Marketplace - American Public Media

Spring break for Congress: Still work

Mon, 2014-04-14 02:27

Over the weekend, members of Congress fanned out across the country for a two-week Easter recess. You're thinking Mai Tais on the beach?

"Probably not," says Riva Litman, a staffer with the House Republican Conference. "Especially not in Eastern Washington."

Her boss, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, made the long trip back to Spokane to talk to voters about issues like the economy and healthcare reform—and to host a few campaign events.

"It's not much of a recess for the members of Congress. They're just in their own districts as opposed to in the capital." Litman adds.

In an election year, breaks from the Hill are a key time to drum up support - and money - back home.

Parent PLUS loans under scrutiny

Mon, 2014-04-14 02:22

There is $62 billion in outstanding debt belonging to parents who’ve borrowed federal Parent PLUS loans to send their kids to school. The Department of Education is considering tightening the loans’ eligibility criteria, amid concern it’s been too easy for low- and moderate-income parents to get in over their heads.

But the last time it did that, it set off a firestorm.

The thing about Parent PLUS loans is they’re not based on income. Pass a credit check, and you can borrow up to the full cost of attendance. Parents don’t have to prove they can actually repay their loans.

“At the time, I was happy to get it,” says 56 year old Barbara Jones of Boston, who took out more than $100,000 in loans she now says she can’t afford.

“Because then if you didn’t get that, then what would you do?” she asks. “You know, how would you keep your child in school, how would you pay it if you didn’t have any other option than the Parent PLUS loan?”

Jones’s son graduated from Pace University last year. Now mother and son are both in debt for the same degree.

Of course, millions of parents take out PLUS loans; they’re a tool to promote college access. The average outstanding balance is $20,338, according to the Department of Education.

But policy analyst Rachel Fishman with the New America Foundation worries it’s too easy for low and moderate income families to borrow too much, as they try to give their kids a better life.

“That really puts the federal government in a dangerous position of telling them, ‘Sure you can do that,’” she says. “'You can mortgage your future. You’re really close to retirement and we can garnish your Social Security, but fine, we’re gonna to let you take on a loan for $20,000, $30,000 dollars.’”

“We absolutely don’t want parents to get in over their head,” says Cheryl Smith, who works with the United Negro College Fund. That’s why we think there should be a counseling program. At the same time, we don’t think we should be paternalistic.”

UNCF helps minority students get to and through college. It also lobbies for the private historically black colleges and universities. HBCUs have a lot of low and moderate income students, and Smith says thousands were affected when the government toughened the credit check for Parent PLUS loans back in 2011. She says enrollment fell at some private HBCUs , and HBCUs  generally lost millions in revenue, “Directly attributable to fewer students being able to get a Parent PLUS loan.”

Even though parents still don’t have to prove they can repay their PLUS loans, Smith says it’s now too hard to get one.

Still, the larger community is conflicted. Johnny Taylor heads the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents the publicly supported HBCUs. He thinks, at a certain point, Parent PLUS loans should be capped.

“Heretofore we have said to students, ‘Pick the school that you want to attend.’ And frankly the narrative may change to pick the school that you can afford to attend,” he says.

It’s a narrative unfolding within the Department of Education too, which is considering changes to the rules this spring.

Shea Huffman/Marketplace

By Shea Huffman/Marketplace

Bitcoin, what is it good for?

Mon, 2014-04-14 01:00

Just in time for tax season, the IRS released its first set of rules for Bitcoin. As the cryptocurrency has gotten bigger, there's been a lot of speculation over how best to use it.

One idea involves computer-to-computer transactions. Take email, for example.

"An example might be if it were really easy to attach a tenth of a penny to every email you send, it wouldn't add for the normal emailer very much. In fact you'd be getting a tenth of a penny as you get emails from people. So it'd basically be a wash. But if you're a spammer...looking to send out a billion emails to people and hope that one of them answers, having them attach a tenth of a penny to each of those emails would not make that cost effective anymore."

Aside from its function as a currency, the way in which Bitcoin functions could serve as a model for how the internet could become more efficient. In this example, provided by Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the ease with which cryptocurrency is exchanged is used to deter spammers. It's an idea that some feel is an inevitability. Zittrain points to the the public journal that records the path of every bitcoin, and how this kind of practice could apply to other kinds of data.

"For my part, I think the interest in a distributed public journal of stuff could be used for all sorts of purposes that don't have to do with the exchange of currency. There might be ways to use bitcoin-style journaling so that when a company transfers sensitive data, it gets journaled over. And there'd be a way then for me to see where it's been. Then if it actually should leak, I can trace the source of the leak."

Legal marijuana creates Denver warehouse shortage

Sun, 2014-04-13 22:09

Business is booming for recreational marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, the first of their kind in the nation. Their success has tightened the commercial real estate market and raised warehouse rental rates, in what may be a sign of things to come for other states.

The shortage of warehouse space is particularly acute in the Denver region, where the vacancy rate has dropped from 6.1 percent to 4.2 percent in 2013. Since January, when Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational pot, dispensaries have been gobbling up warehouses to meet strong demand. So strong, in fact, that some dispensaries have been forced to ration their supplies. 

“We used to see approximately 100 people through our store every day. Now, we’re seeing approximately 300 people through our store every day,” says Luke Ramirez, co-owner of the Walking Raven dispensary - one of the first medical marijuana shops in Colorado to start selling recreational pot. 

Dispensaries can’t buy pot from outside providers, so they need warehouses to grow all of their own supply. 

“We have seen a dramatic increase in people who are looking for warehouse space, and a dramatic decrease in the amount of available warehouse space in Colorado, and especially in the metro Denver area,” says Taylor West, a spokesperson for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Warehouse space that for some amount of time may have been difficult to sell, or harder to lease, are now in high demand in the area.” 

Landlords have been asking for increasingly higher rents. Ramirez, who pegs the current rent for one of his two warehouses at $20 per square foot -- the national average is $5 per square foot --  has been shopping for a third warehouse. He has seen more than a dozen properties. But so far, he says his insistence on due diligence, to have properties inspected and assessed, means he has been slower than his competition and lost out. In other instances, Ramirez found the landlord’s demands simply too expensive. 

“They want too much sometimes. They want a right to our profit sharing. It can become a much more complicated deal than just simply a tenant, landlord lease,” Ramirez says. 

The rise in warehouse rental rates is not uniform across the Denver industrial real estate market. It has been particularly acute for Colorado’s marijuana industry, because of its needs for particular kinds of warehouses that have the proper zoning, location, and potential to meet the high electricity demands of a pot growing operation. But, as prices have risen and supplies dwindled, other industries that require warehouses have begun to feel the impacts. Denver’s commercial real estate agents report a very tight market and rising rents for all kinds of warehouses. 

“Everything I’ve read and heard from realtors is, it’s not only about fully leased, but also leasing at a little bit higher rates than in our history,” says Kelly Brough, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. 

Alaskan voters will decide in a ballot measure this summer whether to become the next state to legalize recreational marijuana. Taylor West expects to see a similar story for the commercial real estate industry there, and in other states that have legalized pot. 

“Each state is handling the regulations around growing slightly differently. So, it depends on the cultivation rules that are being put in place," West says. "And in some of these cases, either the state is involved in the growing or is pinpointing the areas where the grows can happen, but regardless, it’s going to be an area that continues to need more space." 

Food inflation, or, why bacon is a good investment

Fri, 2014-04-11 18:21
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 18:28 Scott Olson/Getty Images

California cows.

If you’ve noticed your receipt from the grocery store seems larger than usual, you have food inflation to thank.

While the prices of everything usually go up due to regular boring inflation, commodities like food have outpaced other goods.

Matthew Boesler, Business Insider reporter, says food inflation is increasing because of a few different factors.

“A lot of it is due to weather. We have a big drought in California. We’ve had dry conditions across the Midwest, the Great Plains regions,” Boesler says. “The extreme weather events serve to disrupt crop supplies. and that can drive prices up.”

“Another factor you have is the ‘financial-ization’ of these commodities markets,” he says. Hedge funds and other investors are increasingly pouring money into goods like beef and coffee. “It’s very easy for an investor to bet on rising commodity prices. And no one really bets on those prices going down, so you have a lot of one-way money flowing into these markets, and they can become quickly overwhelmed because [investment markets are] not designed for that.”

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

 

“Supply and demand sort of governs the price of a commodity, but the way these markets are set up and you know, given how much capital is flowing seeking investment opportunities, the jumps in prices can be very volatile and large.”

Marketplace Money for Friday, April 11, 2014by Raghu ManavalanPodcast Title Food inflation, or, why bacon is a good investmentStory Type InterviewSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Tidying up with financial spring cleaning

Fri, 2014-04-11 16:41
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 17:31 Wikimedia Commons

Once you're all done with your taxes, it's the season for spring cleaning. Organizing ... decluttering your house ... throwing out old furniture, money can work the same way, too.

Personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi gives us her recipe for a productive financial spring cleaning.

Automate your bills: “Automate your bills because that means less stress. It’s minimizing your financial burdens ... Also, to make sure you’re always paying your bills, never getting behind.”

Go paperless: “This is something as a country we’re doing more and more of, but some of us are a little bit behind ... That will help to declutter and give some piece of mind.”

Hold onto three (or six) years worth of tax documents: “If the IRS does come a knocking with an audit, they will want to see the last three years of your records, and all your supporting documents. The one exception, you have to answer this honestly, if you’ve been underreporting income and the IRS audits you for that reason, they can go back as far as six years. So if you’re somebody that takes a little bit of risk with your reporting, and pushes the envelope, make sure you have even more support and backup.”

Look ahead: "Spring is a time when we’re looking ahead. A lot of families perhaps are thinking about a home, people are buying cars, applying for loans for school, so this is a good time to get a firm understanding of where you stand credit wise. Go check your report at annualcreditreport.com (and that’s free!)."

What are your tips for financial spring cleaning? Share them in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter @LiveMoney.

Marketplace Money for Friday, April 11, 2014Interview by Lizzie O'LearyPodcast Title Tidying up with financial spring cleaningSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Last-minute tips for tax procrastinators

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:39
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 16:30 Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Craig Baldwin holds a sign advertising a tax preparation office for people that still need help completing their taxes before the Internal Revenue Service deadline.

April 15 marks the last day to file your taxes ... unless you hit the panic button and file an extension.

You can file an extension, but…

You still have to pay your estimated taxes. According to Kelly Phillips Erb, a tax attorney in Pennsylvania, “the IRS wants you to pay what you paid last year, that’s a good rule of thumb. If nothing has changed remarkably, if you paid as much as you owed last year, you should be fine. The penalties and interest come when at the end of the extension, you still owe a bucket of money. you want to try and approximate what you owe as much as possible.”

If you can’t pay your taxes in full:

- Pay in installments

At IRS.gov, taxpayers can enter into an installment agreement with the IRS. “There are some restrictions and some limitations,” says Erb. “The one to keep in mind the most is that you have to owe less than $50,000 to qualify for the installment agreement. And it’s for individual taxpayers. Business taxpayers generally still have to go through the normal channels.”

- Pay a little bit now and a little bit later.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be frightened of making partial payments,” Erb says. Even if you have to pay a penalty and interest payments, that’s an improvement over leaving the full tax bill untouched.

Use a tax preparer ...

Though filing your taxes can be a labor of love for many people, Erb says there are times it’s worth using a professional. “If things have changed in your life, I highly recommend using someone … you know whether you’ve had a baby or whether you’ve gotten married and life events, you usually want somebody that can kind of help you get guided through the process because it’s my experience that the folks who are worried about getting their taxes done, it’s generally not that they are worried about making a mistake, it’s that they often are just kind of overwhelmed and I think those people tend to under-deduct.”

... But beware of preparer scams

“When you hire a tax preparer you want to make sure that they are credentialed, and that they know what they are doing. The IRS still require tax preparers prepare returns for compensation, those folks still need to have a PTIN number, you can think of it like a Social Security Number for preparers, so the IRS knows who’s preparing that return.”

... And IRS scams too

Scammers frequently pose as IRS representatives through email and phone calls, and threaten fines and arrest if you don’t immediately send money. “If you owe taxes, if anything has gone wrong with your filing, most of the time they’re going to contact you through a letter. They’re not going to text you. They’re not going to call you. And they’re not going to email you. And a lot of these identity thefts schemes that are going on right now are from folks posing as representatives from the IRS. Kind of the most prevalent one right now is when IRS allegedly, someone from the IRS, calls up folks, they’re kind of targeting immigrants and the elderly in particular, and say, ‘you owe money to us. We’re going to arrest you tomorrow if you don’t pay us now.’ And then they’re asking for debit card information over the phone.

 

What's your tax story? Leave us a comment on our site or Facebook page, or tweet us @LiveMoney.

Marketplace Money for Friday, April 11, 2014by Raghu ManavalanPodcast Title Last-minute tips for tax procrastinatorsStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Food inflation, or, why bacon is a good investment

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:28

If you’ve noticed your receipt from the grocery store seems larger than usual, you have food inflation to thank.

While the prices of everything usually go up due to regular boring inflation, commodities like food have outpaced other goods.

Matthew Boesler, Business Insider reporter, says food inflation is increasing because of a few different factors.

“A lot of it is due to weather. We have a big drought in California. We’ve had dry conditions across the Midwest, the Great Plains regions,” Boesler says. “The extreme weather events serve to disrupt crop supplies. and that can drive prices up.”

“Another factor you have is the ‘financial-ization’ of these commodities markets,” he says. Hedge funds and other investors are increasingly pouring money into goods like beef and coffee. “It’s very easy for an investor to bet on rising commodity prices. And no one really bets on those prices going down, so you have a lot of one-way money flowing into these markets, and they can become quickly overwhelmed because [investment markets are] not designed for that.”

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

 

“Supply and demand sort of governs the price of a commodity, but the way these markets are set up and you know, given how much capital is flowing seeking investment opportunities, the jumps in prices can be very volatile and large.”

Say cheese... all April long

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:26
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 10:01 Granger Meador/Flickr

A grilled cheese on rye.

Here's an extended look at what's coming up next week:

On Sunday, the final season of "Mad Men" premieres. I had to put on my go-go boots and pour myself a martini for that tidbit.

On Monday, while we all drink heavily at a business meeting we've dressed up and styled our hair for, the Commerce Department is scheduled to report retail sales data for March.

On April 14th, 1939 John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" was first published. The depression era novel went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Speaking of the Pulitzers, Prizewinners are scheduled to be announced on Monday.

Did consumers pay more or less for stuff in March than they did in February? On Tuesday, the Labor Department issues its Consumer Price Index. And it's tax day. An American tradition.

That brings us up to hump day. We'll get numbers on construction of new homes for March. And the Federal Reserve releases its latest Beige Book summary of commentary on current economic conditions.

Wondering why I'm not talking about any hearings on Capitol Hill? It's because Congress is on recess.

Markets are closed for Good Friday.

Television host and comedian Conan O'Brien turns 51.

And since we here at Datebook love cheese, let's end with this deliciousness: April is National Grilled Cheese Month. Start melting.

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Podcast Title Datebook: Say cheese... all April longStory Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

How digital media is reinventing comics

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:00

For the uninitiated, the term "digital comic" might sound like someone simply scanned a paper copy of their favorite issues of Batman into their computer. The scope of the digital comic world is actually pretty wide, with artists and writers taking advantage of the medium to play around with what a comic can be, and how to distribute content.

Here's an excellent debrief on the world of digital comics. Plus, check out these examples of digital comics that capitalize on the possibilities of the medium.

News Comics

Among the freedoms of publishing a digital comic is the ability to stretch what a comic can be. The team behind Symbolia, for example, use the medium to tell news stories with sound, links, animations, and interactive charts. 

You can check out more about Symbolia here.

Self-Published

Digital comics also allow artists to self-publish and sell their own comics. Artist Dean Trippe's Something Terrible is an autobiographical work about how his interest in Batman helped him cope with being the victim of rape at a young age.

You can read more about Trippe's story here.

Free download of first issue

Not unlike the mobile game model known as "freemium," publishers of digital comics will sometimes offer a first issue for free in the hopes that readers will be hooked enough to purchase subsequent issues.

The critically-acclaimed "Saga" series, for example, offers its first issue free for download here.

Subscription Series

There's also the option of subscribing to a series, which is not unlike subscribing to a newspaper's phone or tablet app. In addition to regularly receiving new issues, subscribers often have access to classic comics that have been uploaded by the publisher. Access to Marvel's annual subscription costs $99.

You can check out more about Marvel Unlimited here.

Tidying up with financial spring cleaning

Fri, 2014-04-11 14:31

Once you're all done with your taxes, it's the season for spring cleaning. Organizing ... decluttering your house ... throwing out old furniture, money can work the same way, too.

Personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi gives us her recipe for a productive financial spring cleaning.

Automate your bills: “Automate your bills because that means less stress. It’s minimizing your financial burdens ... Also, to make sure you’re always paying your bills, never getting behind.”

Go paperless: “This is something as a country we’re doing more and more of, but some of us are a little bit behind ... That will help to declutter and give some piece of mind.”

Hold onto three (or six) years worth of tax documents: “If the IRS does come a knocking with an audit, they will want to see the last three years of your records, and all your supporting documents. The one exception, you have to answer this honestly, if you’ve been underreporting income and the IRS audits you for that reason, they can go back as far as six years. So if you’re somebody that takes a little bit of risk with your reporting, and pushes the envelope, make sure you have even more support and backup.”

Look ahead: "Spring is a time when we’re looking ahead. A lot of families perhaps are thinking about a home, people are buying cars, applying for loans for school, so this is a good time to get a firm understanding of where you stand credit wise. Go check your report at annualcreditreport.com (and that’s free!)."

What are your tips for financial spring cleaning? Share them in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter @LiveMoney.

Last-minute tips for tax procrastinators

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:30

April 15 marks the last day to file your taxes ... unless you hit the panic button and file an extension.

You can file an extension, but…

You still have to pay your estimated taxes. According to Kelly Phillips Erb, a tax attorney in Pennsylvania, “the IRS wants you to pay what you paid last year, that’s a good rule of thumb. If nothing has changed remarkably, if you paid as much as you owed last year, you should be fine. The penalties and interest come when at the end of the extension, you still owe a bucket of money. you want to try and approximate what you owe as much as possible.”

If you can’t pay your taxes in full:

- Pay in installments

At IRS.gov, taxpayers can enter into an installment agreement with the IRS. “There are some restrictions and some limitations,” says Erb. “The one to keep in mind the most is that you have to owe less than $50,000 to qualify for the installment agreement. And it’s for individual taxpayers. Business taxpayers generally still have to go through the normal channels.”

- Pay a little bit now and a little bit later.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be frightened of making partial payments,” Erb says. Even if you have to pay a penalty and interest payments, that’s an improvement over leaving the full tax bill untouched.

Use a tax preparer ...

Though filing your taxes can be a labor of love for many people, Erb says there are times it’s worth using a professional. “If things have changed in your life, I highly recommend using someone … you know whether you’ve had a baby or whether you’ve gotten married and life events, you usually want somebody that can kind of help you get guided through the process because it’s my experience that the folks who are worried about getting their taxes done, it’s generally not that they are worried about making a mistake, it’s that they often are just kind of overwhelmed and I think those people tend to under-deduct.”

... But beware of preparer scams

“When you hire a tax preparer you want to make sure that they are credentialed, and that they know what they are doing. The IRS still require tax preparers prepare returns for compensation, those folks still need to have a PTIN number, you can think of it like a Social Security Number for preparers, so the IRS knows who’s preparing that return.”

... And IRS scams too

Scammers frequently pose as IRS representatives through email and phone calls, and threaten fines and arrest if you don’t immediately send money. “If you owe taxes, if anything has gone wrong with your filing, most of the time they’re going to contact you through a letter. They’re not going to text you. They’re not going to call you. And they’re not going to email you. And a lot of these identity thefts schemes that are going on right now are from folks posing as representatives from the IRS. Kind of the most prevalent one right now is when IRS allegedly, someone from the IRS, calls up folks, they’re kind of targeting immigrants and the elderly in particular, and say, ‘you owe money to us. We’re going to arrest you tomorrow if you don’t pay us now.’ And then they’re asking for debit card information over the phone.

 

What's your tax story? Leave us a comment on our site or Facebook page, or tweet us @LiveMoney.

Wal-Mart: Everday low (organic?) prices

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:29

Walmart has announced a new line of prepared organic foods — ketchup, pasta sauce, breakfast cereal — marketed under the name Wild Oats. And cheap: Wild Oats spaghetti sauce will cost the same as Ragu brand. But it's one thing to try to grow demand for organics by offering lower prices. Supplying that demand could be tough, especially at low prices. Already, supplies of commodities like corn, wheat and soybeans are tight.

"There’s not as many acres," says Tim Daley, who buys and sells organic soybeans for Stonebridge, a brokerage in Iowa. "Maybe three or four percent of the marketplace is organic. And a lot of that is still coming in from offshore."  

If not for imports, he says, prices would be even higher. "And they’re already high. So if you’ve got $14 soybeans on the Chicago Board of Trade, you’ve easily got $24 or $28 soybeans."

That's conventional beans, versus organic beans. 

Increasing supply can’t happen overnight. 

"It takes three years for a producer to achieve organic certification," notes Kellee James, CEO of Mercaris, a company that supplies market data on organic commodities. "So even if tomorrow prices go up and a producer decides he wants to grow, say, organic wheat, it’s going to take three years for that supply to come online."

Walmart says it plans to keep prices in line by locking in five-year contracts with producers.

Which may not work, says Paul Mitchell, who teaches agricultural economics at the University of Wisconsin. If market prices go up everywhere else, he thinks producers will want to re-negotiate.

"They’re going to ... say, 'Look, WalMart. We sold you our can of corn at $1.50 a can, organic. And now the market price is $2. Well, we don’t want the $1.50 anymore. We want to sell it for $2.'"

And if they don’t get it? Tim Daley, the soybean broker, says beans under contract might “disappear, magically" when market prices climb. "That has happened out here, more than a few years in a row.”

Digital comics: Violent sci-fi meets Joan Didion

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:29

This week Amazon announced it has bought ComiXology, a popular online store and digital reader for comic books, graphic novels and the like. 

Now, there is a select group of you, i.e., comics nerds  fans, to whom this will mean quite a bit more than it means to say, me. I am not a comics fan. Or at least — I haven’t been one. 

Then I called up Douglas Wolk, a man who writes about comic books, as well as writes comic books, and I started to get pretty excited about comics and the economics behind them. 

Wolk is currently working on a series called "Judge Dredd Mega City Two," which he describes as "probably the closest that incredibly violent sci-fi gets to a tribute to Joan Didion." I am intrigued. 

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two, the five-issue mini-series by Douglas Wolk and drawn by Ulises Farinas.

Ulises Farinas

Wolk says, part of why he can write crazy mash-ups like this is because of the weird way the comic books business has worked for many years.

"Comics have the strangest economics of just about any medium I can think of," he said. 

Unlike regular books, where a store can return unsold copies, with comic books, a store buys a certain number from a publisher on a non-refundable basis. That means publishers of comics can gauge ahead of time how many copies will be profitable to print, so it's easier to take risks on books that might only appeal to niche markets. 

And tapping into those niche markets has become even easier with the rise of digital comics, according to Calvin Reid, a lifelong comic book fan and senior news editor at Publishers Weekly.  And that’s a good thing for comic book sales, since sales for physical comic books have reached a plateau in recent years. 

"Even in the early nineties there were comics that hit real mass market numbers, a million or so," Reid said. "But now, you sell 100,000 copies, and everyone pays attention."

Even so, physical comics that you can hold in your hand are still a more than $600 million industry.  There's just something addictive about flipping through the pages, says Jeff Ayers, a manager at Forbidden Planet, a revered comic book store in Manhattan that still does brisk business. It's great to be able to read a comic on your phone, Ayers told me. 

"But I'm not inclined to bring phone in to the bath tub, where I would be a comic book," he says.

Reading a comic book tribute to Joan Didion….in the bath tub?  I might try that.

'If you can run the OMB, you can run anything.'

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:29

President Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. The OMB is something of a proving ground. 

Past budget directors have gone on to become White House chiefs of staff and cabinet secretaries. 

"It isn't such a big agency, but the subject matter covers everything that the government does," says Alice Rivlin, who led the OMB when Bill Clinton was president. "If you can run the OMB," she adds, "you can run anything."

And it seems to be true, given the resumes of recent OMB directors:

Jacob Lew: Director, OMB (twice) then White House Chief of Staff then Secretary of the Treasury

Rob Portman: Director, OMB then U.S. Senator

Joshua Bolten: Director, OMB then White House Chief of Staff

Mitch Daniels: Director, OMB then Governor of Indiana then president of Purdue University

Alice Rivlin: Director, OMB then Federal Reserve vice chair

Leon Panetta: Director, OMB then White House Chief of Staff then CIA Director then Secretary of Defense

In which the government acknowledges Google

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:54
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 13:43 Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google

And finally, it seems Congress has discovered the amazing powers of the internet. No joke.

From the Congressional Record, Senate Bill 2206 was introduced just last week, and which the legislative language tells us can be cited as the Let Me Google That For You Act.

S.B. 2206 would abolish the National Technical Information Service, collector and disseminator of almost 3 million government scientific, technical, engineering, and business reports, because, yes, you can just Google 'em for free.

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title In which the government acknowledges GoogleStory Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

How digital media is reinventing comics

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:40
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 18:00 https://www.comixology.com/about

Comixology is an online platform that allows you to digitally buy, read, and discover comics.

For the uninitiated, the term "digital comic" might sound like someone simply scanned a paper copy of their favorite issues of Batman into their computer. The scope of the digital comic world is actually pretty wide, with artists and writers taking advantage of the medium to play around with what a comic can be, and how to distribute content.

Here's an excellent debrief on the world of digital comics. Plus, check out these examples of digital comics that capitalize on the possibilities of the medium.

News Comics

Among the freedoms of publishing a digital comic is the ability to stretch what a comic can be. The team behind Symbolia, for example, use the medium to tell news stories with sound, links, animations, and interactive charts. 

You can check out more about Symbolia here.

Self-Published

Digital comics also allow artists to self-publish and sell their own comics. Artist Dean Trippe's Something Terrible is an autobiographical work about how his interest in Batman helped him cope with being the victim of rape at a young age.

You can read more about Trippe's story here.

Free download of first issue

Not unlike the mobile game model known as "freemium," publishers of digital comics will sometimes offer a first issue for free in the hopes that readers will be hooked enough to purchase subsequent issues.

The critically-acclaimed "Saga" series, for example, offers its first issue free for download here.

Subscription Series

There's also the option of subscribing to a series, which is not unlike subscribing to a newspaper's phone or tablet app. In addition to regularly receiving new issues, subscribers often have access to classic comics that have been uploaded by the publisher. Access to Marvel's annual subscription costs $99.

You can check out more about Marvel Unlimited here.

by Tobin LowStory Type BlogSyndication PMPApp Respond No

How 'Choose Your Own Adventure' was born

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:14
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 14:51 Sushiesque/Flickr/Creative Commons

A party for choose your own adventure.

Ed Packard was a lawyer for RCA records. But it wasn't his true calling. Ed wanted to be a writer, and one fateful night back in 1969 he was telling his daughters Caroline and Andrea a bedtime story about a character named Pete marooned on a desert island.

"I was tired from a long day at work, and I couldn't think of what should happen next in the story. So I asked them. I got two different answers. I could sense that this was an unusual approach. They could not just identify with the main character. They could be the main character." 

Ed penned his first book on the train from his home in Connecticut to his law office in New York. He got an agent at William Morris who told him his first book "The Adventures of You on Sugar Cane Island" would be a big hit. But after countless doors were slammed in his face by children's book publishers who told him his work was more like a game than a book, Ed gave up.

He put his manuscript in his desk drawer and left it there to collect dust.

It was only after he met a young literary agent named Amy Berkower through an old college buddy that the books finally got a good, hard second look a decade later. And with the help of another upstart in the publishing business, Joelle Delbourgo at Bantam, "Choose Your Own Adventure" exploded into a phenomenon that rewrote the book on children's literature.

This story is part of Marketplace's new collaborative series with Mental Floss Magazine. For the full story, follow the link here.

As fans of "Choose Your Own Adventure" books ourselves, we here at Marketplace decided to build a choose your own adventure story to navigate and re-live the week's business news. Try it out:

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014

In partnership with Mental Floss.

by Tommy Andres and Ariana TobinPodcast Title How "Choose Your Own Adventure" was bornStory Type FeatureSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

How 'Choose Your Own Adventure' was born

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:51

Ed Packard was a lawyer for RCA records. But it wasn't his true calling. Ed wanted to be a writer, and one fateful night back in 1969 he was telling his daughters Caroline and Andrea a bedtime story about a character named Pete marooned on a desert island.

"I was tired from a long day at work, and I couldn't think of what should happen next in the story. So I asked them. I got two different answers. I could sense that this was an unusual approach. They could not just identify with the main character. They could be the main character." 

Ed penned his first book on the train from his home in Connecticut to his law office in New York. He got an agent at William Morris who told him his first book "The Adventures of You on Sugar Cane Island" would be a big hit. But after countless doors were slammed in his face by children's book publishers who told him his work was more like a game than a book, Ed gave up.

He put his manuscript in his desk drawer and left it there to collect dust.

It was only after he met a young literary agent named Amy Berkower through an old college buddy that the books finally got a good, hard second look a decade later. And with the help of another upstart in the publishing business, Joelle Delbourgo at Bantam, "Choose Your Own Adventure" exploded into a phenomenon that rewrote the book on children's literature.

This story is part of Marketplace's new collaborative series with Mental Floss Magazine. For the full story, follow the link here.

What if you could kill your stolen phone?

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:11
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 11:59 Geoff Holland/Flickr/Creative Commons

A London sign that read: "Beware, mobile phone thieves operating in this area."

 Thieves want your smartphone. They really, really want it. Consumer Reports estimates 1.6 million smart phones were stolen in 2012.

"In some cities, a majority of the reported thefts are for smart phones and other mobile computing devices," said Rob D'Ovidio, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University.  

He thinks a kill switch, which would allow you to disable your phone remotely, could make a lot of sense. A stolen phone that doesn't work isn't worth much. But the ability to kill a phone could be worth a lot to its owner.

"People who formerly had their phones stolen, they won't have that happen anymore so they won't have to go out and buy a new phone," said William Duckworth, a statistician at Creighton University.

And if there's a lot less theft, he said, insurance for phones wouldn't cost as much. All together, he estimated, kill switches could save consumers $2.6 billion a year. That doesn't include the time that police officers spend on smart phone thefts.

"When you look at the rate of thefts of smartphones in major metropolitian areas in the United States," D'Ovidio said, "it's just taxing law enforcement resources.

He thinks it's just a matter of time before all phones come with kill switches. Apple's newest operating system allows users to shut down a phone remotely. And according to Duckworth's research, that's something 99 percent of smart phone owners want.

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Adriene HillPodcast Title What if you could kill your stolen phone?Story Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No
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