent nature of these countries they succeed in making everyone buy expensive ads (basically everyone wants to please the big guy who is on board or at least supposedly on board). This whole industry then is not an outgrowth of a highly capitalistic system, but rather the result of an unjust, government-centered economy which deprives the biggest parts of their population of the benefits of that sector on the economy which we focus on (and which I will not name here in case you were wondering).

Additionally, the tactic of our sale is quite simply repugnant. We go in, chat with the guy (there are no women), try to make friends, then I interview him (I could never do the sales part) trying to give us credibility as a serious publication, finally my colleague goes in for the kill. Name-dropping everyone who is big in that particular sector, claiming we have talked to all of them and implying they have all bought ads (both of which is not true). The idea is to make the guy bend to an onslaught of words and ideas. Did I mention that the sales person (always a girl) evidently is attractive, laughs at every joke and eats up avidly everything the CEO says as if she were watching the pre-Civil War Republican Lincoln-Douglas debates (ok, bad comparison, but you know what I mean)?

What is amusing is that this concept does not work as well in industrialized, Western countries. The capitalist system is more built-up here. People don't fall for glossy publications, an attractive sales girl and the apparent support of some high government official would make them laugh. Working in these countries drives home the point that what this industry usually does is living off of others livelihood.

Yeah, this is what I do. Funny how some as me could end up in a job like that. Well, I quit last week. Just couldn't do it anymore. The money is real good, but I have other priorities in life and quite honestly I hated every second of doing this (or was only bored at the best of times).

Just as a disclaimer. I am aware that some people might be of other opinions regarding the effectiveness of advertisement. Please keep in mind the aforementioned difference in advertising to a mass of people for an individual product and doing the same thing with a target of more successful than average group of specialists in their sector. I believe we would agree that the effects are not the same. Apart from that, even granted this whole advertisement thing works great, that still makes us liars and cheaters even if the word leeches might not be accurate anymore. The striking thing for me was that that was how I thought about ourselves and then found out that some of the companies call us that too.

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