Competition

26 June 2019

Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.

~ Nancy Pearcey

Spotify: We ‘Overpaid’ Songwriters and Their Publishers in 2018, and We Would like Our Money Back

26 June 2019

From Music Business Worldwide:

If you hadn’t noticed, tensions between the music publishing community and Spotify have taken a turn for the sour in recent months.

This all began in March when Spotify, alongside other music streaming operators like SiriusXM/Pandora, Google and Amazon, lodged an appeal against mandated pay rises for songwriters and publishers in the US.

The headline news about that pay rise, decided by the US Copyright Royalty Board, was that mechanical streaming payouts from the likes of Spotify would rise by 44% or more between 2018 and 2022.

It turns out, however, that there was some additional and under-reported complexity to the CRB decision concerning Spotify’s student discount offers and its family plan bundles – which allow up to six family members to stream Premium Spotify for a single price of just $14.99 a month.

“According to the new CRB regulations, we overpaid most publishers in 2018… rather than collect the 2018 overpayment immediately, we have offered to extend the recoupment period through the end of 2019.”

Spotify spokesperson

Because of this additional complexity, Spotify has now calculated that, retrospectively, according to the CRB decision, many music publishers actually owe it money for 2018, due to an overpayment based on the prior rates. And guess what? It wants that money back.

Spotify told the publishers the news this week and, as you can imagine, these companies – already up in arms over Spotify’s CRB appeal – are fuming about it.

One senior figure in the music publishing industry told MBW: “Spotify is clawing back millions of dollars from publishers in the US based on the new CRB rates that favor the DSPs, while appealing the [wider CRB decision]. This puts some music publishers in a negative position. It’s unbelievable.”

Spotify isn’t expecting the publishers to hand over the money that it’s owed right away; instead, this negative balance will be treated as an advance by the company, which will be recouped from its 2019 royalty payouts to publishers (and, by association, their songwriters).

. . . .

David Israelite, the CEO of the National Music Publishers Association who has consistently and publicly decried Spotify’s CRB appeal, told MBW in response to Spotify’s request for reimbursement from the publishers: “I find it so hypocritical for a digital service that is appealing the CRB decision to then take advantage of the parts of that decision that benefit it. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.”

Link to the rest at Music Business Worldwide

PG says this sounds like the behavior of an organization that holds a monopoly position in the music business.

The Time I Called out a Children’s Book Author for Letting Girls Down

26 June 2019

From Medium:

A few years back, I read a children’s book about the moon landing to my then-3-year-old daughter. It’s a great book in so many ways. But one thing stood out to me: Men.

Men, men, men. The word men over and over, in glowing terms, and nowhere a mention of anybody else.

The book, Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, written and illustrated by Brian Floca, is a gorgeous, informative read, made to inspire another generation of stargazers. Unlike many dry books on the topic, this one has a gripping narrative. It managed to keep even my 3-year-old engaged.

Still, as I read I found myself changing words to make the story more gender-inclusive. Instead of “men,” I said “people,” “astronauts,” “scientists.” I wanted my daughter to be able to picture herself on that rocket ship, or in Mission Control.

Our storytime happened to take place in October 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was starting to gain momentum. Women were going public with stories of sexual harassment and outdated, gendered power structures. My own #MeToo stories were swimming in my head when I read Moonshot to my daughter. That night, I could not abide one more message of men’s competence alongside women’s invisibility. Fired up, and bursting with anger at the patriarchy, I did something I don’t usually do: I wrote the author to complain.

. . . .

Raising a kid in this highly gendered society is hard, I told him. The only thing stopping my daughter from imagining herself as one of those astronauts were stories like his that say it’s only something men do. I didn’t expect him to respond — I was used to men overlooking their privilege, ignoring their blind spots, and doing everything to preserve the status quo.

Then two days later, he wrote me back.

. . . .

In his email, Floca thanked me for writing and admitted he had known at the time he was writing the book that he was leaning exclusively on “men.” He said he’d tried “people,” but found the word to be clunky on the page. Plus, in reality, the three Apollo 11 astronauts were men, and he believed each person in Mission Control was a man as well. So he chose the gendered framing because it felt honest, simple, and specific.

Floca did, in his email, mention Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and an interview where she discussed how she wished she’d seen other women astronauts when she was a girl. She was inspired by the Apollo program, Neil Armstrong specifically. Floca said he hoped my daughter would find inspiration in the Apollo 11 story as well.

But there was one line in his response that stood out, a sentence that told me my own work here wasn’t done: “If anyone can find the story of a woman who was working there,” Floca wrote, “I’d be happy and interested.”

I emailed him back one more time.

I found plenty of resources about women’s contributions to Apollo 11. There was Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, the first woman engineer in Mission Control, starting with Apollo 8. Or Joann Morgan, Margaret Hamilton, and Katherine Johnson. But it wasn’t just well-known scientists or astronauts who were left out of the narrative. As I told Floca, female spectators experiencing this historic, cultural event, were omitted from the story. And you would never know from reading Moonshot that in 1969, 17.5% of NASA workers were women, most of them working low-wage jobs.

I didn’t want Floca to draw in imaginary women or to change the focus of the book. I just wanted to put the issue on his radar — we can do a lot better than just saying the moon landing is something men did.

. . . .

Then, this month, out of the blue, I got another email from Floca.

Dear Darcy,
What’s your address?

Floca mailed us a free, signed copy of the new expanded edition of Moonshot, released in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. He made changes. Wonderful changes. I cried, with the realization that my anger, my voice, had made a difference.

The word “men” still shows up often in the book, but it’s not there alone anymore. On the Launch Control/Mission Control page, just as I requested, he changed “each man” to “everyone.”

Link to the rest at Medium

45+ Author Websites with Stellar Designs

26 June 2019

From BookBub:

Many successful authors have websites that are the hub of their online marketing activity — they provide a central platform for everything from blogging to book sales and email newsletters. But what should you include in an author website?

We’ve compiled 45 stellar examples to give you some ideas. These sites can provide inspiration for any authors or publishers looking to launch or redesign an author website.

. . . .

To appear on this list of examples, sites had to meet most, if not all, of the following criteria:

  • Include a list of published books
  • Prominently display new or impending releases
  • Provide an obvious way to subscribe for updates
  • Provide a way to contact the author
  • Include links to the author’s social media profiles
  • Display a list of upcoming events
  • Include a blog to showcase the author’s personality and/or writing process
  • Be easy to navigate
  • Have a clean, unique design
  • Be mobile friendly

We’ve made sure to include both traditional and self-published authors, along with a variety of styles and genres, so everyone can find some inspiration.

1. Bella Andre

2. Brett Battles

. . . .

18. Kevin Hearne

. . . .

22. Rachel Howzell Hall

Link to the rest at BookBub

PG has to admit that he liked some of the designs, but others looked pretty generic and home-made (by people who do not have a design-centric person in their home).

Clean design is great, but (in PG’s immanently humble opinion), it’s easy to slip over the line from clean-cool to clean-generic.

Rectangular blocks of text against a contrasting plain background have been done before.

Arial, Helvetica and Times Roman (New, Old or in-between) have been done, done, done, done, before, before, before, before.

The combination of rectangular blocks of text and Arial/Helvetica/Times Roman can be used in original and impactful ways, but (in PG’s gracefully cultivated opinion) doing that is hard and rare and most people don’t succeed.

That said, PG thought Bookbub’s minimum standards bullet point list of criteria provided a good checklist against which an author might wish to compare her/his/zir/hir/eir/vis/tem/eir website to make certain the fundamentals are sound and complete.

For ideas on fonts, see Stop Using Arial & Helvetica in which Arial is described as “Microsoft’s bastard son (rip-off) of Helvetica. It’s just a bad copy of Helvetica – a really bad one. It’s just ugly.”

For more ideas on fonts, see Best Times New Roman Alternatives: Fonts to Avoid Default Fonts – “I had to believe there were other ways of presenting information that didn’t involve Times New Roman words endlessly written on a white freaking document.”

(Yes PG is aware that TPV could improve in the fonts department, but he likes the color, textures and mood of his current WordPress theme and whenever he looks for a good alternative that isn’t ten years behind the times, he can’t find one he likes as well or that he can make look like Ancient Faithful, the theme that (like this sentence) just won’t die. He’ll try out more alternative themes on TPV to gather comments at some time in the future.)

Could Unicorns, Almost Be the First Truly Immersive Audiobook?

26 June 2019

From The Bookseller:

This month saw the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy—and one of the events created to commemorate the occasion was a unique “immersive audio experience” based on a play by Owen Sheers about the life and work of World War Two poet, Keith Douglas.

Created by Hay-on-Wye-based social enterprise The Story of Books, Unicorns, Almost is a multi-sensory experience designed with input from a team of blind and visually impaired young people, with a specially designed soundscape, 3D objects sewn onto the set and tactile objects to touch. Story of Books founder Emma Balch describes it as “like stepping inside an audiobook”, and hopes that publishers will see the potential of the format for bringing evocative works to life and reinvigorating their backlist.

. . . .

Where did the idea come from?

A crisis! Our production of Unicorns, Almost was very well received in Hay-on-Wye last year. On the back of this, we had an offer to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe, Bristol Old Vic, and Normandy (for the 75th anniversary of D-Day). Just as all this fell into place, Dan Krikler, who played Keith Douglas, was offered a job at the Old Vic. The dates clashed with Normandy and the first week of Edinburgh. It’s a text-heavy, one-man play, and Dan’s performance was “wonderful” (tweeted by Margaret Atwood, who came to see the play in Hay!)—so losing him was a huge blow.

Not wanting to lose the upcoming opportunities and with too little time to work with another actor, I had the idea for an immersive audio experience. My vision was to lead people into Keith Douglas’s world. We used an audio recording of Dan reading the play and overlaid it with a soundscape created by composer and sound designer, Jon Nicholls. We then created an evocative set, furnished with objects and books related to the life of Keith Douglas, to bring the story further to life. In this way, what started out as a rescue plan, has actually resulted in something super unique and exciting.

. . . .

What were the greatest challenges in pulling it off?

Time, for sure. We had just four weeks until the opening in Normandy. Dan was up for doing the audio, so I booked a recording studio and hired a technician.  John Retallack, the plays’ director, then worked with Dan to help him prepare. The recorded audio files then went off to Jon Nicholls, who adapted the soundscape that he had designed for the live show and then mixed this with the raw audio of Dan’s voice. Jon also created a complementary soundscape that we could use in the exhibition space.

The next challenge was logistical. We had to transport the whole set, the exhibition objects, the speakers and so forth from Hay-on-Wye to Normandy, and then repurpose them for a new show. Working cross-culturally was challenge as well—especially as I am not a French-speaker. There were local politics to be negotiated and key relationships to be forged. But I loved every bit of it—I just treated it as a huge learning experience for me.

Each separate location also comes with challenges as none are traditional theatre settings, from a hotel in Hay to an Army Reserve Centre Hall in Edinburgh. The advantage in each case is exclusive use for the show—something that is very unusual. So, while our choice of location does present challenges, they also provide us with exciting opportunities. To maximise these, we have created distinct sets for each venue. For the Hay-on-Wye performance, Lucy Hall designed a wonderful desert ‘tent’ that helped transport the audience to the Western Front. In Normandy, we took inspiration from the Bayeux Tapestry, especially for the audio experience. We worked with Q-Ateliers in Normandy to create a ‘tapestry’ panel that led the audience from the door through to an intimate chamber. In this case, the set was designed with communal listening in mind.

That said, the design also lent itself towards individuals going into their own heads. So, in that sense, it proved an optimal environment for listening to this audiobook/radio play style version of Unicorns, Almost. With no live actor, we found that many people wanted to close their eyes. Others enjoyed moving their gaze to the photos of Keith Douglas or to objects related to him—both of which felt as if they were almost coming to life during the play. Responses to the communal listening experience were interesting, with some enjoying sitting in a group while others clearly felt more comfortable finding a seat on their own. It was really important to us to remain adaptable so we could accommodate the audience’s varying responses and preferences.

. . . .

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the support that the audio performance garnered from local residents in Normandy itself. French speakers really seemed to appreciate the set and the text, commenting on the clear diction and the acting performance through voice only. Some found it useful to follow the text in the play script (published by Faber Drama), while others closed their eyes and just listened. The photos of Keith Douglas had a big impact on people as well, as did the objects relating to the play and the poetry.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Point-Counterpoint: Amazon Responds at Length to a New York Times Critique

25 June 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

A robust response has been created by Amazon to David Streitfeld’s extensive examination of counterfeit books on the retail platform, an article published on Sunday (June 23) at The New York Times.

Streitfeld is an experienced observer of Amazon, and his Sunday article asserts, in part, that the retailer “takes a hands-off approach to what goes on in its bookstore, never checking the authenticity, much less the quality, of what it sells. It does not oversee the sellers who have flocked to its site in any organized way. That has resulted in a kind of lawlessness,” Streitfeld writes.

“Publishers, writers and groups such as the Authors Guild said counterfeiting of books on Amazon had surged. The company has been reactive rather than proactive in dealing with the issue, they said, often taking action only when a buyer complains. Many times, they added, there is nowhere to appeal and their only recourse is to integrate even more closely with Amazon.”

Amazon’s retort—which we’ll explain more fully below—is summed up in this sentence: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Nevertheless, a growing level of concern among some in the publishing community was confirmed a bit more than a year ago, when the Authors Guild—the United States’ chief advocacy organization for writers (both trade and independent)—announced it had arranged “a procedure with Amazon for resolving authors’ complaints with their Amazon book listings.” Even then, the Guild made a reference to counterfeit books as one of the hurdles it might handle, writing to its membership, “It is especially important that you let Amazon know when resellers are marking books as new that do not qualify as new under Amazon’s definition, or when you see infringing or counterfeit copies of books being sold on Amazon.”

. . . .

“While Amazon publicly says it has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for counterfeit products and has built new technology to deal with the problem, its marketplace that allows third-party merchants [to] sell goods continues to be plagued by knockoffs.”

In short, the presence of third-party sellers on the retailer’s platform carries with it a serious challenge in quality control, and anecdotal incidents of wrongdoing such as those cited by Streitfeld tend to loom large when an operation is as vast as Seattle’s.

And the context in which the discussion now is taking place is worth considering. As recently announced, the Federal Trade Commission is to look at Amazon and Facebook, while the Justice Department is to examine Apple and Google, investigating practices that could potentially be ruled anti-competitive.

. . . .

Since the appearance of the Streitfeld article, Amazon has issued a lengthy statement of its own, “Our Response to The New York Times’ Story on Book Counterfeiting,” also dated June 23. Written without a byline, it’s on the company’s DayOne blog site in the “Books and Authors” category. At several points, it directly counters certain parts of the Times article.

One of the Amazon statement’s last points is a response to what the retailer says is the Times piece’s “inaccurate claims about competition among booksellers (a claim the Midwest Independent Booksellers disputed with the Times last year). There is widespread competition among booksellers, from major retailers to independent booksellers to grocery [stores] and drugstores. In fact, according to the American Booksellers Association (a trade group representing independent booksellers), the number of independent booksellers in the US has grown over 50 percent over the last 10 years.”

. . . .

“A recent New York Times article,” the Amazon statement opens, “claims that Amazon doesn’t care about counterfeits and takes a hands-off approach to what is sold in our stores. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“We invest substantial amounts of time and resources to protect our customers from counterfeit products, including books. We also stand behind every product sold in our stores with our A-to-z Guarantee [which promises consumers full refunds for products not received or not as advertised].

“Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products,” the statement says. “We invest heavily in prevention and take proactive steps to drive counterfeits in our stores to zero. In 2018 alone, we invested over $400 million in personnel and tools built on machine learning and data science to protect our customers from fraud and abuse in our stores.

“From the moment a third party attempts to register a selling account, our proprietary technology begins screening and analyzing during the account set-up process, blocking suspicious bad actors before they are able to register or publish a listing. In 2018, we stopped over a million suspected bad actors from opening Amazon selling accounts before they published a single listing for sale, and we blocked more than 3 billion suspected bad listings before they were published to our stores.”

The statement adds, “We provided many of these details to the Times and they chose not to include these facts in their story.”

And Amazon’s article then goes on to respond directly at several levels to Streitfeld’s story. For example, the Times piece looks at a case in which The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy, a medical handbook, was so ineptly counterfeited that some of its information—important to medical practitioners’ treatment of patients—became hard to read.

“We’ve worked closely with Sanford Publishing,” the Amazon statement reads, “and took additional action in November 2018 to address their concerns. Since these measures were put into place, the publisher has not submitted any further notices of infringement.”

. . . .

And it highlights four programs as part of its consumer protection activity:

  • Brand Registry, Amazon says, has a membership of more than 130,000 brands and has seen a 99-percent drop in suspected infringements
  • Transparency, the program that uses a mobile app to scan a code for product authenticity, has more than 2,000 enrollees, says Amazon
  • Project Zero is a “self-service counterfeit removal tool” from which, Amazon says, its own systems learn to prevent new infractions
  • And the A-to-z Guarantee is the refund promise the retailer offers its consumers

Of course, Streitfeld’s accounts of counterfeited writings are compelling, particularly a case in which a book about Atari technology of the 1980s was stolen, given a new cover, title, and a fake author’s name—though the counterfeiter kept the actual author’s “biographical details about being the editor of ExtremeTech.com and writing for PC Magazine and Popular Science.”

. . . .

The original article is a deep, layered essay. And the retailer’s retort is a full-throated defense of itself. The company is speaking its corporate mind, just as Streitfeld and authors and publishers speak theirs. A debate in the open beats snarls in the shadows every time.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Goodness!

“Atari technology of the 1980s”!!!

“The Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy”!!!!

Piracy on Amazon is costing publishers billions of dollars every minute!!

Where will this ever end?!?!

PG did note one item in the OP that he thought required a bit of editing for accuracy (he’s noted his changes):

The original article is a deep, layered essay. And the retailer’s [Amazon’s] retort is a full-throated defense of itself. The company is speaking its corporate mind, just as The New York Times Company (see below), Streitfeld, and authors and publishers who regularly purchase advertising in The New York Times, speak theirs. A debate in the open beats snarls in the shadows every time.

Fixed it!

In case you were wondering, following is a list of assets owned by The [completely unbiased] New York Times Company (per Wikipedia)

Media Properties

  • The New York Times
  • The New York Times International Edition
  • The New York Times International Weekly
  • T: The New York Times Style Magazine
  • The New York Times Book Review
  • The New York Times Magazine
  • The New York Times News Service & Syndicate
  • NYTimes.com
  • TimesDigest

Other Properties (related to The New York Times brand)

  • Times Books
  • T Brand StudioThe New York Times Idea Lab
  • Times Wine Club
  • Times Film Club
  • Times Journeys
  • NYTLiveThe New York Times Thought Leadership Conferences
  • The New York Times Travel Show
  • TimesTalks
  • Live Read
  • The School of The New York Times
  • The New York Times Store
  • TheTimesCenter

Other Assets

  • Wirecutter
  • HelloSociety
  • Fake Love
  • Blogrunner
  • Abuzz Technologies
  • Joint Ventures
  • Donohue Malbaie, Inc. (49%) with Abitibi-Consolidated
  • The New York Times Building (58%) with Forest City Ratner Companies

Investments

Investment portfolio as of January 2017:

  • Atlas Obscura
  • Automattic
  • Betaworks
  • Blendle
  • Dynamic Yield
  • Enigma
  • Federated Media Publishing (FMP)
  • Heleo
  • The History Project
  • Keep Holdings
  • Keywee
  • Panjo
  • Seen
  • theSkimm

And let’s not forget the largest shareholder of The New York Times Company, Carlos Slim, according to Forbes, the fifth richest person in the world (per Wikipedia):

On January 20, 2009, The New York Times reported that its parent company, The New York Times Company, had reached an agreement to borrow $250 million from Carlos Slim, a Mexican billionaire “to help the newspaper company finance its businesses”. The New York Times Company later repaid that loan ahead of schedule. Since then, Slim has bought large quantities of the company’s Class A shares, which are available for purchase by the public and offer less control over the company than Class B shares, which are privately held. Slim’s investments in the company included large purchases of Class A shares in 2011, when he increased his stake in the company to 8.1% of Class A shares, and again in 2015, when he exercised stock options—acquired as part of a repayment plan on the 2009 loan—to purchase 15.9 million Class A shares, making him the largest shareholder. As of March 7, 2016, Slim owned 17.4% of the company’s Class A shares, according to annual filings submitted by the company. While Slim is the largest shareholder in the company, his investment only allows him to vote only for Class A directors, a third of the company’s board.

Here’s what a newspaper not owned by Carlos Slim wrote about him in January, 2019.

From The Guardian:

While every lurid revelation of the [Joaquín] Guzmán [the Sinaloa cartel boss] trial has been breathlessly noted, the power of this mafia [the political and economic elite, which he {Mexican President López Obrador} calls “la mafia del poder” – the power mafia] has gone largely unremarked. The group is dominated by a dozen or so oligarchs and their families, who have a lock on such key economic sectors as telecommunications, media, mining and banking. Repeated forecasts of rapid development for Mexico have come to naught due to the suffocating hold that this small circle of super-connected individuals continues to have over its economy; by eliminating competition, they can keep prices high and profits surging.

At the center of the power elite is Carlos Slim. His estimated net worth of about $60bn places him seventh on Forbes’s international rich list. This one man’s wealth is equivalent to more than 5% of Mexico’s GDP. The core of his empire is América Móvil, Latin America’s largest mobile phone company; its longtime domination of Mexico’s telecommunications industry has kept the nation’s phone rates among the highest in the world, costing the economy an estimated $25bn a year.

Slim also owns nearly 17% of the New York Times, making him its largest shareholder. Like other American news organizations, the Times rarely writes about him and the ways in which he and other Mexican oligarchs have used their power to stymie the tax policies, public investments and income transfers needed to enable more Mexicans to enjoy the type of comfortable middle-class life depicted in Roma, the recent acclaimed film set in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

In case you were wondering about the largest shareholders of Amazon, this is from Investopedia:

Jeff Bezos

The number-one shareholder in the company is Amazon’s chief executive officer (CEO) and founder, Jeff Bezos. Bezos was born in 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico and studied computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton University. Upon graduating, Bezos went to work for the Wall Street firm D.E. Shaw, becoming the youngest senior vice president in its history. He left the company and started Amazon in 1994, initially setting up the company in his garage in Seattle. After Bezos and a few employees wrote the software for Amazon, the company began to make $20,000 per week, selling products in 45 different countries. As of Bezos’ most recent filing with the SEC on August 14, 2018, the Amazon CEO owned 78.88 million shares of the company.

In September 2000, Bezos founded an aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight company called Blue Origin. In 2013, Bezos paid $250 million for the Washington Post. On July 27, 2017, Jeff Bezos surpassed Bill Gates as the world’s richest man with a net worth of over $124 billion. As of early 2019, he is worth $131.4 billion according to Forbes.

Andrew R. Jassy

Andrew R. Jassy is the CEO of Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of Amazon that offers various cloud computing services across the globe. Before Jassy became the CEO of Amazon Web Services on April 13, 2016, he served as senior vice president of the group. With a team of 57 people, Jassy founded Amazon Web Services in 2003. According to an August 15, 2018 filing with the SEC, Andrew R. Jassy is Amazon’s second-largest individual shareholder, with a reported 91,231 shares of the company.

Jassy attended Harvard University, earning a bachelor’s degree and master’s of business administration (MBA). Prior to joining Amazon, Jassy worked at Coupa Software Inc. and founded a marketing consulting company, serving as its manager.

Jeffrey Wilke

Jeffrey Wilke has been the CEO Worldwide Consumer for Amazon since April 2016. Wilke joined Amazon in 1999 as vice-president and general manager and served as the senior vice-president for the consumer business prior to his current role. Wilke’s 60,040 shares of Amazon make him the company’s third-largest shareholder, according to an SEC filing on September 12, 2018. The CEO Worldwide Consumer holds 50,040 of those shares indirectly through a trust.

Wilke holds a BSE degree in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University and underwent graduate studies at MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations (formerly Leaders for Manufacturing) program.

Jeffrey M. Blackburn

Jeffrey M. Blackburn is the senior vice president of business development and digital entertainment of Amazon.com and has been at the company since 1998. Blackburn is also the head of Amazon’s M&A, investments and strategic business development worldwide. Prior to joining Amazon, he was an associate at both Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley in Silicon Valley. At Deutsche, he worked on Amazon’s IPO. Blackburn holds 62,874 shares of Amazon according to an August 29, 2018 filing with the SEC. Of those shares, 42,874 are held directly and 20,000 are held indirectly through a trust.

Wilke earned his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and his MBA from Stanford University.

PG notes a distinct lack of any express or implied connection to la mafia del poder, Carlos Slim or the Sinaloa cartel among Amazon’s largest shareholders.

Revisiting Judith Krantz’s “Scruples,” a Novel with a Passion for Clothes

25 June 2019

From The New Yorker:

Judith Krantz always wanted to write fiction, but it was not until she was approaching fifty, in the late nineteen-seventies, that her husband, Steve, persuaded her to finally attempt a novel. Her career up until that point had been in women’s magazines; she had been an accessories editor at Good Housekeeping and then a writer at Ladies Home Journal and Cosmopolitan, and she was an avid connoisseur of clothes. So when she turned, with trepidation, to fiction, she wrote what she knew. Her first novel, “Scruples,” published in 1978, is a fashion-retail version of a Cinderella story, set in nineteen-sixties L.A. It centers on Billy Orsini (born Wilhelmina Hunnenwell Winthrop), a young striver who moves to New York, where she takes secretarial work at Ikehorn Enterprises, a global conglomerate, and begins sleeping with the C.E.O., Ellis Ikehorn. They marry, and she takes to Ellis’s lavish life style with gusto—appearing at events and on best-dressed lists, and wearing a pair of eleven-karat Harry Winston diamond earrings at all times of day, “heedless of convention.” Then Ellis suffers a stroke, and the couple move to Bel Air for the mild weather. When Ellis dies, Billy finds herself a rich young widow with money and ambition to burn. So she decides to do what any clotheshorse dreams of: she opens a luxury boutique, called Scruples, on Rodeo Drive, and becomes the queen of Los Angeles fashion.

The rest of the plot of “Scruples” is schlocky, steamy “Dynasty”-era romance fare: hearts get broken, tongues get intertwined, gossip gets spread around. Much of the book reads today as deeply out of date; the phrases “divine wop” and “fag bullshit” are tossed off within the first ten pages. But, as an account of nascent eighties decadence the novel remains one of the most enjoyable texts I’ve ever read. At the store—which was modelled on the über-successful Giorgio Beverly Hills—Billy hires a smooth salesman named Spider Elliot, a blond lothario who sleeps with his customers as often as he dresses them. On Spider’s recommendation, she installs a pub and a backgammon table in the store, a boy’s club inside the girl’s club where shoppers’ husbands can drink and dally while their wives swipe their credit cards. And oh, the clothes! “Scruples” contains so many delicious descriptions of garments that you may find yourself longing to pet its pages. Fabrics are not just brown; they are “future-wordly tones of melting taupe, fawn, biscuit, and greige.” A woman doesn’t just walk into a party; she enters “with the glitter of a matador, encased in a vintage, shocking pink-and-black satin Schiaparelli, thickly encrusted with gold braid.” Of Billy’s jet-setting years with Ellis in Paris, Krantz writes:

At a state dinner at the White House she was the most resplendent figure there, only twenty-two years old, wearing pale lilac satin from Dior and emeralds that had once belonged to Empress Josephine. At twenty-three, when she and Ellis were photographed on horseback on their thirty-thousand-acre ranch in Brazil, Billy wore plain jodhpurs, boots, and an open-necked cotton shirt, but at the presentation of a new Yves Saint Laurent collection two weeks later, she wore the landmark suit from his previous collection, while Ellis, who was becoming an old Paris hand, whispered to her the numbers of the dresses he thought she should order in a way that made people with serious fashion backgrounds remember the black-tie spring collection at Jacques Fath in 1949, sixteen years earlier.

Krantz, who died over the weekend, at the age of ninety-one, developed her taste for fashion early. Born in 1928 as Judith Bluma-Gittel Tarcher, she was the daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants.

. . . .

If Krantz had one exceptional skill, it was knowing how to walk into a store and, with laser focus, find the item that would look sensational. Shopping, “Scruples” argues, is all about self-knowledge.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker 

PG says that, absent Eastern European Jewish immigrants, New York would be a pretty boring place.

From Huffpost:

We can’t all afford the luxury of traveling or living abroad. But if you live in New York City, maybe you can experience some of Europe’s offerings without leaving the country. A slice of European flavor can be found in the personality of each NYC neighborhood.

1. East Village — Prague 
With its bohemian vibe and cultural diversity, the offbeat neighborhood of the East Village channels the Eastern European city of Prague. It’s not hard to imagine Allen Ginsberg, a former East Village resident, strolling with fellow Beatnik Jack Kerouac along the Charles Bridge in Praha, former capital of Bohemia Proper.

. . . .

14. Lower East Side — Budapest
Cheap, dirty, and crowded with youths looking to get the most bang for their buck. Youth reputations aside, both the LES and Budapest offer some great places to satisfy your hunger cravings, drunk or not.

Link to the rest at Huffpost

‘Restoring the Promise’ Review: High Cost, Low Yield

25 June 2019

Not exactly about books, but PG would bet that over 80% of those who read the books written by regular visitors to TPV (excepting authors of children’s and YA books) are college graduates.

From The Wall Street Journal:

We are at the end of an era in American higher education. It is an era that began in the decades after the Civil War, when colleges and universities gradually stopped being preparatory schools for ministers and lawyers and embraced the ideals of research and academic professionalism. It reached full bloom after World War II, when the spigots of public funding were opened in full, and eventually became an overpriced caricature of itself, bloated by a mix of irrelevance and complacency and facing declining enrollments and a contracting market. No one has better explained the economics of this decline—and its broad cultural effects—than Richard Vedder.

Mr. Vedder is an academic lifer—a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and a long career teaching economic history at Ohio University. In 2004 he brought out “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much,” and in 2005 he was appointed to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, a group convened by Margaret Spellings, the U.S. education secretary. “Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America” is a summary of the arguments he has been making since then as the Cassandra of American colleges and universities. Despite the optimistic tilt of the book’s title, Mr. Vedder has little to offer in the way of comfort.

As late as 1940, American higher education was a modest affair. Less than 5% of adults held a college degree, and the collegiate population amounted to about 1.5 million students. This scale changed with the first federal subsidies, Mr. Vedder notes, beginning in 1944 with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (the “GI Bill”). Within three years, veterans accounted for 49% of all undergraduate enrollment—some 2.2 million students. Having earned degrees themselves, the veterans expected their own children to do likewise.

Such expectations were supported by still further subsidies, through the National Defense Education Act (1958) and the Higher Education Act of 1965. By the 1970s, there would be 12 million students in the American college and university system; by 2017, there would be 20 million. Meanwhile, more and more federal research dollars poured into campus budgets—reaching some $50 billion in direct funding by 2016—and set off infrastructure binges. To pay for them, as Mr. Vedder documents, tuition and fees vaulted upward, while the federal programs that were intended to ease the financial burden—especially low-interest student loans—only enticed institutions to jack up their prices still higher and spend the increased revenue on useless but attention-getting flimflam (from lavish facilities to outsize athletic programs). At Mr. Vedder’s alma mater, Northwestern, tuition rose from 16% of median family income in 1958 to almost 70% in 2016. Over time, armies of administrators wrested the direction of their institutions away from the hands of faculties and trustees.

Today a college degree has become so common that 30% of adult Americans hold one. Its role as a bridge to middle-class success is assumed—though bourgeois comfort is rather hard to achieve these days with a B.A. in English literature or a degree in, say, sociology. The modern economy, says Mr. Vedder, simply doesn’t possess the number of jobs commensurate with the expectations of all the degree-holders.

The over-educated barista is one of the standing jokes of American society, but the laughter hasn’t eased the loan burden that the barista probably took on to get his degree. Mr. Vedder says that student loans have injected a kind of social acid into a generation of young adults who, over time, manifest a “decline in household formation, birth rates, and . . . the purchase of homes.” Pajama Boy was born, and took up residence in his parents’ basement.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

And a quote from economist Herbert Stein:

What economists know seems to consist entirely of a list of things that cannot go on forever . . . . But if it can’t go on forever it will stop.

PG suspects that this practice may have become impolite or illegal, but when he was interviewing for his first job out of college (before he went to law school) one of the last questions he was asked by the final interviewer, the head of the department in which the job opening existed, was, “What were your SAT scores?”

Evidentally PG’s answer was satisfactory because he was hired for the position despite having absolutely no training or education that might lead a reasonable person to conclude he was prepared for the specific tasks involved in carrying out his job responsibilities.

What the interviewer was trying to ascertain was whether PG might be smart enough to learn how to do the job if he was hired. (PG was, and received a promotion after about a year, but left the company when a better job beckoned.)

PG has read that the SAT and ACT tests (for visitors to TPV from outside of the United States, these are standardized tests required for entry into virtually any college or university in the country) are effectively proxies for IQ tests.

IQ tests were first developed during the early part of the 20th Century for the purpose of identifying retardation in school children. During World War I an intelligence test was devised to help quickly screen soldiers coming into the US Army for assignment to either basic training or officers training. (At the start of the war, the US ground forces included about 9,000 officers. At the end of the war, there were over 200,000 officers.)

After World War I, IQ testing became much more widespread in both education and business. Unfortunately, it also became entangled with the eugenics movement during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

On a general basis, there is a correlation between educational attainment and IQ – MDs, JDs, and PhDs have higher IQ’s on average than college graduates who, in turn have higher IQ’s than those who attended college but did not graduate and those individuals have higher average IQ’s than those who graduated from high school, but received no additional education.

In this as in countless other things, correlation is not causation. There are plenty of people who possess the inherent intelligence and ability to become MDs, JDs and PhDs who choose not to pursue that educational/occupational path. Such individuals do not, of course, become less intelligent if they go in another direction. From personal experience, PG can attest that there is no shortage of attorneys who do stupid things.

A US Supreme Court case titled Griggs v. Duke Power Co., decided in 1971, effectively forbade employers from using arbitrary tests—such as those for measuring IQ or literacy—to evaluate an employee or a potential employee, a practice that some companies at the time were using as a way to get around rules that prohibited outright racial discrimination.

Griggs began when African American workers at the Duke Power Company in North Carolina sued the company because of a rule that required employees who wished to transfer between different departments to have a high-school diploma or pass an intelligence test.

By a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the tests given by Duke Power were artificial and unnecessary and that the requirements for transfer had a disparate impact on African-Americans. Furthermore, the court ruled that, even if the motive for the requirements had nothing to do with racial discrimination, they were nonetheless discriminatory and therefore illegal. In its ruling, the Supreme Court held that employment tests must be “related to job performance.”

Griggs and resulting civil rights laws notwithstanding, prospective employers still want the best evidence available that a job applicant possesses the abilities (including intelligence) to succeed in the position that needs to be filled.

Given the regulatory environment in which employers operate, post-high school education is a common (and legal) requirement specified in a great many job descriptions. In the US business world, a bachelor’s or advanced degree is often a hard and fast must-have. Written or online job applications always include a section for the applicant to list undergraduate and post-graduate degrees and the institutions that granted such degree(s).

In addition to a degree, the identity of the college/university the applicant attended is often regarded as a proxy for the applicant’s intelligence and ability. The holder of a bachelor’s degree from Harvard will generally be assumed to be more intelligent than someone who graduated from Northeast Hickville State College and Welding School regardless of the personal abilities, talents, work ethic and raw intelligence of the latter.

So, back to the OP,

  • A college degree from an institution generally known for its selective nature is becoming more and more and more expensive because there is no indication that increased tuition and other costs will have any adverse impact on the number and general qualifications (intelligence) of its applicants; and
  • A college degree from some institution, high-quality or not-so-high-quality, as a proxy for intelligence, regardless of the field of study, is a requirement for obtaining a job with a reasonable salary or even getting a foot in the door at a very large number of employers; and
  • Government and other loans are available to any student who wishes to attend almost any college, regardless of a student’s field of study or ability to pay; and
  • As a general proposition under US bankruptcy laws, it is difficult or impossible to avoid the obligation to repay student loans, especially for recent college graduates or graduates who have obtained jobs, regardless of the amount of their current income.

PG wonders one of the ways to address this problem would be to permit employers to receive the results of an IQ test or quasi-IQ test like the SAT or ACT from a job applicant without risking litigation or other penalties for doing so.

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