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DG 13 / OSI Joint Conference

"East - West Collaboration in the Production of Interactive Media"

I leave with a ghost train, there are only two travelers in a train car, one of them is traveling "with the godfather" (he has no ticket and wants to pay a tip to the train ticket inspector). I wonder about the cost-efficiency of our trains. I am in a compartment together with a scared dealer that crosses himself thrice anytime a customs officer passes by. He tells me enthusiastically how he was told cars can be stolen on the Internet. I laugh but I also think of the shape such legends could take in an easy- to-frighten West.

But it doesn't matter. Time passes and it's going to be morning soon over the great conference hall of Marina Hotel in Balatonfured. I pick a seat near an American woman from a Venture Capital in NY. My mood lightens up, they are my weakness, the Americans; you always know "what they mean" (I would explain to those who rush to make a judgement that they wouldn't like to be taken for their Government). I tell her what we do and she complains she's assaulted by offers. She's only come to see what happens and not to make any deal. Not yet. I care to warn her that's all that is in store for her if she's traveling through the Eastern Europe and she's giving a visiting card.

It's steadily snowing with willow and poplar downs outside, over the grass that melts its greenness in the sunlight. The allergic people grumble. We run one after the other, cards in our hands. We look at each other, practice our English. Obviously, except the British team (5 people of 130 participants, coming from 22 countries) and two persons across the Ocean, we are not native speakers and beyond our words one can easily detect Slavic softness, French "r-s", Italian open vowels as well as the good old Dambovita accent.

There follows the series of general presentations. They tell us how to use completions for EU financing, which are the programs currently run by OSI and how other projects financed by EU developed in the West. We listen quietly. There are few or no questions. All is more about data than about debatable things. I put down a lot of phrases on my notepad but I keep in mind mostly key words.

They like to hear the sounds "ONG", it means that well we are not pro Government. They like the phrase "multicultural environment". Okay, we are Hungarians and Romanians and Germans. They like "collaboration". So much the better, commerce is dead, long live collaboration. They like "local context", that's even better, as most of my market segment can be defined as such. Also they recommend "frequent redesign" and "always actual content". Splendid, but we need money and people for that, of course it's surprising but it's worth telling them. The day is quickly going to an end with all these long presentations and meeting so many people, many of them that tempt you to take them by the hand and drag them to the computers' hall to show them "the baby".

The second day announces to be even busier. We are going to work in sections. These take place in small rooms with two computers and a projector each. Otherwise well structured, the organization has small losses here. I reach the "Information' promotion and preservation" section and my colleagues from Asachi Library in Iasi reach "Authoring and design". I'd rather had it the other way round but now it's too late. Fortunately, the potential partners are skating from one room to the others so frequently that some of them can't even make their own presentations. It's good that way because it is more important for them to hear us.

There are so many complaining in front of me that I find myself cutting down my discourse even before beginning all the pitfalls and shortcomings required by an attempt at making an objective presentation. The three speakers before me have underlined so passionately that they don't have this or the other but they replace it with "desire" that I almost forget what we don't have. I rewrite only my key words and I go over my notes with acute interest when I realize that the only feedback available is going to be on the projection screen and not on the dark computer screen.

I explain the component part of my consumer's segment: from here and from farther. I try to suggest types of object sellable in both ways. The OSI coordinator likes it. He likes it so much that he tells me his opinion in private and also the next day. A charming and melancholic Hungarian colleague flatters me: he tells me I must be in the finance business. My face gets quite green. Anyway, leave it like that! Finance business or not, they have understood that agoraONline can be a channel and it can accomplish its cultural job by carrying also their products on to a continuously growing market. Of course, it's growing slowly and with stumbles but it's growing nevertheless and it's going to be a conquered market to those who are willing to wait it to flourish. And conquered means much more expensive.

A swallow flies to its nest over the smooth lake by daytime and by night, nightingales are musically searching each other. They can be overheard in the demonstration hall where 25 PC's can hardly take a break between unloading pdf-s, html-s and documents. The third day begins with departures, goes on with goodbye discourses, with interesting ideas on organizing conferences and again departures.

I am on my way back. There are deer on the fields and daffodils are rising their heads out of pools. As for me, I think with my mind of financier (I burst into laugh at that) of them, those of the other side who have come to Balatonfured to touch, to see, more to have an intuition than to see. All in all, what can be done?

They would like to sell us multimedia CD-s but we also produce CD-s. Sometimes better, other times more expensive, always with a worse marketing. Anyway, ours are produced more comfortable, as local products aren't blocked into labyrinths of taxes, bank transfers or currency unfavorable exchange. Would they buy our CD-s? It's more difficult and they would only buy in small amounts financed by cultural institutions. Many of them would also like to get a content for their expensive CD-s and DVD-s. We often could provide this content. Medieval documents, a century old photographs, music of 1900, these are all things we can be proud of. Some have more samples of medieval life, others of traditional folk life. But we don't sell our country, do we? It's better to be covered by dust in the archives than to be infinitely multiplied and reach the house of the dumb American, who is convinced in present that Romania is Bram Stoker's invention. And if one of us would dare to step up it's more than sure that an OK wouldn't be put on some paper in the Ministry or the Academy. As for the content-owners in Romania, not many of them have come to Balaton. At least Slovenians, Lithuanians and Ukrainians, they did come.

They would also like, the potential Western partners, to sell us customized software for our great libraries, museums and archives. But our libraries, museums and archives are struggling hard not to die; there's still time to go until digitizing the information. There might be done something about it though: there are the Soros and EU programs and if they would be asked to sponsor such intelligent programs made with foreign partners (Austria and Germany seem to have quite a practice in such fields), maybe things could work. But those who have ears will hear.

The Romanians (and their close neighbors) would like to sell software. They tell us it's the cheapest quality software but one has to guess the real quality of the products, as promotion is not adequate. This thing comes clearly in the open during such a conference and the reason is also obvious: in our countries, the programmer makes himself promotion. And then, instead of attending to the performance of a good actor and teacher - as a sales specialist is expected to be - we are still listening to the specialist's effort to avoid technical terms in front of an audience. And then, even prices might be a little strange. When I was in America, I would have avoided buying too cheap software, especially an antivirus. The idea of competing with Norton or McAffee seems to me hard to support. Nevertheless, I would find more attractive a plug-in to support the great known anti virus programs against the EE viruses. It's just an example and my 2 cents opinion, of course.

It still remains the most important things for me that is the part in which the Western professionals make one step ahead and two sideways: the electronic commerce. On this sample, it's obviously that they don't even have the courage to do it at home. The representatives of those who make profits of this economic form - the great house records,, and freelance artists - did not come, they didn't know or maybe they didn't trust the idea.

It is a fact that nothing can be really profitable without advertisement. And the urban folklore on the Web stealing makes us shiver. Who would dare? May I answer? I would, because:

  1. The percentage of credit cards among the Romanian public is rising and their utilization is not resumed only to the owner. To put it differently, a child can buy a CD with the credit card of his father's friend.
  2. There are enough forms of ensuring transactions' security and they are effective enough.
  3. When these forms are not efficient, stealing can be prevented by various mechanisms:
  • a. Cheap objects sales by piece; if our PC Report magazine were stolen, it would be less painful than the theft of our Porsche.
  • b. The sales amount: the greater it is, the less significant the loss rate becomes.
  • c. There are bank insurance mechanisms for a justified subscription.

And finally - my 2 cents opinion again - we must try to do also things that they do not do.

By producing only what they also produce and relying only on our low prices, we'll only end up in badly paying our employees and in having as clients only poor segments of the population. And it is wrong to believe that the poor will buy as they are many; on the contrary, however cheap our product may be, if it's not reportable to an immediate life necessity (meaty, milk), the amount of buyers of such a social status will be very small. We thus let out of our market a group with buying power and rising importance; and this group is going to be conquered by a competition that we don't stand a chance to confront in the future 50 years, if we take ourselves seriously.

Keeping in mind the ideas of a functional electronic commerce, based on small objects (let's say, books, magazines, games, music, didactic material) with a positive business balance, a rate of sales as high as possible, a fast transaction motor (look out, administrators, this is not a joke!) - we may draw the basic content of a pliant to send abroad and gain real partners to which we could offer a market logistically controlled by us. As for the expedition system, we could improvise something at first and then set up a partnership with the Romanian mail system - that is not working so bad inside the country, if we look attentively.


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