Archive for the 'Business' Category

The Incredible Disappearing Layoffs

Sunday, January 5th, 2003

Did W. muzzle the messenger? David Lazarus of the San Francisco Chronicle had a very interesting article Friday in which he reported the Bush administration has killed a layoff tracking program. The $6.6m initiative provided statistics about the number of “mass layoffs” (when greater than 50 employees were let go at once.)

Sharon Brown, the program’s overseer, said the move ended “a high-quality program, producing timely information on important developments in the labor market.” Not so, says deputy assistant secretary Mason Bishop: “We didn’t see how this program was helping workers re-enter the workforce.” Not a bad argument, but Lazarus convincingly destroys it by noting the Dept. of Labor is doing plenty of volunteerism studies, and nobody gets a job from that, either.

To no-one’s surprise, Bush Sr. made exactly the same moves during his administration. Let’s all hope his son meets with the same fate.

Update: Not related to layoffs, but Helen Thomas has an interesting take on what W. and his cronies appear to be spending their time on instead of jobs creation.

MTV = Maybe Ten Videos

Monday, December 23rd, 2002

At least one site is reporting MTV{{ plans to pare its playlist down to just 10 different videos a week. An EVP is quoted as saying, “The more impressions, the more penetration, the better the sales.”

That’s a page from the Clear Channel book. Despite the exec’s further comment that MTV is “serious about selling music and breaking bands,” it’s hard to envision them giving over even two slots (and thus 20% of their playtime) to lesser-knowns.

Seems to me that MTV couldn’t have found a better way to argue that mass broadcasting is an inherently inferior way to sample music. Clearly, it’s going to get worse before it gets better: intellectual property and broadband infrastructure issues are going to have to be solved before we can officially re-name it RWTV.

Strengthening American Enterprise

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

This morning Pech brought a Ben Stein essay to my attention. The economist and lawyer most famous for saying “Bueller…Bueller…” has several interesting things to say about the country’s direction, despite his position as a conservative and Bush supporter (and yes, we will be holding the latter against him.)

One especially relevant item decries the lax standards and weak penalties for corporate managers. I couldn’t agree more; have you heard anything about Enron indictments lately? (Or ever?)

The timing of the Stein piece is especially interesting given what Andrew Tobias has to say today. The investment guru quotes a forthcoming book when he says that since the 1939 establishment of the SEC [by liberals, natch] the volume of trading has increased to some 200,000% of its original level. Over the same time period, the staff increased by 72%.

Now that’s certainly not to say that we need x investigators for every y stock trades — computers and analysis tools are doing a lot of work. But this is an agency that nets money for the government, to the tune of five times its budget. It’s great to throw money into the general fund, but better still to use that money to do a better job for those who pay it in.

As Tobias rightly notes, the SEC’s budget must be increased, its staff enlarged, and its pay rates hiked. We must take these steps quickly to show that everyone’s investment is treated with equal respect in America’s capital markets lest we, as Stein puts it, “ruin American enterprise.”

Blockbuster’s Good for Something

Sunday, December 8th, 2002

Several months ago, Blockbuster gave me a complimentary upgrade to their Blockbuster Rewards Gold program. The letter accompanying the new card told me I was one of their “most valuable customers.” (To be eligible, customers must pay for at least 100 rentals in a 12 month period.)

I haven’t rented anything since they sent it to me.

Not until last night, that is. Quality time with Brandon means movies, and so we rented 5 titles (2 of which were actually in English.) Matt rented the non-subtitled selections for us on Friday, confronting a monumental hassle in the process.

He had to fill out a new customer form, provide two telephone numbers (at 11p, they wanted to call his parents to verify it was a working number!) and jump through various hoops — even though he had an account in good standing at the store across town.

By contrast, when I went to Blockbuster, the rental process went off exactly as it does at my home store, some 180 miles away. (If anything, it was smoother. The employee seemed actually helpful.)

I found the contrast interesting, and told Brandon so. He thought differently: “I’m glad Hollywood doesn’t do it that way,” he said. “I’d never be able to rent anything.”

Hmmm. A national database means late fees that follow you wherever you go. The boy has a point…

Note: Nothing in the above should be construed to mean I don’t still view Blockbuster as the Antichrist. Despite a convenient rental procedure, their idea of varied selection continues to be 40 copies of One Night at McCool’s in both VHS and DVD. I eagerly await the day when I live near a Facets.

CDNow You Don’t

Friday, December 6th, 2002

CDNow has merged with Amazon. Not that they call it that — it’s always “teamed with.”

I’m slightly sad because I used CDNow as an alternate interface when I couldn’t find the title (or, equally as important, sound clip/format) I wanted from Amazon. (Of course, now there is less diversity of clips as everyone just licenses from Muze.)

Sadness aside, I don’t understand why these deals are smart. Sure, Amazon will take care of “fulfillment, inventory, content and customer service” ( for CDNow’s customers, but doesn’t this just do the brand in? This isn’t Borders, where you can focus your attention on the stores. This is a Web site that loses all its original look-and-feel and even its domain name as it folds into another site.

Just to confuse things, they have the CDNow Preferred Buyers Club, which is one of those buy-one-and-then-another-in-12-months deals. Bertelsmann owns CDNow and BMG Music Club, so this is no surprise. Unfortunately, it just further fragments the brand and destroys the user experience: now you have two different-looking CDNow sites, with a need for a separate username/password on each.

They should have just sold it, a la