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The subject is water

By: George Rowand

"Water, water, everywhere ..." the poem goes, but that isn't the case in places like the Middle East and Africa. There, deserts abound and life struggles to exist without a reliable supply of the liquid.
David Duncan knows about these problems, and he's started a newsletter that addresses the issue. Called OOSKAnews, the weekly publication has subscribers on every continent except Antarctica.

"We've been in production for six weeks, and we publish 49 weeks a year," Duncan said last week, adding that the company was incorporated in Virginia in September.

Duncan explained that the weekly report complies stories from sources on the ground in Africa and the Middle East regarding proposed water projects and the ongoing water situation in those locales.

"We have about 20 contributors in that part of the world, and they pitch us stories on Monday, we send them back on Tuesday or Wednesday, and we lay out the stories on Friday," he said. "We deliver the newsletter on Sunday and Monday in .pdf format, and because of that, the overhead is remarkably low for a publishing concern."

Big business

Duncan said that the water market is one of the five largest markets in the world.

"It's a $400 billion market every year, and it's growing by 7 percent annually," he said. "In comparison, the energy market is at $600 billion, and it's growing at a rate of 1 percent a year, so you can see that this is huge."

Duncan said that he knows something about the energy market because he worked with a company that produced a newsletter devoted to that business.

"The technology to do newsletters like this has revolutionized this business," he said, "and there are a number of people who do what I do, covering the gamut of business sectors."

Prior to this venture, Duncan studied law in his native Scotland, but discovered that the legal profession was not for him.

"I was always more interested in publishing, and I ran the only student-owned-and-run publishing house in the world," he stated. "It was what I enjoyed doing, more than studying law."

Duncan met his wife, Donna, when she was traveling in Scotland, and the two of them married in his homeland. He knocked about a bit in business, working for The Washington Times in their circulation department. Then he went to work with a magazine company, and when that company was sold to an Australian competitor, he was made the CEO of Europe, a dot-com business that published sports results.

"It was probably was ahead of its time," he said of the gig. "It went down, and it became my job to fire someone every month. So I started looking around and I found the company that was covering the oil and gas market."

That situation suited Duncan. "I was CEO for 4 1/2 years, and we grew from $400,000 in sales and three staff members to $2.2 million and 20 staffers ... Our clients were senior decision makers ... people who wanted to know what was going on in the energy markets.

"That was our strength. We could get reliable information to them in a timely manner. All the large oil companies signed up. The Big 5 accounting firms all subscribed. Our sources were top people who were working for the big business publications and who did stories for us as freelancers. We had very few complaints that we got something wrong."

Duncan said that a subscription could cost thousands of dollars a year and that someone who was interested simply couldn't send in a postcard and sign up.

"We contacted you," he explained. "There was a lot of competition, but we were looking to get the decision makers in the top companies because we had information that was not freely available."

Hometown company

Duncan did that job for over four years, spending the last two in America.

"We'd been in Scotland for seven years, and we'd bought a house in Warrenton, and we were living here," he explained. "My wife wanted to move back here to be closer to her family, and I was working in Edinburgh and in Warrenton. I did that for two years, working here for two weeks, and then in Scotland for two weeks, and I finally had enough of that."

So he stopped working for his former company and decided to do something he had been thinking about for a long time.

"I'd always wanted to be my own boss, and be the proprietor of my own business," he explained, "and I looked at a number of business sectors and decided that water is the gold of the future, and that it's under-served in emerging markets."

He has a business plan to meet that perceived need.

"I'm going to do water in the Middle East and Africa, followed by Asia and Latin America, and probably one more, which will be Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union."

The newsletter is targeted.

"The subscribers will be blue-chip companies," Duncan related. "They will not be engineers. We don't publish about the new valve on the market. We tell what's going on, why it's going on and what we think will happen next. A typical subscriber will be the vice president for a worldwide construction company, and we'll have American companies, British companies, German companies, Dutch companies. The newsletter is in English as that is the language of international business. We don't advertise. We don't publish much information on our Web site. We research them, and say, 'This is what we are. This is what we do and we want to give you our exclusive market intelligence for the next few weeks in the belief that you will find it valuable.' Then we phone them up and see if they want to subscribe."

Publishing a globally-oriented newsletter means Duncan's schedule is a little unorthodox. "I was on the phone to folks in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and South Africa at 3 a.m. today," said Duncan, "and as the dawn begins over Warrenton, I'll be talking to Europe. I'll be phoning the West Coast this afternoon."

Sounds like a long day, but Duncan said that he enjoys the work.

"It's great fun. I get to speak with interesting people all over the world. It's very gratifying when they say that I'm doing something for them."

Water, water everywhere ... or maybe not.

"The regional wars in the next century will not be about oil, but about water," Duncan said. "Water is intrinsic to the tension in the Middle East. Just think ... they spend billions of dollars on huge desalinization projects every year. People who need to know what's happening next need to know what's happening in water."

David Duncan can be reached at (540) 905-3407. He receives e-mail at .

Times Community Newspapers 2006


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