Opinion

Felix Salmon

Henry Blodget allows embedded content

Felix Salmon
Aug 20, 2009 18:55 UTC

Well done to Henry Blodget, who is now allowing anybody to republish his content for free, by embedding posts from his site. Like this:

This is a great idea, and something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Bloggers want their stuff read by as many people as possible, and there’s no need to force your readers to come to your own site before your readers can do that.

Henry, by doing this, is allowing his most engaged readers to pick and choose their favorite articles and put them on their own sites — it’s free advertising for him, it gives him reach to a large number of readers he otherwise wouldn’t have, and it shows a real embrace of the medium, and a desire to reach readers in the manner most convenient for them. All of that is a great way of building a business.

There’s been talk of publishers doing something like this for some time, often with ads embedded along with the copy, but this is much simpler and easier, with no embedded ads (except of course for the prominent branding for Henry’s own site). I hope it’s a great success, and widely copied.

COMMENT

Reuters allows this, too.

Amazon arbitrage of the day

Felix Salmon
Aug 20, 2009 18:30 UTC

One of the best travel books ever written (indeed, one of my favorite books, period, ever) is The Surprise of Cremona by Edith Templeton. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find: your best bet is to track down the 2003 Pallas Athene paperback with an introduction by Anita Brookner.

If you go to the Amazon page for that book, you’ll find there are “7 new” copies for sale. The cheapest is $20; the most expensive is $166.18. Woody’s Books, for instance, is selling the book for $27.50 — plus a $125.79 “sourcing fee”, plus $3.99 shipping from New Jersey — $157.28 in all.

On the other hand, if you check the book out on Amazon.co.uk, you’ll find “6 new” copies for sale, including Woody’s UK, which will sell you the book for £12.99, plus a sourcing fee of just £0.01. Shipping, to the US, is £3.08, for a total of £16.08, or about $26.51 in dollars — less than the sticker price on the US book before the massive sourcing fee. And yes, the book is still shipped from New Jersey.

In other words, the same book, from the same US-based seller, being shipped to the same US address, costs either $26.51 if you buy it on Amazon.co.uk, or $157.28 — pretty much six times as much — if you buy it on Amazon.com. There might be a good reason why Woody’s is doing this. But I don’t think it reflects particularly well on Amazon.

COMMENT

@ Rather Not Say

You said:

“But that wasn’t the comparison I made; I said that *Amazon* has a better inventory system than either drop-shipping or non-dropshipping booksellers. Futhermore, there’s guaranteed lag in using their API. My point was simple: when you buy a used book on Amazon, much of your discount is your risk of not getting the book, whether it’s in stock at the used bookseller’s or not.

By “podunk” I just mean relatively small; probably a bad choice of words. There’s no contradiction between being podunk and being competitive

And where did I disparage anybody? I don’t have anything against any booksellers.”

And before, you wrote: “I suggest that if you *must* have the book, you should buy it new.”

Here’s the disparagement (and I’m not claiming intent on your part, btw) – my claim is that a good booksellers inventory is just as reliable as amazon.com’s- that’s the assumption and the foundation of 3rd party selling on amazon.com.

And, ironically, it’s an assumption that’s built into the practice of drop-shipping.

Cheers.

Posted by Mark Beauchamp | Report as abusive

BusinessWeek’s subscription liabilities

Felix Salmon
Aug 19, 2009 18:56 UTC

We know that BusinessWeek is for sale. But is there a good chance the print magazine could die completely? That would seem to be the subtext of Keith Kelly’s column today, in which he writes:

OpenGate, at least on paper, might be considered a likely candidate as well. However, even with magazine veteran and acting CEO Jack Kliger on hand for the management presentation from McGraw-Hill, OpenGate might not be able to absorb the estimated $40 million in subscription liabilities that would come with the 900,000-circulation weekly.

What’s a subscription liability? It’s basically all the money which BusinessWeek has already been paid, in subscription revenues, for magazines it has yet to deliver. It’s a liability because if it can’t deliver the magazines, BusinessWeek would have to refund its subscribers their money, or somehow try to fob them off with an equivalent product.

One would assume that the winner of the BusinessWeek auction, which is currently being conducted between nine different potential acquirers, would intend to continue to publish the magazine weekly. If they do so, however, the subscriber base isn’t really a liability at all: it’s an asset, to be treasured. The only time you start worrying about things like “$40 million in subscription liabilities” is if you’re thinking about going web-only, or biweekly, or something like that. Which would be especially difficult given the name of the book.

So for all that numbers in the $35 million range have been bandied around as the purchase price for BusinessWeek, that might just be the headline number, which would then be offset by a “refund of subscription liabilities” or the like. We might yet end up with another $1 purchase price.

COMMENT

A key point that you are overlooking is that the subscriber liability is not a real liability to these private equity companies who will form LLC’s and protect themselves completely from any future claims. If an unscrupulous PE firm wants to take the working capital and significant amount of the cash flow for themselves and run the business into bankruptcy, the sub liability is a non-issue because individual subscribers have no ability(and probably no desire) to recoup their prepaid subscription unless there is some type of class-action suit and attorney general involvement. Again, unlikely because the individual dollars are so low compared to other class action litigation. Plus, once it is in bankruptcy there are other creditors who will be demanding restitution such as the employees, printers, paper suppliers and other vendors who may have been harmed along with the subscribers.
A strategic partner or public company does have an obligation to fulfill the subscriber liability which is why they are better potential partners for the business being run properly and existing for the long term…perhaps short term as well! It would be very sad indeed to see such a wonderful iconic brand like Business Week fall into the hands of a bottom-feeder PE firm that really has no plans to invest in and preserve/build the brand. One would hope that the current Mcgraw Hill owners require that specific covenants are put in place to prevent new owners from just taking out cash and that certified proof of appropriate resources(ie–a cash fund) exist for the purpose of running/investing in the business.
Lastly, If Business Week is truly losing $40-$50million per year, then they have far greater problems and issues to resolve than worrying about the sub liability.

Posted by jack | Report as abusive

Annals of laundering, Sheryl Weinstein edition

Felix Salmon
Aug 19, 2009 16:52 UTC

This isn’t the first time that Bernie Madoff’s lover has tried to make money by taking dirty laundry and printing it:

After the affair ended, Weinstein rebuilt her emotional life with her husband… She took antidepressants. They began to run a commercial laundry trade publication.

Apparently the two are still together. Commercial laundry trade publications: they’re just like marriage counselors, but cheaper.

Vernon Smith’s self-published memoir

Felix Salmon
Jun 2, 2009 19:49 UTC

Vernon Smith is a true giant in the world of economics, and his memoir has now received a rave review from Tyler Cowen (who admittedly might be biased, given that Smith is a fellow at Cowen’s Mercatus Center). So the obvious question about the book is this: why was this wide-ranging memoir from a Nobel laureate self-published?

There are lots of possible reasons: Maybe Smith just can’t be bothered to deal with agents and editors and publishers. Maybe he didn’t want to share the profits. Maybe the book is so idiosyncratic that no publisher had any interest in publishing it. Or maybe, contra Cowen, it just isn’t very good. I must say that I do now want to find out — and the fact that Smith will personally get a significant part of the amount I pay for the book does make me more likely to buy it.

COMMENT

Help me understand why you wouldn’t want to give this book a chance because the profit excuse is worthless when you can easily rent or borrow.

Personally, I can’t wait to read it, and I’m struggling to understand your point of view.

The book of the year

Felix Salmon
May 19, 2009 16:06 UTC

It’s one of the most eagerly-awaited books of 2009, and it features “a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang”. More generally, there’s a “splendid cast of characters [which] includes villains, a few heroes, and a lot of people who look very, very foolish”, including “the goats and the few who saw what the emperor was wearing”.

Oh, wait, I’m conflating two different books. But really, wouldn’t “Inherent Vice” be a much better title for Michael Lewis’s crisis book than “The Big Short”? And when is Pynchon going to start writing about finance?

COMMENT

Or Umberto Eco?

Though I think the only person who could really do the last 20 years justice would be the late James Whale. With Peter Cushing as Robert Merton:

“They said I was MAD at the university! MAD!! But I’ll SHOW THEM!”

Posted by ajay | Report as abusive

The return of the IHT archives

Felix Salmon
May 18, 2009 15:31 UTC

Richard Pérez-Peña has the story: the IHT archives, which disappeared back in March, are reappearing. Finally. But the story is a little odd:

“Obviously, it was never our intention to make this stuff disappear,” said Marc S. Frons, chief technology officer of New York Times Digital.

The plan was to move all the Herald Tribune articles since 1991 to nytimes.com, but that turned out to be more complicated than expected. And rather than wait, executives combined the sites first, knowing that for a while, The Herald Tribune work would be missing.

Presumably, when it comes to the “executives” in question, the buck stops in this instance with Frons. So if he didn’t intend to make the stuff disappear, then why did he make the switch, given that he knew that the work would disappear? And why didn’t he say anything in public at the time? “Rather than wait” doesn’t even come close to providing an explanation of what exactly happened here and why — although it is great news that the IHT archives are back.

Google-NYT: The dance continues

Felix Salmon
May 11, 2009 21:53 UTC

Back in January, Google’s Eric Schmidt was dismissive when asked about whether he had any interest in buying the New York Times, although he did say he was interested in doing a peculiar thing where he would “merge without merging”, whatever that meant.

In any event, it seems to have meant that when a real opportunity arose, he spent a good deal of time looking at it:

Scott Galloway, a Web entrepreneur and New York University Business School professor who is one of two Harbinger appointees on the Times board, made an overture to Google co-founder Larry Page about Google buying the Times Co. Even though Google CEO Eric Schmidt has publicly lamented the state of the newspaper industry and dismissed the notion of Google investing in it, people involved said the company looked seriously at the opportunity before deciding to pass.

My feeling is that there’s no point in Google talking to Harbinger: unless and until the Sulzberger family has serious interest in talking, it makes essentially no difference who owns the B shares. But at that point, there are all manner of interesting structures which might be created, some of which might well involve Google’s charitable arm, Google.org. Schmidt’s claim that he didn’t want to mix philanthropy with business was always the least convincing part of his claim not to be interested in the NYT.

COMMENT

I think you mean the A shares. The B shares hold the voting rights.

Posted by John Gapper | Report as abusive

When online publications erase writers’ careers

Felix Salmon
May 9, 2009 02:55 UTC

Back in March, I wondered why the NYT was breaking the web, yet was hopeful that it was some temporary snafu, and that it would be fixed sharpish. But no — it’s still insanely broken, and Thomas Crampton is only one of hundreds of journalists who have seen their careers thoughtlessly erased by an idiotic marketing stunt.

This hits home for me, because, between now and then, my name was summarily erased from more than 4,000 blog entries at Portfolio.com, when the site hired Ryan Avent to replace me. Now, everything I wrote has Ryan’s name on it instead of mine. You could call it erasing my career, I suppose. It can be fixed quite easily — if Portfolio.com stays up, which it’s far from obvious that it will — but I’m told there are no staff available to fix it.

In general, web publishers care much, much less about preserving their archives and honoring incoming links than you’d ever believe possible. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s those of us who are paid by media companies to write things online who tend to bear the brunt of those actions. Maybe we should start insisting on adding clauses to our contracts, whereby we’re automatically given our archives and full rights to republish them wherever we want, the minute that incoming links get broken or the site goes down. Such clauses shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly I think they probably are.

COMMENT

Regarding some safeguard against the kind of thing described here, there is a precedent of sorts in book publishing contracts, which commonly contain a reversion-of-rights clause if a book should fall out of print for a certain period–perhaps a year. A similar clause could restore rights to an online writer.

Posted by Dan Akst | Report as abusive
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