Sunday, January 31, 2010


Run Faster For the Exits

Hard on the heels of last week's ominous report by the Financial Times, more at Borders: their CEO bolted on Tuesday, corporate HQ announced layoffs on Thursday.

Oh, and in between those two events... the iPad announcement.

I'd say the $499 base model pretty well (and pretty deliberately) plunges a dagger into the heart of Amazon's $489 Kindle DX, whose monochrome screen and DRM now make it look like the worst deal since... well, since whatever e-reader Borders was working on.

And now that has knocked Amazon off balance enough that it almost immediately capitulated today to a pushback on pricing by Macmillan -- though not before reminding Kindle owners once again that their Seattle overlords can peevishly yank content off their devices.

Interesting times, etc.


It Cannot Grow Old!

A great find over at Boing Boing, with a writeup on the history of this infinitely expandable project ...

Ah, where's Hari Seldon when you need him?

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Run for the Exits

Also not getting much press yet: Financial Times reported on Wednesday that small vendors are retaining counsel to make sure they get paid by Borders.

Four years ago in the Village Voice -- pause for irony -- I noted that musclebound chains could be in deep trouble if they didn't get on board with electronic and on-demand technologies that would slowly render their credit-on-return Xanadus into a massive liability.

Guess what?:
The average time it took for Borders to pay back suppliers spiked over 40% to 97.9 days in the year ended 31 October, from 69.4 days in the prior year period... As of 31 October, the company had USD 215m available under its USD 1.125bn revolver, based on inventory and credit card receivables. According to the credit agreement backing the Bank of America-led loan due 2011, a 1.1x fixed charge ratio kicks in if the retailer’s borrowings exceed 90% of the maximum amount permitted. Borders would not currently be in compliance with the fixed charge ratio if it were tested, SEC filings show...

Battle of the e-readers aside, Border’s faces an even greater threat from loss of in-store shoppers to internet retailers, particularly Amazon, and was forced to shut its 200-store Waldenbooks chain last year. For 3Q09 ended 31 October, Border’s revenues were USD 602.5m versus USD 693m in the comparable period.
Bear in mind, by the way, that the comparable period in '08 was when the economy was already in an absolute pants-wetting freefall.


Alt Weakly (Pt 2)

Still weirdly overlooked by most of the press, Business Week is now headlining this: Village Voice Affiliate May Face Forced Bankruptcy in Ad Fight.

VVM's executive ed, not surprisingly, denounces it all as a "false, inaccurate smear" -- namely, by pointing out that while New Times and SF Weekly are affiliated entities to VVM, they are not the same. And -- wouldn't you know -- it appears there's nothing in the pockets of New Times and the Weekly but lint and Chuck E Cheese tokens.

Got no money -- see!

As long as SFBG's lawyers slept through all their law school lectures on Vicarious Liability, I'm sure this strategy will work just great.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Alt Weakly

For some reason this hasn't attracted much notice nationally, but this last week the San Francisco Bay Guardian won a whopping $21 million dollar judgment against Village Voice Media for monopolistic practices by VVM-owned SF Weekly. But because VVM was apparently too cocky to post bond before the case, now the Bay Guardian can start seizing VVM assets from pretty much anywhere it likes in the 16-paper chain.

It's already grabbed SF Weekly's delivery vehicles...


Zut alors!

Another week, another headache for the Chunnel. It's amusing to recall that at one time, proposals for a Channel Tunnel were attacked by British nationalists as inviting certain destruction by a French invasion.

Check out this rabble-rousing novel from 1882 that I once came across:

Behold the horrors of the invasion!:

John Smith's first experience of an invader was not a pleasant one. Accustomed to live quietly in a little street just running off the Strand, and there to sell butter and bacon and eggs in sufficient quantity to maintain himself and small family, he had certainly never looked forward to a time when a French sergeant and four infantry privates would be billetted upon him, and would choose his upstairs parlour as their sleeping and living room.... he saw their filthy mess utensils on his light Brussels carpet, and his piano turned into a sort of cupboard for preserved soups, while a silk-covered couch that had been his pride was made into a bed for the sergeant, and some of his chimney ornaments were flung out of the window as being in the way... Screamed at by the sergeant because the domino-box, which he had produced to order, was a small one, and wholly beneath the dignity of a French soldier, and ordered to fetch wine instead of stout, and to put a good dinner on the table, he hastened to obey...

It is true he saw his plate and knives go to fill the haversacks of his invaders, and was obliged to let them take the contents of his till. But after all his was not a specially hard case; it must be confessed he deserved more. For John Smith had contributed as much as anybody, or more than some people, to the very state of things which he now deplored.

He it was who had seconded a resolution at Exeter Hall against a proposed large increase of the English navy.

He it was who had taken shares in the Anglo-French Channel Tunnel...

Sunday, January 03, 2010


If It's Too Loud...

NPR has a terrific piece this week on the Loudness War -- as mourned/explained by this YouTube video:

As a drummer, hearing every part of the kit and every single beat rammed to the front of mixes is as depressing as... I don't know, probably as depressing as Auto-Tune abuse is to singers. Anyway, NPR has Bob Ludwig on hand to explain -- he's mastered pretty much every classic album you've heard of, ever -- and the historical context of 45s makes this an especially fascinating look at the phenomenon.

Saturday, January 02, 2010



I'm in Slate this week with an article and slide show remembering the giddy futurism of Omni magazine:

The piece began after I found a stash at a junk store, and was hit by a shock of recognition of a 1979 cover -- I actually remembered getting that issue as a kid. And inside the issues, the ads of long-lost firms -- DAK, Fidelity Chess, Infocom games, Commodore 64! -- were as weirdly evocative as the articles. Leafing through pages I last read 25 to 30 years ago, I found myself remembering them. A lot of them, in fact. I've become so used to the ephemeral nature of magazines that I've forgotten how some reading experiences -- especially at the age of 10 -- can still deeply, subtly imprint themselves.

Among the many riches I found in a junk-shop stash of Omnis -- (Yonkers spaceport! A 1984 account of telecommuting! An Italian atomic bomb!) -- I also came across this astounding ad from the final days in 1995, long after I and just about everyone else had stopped reading. No matter how hard up times may be for science magazines today, just remember: nobody's asking their editorial assistants to staff a 900-number.

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