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The meta-convention: a trade show for trade shows

Mon, 2014-03-17 23:02

These days, it seems that every industry has a trade show.  The American Feed Industry Association met in Las Vegas last week. So did the American Membrane Technology Association.

Conferences are a place to meet face to face, a place to make sales. So it stands to reason there is a trade show for trade shows. A convention convention. “It’s a trade show for trade show people,” says John Pavek, who helps run the Exhibitor 2014 convention. “We essentially train corporate America on how to more effectively participate in trade shows and events.”

There will be booths about booths. Signage about signage. T-shirt giveaways advertising t-shirt giveaways.

It’s very meta.

Six thousand people attended last year’s Exhibitor convention. 

It turns out all the booths and pens and signs and t-shirts that go into making conventions are big business.

“We’re looking at revenue of about $13.6 billion in 2014,” said Stephen Morea, an analyst at IBIS World.

Add up all the conferences, trade shows and consumer shows, said Morea, there are over a million of them in the U.S. every year.  That money goes to everything from booth fees, to travel, to shipping, to equipment rental. Some shows generate cash from the public.

In Las Vegas, where this year’s Exhibitor convention is taking place, tradeshows and meetings are a big part of the economy.

“We’re talking about over 50,000 jobs,” said Jeremy Aguero from the research firm Applied Analysis, “billions of dollars in economic activity, and we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in wages and salaries that are paid.”

He says 40 million people make the trip to Las Vegas every year, and 15 percent of those come for conventions and meetings. 

With all that on the line, you might think the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority would have a booth at this week’s trade show, trade show.

Nope.

Apparently, the Las Vegas strip is its own, giant, exhibit space.

The supposed Bitcoin inventor got a lawyer

Mon, 2014-03-17 13:31

Today we close the loop on a story that was big, big news a week or so ago: The true identity of the person who invented Bitcoin.

We told you about the media chasing a man named Satoshi Nakamoto through L.A., until he wound up at the Associated Press bureau in town (which, as it happens, is right next door to Marketplace Global Headquarters.)

Anyway, this morning Nakamoto denied he's the guy, said he's hired a lawyer, and that he's not gonna talk about it anymore.

So now we'll never know.

The government's getting out of the Internet business

Mon, 2014-03-17 13:27

You go to your computer or pull out your phone, fire up the browser of choice, type in marketplace.org, and magically our website shows up (and you're here, so case in point.)

Except... it's not magic. The internet is a deeply complicated and completely essential system, the architecture of which has been run under contract with the United States Goverment by a group known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

For now.The Commerce Department announced it's going to get out of the internet business just as soon as a replacement group is set up to keep an eye on things.

We called up the CEO of ICANN, Fadi Chehade, to see how that might work.

With no elephants around, the Chinese keep buying ivory

Mon, 2014-03-17 12:11

One of the surest ways to create a thriving black market in something: Make it illegal.

Drugs and U.S. dollars in closed economies are good examples. Another good example is the elephant ivory market, which is booming, despite bans on international trade and crackdowns in many African countries.

Damon Tabor wrote about the illegal ivory trade from source to final sale in the current issue of Men’s Journal.  He says there is a rising demand in China and that fuels poaching in Africa.

"The demand is a function of the rising Chinese middle class," said Tabor. "You have a sizeable portion of China’s population that now has disposable income and can spend it on things like ivory trinkets and these intricately carved ivory statues."

Tabor broke down the process of how poaching works. He gave us this example from one of his sources: 

1.     Suppliers will get an order from a buyer.

2.     A supplier will then transmit the orders to the actual poachers.

3.     The poachers go out and kill the elephants.

4.     The supplier will then pick up the dead elephants and drive them somewhere for international transportation, most likely a port.

5.     The ivory may then hit a customs official, who in this case would be on the supplier’s payroll.

6.     It's shipped to buyers and traders.

 Tabor said the demand for ivory has exceeded the reproductive capacity of elephants.  Which means of course, that the animal will eventually die out.  He says for people who don’t come into direct contact with the animal, this isn’t an issue.

"With the traders and the dealers and the middlemen I spoke to in China and Vietnam, there’s not a great deal of care for an animal that is several thousand miles away," said Tabor.

Alibaba is more than 'a Chinese Amazon'

Mon, 2014-03-17 12:00

Alibaba gets compared to Amazon because it dominates China’s e-commerce market. But that’s where the comparison ends, says Perry Wong, a researcher at the Milken Institute. He said unlike Amazon, Alibaba doesn’t sell goods directly.

"It’s transaction platform rather than a merchandise selling outfit," he said. 

In other words, Alibaba is a middleman.

He tells this story about using Alibaba while at a hotel in Beijing: "I ordered something and I got the delivery in 3 ½ hours," Wong says. "The person who delivered it was a young man who rode on a bicycle."

Wong says people use Alibaba to buy everything from a few packages of ramen for dinner to big ticket items like computers. And the company does big business. In one day, Alibaba can sell more goods than all the e-commerce business in the U.S. put together, Wong says. 

Is Alibaba the 'Chinese Amazon?'

But Alibaba's reach doesn't stop with e-commerce, says Duncan Clark, with the investment advisory firm BDA China. The company's into almost every consumer service in China. 

"[There] were at one point, hospital appointment booking services," Clark says. "Another example would be a service called Kuaidi Dache, which is like Uber to book a taxi and this is hugely popular now."

Alibaba also bought a big stake in China’s Yelp. The companyt's into restaurant bookings, travel and even consumer banking. It makes microloans to small businesses and has a virtual wallet program that has about $80 billion in holdings.

Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Industries, says investors are bullish because Alibaba is more than an e-commerce play. 

"When investors buy Alibaba, they’re not just buying the growth of Chinese e-commerce," Sweeney says. "But they’re also buying the growth of consumerism in China."

Sweeney says Alibaba does faces stiff competition from other local firms in China, but big U.S. players like Google and Facebook are nowhere. 

The price of winning Crimea

Mon, 2014-03-17 11:20

Analysts predict Russia could spend up to $3 billion a year just to keep Crimea afloat. Instability in the region has cast a shadow over tourism, a major part of the Crimean economy. It's also unclear what might happen to Ukranian state property in Crimea. As for international economic sanctions, right now, they only target a handful of Russian and Ukranian officials, but the U.S. and Europe have warned those sanctions could be escalated, making many international investors nervous, and posing a further threat to Russia's economy. 

Do you wanna live forever?

Mon, 2014-03-17 11:19

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up on March 18:  

  • In Washington, the Commerce Department reports on construction of new homes for February.
  • It’s National Biodiesel Day, observed on the birthday of engineer Rudolf Diesel.
  • And do you wanna live forever? Irene Cara sung all about it in the hit song “Fame.” It’s her birthday tomorrow. She’ll be 55.

Why the business card keeps on keepin' on

Mon, 2014-03-17 10:56

Nelson Arencibia did not set out to become a business card expert. But there he stands, his hands overflowing with business cards.

"Look," he says, sifting through a pile of cards, "Four Seasons Hotel, Jerry Weed, director of engineering... You have SMB Architects... The Spiced Nut Factory. 'Spiced nuts perfect for -- dot, dot, dot.'"

As general manager of Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill in Coconut Grove, Fla., Arencibia is responsible for the monthly business card drawing for a free lunch. Over his 14 years at the restaurant, Arencibia has seen thousands upon thousands of business cards.

The box for free lunch drawings at Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill in Coconut Grove, Fla, which has held thousands upon thousands of business cards. (Photo: Kenny Malone)

"That’s the restaurant business for you," he says, "you meet everybody from the senator to the plumber."

Flanigan’s is as interested as ever in paper business cards; the general public is not. Google searches for the words "business cards" have dropped off by about 50 percent over the last decade.

And yet: There still appears to be a place for the paper business card.

The company Moo, which helped popularize those fancy little business cards with stylish designs on the back, printed 108 million cards in 2013 -- up by more than 400 percent from 2008.

Stephanie Shore, Moo’s vice president of marketing, thinks the digital world has left people more desperate than ever for tangible, personal interactions.

"When you’re looking at someone’s business card," says Shore, "it’s like you’re looking someone in the eye. You want to understand what someone’s doing, you want to have a real connection."

A real connection that comes with real benefits.

"When you give someone a paper card, they have to pull it out of their pocket when they get home, so they look at it," says Cynthia Henry Duval, associate director of Career and Professional Development at Nova Southeastern University. "They put [the card] on their desk -- and it probably sits on their desk for about a week or so -- and then they pick it up because now they have to do something with it. And so that’s three points of contact with your information."

Compare that, says Duval, to what happens if someone gives contact information digitally: "It’s basically Rolodex-ed never to be seen again."

This is a key benefit, as demonstrated by Nelson Arencibian at Flanigan’s.

While flipping through the February business card entries, Arencibia remembers something. "As a matter of fact," he says, "I have [a particularly interesting card] in my car that I saved from this guy that’s an artist."

That’s all Arencibia can remember. This artist would be almost impossible to find if Arencibia had only input a name and number into his cell phone. Instead, he grabs his keys, walks into the parking lot, ducks into his car and pulls out a colorful business card.

"So his name is Ralph Cabrera. He’s a professional illustrator," says Arencibia. "But I thought it was cool. Little Superman here, things like that. All the artwork he does."

Arguably, Ralph Cabrera’s business card shows precisely why there’s still a place for paper business cards. It was personal and tangible; that’s why Arencibia kept it. Because the contact information wasn’t just "Rolodex-ed never to be seen again," Arencibia could produce the card, without initially recalling the artist’s name.

"Well, I’m here," says artist Ralph Cabrera, "because a card that somebody showed you. So it does work."

Ralph Cabrera worked for Marvel and DC Comics for about 15 years. Now he primarily does storyboards and mock-ups for advertising firms.

The flip side to his momentary business card success, is a cautionary business card tale.

That card he handed to Nelson Arencibia, it was actually a replacement card for a far less successful design. Cabrera pulls one of those old cards out of his bag.

"It’s got a black background, it’s a bold statement," he says. "I thought it worked well at the time."

"At the time" was any time before November 2009. Because the centerpiece of this card is a beautiful drawing, done by Cabrera, of golf legend Tiger Woods. And in November of 2009, a parade of alleged Tiger Woods mistresses started showing up.

"No one really wanted to look at my card at that point," says Cabrera. "My wife looked at it and says, 'man, we still have like another 3,500!'"

Cabrera had to scrap them all and make a brand new card. This time, the featured graphic was a cartoon drawing of Cabrera drawing a cartoon.

The old business card of Ralph Cabrera (top) became a liability in Nov. 2009 when Tiger Woods' marriage started to unravel rather publicly - so he made a new one (bottom).

It’s a card that can teach two important lessons. Number one: Business cards can still work wonders. But maybe more importantly, says Cabrera, "just showcase yourself. You don’t use somebody else, you don’t endorse anybody else."

Guess the NCAA bracket! Your odds are 1 in 9 quintillion!

Mon, 2014-03-17 09:10

If you're getting ready to fill out a bracket for March Madness, then you might consider joining a competition with a significantly bigger payout than your office pool: The mortgage company Quicken Loans is offering $1 billion to anyone who fills out a perfect bracket. Warren Buffet's company is insuring the bet, so they're probably good for it.

What are your chances of winning? DePaul University math professor Jeffrey Bergen has figured the odds:

9.2 quintillion to one against

 If you’re just guessing, you’ve got 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 possible combinations to choose from. Yes, that's a 19-digit number.

For perspective: The odds of hitting the jackpot in Powerball on a $1 ticket are 1 in 175,223,510. The odds of hitting the jackpot in Mega Millions are on a $1 ticket are 1 in 258,890,850. The odds of hitting both, having bought just one ticket in each, are 200 times better than your odds of correctly guessing a perfect bracket.

128 billion to one against

 These are the odds of picking a perfect bracket if you actually know something about basketball, i.e. if you can manage to eliminate all the extremely unlikely possibilities. 

15 million

 That’s how many entries the contest will actually accept. Note that this is a way lower number than 128 billion.

99.99%

 The chances that the Billion Dollar Bracket will NOT pay out a billion dollars—even if all 15 million entrants know something about basketball. If everybody just guesses, the chance of a payout is 1 in 600,000,000,000. 

0

The number of perfect brackets that have ever been recorded. The person who came closest was an autistic teen in the Chicago area who nailed the first two rounds—48 games—in 2010.

St. Patrick O'Nomics

Mon, 2014-03-17 09:00

This probably doesn't come as a huge shock, but St. Patrick's Day is a big day for beer and spirits companies.  Guinness, that most Irish of beers, sells six times the amount of beer it normally sells on St. Patrick's Day (3.5 million pints of beer sold, versus around 600,000 on other days), even as the company pulled out of sponsoring the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday due to the limitation of LGBT participation.

Meanwhile, Samuel Adams is expected to see their sales jump 13 percent this week, even as its parent company, Boston Beer, also pulled sponsorship out of the South Boston Parade. All told, beer companies are expected to take in around $245 million today, according to IBISWorld, though the impact of sponsorship decisions isn’t yet known. 

What we pay to drink

More than 133 million Americans celebrate SPD with beer--which probably makes not drinking beer on SPD unpatriotic. Though, you should expect to pay a little more than normal for your St. Patrick's Day suds. Especially if you're a manMen give out more green than women on this day, according to Mint.com. The average man spends more than $42 on St. Patrick's day and the average woman spends around $28.  

Can you guess which beer is the most popular in the U.S.? Actually, you probably can. It's Bud Light (#spoileralert). 

What we're doing about how much we pay to drink

In related news, I was excited to see the people in my native city of Boise, Idaho taking a strong stand against beer price gouging. At the ice hockey arena for our local team, The Steelheads, fans sued when they found out that a $7 "large" beer (served in a tall, skinny cup) actually holds the same amount of liquid as the $4 "small" beer. The lesson? Do not mess with an Idahoan's beer. The suit exceeds $10,000--I'm thinking a lot of that will have to do with emotional damages.

You know what will help us handle emotional damage? Beer. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Where to sell Alibaba's treasure?

Mon, 2014-03-17 05:06

In the folk tale, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Ali Baba found a pile of treasure. 

In the stock market, Alibaba is the pile of treasure.  Alibaba Group -- the company -- is like a Chinese Amazon, connecting buyers and sellers and exporters and importers.  It's valued at upwards of $150 billion.  And every stock exchange in the world would love to host it. 

In a post on its company blog, Alibaba says it will choose an exchange in New York.  Which means it may be ditching its home stock exchange in Hong Kong. But what is a company looking for when it decides where to list? 

Power

Some stock exchanges let you have it. Some don't.

"Hong Kong was rejected for New York, because leadership at Alibaba wants to have control over voting shares," explains Max Wolff, chief economist with Citizen.VC, a venture capital advisory firm.  

When you sell shares of your company, you're selling control over your company. Every share can equal one vote. Votes on things like whether to fire you. Or whether to hire a board you don't like. This is reassuring to some investors, but sometimes terrifying for management. So some companies like to weight the vote from the get-go.

"You can attach ten times the voting weight to some shares versus others," explains Wolff, and then you save all of those special shares for yourself, giving you "super voting rights."

That way, you could own only 5.1 percent of your shares, make a ton of money by selling the rest, and still have 51 percent of the voting rights.

One small problem: In Hong Kong, you're not allowed to do that. Those are the rules. It's viewed as more equitable.

But in New York, you can do that. So for Alibaba, which has a very centralized management team headed by Jack Ma, known for his "large personality," the decision to go public in New York was a no-brainer. 

But there's more to it than just power. 

Home field advantage

If you list at home, more people know you. Investors will be more comfortable with you and view you as less of a risk.

"It's akin to a sports team playing at home," says Scott Kessler, internet equity analyst with S&P Capital IQ. 

Marketing

On the other hand, listing abroad – especially in New York – can be seen as prestigious.

Pai Ling Yin is at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. She says where companies choose to list can send a message that, "We are good enough in our practices that we can withstand the scrutiny of being on a more developed and more rigorous exchange with higher standards."

Scott Kessler says many Chinese companies in particular have been going direct to the U.S. stock markets in recent years.

A big fish needs a big pond

It is possible, of course, to list on multiple exchanges simultaneously.  But it's not advisable for a new company, says Yin, because "early on people aren't sure of your true value, so splitting  your listing across markets adds a dimension of uncertainty."

If there's excess supply or demand on one exchange but not the other, it can make the stock price volatile as investors try to compare the two. 

"You want all the people who could buy your stock to be there" together, says Yin. 

Fundamentally though, "the U.S. is still the place to be when it comes to technology companies and internet companies," says Kessler. 

And with a valuation of upwards of $150 billion, rivaling Facebook’s valuation, it helps Alibaba to be where investors are the savviest, the most numerous, and wealthy.

America's game of chicken

Mon, 2014-03-17 03:20
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 04:06 Stacey Vanek Smith

Ariane Daguin demonstrates the proper way to carve a chicken. Daguin is the CEO of D'Artagnan, a company that supplies organic, free range chickens to grocery stores and restaurants.

Where’s the beef?

As a nation, we might really need to know that. For the first time in more than a century, Americans are eating more chicken than beef. Why is poultry taking flight?

"People are more conscious about health, and so they will eat red meat a little less often and white meat more often," says Ariane Daguin, CEO of D'Artagnan, which sells organic, free-range chicken to high end restaurants and grocery stores all over the country. Her business is growing 15 percent per year, a lot of that is thanks to rising chicken demand.

But a lot of the reason for the rising popularity of chicken has to do with beef.

"The real trade-off that we’re seeing in consumption is escalation in poultry and decline in beef," says Don Close, cattle economist with Rabo AgriFinance. Beef prices have skyrocketed and are expected to jump by as much as 15 percent this year. (Here's a look at why that's happening)

"We saw pretty heavy substitution on the part of consumers, substituting ground beef for ground chicken and thereby driving up the prices of those products," says Ricky Volpe, economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chicken prices are expected to rise by about 10 percent this year. Even still, chicken will remain far cheaper than beef and pork. 

But even if beef prices come back down, Ariane Daguin doesn’t think Americans will go back to beef.

"It is not a trend," she says. "Trend means there is an end to it. There is no end to good food. People in America are more and more conscious that you are what you eat."

And right now, that’s chicken.

 

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday, March 26, 2014 Stacey Vanek Smith

Ariane Daguin prepares a chicken stew dish with one of her new Green Circle chickens, which have a vegetable-heavy diet.

Stacey Vanek Smith

Americans are eating more chicken than beef for the first time in a century. 

Stacey Vanek Smith

Ariane Daguin demonstrates the proper way to carve a chicken. Daguin is the CEO of D'Artagnan, a company that supplies free range, organic chickens to restaurants and grocery stores all over the country. Daguin's business is growing 15% a year.

by Stacey Vanek SmithPodcast Title: America's Game of ChickenStory Type: FeatureSyndication: SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond: No

PODCAST: Markets look past Ukraine

Mon, 2014-03-17 01:41

European Union foreign ministers today agreed to a package of measures to respond to moves to annex the Crimean region to Russia.  Twenty-one people will find their financial assets frozen in Europe and face bans on travel. Just who is on that list of 21 has not yet been released, but the White House just now named 11 people, targeted for sanctions, seven Russians and four Ukrainians.  And yet the financial markets seem less-than-perturbed by the news. How is it that investors can so easily shrug off a big global political event?

Plus, a new industry has sprung up in recent years: Websites that post nothing but mugshots. They're popular — people like to see other people in embarrassing moments — except with those who have their mugshots posted. In Chicago, the sites also wore out their welcome with the county sheriff. They seemed to be crashing his website. Some of them look like shakedown operations: Mugshots.com has a big "unpublish mugshot"  link right at the top of its homepage — for fees that start at $400. Late last year, those sites seemed to be crashing the Cook County Sheriff’s inmate locator site.  Automated systems were trying to suck the photos up faster than the county’s server could respond. Law enforcement across the country are trying to respond -- but with mixed results.

What deportations mean for U.S. businesses

Mon, 2014-03-17 01:00

Last week, President Barack Obama announced a review of his deportation policy, to sighs of, "here we go again" from the business community.

Business groups that support immigration reform say what they really need is the certainty an immigration bill would bring, so they don't have to worry about workers they thought were legal getting deported. "There's concern about, what would happen if they lost those workers someday.  Because if you're a small business owner your workers are your business," says Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA.

Jacoby says the deportation review could actually hurt chances for immigration reform this year by complicating already-tense negotiations between congressional Republicans and the White House.

Justmugshots.com and the business of embarrassment

Mon, 2014-03-17 00:19

A new industry has sprung up in recent years: Websites that post nothing but mugshots. They're popular -- people like to see other people in embarrassing moments — except with those who have their mugshots posted. In Chicago, the sites also wore out their welcome with the county sheriff. They seemed to be crashing his website. 

Around 4 o'clock on a recent Tuesday afternoon, the assembly line at Cook County jail gets started with processing inmates. In the next few hours, 263 people would pass through here.

At the photo station, a sheriff's deputy pulled up each man’s record on his computer, and snapped a couple of pictures to add.

Within hours, the photos were up on the Sheriff’s inmate locator website. Where they get picked up by for-profit mugshot websites: mugshots.com, bustedmugshots.com, justmugshots.com, and others.

Some of them look like shakedown operations: Mugshots.com has a big “unpublish mugshot” link right at the top of its homepage — for fees that start at $400.

Late last year, those sites seemed to be crashing the Cook County Sheriff’s inmate locator site.  Automated systems were trying to suck the photos up faster than the county’s server could respond.

“It is a very important part of our site,” says Ben Breit, the Sheriff’s communication director, who runs the website.  “I would argue that it is the most important part of our site.”

People use the inmate locator to find friends and relatives who have been arrested, he says.  “That is also the main conduit through which family and friends can register to visit those people.” 

The Sheriff solved the crashing problem, by installing a “captcha” — a prompt forcing users to type in a randomly-chosen bunch of letters and numbers, to prove they’re human. 

However, the websites still have the pictures.

Some states, including Illinois, have passed laws trying to outlaw the shakedowns. People whose mugshots got posted have filed lawsuits.  

The results have been uneven. Mugshot websites lean on the same legal principles as news media: Access to public information and the freedom to publish it.

Newspapers run mugshots too. Matthew Waite, now a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska, built one of the first galleries when he worked at the Tampa Bay Times. He says the traffic to those pages was huge.

“It’s hard to argue that people aren’t interested in these,” he says.  “But the question is, how much can you exploit that interest for profit?  Is putting advertising on those pages untoward? That seems less of a problem to me than putting people’s mugshots online and then charging to have it taken down.”

Even the shakedown schemes are hard to outlaw, says Jeff Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Center at Harvard.

“These activities are morally reprehensible,” he says. “But when you try to dig down to the level of what’s actually illegal, it turns out to be quite elusive.”

What has worked is shame. Google had inadvertently fueled the extortion racket: When you searched someone’s name, any mugshots showed up as top results:  A big incentive to pay for removal.  

Last fall, Google tweaked its algorithm. Mugshot results got exiled to the back pages.  Around the same time, when the New York Times did a big story on the mugshot racket, payment services like PayPal and American Express promised to stop doing business with mugshot-takedown companies.

Today, a lot of the sites no longer offer removal services. The exception, mugshots.com, is based in the British West Indies.

Justmugshots.com and the business of embarassment

Mon, 2014-03-17 00:19

A new industry has sprung up in recent years: Websites that post nothing but mugshots. They're popular -- people like to see other people in embarrassing moments — except with those who have their mugshots posted. In Chicago, the sites also wore out their welcome with the county sheriff. They seemed to be crashing his website. 

Around 4 o'clock on a recent Tuesday afternoon, the assembly line at Cook County jail gets started with processing inmates. In the next few hours, 263 people would pass through here.

At the photo station, a sheriff's deputy pulled up each man’s record on his computer, and snapped a couple of pictures to add.

Within hours, the photos were up on the Sheriff’s inmate locator website. Where they get picked up by for-profit mugshot websites: mugshots.com, bustedmugshots.com, justmugshots.com, and others.

Some of them look like shakedown operations: Mugshots.com has a big “unpublish mugshot” link right at the top of its homepage — for fees that start at $400.

Late last year, those sites seemed to be crashing the Cook County Sheriff’s inmate locator site.  Automated systems were trying to suck the photos up faster than the county’s server could respond.

“It is a very important part of our site,” says Ben Breit, the Sheriff’s communication director, who runs the website.  “I would argue that it is the most important part of our site.”

People use the inmate locator to find friends and relatives who have been arrested, he says.  “That is also the main conduit through which family and friends can register to visit those people.” 

The Sheriff solved the crashing problem, by installing a “captcha” — a prompt forcing users to type in a randomly-chosen bunch of letters and numbers, to prove they’re human. 

However, the websites still have the pictures.

Some states, including Illinois, have passed laws trying to outlaw the shakedowns. People whose mugshots got posted have filed lawsuits.  

The results have been uneven. Mugshot websites lean on the same legal principles as news media: Access to public information and the freedom to publish it.

Newspapers run mugshots too. Matthew Waite, now a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska, built one of the first galleries when he worked at the Tampa Bay Times. He says the traffic to those pages was huge.

“It’s hard to argue that people aren’t interested in these,” he says.  “But the question is, how much can you exploit that interest for profit?  Is putting advertising on those pages untoward? That seems less of a problem to me than putting people’s mugshots online and then charging to have it taken down.”

Even the shakedown schemes are hard to outlaw, says Jeff Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Center at Harvard.

“These activities are morally reprehensible,” he says. “But when you try to dig down to the level of what’s actually illegal, it turns out to be quite elusive.”

What has worked is shame. Google had inadvertently fueled the extortion racket: When you searched someone’s name, any mugshots showed up as top results:  A big incentive to pay for removal.  

Last fall, Google tweaked its algorithm. Mugshot results got exiled to the back pages.  Around the same time, when the New York Times did a big story on the mugshot racket, payment services like PayPal and American Express promised to stop doing business with mugshot-takedown companies.

Today, a lot of the sites no longer offer removal services. The exception, mugshots.com, is based in the British West Indies.

Abercrombie? Aeropostale? That's so 2012.

Sun, 2014-03-16 23:50

The once-popular Aeropostale  is closing stores and has posted losses for the past five quarters. It's not alone. A raft of stores that target the youth market, including Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle, are also hurting. Retail anaylsts say a handful of factors are affecting sales.

First, Aeropostale has increased competition from fast-fashion stores like Uniqlo, Forever 21 and H&M. Young people seem to prefer European-inspired clothing to the logo-branded hoodies and T-shirts favored by teens in decades past. 

The electronics sector is also competing for youth dollars, with smart phones, tablets and movie and music purchases eating up a bigger part of the teen budget.

Finally, the shrinking labor market has hit teenagers, and their parents, hard. The Brookings Institution said this week that youth employment is its lowest since World War II.

Weekly Wrap: Hurray for Washington?

Fri, 2014-03-14 15:18

Kai spoke with Bloomberg Government's Nela Richardson and the Wall Street Journal's Sudeep Reddy in Washington, D.C.

 

And in Washington they begin:

 

Kai: Is it possible that Washington has decided to get the way out of the economy?

 

Nela Richardson: "At least with this emergency funding, I think there is some positivity. I say 'hurray for Washington!' for getting this done. Overtime pay... that's a whole different issue. It adds to President Obama's phone and pen strategy, trying to get as much done on inequality and raising income without asking Congress."

 

Is it working? Is President Obama getting traction income inequality? He's been raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, and now the overtime thing. 

 

Sudeep Reddy: He getting traction on this, not just nationally, but globally. The IMF was latest to sound the alarm on inequality around the world. It really is a defining issue of our time... But if the White House didn't have enoguh businesses and people annoyed by regulations and rules, they're on their way.

 

And what about pushback?

 

Nela Richardson: "'Here's a new set of regulations.' -- there's definitely pushback."

Sudeep Reddy: "These are ways to move the pieces around as we're going through a moderate growth approach to the economy. Nobody is really counting on big changes to the economy from Washington... This is really just to tread water, and tread water in a different way than we have been doing before.

 

The referendum in Crimea. Why is the market just watching this and saying, "Yeah, yeah, ok, fine'?

 

Nela Richardson: "The market feels pretty confident that the U.S. is isolated enough from the events in Russia and Ukraine... the worst case scenario is a stepping up of sanctions."

 

Sudeep Reddy: "It's impossible... to plan for an actual war in a region... but to plan for an economic war, to discuss sanctinos and all of the possibilities that come out of this, there are three or steps down the line that have to occur."

Top students turning down Wall Street life

Fri, 2014-03-14 14:26
Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 18:24 Mark Garrison/Marketplace

Princeton students study for midterms at a campus café

Wall Street is starting to lose a war it has long dominated: The battle for talent. Elite schools that once sent hordes of brainy undergrads to big banks aren’t sending quite so many these days. A growing number of America’s top students are joining tech companies to seek their fortunes, or choosing to improve others’ fortunes in the non-profit world.

There’s a snapshot of what’s happening nationally at Princeton University, one of Wall Street’s favorite hunting grounds. As one of the America’s most selective schools, the university has already done some of recruiters’ work for them by bringing the nation’s brightest to campus. Year after year, banks and consulting firms arrive on campus to make their pitch. Students don ties and pantsuits for interviews, and not just economics majors. The banks pull from across campus.

Any bank recruiter would love to snag senior Malik Jackson. Wall Street prizes Ivy League athletes and Jackson plays quarterback. That means there’s a front row seat reserved for him on the train that has long carried Princeton grads to banking.

But he’s not taking it.

He’s going back to his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to teach middle school social studies via Teach For America.

“As a student body, we all have such distinct interests,” Jackson explains. “It would be a disservice if all those interests were only focused on one field.”

He’s one of a growing number of students resisting the lure of finance and choosing to work in the non-profit sector, a big change from years past.

“I saw just about everyone headed to banks and consulting firms,” says Wendy Kopp, who graduated from Princeton in 1989.

Seeing so many of her classmates students sucked into finance frustrated her. She felt their talents could be put to better use elsewhere. That led her to starting Teach For America, the non-profit which steers talented undergrads to teach in needy classrooms. The program has grown rapidly, drawing heavily from Princeton and other selective schools. Kopp is now CEO of Teach For All, a global network of educational non-profits.

Non-profits got a big assist from Wall Street during the financial crisis. Banks blew up, cut jobs, and students questioned working for the firms that wrecked the world’s economy. Occupy Wall Street grew popular on campuses. When JPMorgan’s recruiters came to Princeton in 2011, a group of Occupy protesters disrupted the meeting. It wouldn’t be the only such protest.

“When I was a freshman, a lot of my upperclassmen friends would tell me about how their friends were going into finance and consulting,” says junior Damaris Miller, one of the Occupy protesters disrupting that recruiting session. “I find that a lot of my friends are not.”

Among Princeton’s 2006 graduates, 45 percent with full-time jobs worked in finance, according the Princeton University Office of Career Services, which surveys where students land a few months after graduation. That number nosedived after the financial crash. By the time the class of 2013 had entered the world, only 24 percent of those with full-time jobs were in finance. (The University’s data include finance and insurance in one category.)

[Note: For the Classes of 2006-2010 there was a 3-month survey follow-up period following graduation. In 2011, the follow-up period was changed to 6-months after graduation.]

Figuring out what students want and how to get them there is the challenge for Pulin Sanghvi, who runs Princeton’s career services office. A veteran of both Morgan Stanley and McKinsey, he understands that today’s students aren’t as easily swayed by the giants of banking and consulting that have traditionally had dibs on elite graduates.

He says today’s students want jobs that have meaning to them. That can mean non-profits, but not necessarily. The day Sanghvi showed me around his offices, Kayak was there interviewing students. Tech companies and startups are scooping up many who might have gone to Wall Street. The percentage of grads finding work at tech companies is soaring as the numbers for finance sag.

“Many [students] are getting excited by the opportunity to disrupt industries, and create new enterprises, and build organizations that may create thousands of jobs,” Sanghvi says.

Part of the reason banks had such a tight grip on elite schools for so long was their hefty recruiting budgets. Many students who weren’t sure what to do just defaulted into finance. Now, they’re going elsewhere.

Plenty still go to Wall Street, of course. Those who are most certain about it gathered recently for an evening meeting of the Princeton Corporate Finance Club. Sophomore economics major Darwin Li is president. Though most undergrads do just one finance internship after junior year, he did his first straight out of high school. He’s now looking ahead to his third, and says he already has a summer offer from a hedge fund.

Li doesn’t come across as careerist or greedy, just genuinely passionate about finance. Someone who should be a banker.

“Growing up I’ve been very numbers oriented, competing in math competitions. I’ve had a very quantitative mindset. I played chess,” he says. “The thought process to accomplish those things is pretty much the same thought process used in a lot of financial fields.”

The campus doesn’t give the impression of disdain for students who go to work for banks. It’s more of a suspicion of those who seem to be doing it for the wrong reasons.

“I wouldn’t say that people are very antagonistic toward people who are pursuing careers in finance, but are more antagonistic to people who originally give the impression that they wanted to work for a non-profit and then switch over,” explains Prianka Misra, an associate editor of the student paper’s opinion section. “It seems like their intentions are entirely at odds with each other.”

Soon-to-be teacher Malik Jackson has no problem with friends going into finance, tech, non-profits or whatever, as long as they’re following a passion, not just a routine.

“You could be a company man and that is totally cool,” he says. “Or you could maybe start your own company. Or you could maybe just try to make the world better. There are so many ways to do it.”

Wall Street is freaked out about elite students passing it by. Banks are changing their recruiting pitch and work environments to compete. But it may be the students they can easily get are the ones who really want to do banking. That could be good for the banks. It certainly seems good for the students.

Marketplace for Thursday, March 20, 2014by Mark GarrisonPodcast Title: Top students turning down Wall Street lifeStory Type: FeatureSyndication: SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond: No

For-profit colleges and concerns over 'gainful employment'

Fri, 2014-03-14 13:38

The Obama Administration has unveiled proposed new regulations on for-profit colleges and vocational programs. They're known as the "gainful employment" rules because career colleges are supposed to prepare their students for gainful employment.

That means jobs that pay enough to pay off those sizeable loans so many students take on. This isn't the first time the administration has tried to crack down on the multi-billion dollar for-profit college business.

Here's a look at some of the numbers involved in the rulemaking:

841 Pages

The number of pages in the U.S. Department of Education’s new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which spells out new guidelines on for-profit colleges and vocational programs. A previous version of the so-called "gainful employment" rule was tossed out by a federal judge, so the latest draft is an attempt to be "as legally bullet-proof as possible," says New America Foundation policy analyst Ben Miller. 

$150 Billion

The approximate size of the federal student aid program. Career programs that don’t meet the proposed new guidelines could lose access to this huge source of revenue. 

30%

The maximum default rate for career programs eligible for federal student aid. Under the proposed rules, programs risk losing eligibility for federal student aid if more than 30 percent of their former students are in default after three years of leaving school, or if graduates have to spend more than 8 percent of their earnings (or more than 20 percent of their discretionary income) on student loan payments.

16%

The estimated percentage of programs that would fail under the new guidelines. Most of them are at for-profit colleges. Programs would have time to improve before becoming ineligible for aid.

60 days

The number of days the public has to comment on the draft regulations before they're finalized.

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