30 June, 2006

The Little Pig that Flew

FlyingPig.co.nz was a New Zealand online retailer selling books, DVDs, videos and software. It was launched in November 1999 and ran for almost exactly two years, closing in November 2001. I worked for the company for all of those two years (one of only two staff who were there from beginning to end). I started out in customer service, soon moved on to content editor for the DVD & VHS category and then was promoted to General Manager of the company for the last seven months of its life. Halfway through its life FlyingPig was bought up by a larger company, ITMedia, so when it was wound down and eventually closed, such decisions was out of my hands and I was made redundant along with the few remaining staff.

FlyingPig may have long since gone but it is not forgotten, as evidenced by a couple of disparaging comments in the latest issue of the New Zealand Listener. The issue's lead article (not online at the time of writing) is an investigation of online shopping (“Hot to Shop”) and describes FlyingPig as an “internet folly” and a “dotcom disaster”.

If these descriptions were accurate, you'd think that whenever I mention my past career that I'd be met with either a sharp intake of breath or worse still a sympathetic expletive. In fact I've very rarely had to suffer the disparaging associations implied by the Listener article. Instead I have for the most part experienced positive reactions from both people I've met and worked with in the retail industry and also former FlyingPig customers.

In fact I was headhunted for another Internet retail position on the strength of my involvement with Flying Pig. Though it turned out to be a complete coincidence, I received the phone call asking me to come and work for Noel Leeming on the very afternoon that I arrived home, having been made redundant from FlyingPig earlier that same day.

Furthermore, the website software platform used by FlyingPig survives and is now used by a number of other retailers, including Real Groovy, which the Listener article features as one of its examples of an online success story.

The domain name has changed hands a few times since the Pig's demise, and is at the time of writing is parked here, and a fragmentary version of the former FlyingPig website (from 29 June 2001) is archived here.

What the Listener article fails to mention is that in the two years that FlyingPig was operating, New Zealanders were only just starting to catch on to the online shopping trend and the revenue simply wasn’t sufficient to sustain an online retailer. I've written a letter to the editor to defend FlyingPig's reputation, and pointed out that had this online store been launched a few years later, FlyingPig might well have become a byword not for ‘folly’ but ‘success’.

21 June, 2006


This week, TSV turns 19 years old.

It was in this week, back in June 1987, that with the help of Paul Sinkovich I put the finishing touches on the very first issue and sent out the first copies to a small group of fans. That issue was only 28 pages long, and was produced on a typewriter. It was a far cry from the 100 page, digitally composited issues of today. The only artwork content was MC Escher's "Castrovalva" picture on the front cover. Paul and I ran off about 20 copies on a coin operated photocopier in the freezing cold foyer of the Human Sciences building on the Auckland University campus.

Back then I hoped TSV would be a success of course, but I don't think even at our most optimistic that we ever predicted that it would still be going nearly two decades later!

19 June, 2006

Yours sincerely, wasting away

Yesterday, Paul McCartney reached that age. Yes, one of the two surviving Beatles turned 64, and in a cruel twist of fate this milestone comes just weeks after the announcement that he and Heather Mills are to divorce. Ironically, McCartney's famous song When I'm 64 was all about questioning whether a loving relationship would last through to old age.

Paul McCartney turned 26 years old the day I was born in Islington Hospital in London on 18 June 1968. I've long harboured a suspicion that I share his name for this very reason, though my mother claims otherwise. This in spite of the fact that when I was growing up we had a stack of Beatles records on vinyl stowed away in a cupboard (I recall specifically Sergeant Pepper, Rubber Soul and Revolver), all apparently purchased when they were first released. Hmmm.

Now that I'm 38, I'm really starting to feel my age. Last month I visited a doctor for the first time in over ten years and, after a barrage of tests, was diagnosed as suffering from asthma. I'm more accutely aware of my own mortality than ever.

As a child, birthdays were something wonderful to look forward to, counting off the weeks and days until the special day. I remember being especially pleased that my birthday fell almost exactly midway between Christmases, so at most there was only ever at most a six month gap between receiving presents. That sort of thing's important when you're a child.

In recent years birthdays have become for me a far less appealing prospect. Not because of the presents - I love the Doctor Who birthday cake Rochelle secretly arranged to have made for me, and the gifts from her are, as always, so well chosen that they're all things I was planning to buy myself (the Family Guy DVD box set, a book about the making of the new Battlestar Galactica series and a Star Wars novel) - but because I'm reminded that I'm a year older, though not necessarily a year wiser.

Though I've every intention that Rochelle and I will still be together, when I'm 64.