Marketplace - American Public Media

A requiem for fallen Columbia House

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:44

This week, the company that owned music subscription service Columbia House — physical music, like, actual tape cassettes and CDs and stuff — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

 

Before digital music services like Spotify, Pandora, iTunes and Napster became the dominant music distributors, you could sign up with Columbia House to receive 12 or so albums for a penny. Every additional album you wanted would be billed at an inflated price, but a difficult-to-break contract resulted in a lucrative business.

 

The collapse of the company inspired Soraya Nadia McDonald, writer on arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post, to share this story of music, adolescence and figuring out who you are.

 

When I read that Columbia House filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, my first reaction was, "They were still around?"

Columbia House was responsible for me cultivating my own musical tastes outside of my parents'. The first cultural artifact I could truly claim as my own came to me as a gift from my older and only sister, Carol. It was the debut cassette of a hip-hop/new jack swing group called Another Bad Creation.

When "Coolin' at the Playground Ya Know!" came out in 1991, our father saw Red, Chris, Mark, RoRo and David in their oversize puffy coats and blanched. To him, they registered as menaces. Carol tried to explain that hip-hop was part of black culture.

Click play above to hear McDonald's story, or read more at the Washington Post.

Ashley Monroe on the business of music

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:17

Ashley Monroe is a 28-year-old country music artist who wrote the line, "Had somebody that I trusted leave me broke and busted." That's a pretty perfect distillation of what it feels like to be brokenhearted, artistic and poor. Lizzie O'Leary speaks with her about her relationship with money, her new contribution to the Amazon Acoustics playlist (she sings John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses") and what it's like on the road. 

Monroe tells O'Leary that the lyrics she wrote to "From Time to Time" came to her in her sleep.

Hush, little darling, celebrate
Today's gonna be your birthday
Even if it's not the 10th of September
Sometimes down here you will find
Life won't give you peace of mind
It's like you're holding on to a dying ember

Along with her contribution to Amazon Acoustics, Monroe has also released her third album, "Blade," this year.

How much does being financially secure figure into her plans as a musician?

I didn't really think about money until after my dad died. I remember the first time I thought about it afterwards was going to the funeral home and seeing how much a stone was, and thinking 'Oh my gosh, are we going to be able to afford this?' I was like my first dealing with money....

How does the music industry stack up to what she thought it would be, before she was a well-known country artist?

I used to see buses backstage when I would go see shows, and I would think, 'Oh, they're drinking champagne and they're getting their hair done, and oh, probably getting a massage.' And probably unless your Beyoncé, that's not the case. And maybe not even her. But I'm still going to imagine somebody does that. But yeah ... it's not like what you think....

 

High hopes and hurdles in selling to Japan

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:05

While negotiators working on the Transpacific Partnership met earlier this month on the Hawaiian island of Maui to try to finalize the rules that will govern about a third of global trade, John Holman opened a Power Point presentation in a small conference room on a nearby island.  

“Why should you export?” he asked the roughly dozen attendees. 

Holman works for U.S. Commercial Service. It’s part of his job to get companies interested in exporting and help them navigate the process.

New exporters often come to him to ask about selling to Japan or China. His message? Look for the path of least resistance.

“What markets can you get into as an exporter, in the shortest amount of time, the least amount of cost, and generate the greatest return?" he says, pulling up a slide of the World Bank’s global rankings for ease of doing business. Singapore is first on the list of 189 countries; Japan is number 29. “Then reinvest that revenue and experience into new markets.”

As the world’s third-largest economy — and one with a wealthy consumer class — Japan is a tempting target for foreign companies. If the dozen countries in Transpacific Partnership finalize the trade agreement they’ve been working on for the last five years, it would be the first free trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan.

But there are high hopes and hurdles when it comes to selling to Japan.

On the one hand, Japan has many benefits, such as good transportation networks and low corruption, says Peter Petri, a professor at Brandeis University. Additionally, its tariffs on many goods are very low, except for a few heavily protected industries. For example, rice imports above a certain quota face tariffs over 700 percent.

“There are also other kinds of unique regulations that make it very hard to do business in Japan, much harder than in other advanced economies,” Petri says.

He lists four main areas where foreign firms face challenges: agriculture, medicine, foreign investment and services, like insurance or internet providers.

“In these areas where there is a great deal of regulatory intervention, Japan is really pretty far behind,” he says. “One way to see that is that the amount of investment going into Japan is, in our estimates, maybe a third as much as we would predict for Japan.”

The Maui Gold Pineapple Company's 1,200-acre hilltop farm. 

Tracey Samuelson/Marketplace

U.S. automakers also complain they face unfair regulations and exchange rates when trying to sell to Japan. Therefore, Petri says, the TPP’s biggest economic impact won’t come from lowering tariffs, but from addressing these other rules and regulations, and making them more uniform across the various countries.

That could be welcome news for lots of exporters, but some are still skeptical. 

Hawaii used to be a major player in the global pineapple market, but its production contracted with the rise of cheaper labor and lower prices elsewhere — a common story in global trade. 

“You try to aim your markets where you can get the best pricing,” says Rodrigo Balala, vice president of Maui Gold Pineapple Company, as he drives up the dusty, rutted roads of the 1,200-acre hilltop farm.         

He sells most of his pineapples locally, sends some to California — and he’s also started exporting to Japan.

“Japan pays for quality. If you can put a quality product out there, they’re willing to buy it,” he says, noting the low acidity of the pineapples he grows, a trait he says Japanese consumers prefer.

Sure, selling into Japan that first time was tricky.

Pineapples grown by the Maui Gold Pineapple Company 

Tracey Samuelson/Marketplace

“There was a lot of stuff we needed to learn,” he says. “We thought we knew all we need to know, but there’s a list of paperwork you’ve got to do.”

Now he says it’s not a problem, especially because he works with a local importer who handles much of the work and covers the roughly 20 percent tariff Japan levies on his products.

However, even while Balala might benefit from lower tariffs and a smoother exporting process, he looks at past trade deals and is unsure about the TPP, worried about the impact of increased competition from abroad.

“It’s the same thing with NAFTA and CAFTA,” he says. “It hurts, especially if they can come in cheap. Everyone knows the costs of producing stuff in the U.S. is expensive. Hopefully, it doesn’t hurt us that way.”

He sees both risks and rewards in expanding trade. 

"What's a department store, Dad?"

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:00

The latest retail sales numbers from the Census Bureau show increases for almost every kind of store, except three. Gas stations (see also crashing oil prices), electronics (note  Radio Shack’s bankruptcy) and department stores. 

 

A hundred years ago, department stores like Macy’s in New York and Marshall Field’s in Chicago weren’t just places to buy stuff. They were destinations — especially for women  — and local icons.

 

 

As described by Jan Whitaker, author of “Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class, "they offered customers something like an entire world.

 "When women went shopping there, they might spend hours within an individual store," she says. "Especially if they ate lunch or went to the hairdresser."

 

Or brought in bills to pay, or a watch to be repaired. Or consulted with a decorator, or a travel agent. "There were so many possibilities there that could consume your time," she says.

 

Whiling away the hours is no longer every consumer’s dream, and Whitaker says the rise in women’s employment was as big a factor as any in shifting the market. Discounters like Walmart were open in the evening, a convenience for working women.

 

Today, Nordstrom may be the bright light among department stores, according to Cowen and Company analyst Oliver Chen. The company has a thriving web presence, the discount arm Nordstrom Rack and a strong reputation for selection and service.

 

But is Nordstrom really a department store? Can you even buy a coffeemaker there? Or a suitcase, or dishes?

 

"I don’t even know the answer to that," Chen admits (the answer is "no").

 

However, Chen says, women’s clothes are the bread and butter for all department stores, including those that sell toasters. It also remains the areas where department stores retain their biggest advantage: having the merchandise right there — and lots of it — ready to be tried on. "Like those skinny jeans you find appealing, or that stretch denim," Chen says. "I mean, you might want to look at that stretch."

Apple hits the pause button on live TV streaming

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:00

We’ve been talking about Apple’s plans to launch a live streaming TV service for a while. A long while. There are reports today we’ll have to keep waiting.

So, why’s it so difficult to get the deal done?

For one, there are infrastructure and technical issues to solve. No one wants glitchy TV.

“What they are doing is not easy,” says Marc Tayer, the author of the book "Televisionaries: Inside the Chaos and Innovation of the Digital Revolution."

Apple has to get the rights to stream the content from all the big players — Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC — and potentially from the local affiliates of those networks.

“That requires licensing with each individual content provider that they want to include, and make sure that the terms and conditions are such Apple can get the return on their investment at some point,” Tayer says. 

For Apple, getting that return on investment could be tough; it's certainly not as simple as when it launched iTunes.

“They are not in as good a position as they were when they were negotiating contracts with the music industry,” says John Butler, senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

When iTunes launched, the music industry was desperate.

“They were facing the loss of music through free services like Napster,” he says. Television providers, on the other hand, “they hold all the cards and content really is king.”

They're in the catbird seat.

Content providers are thinking about their own bottom line — looking for a good deal, not just any deal.

Apple hits the pause button on live TV steaming

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:00

We’ve been talking about Apple’s plans to launch a live streaming TV service for a while. A long while. There are reports today we’ll have to keep waiting.

So, why’s it so difficult to get the deal done?

For one, there are infrastructure and technical issues to solve. No one wants glitchy TV.

“What they are doing is not easy,” says Marc Tayer, the author of the book "Televisionaries: Inside the Chaos and Innovation of the Digital Revolution."

Apple has to get the rights to stream the content from all the big players — Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC — and potentially from the local affiliates of those networks.

“That requires licensing with each individual content provider that they want to include, and make sure that the terms and conditions are such Apple can get the return on their investment at some point,” Tayer says. 

For Apple, getting that return on investment could be tough; it's certainly not as simple as when it launched iTunes.

“They are not in as good a position as they were when they were negotiating contracts with the music industry,” says John Butler, senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

When iTunes launched, the music industry was desperate.

“They were facing the loss of music through free services like Napster,” he says. Television providers, on the other hand, “they hold all the cards and content really is king.”

They're in the catbird seat.

Content providers are thinking about their own bottom line — looking for a good deal, not just any deal.

The beer purchase that saved a man's life

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:00

Mark Byrne and his friend were at the Michigan International Speedway to see the Indie car race in the summer of 1998.

“When we got to the parking lot, there were two people walking out. They said they had to go somewhere but had good seats and wondered if we wanted their tickets, and we said ‘Sure we’ll check them out.’”

On the way to their new seats, they stopped at a concession stand to grab some beer. They had a choice between Miller Lite and Labatt Blue; they chose Labatts. “To our surprise, the keg was empty,” Byrne recalls, but they decided it was worth waiting a few minutes for a new keg.

That’s when things started getting strange, Byrne says. “While we were sitting there waiting, we started noticing a police officer and a couple of emergency responders going by, and the next thing you know, there was a few more and a few more. There got to be about 30of them that ended up going by.”

Once they got to their new seats, they noticed that the entire section was closed off. So they went to the seats they originally were supposed to sit in.

“On the way home we’re listening to the radio recap and all that, and to our surprise we found out that Adrian Fernandez had crashed in turn four and basically some of his car had flown into the seats. Several people had been injured, and three people had been killed,” Byrne says.

 It turned out Byrne and his friend were extremely lucky. “The people that had been killed had been sitting in Row 8 and Row 10. Having our seats being in Row 9 in that section, we had to wonder just how lucky we were that we waited in line to buy that Labatt beer there instead of settling for the Miller Lite.”

And that’s how a $4 beer saved a man’s life.

Firms, organized labor wait for major ruling

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:00

Heavy hitters in American business and organized labor are watching and waiting for a ruling expected any day now that could change the way they work forever.

The case before the National Labor Relations Board technically involves a waste management company, a union and a staffing company. But the impact could go far beyond that, potentially resetting how employment has worked for decades and impacting a whole range of companies and workers.

The case is about employees working for subcontractors or franchisees. As with many cases pitting industry against labor, there are sharp points of disagreement. But there’s consensus among all sides of the issue that the impact will be far-reaching because of what’s at stake.

Think of a big corporation that hires a company to clean its building, or a burger chain that franchises. Right now workers can’t collectively bargain with the corporation or fast food chain, only the subcontractor or franchisee. Unions don’t like that and want the NLRB to get corporations and chains to the bargaining table along with subcontractors and franchisees.

“Labor standards or protections for workers haven’t kept pace, and this is an opportunity simply to modernize the rules so that they keep the spirit of the law intact,” says Michael Wasser, from the pro-union group Jobs With Justice.

The disagreement begins with whether it’s a good idea to change things. Various industries are against this because they don’t want to be liable for subcontractors and franchisees.

“This will be so disruptive to those relationships, and what the board is suggesting it may go to would have really significant impact,” says Marilyn Pearson, a partner at DLA Piper, who advises corporate clients on labor issues.

Companies argue making them responsible for contractors would strangle profits and ultimately hurt jobs. Unions believe such a move would create a better environment for workers.

One final point of agreement: We may soon find out who’s right. The NLRB currently leans Democratic. Observers on all sides are betting it’ll rule in favor of the union soon.

A new older generation may attract more ad dollars

Fri, 2015-08-14 13:00

 Next week a new marketing company linked to AARP will launch to target adults 50 and over. Influent50 is part of AARP’s for-profit subsidiary.

This is a wealthy, arguably ignored demographic. Influent50 says just 10 percent of marketing money targets people over 50.

“There’s also an opportunity to not be good at it,” says Lori Bitter of the Business of Aging consultancy. She says this is a hard group to target well.

As people age, Bitter says, their buying psychology changes: They no longer want, say, BMW to tell them what the ultimate driving machine is. They’d prefer Apple suggest they “Think Different.”

“It’s allowing us to think about ourselves as opposed to being told what the product is about,” Bitter says.

She and others say marketers have been tripping over a few myths about older adults.

One: that they don’t spend money.

Two: that they’re overly brand loyal.

“I’m not going to buy a different brand of mayonnaise — I like my mayonnaise,” independent advertising consultant Chuck Nyren says. “But everything else is open. And people go to the store, and they’re constantly looking for something different.”

Oh, and one other myth: This group wants to be treated as old people. After all, 50-somethings are represented in this demographic.

Is there an example of what works in today’s marketplace?

“The new Viagra spots,” says Paul Gilbert, at the marketing agency Register Media. “It’s a woman in probably her 40s or 50s, talking about the things Viagra is used for. Think about the sophistication: It has great views and is written for that boomer mindset.”

The marketing firm out of AARP wants to reach boomers on behalf of corporate clients in the initial areas of travel and insurance and eventually pharmaceuticals.

Weekly Wrap: China's yuan and a 3rd Greece bailout

Fri, 2015-08-14 12:58

Joining us to talk about the week's business and economic news are Sudeep Reddy from the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell. The big topics this week: China devalues its currency, Greece reaches a third bailout agreement deal, Google restructures itself under Alphabet and oil prices fall. 

Click the media player above to hear the conversation.

The Arts Shrink will see you now

Fri, 2015-08-14 11:28

Business and art don't seem like two fields that would naturally overlap. After all, many individuals who become artists do so to follow their creative passion and not worry about the drudgery of health insurance or fundraising to succeed.

But that can be a self-defeating attitude. Corbett Barklie, known as the Arts Shrink for KCET's Artbound, says, "I think that a lot of artists that I work with really embrace this notion of a starving artist, the idea that they'll sit in a drafty attic, and they'll do their work and they won't be recognized. And also going along with that is that emotional angst that even adds to how romantic that idea [of becoming an artist] is."

Barklie works as an arts consultant and professor, and in her column, provides answers about how to make a living following what you love.

"I think that every artist has to look at their relationship with this idea of starving and angst and correct it, before they can have a career that really does provide a living for them, also."

Selected columns from the Arts Shrink:

Why do some artists get all the money?

How to make your crowd-funding campaign stand out

What's the most common mistake artists make?

Many factors at play in the devaluation of yuan

Fri, 2015-08-14 10:01

It’s an interesting week in the currency markets, especially for China’s renminbi, which fell in value against the dollar for three straight days.

The devaluation was engineered by Chinese authorities, and some analysts see it as a way to help China’s slowing economy by making its exports cheaper and therefore easier to sell overseas.

Interestingly, the International Monetary Fund greeted the devaluation as a welcome step.

China wants the yuan to be a global reserve currency; one step toward achieving that would be inclusion in basket of currencies that make up the IMF’s reserve assets.

“China does want to be recognized as a member of the Big Boys Club when it comes to currencies and the IMF seal of approval would be important there,” says Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University.

China says it wants to let market forces play a bigger role in setting the yuan’s exchange rate, something Prasad says the U.S., the IMF and the rest of the world has been calling for.

But this week’s moves were also part of larger financial reforms that Chinese leaders want to pursue, especially in light of slowing economic growth, says Nick Consonery, with the Eurasia Group.

“The overriding motivation for the government is that they recognize that financial reform is a necessary component of economic restructuring to make the Chinese economy more sustainable over the longer term,” he says.

PODCAST: Infrastructure in Cuba

Fri, 2015-08-14 03:00

On the docket for today: a crazy week for Chinese currency; infrastructure overhaul for Cuba; and the Marketplace Wealth & Poverty team revisits a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification.

Harsh cuts don't fix Chicago's school budget

Fri, 2015-08-14 02:05

Chicago's public schools released a budget this week with a billion-dollar hole in it. That's after counting borrowing that the district's CEO called "unsustainable," and a half-billion in assistance from the politically gridlocked state government. Without that aid, CEO Forrest Claypool warned to expect still more borrowing, and deeper cuts. 

The school district is like "that" family — the one with the jumbo mortgage and maxed-out credit cards. That image sounds about right to Laurence Msall, director of the Civic Federation, who has been watching public budgets here for more than a dozen years.

Msall adds a layer to the family metaphor: "They're still getting credit-card applications in the mail, which they're happy to fill out."

As the debts pile up, payments get more expensive: there’s more principal, and a sinking credit rating drives up interest rates.

"Doomsday is here," Msall says. "Taxpayers are going to have to pay more, for less benefit from their government."

That means bigger class sizes, and fewer services for students, which is what Philadelphia's schools have experienced for the past several years.

Kate Shaw, executive director of Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based education policy think-tank, says, "Yes, we have seen what that does to a school district, and we've seen what that does to a city. And it’s not pretty."

Among other things, she cites declining test scores, higher truancy, and stalled graduation rates.

Cuba needs infrastructure revolution

Fri, 2015-08-14 02:00

As Cuba opens up to the world, what will it do about its crumbling infrastructure?

John Kerry visits Cuba on Friday to raise the American flag and officially reopen the U.S. embassy. It's the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state since the 1940s.

An influx of trade and tourism is expected into Cuba. That is putting added urgency to the need to improve the country's aging infrastructure, such as building tens of thousands of new hotel rooms, improving Internet connectivity, telecommunications, and power plants.

"There's not been much investment in things like ... building roads ... electric grids are very arcane and weak," says Eric Olson, who is with the Latin America Program at the Wilson Center, a Washington D.C. think tank.

"It would be easier to begin by naming the things that don't need to be improved," says Ted Henken, co-author of the book Entrepreneurial Cuba.

There is a lot of interest from firms in the U.S., Europe and Asia. All are eager to get a slice of the billions in Cuban infrastructure improvements to come.

Katrina kid: Growing up after the flood

Fri, 2015-08-14 02:00

It's been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina and the flood-of-floods struck New Orleans. In the following decade, the city has transformed it public schools, housing, and business community. Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio traveled to the city to explore what these vast changes mean for New Orleans and the country. 

 

David Brancaccio/Marketplace

In the chaotic semi-school year that was just under way when Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flood hit New Orleans, a lot of instructional days simply disappeared. The storm made such a hash out of his seventh grade, Domonick Foy had to start all over again the next year, in one of New Orleans new charter schools, which were rapidly replacing all of the city's failing public schools.

“Before Katrina, I finished the year off in sixth grade with a 3.0," Domonick said when we met him at age 13, in 2006, while reporting for NOW on PBS.

"When we went to a different school, I was passing everything except math. I'm trying to repeat the seventh grade, so maybe next year they can put me in my right grade, so I can go to high school.”

Karen Foy, mother of Domonick. 

David Brancaccio/Marketplace

The storm put eight feet of water into the house he and his mom, Karen, shared in New Orleans’ Holley Grove neighborhood. Living in a FEMA trailer, he found himself back at his old school, Lafayette Academy, which had been transformed into a charter, one that in its first school year, turned into a new kind of mess.

"I felt like they did as much as they were able to do, but as far as us as students, it wasn’t fair to us. It’s not like we really learned anything," Domonick, now 21-years-old recalls of his seventh grade year. "We didn't have text books at all that year."

He and his mom decided to leave Lafayette Academy for a different school in eighth grade, before he finally settled down at Warren Easton for high school. Though it was a time of turbulence, football and academics got Foy through the transitions. 

"I played football from my freshman year to my senior year, I started all four years," Domonick says. "In high school, I was so good at what I did, to a point where I never really studied and I still was making good grades. So when I got to college it was kinda like shell shock, because I never did that before and I had to do it then." 

Domonick Foy in middle school with Karen Foy. (Photo credit: Katie Long/Marketplace)  

After some first-year bumps at his college in California, Foy finished his sophomore year strong. He's planning to complete college in Oklahoma at Langston University, where he's leaving himself several options for the future. 

Foy with the trombone he used to play in high school. 

Katie Long/Marketplace

"Every football player is gonna say, I’m going to the NFL, I’m going first round, I’m gonna get drafted," says Domonick. "If that happens, cool, but if it doesn’t, I’ll have my degree in Kinesiology, so I can always go into physical therapy, occupational therapy, sports medicine." Though his mother misses him when he's away from New Orleans during the school year, it's also a weight lifted from her mind.

"I worry, you know we have so much going on now with the crime," she says. "On the news, I wake up and I hear, oh this 21-year-old, and then you go into this panic mode, it's like, I need to hear from my son." Domonick sees the risk of violence too and thinks things have gotten worse since the storm. 

"No killing is justified, but before Katrina it was drug wars, those were the people that were getting into it," he says. "Now its like babies, all kinds of stuff that’s going on that never went on before Katrina, that’s constantly going on, its not like a one-time thing."

 

Greek parliament backs new bailout deal

Fri, 2015-08-14 02:00

From our partners at the BBC:

The Greek parliament has backed a new bailout deal after an all-night debate, despite a rebellion by many MPs in the governing Syriza party.

The deal requires tax rises and more tough spending cuts in return for an EU bailout of about €85bn (£61bn, $95bn) — Greece's third in five years.

Eurozone finance ministers are meeting to vote on the plan in Brussels.

A deal is needed to keep Greece in the eurozone and avert bankruptcy. But it is risky for Greek PM Alexis Tsipras.

More than 40 MPs from his left-wing Syriza party voted against him on Friday.

Reports in Greece suggest he will seek a vote of confidence in parliament next week, bringing the prospect of snap elections closer.

The deal received:

— 222 votes for

— 64 against

—11 absentions

Mr Tsipras has so far relied on the support of pro-European opposition parties to pass the controversial measures. Syriza was elected on an anti-austerity platform.

Makis Voridis, an MP with the opposition New Democracy, said his party would not support the PM in a confidence vote, Reuters news agency reported.

Thirty-one Syriza members voted "No", and 11 abstained — the biggest rebellion within Mr Tsipras's party so far. The rebels represented almost a third of Syriza's MPs.

Towards the end of the debate, Mr Tsipras defended what he called a painful but responsible decision. He said the country had no choice. This was not a triumph, he said, but nor was Greece in mourning.

The bill may have passed, but Mr Tsipras has paid a heavy political price. Almost a third of his own Syriza party members voted against the bailout, even more than expected. They believe the prime minister has comprehensively betrayed election pledges to turn his back on austerity.

In theory, Mr Tsipras has lost his parliamentary majority and his government is hanging by a thread. It's being widely reported he'll seek a vote of confidence next week, bringing the prospect of snap elections in the autumn that much closer.

But for now, the scene is set for eurozone finance ministers, meeting in Brussels later in the day, to give the bailout their seal of approval.

Donald trumps trolling

Fri, 2015-08-14 01:58
43 

That's how many Syriza lawmakers abstained or voted against the bailout deal approved on Friday by the Greek parliament. As Reuters writes, the surprising level of dissent could pave the way for a confidence vote that could lead to early elections. 

13

That's how old Domonick Foy was when Hurricane Katrina put 8 feet of water into the house he and his mom, Karen, shared in New Orleans’ Hollygrove neighborhood. It also upended his seventh-grade year — so much so, that Foy ended up repeating a grade when schools reopened as charters. Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio spoke with Foy shortly after the shakeup. The two recently caught up to see how the changed landscape of the New Orleans education system affected Foy's path in life.

35 percent

That's the percentage of new hires last year that Apple says were women. They also reported that 24 percent of new hires in the U.S. were black or Hispanic. As the Associated Press reports, that's double the previous number of new hires that were women, blacks and Hispanics, but it also just scratches the surface of diversifying the company's overall workforce.

3,153 web addresses

That's how many are registered by Donald Trump — a window into future business plans and preventative measures to avoid trolling. As Yahoo points out, among the registered URLs are: IHateTrumpVodka.com, NoMoreTrump.com, and TrumpIsFired.com

Lowe's takes a magical millennial bus tour

Thu, 2015-08-13 13:04

On a recent afternoon about three dozen members of the upper management team from Lowe's, the big box home improvement chain, flew from their company headquarters in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina to Los Angeles.  They climbed aboard a pleasantly air-conditioned charter bus. They weren’t in LA for the typical tour-bus stops; no movie-star mansions or views of the Hollywood sign.

Instead, the bus headed down a pot-holed, not-especially-picturesque street in northeast LA toward some of the city’s traditionally working-class neighborhoods — neighborhoods that have recently been changing very fast.

On the bus, everybody's necks are craned toward the windows. They've been told to keep their eye out for something.  And soon enough, they spot it. A black building with the name "Habitat" painted in big white letters.

Habitat is a new coffee shop in the area. But for the purposes of this bus tour it is much more than that. It's a sign that this urban, working class neighborhood we're driving through is on its way to becoming cool. And why do a bunch of suburban box store executives care about urban cool? 

Insight Immersion booklets (Photo courtesy Now Plus One) 

“Last fall, we were trying to really reevaluate how we look at consumer trends and some of the shifts taking place among the consumers,” explains Tanya Franklin, Lowe's Director of Market and Consumer insights, who helped organize this bus tour. “Not just how they shop but also how they live. People moving back in to the city, and how those inner city rings are really evolving.”

Until recently, inner city rings did not show up on the radar of a mass retail giant like Lowe's. The suburbs — big generic shopping malls — those were the best bets for customers with money to spend. But the suburbs are getting poorer. And that holy grail of retail demographics, The Millennials, are flocking to gentrifying neighborhoods. Leaders at Lowe's realized they needed to get a better handle on what makes this new, affluent, urban demographic tick. Which is why they're on this bus.

“Alright guys, so take notes please!” announces a voice from the front of the bus.

It is Stephan Paschalides, who is helping his passengers get a handle on this changing consumer landscape. As they drive, Paschalides points out the window at what, to an untrained eye, might just look like a fairly run down urban street. But Paschalides is helping his passengers see it differently.

Now Plus One provides tour booklets for its Insight Immersions, so clients can jot down notes along the way. (Photo courtesy Now Plus One) 

“So guys, this is an interesting mix of the old and new,” he says, passing by blocks of storefronts. Between the piñata shops and auto repair places, he counts two juice shops. “You know it's gentrified when there's juice shops,” he says.

Paschalides calls himself a "cultural insights consultant." His company, Now Plus One, takes big corporate brands like Clorox and Frito-Lay on tours like this one. “Think of us as storytellers slash translators slash guides,” he says. 

He calls these trips “Insight Immersions.”

Each tour, for each client, has a specific theme – Paschalides has helped Pepsi explore “the concept of masculinity” and Purina explore the concept of “real.” And then there's this Lowe's tour — all about, Paschalides says, "the changing demographic landscape."

“The goal is to get everyone out of their comfort zone, thinking in new creative ways about their consumers and understanding culture in a different way,” Paschalides says.

And, of course, ultimately, make money. “Besides getting inspired and besides learning, it's about understanding what insights that we collect today they can take back to Charlotte that will actually lead to profitable business opportunities,” he says. 

The tour stops for lunch in what is currently one of the hottest urban real estate markets in LA, and the country — Highland Park, at a restaurant called Good Girl Dinette. It's got a shiny orange counter and exposed brick walls. Paschalides describes the food as "comfort food with Vietnamese flair,” which reflects the "cultural hybridity of Southern California."

Lowe’s executives share a meal at Good Girl Dinette in northeast Los Angeles and consider the question “What role does ‘comfort food’ play in an urban environment and why do consumers seem to crave it more and more?” (Photo courtesy Now Plus One)

Then he explains to some of the Lowe’s team what a bánh mì sandwich is. The manager of the restaurant comes over, and Paschilades takes the opportunity to mine him for information.

“It's a wonderful smattering of people that have lived here since before any of us were born,” says the restaurant manager, a youngish guy with a beard, “and then newbies like me, who just moved to the neighborhood and are just yearning for something that's real and sincere. And this is about as real as you can get.”

One of the Lowe's execs jots down "Real" in his notebook. They got handed out at the beginning of the tour, with a list of questions to consider for each stop along the way. Questions like:

What role does ‘comfort food’ play in an urban environment and why do consumers seem to crave it more and more?  

What about the restaurant's aesthetic communicates its culinary intent?

A couple who hosts pop-up dinners in their downtown LA loft gives the Lowe’s team a taste of the sharing economy. (Photo courtesy Now Plus One) 

Troy Dally, a senior vice president at Lowe’s, knows these questions seem odd for a bunch of people in the home improvement business to be contemplating. But he takes a broader perspective. “From my standpoint, it's really getting to understand the customer outside of our world.”

The tour lasts eight hours. The bus stops at a DIY wood-working shop where they teach people how to make their own wooden spoons. It stops at a new condo development with a private dog park and a communal vegetable patch that Paschilides explains is redefining the concept of "community space."

It stops at a recently flipped house where the real estate developer explains he uses real marble and hard-wood to communicate of “authenticity and integrity.”

A real estate flipper in Highland Park tells the Lowe’s team that marble counter tops communicate “authenticity” to today’s consumer. (Photo courtesy Magic Bus) 

By the end of the tour heads are buzzing with buzzwords meant to evoke what the 21st century consumer wants. Some folks are stealing naps at the back of the bus. At one point, as we drive down another street in what may or may not be an "up-and-coming" neighborhood, one of the Lowe’s executives pipes up.

“I saw a yogurt shop back there.”

"A" for effort. But the yogurt trend is kind of over. 

Sesame Street's new address at HBO

Thu, 2015-08-13 13:00

Sesame Street is relocating to HBO.

The landmark children's television program is moving to pay TV after a decades-long run on PBS. A new deal announced Thursday will give HBO first dibs on new episodes, though they will ultimately be available free for PBS nine months later.

The idea of Big Bird and friends — among the most recognized and celebrated in public broadcasting — scurrying behind a paywall went from unthinkable to inevitable, driven by the current realities of how we watch, or increasingly, stream, our favorite shows. Even though Sesame Street aired on PBS, most of the money to pay for its production came from elsewhere, say media watchers.

“The reason Sesame Workshop was able to keep producing Sesame Street at very high cost is because they had extraordinary DVD and merchandising revenue, and that has started to decline,” explains Jim Steyer, CEO of the nonprofit Common Sense Media.

DVDs aren’t worth much in a streaming age. The collapse of a reliable revenue stream meant the company had to change, he says. Though, many observers recognize the potential for a backlash from fans angry at having to pay HBO to see new episodes, they recognize that current economic realities forced Sesame’s leaders to explore something new.

“The ability to extend its franchise, extend its brand and in particular get that type of funding from a private source is just enormously important for them,” says Jeffrey Jones, a University of Georgia professor who directs the Peabody Awards, which have honored Sesame Street and many HBO programs over the years.

HBO gets access to top-drawer children’s content, a hook to lure new subscribers. And Sesame gets a deep-pocketed partner, ensuring it can make more episodes, without facing tradeoffs on quality.

“If HBO is the corporate partner that can fund that and help that happen as opposed to their prior relationship with PBS, then that’s the way the chips fall,” says Jon Swallen, Chief Research Officer at Kantar Media.

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