Ready, Fire, Aim! - Mihail's Public Blog

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Costco prices

According to this New York Times story on Costco:

"When I started, Sears, Roebuck was the Costco of the country, but they allowed someone else to come in under them," he said. "We don't want to be one of the casualties. We don't want to turn around and say, 'We got so fancy we've raised our prices,' and all of a sudden a new competitor comes in and beats our prices."

At Costco, one of Mr. Sinegal's cardinal rules is that no branded item can be marked up by more than 14 percent, and no private-label item by more than 15 percent. In contrast, supermarkets generally mark up merchandise by 25 percent, and department stores by 50 percent or more.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Independent book stores

According to this San Francisco Chronicle story on the new Harry Potter book:

Membership in the American Booksellers Association fell from 4,000 companies a decade ago to about 1,700 today.

Over the past four years, that attrition has slowed, and the share of the market held by independent bookstores has stabilized at about 10 percent, according to the association.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A mega book launch for young author

According to this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required), approximately 195,000 books were published last year with few books promoted extensively by the publishers. The exception is an upcoming fantasy novel, Christopher Paoloni's "Eldest" that will have 1M copies published accompanied by a huge marketing budget:

Mr. Paolini's series, however, already may be on its way to becoming a cultural phenomenon. Now 21 years old, Mr. Paolini wrote the first in the series, "Eragon," when he was only 15. He published it himself. Then it was scooped up by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers and published in 2003. Today the book has more than two million hardcovers and paperbacks in print in the U.S.

Ms. Kline says the most important marketing lesson the publisher learned from "Eragon" is "how powerful the online community can be in establishing a book." Fan sites and message boards built tremendous word-of-mouth, effectively establishing "Eragon" as a book that many teens and young adults felt they had to read.

Monday, July 4, 2005

United Church of Christ embraces gay marriage

There is a huge difference between civil marriage (and the 1000+ federal rights that come with it) that gays and lesbians are fighting for since it is a basic human right that should be available to all US citizens and not just for the ones the majority wants to cherry pick -- separate versus equal didn't work for African-Americans and it won't work here.

Versus religious marriage which is the privilege of each religion to grant, or not grant, to gays and lesbians. According to this AP story in the San Jose Mercury News, the United Church of Christ, which came about thru the merger of two Protestant denominations in 1957, has embraced gay marriage at its biennial meeting in Atlanta:

Roughly 80 percent of the members of the church's General Synod voted to approve the resolution. They debated for about an hour before voting.

On Sunday, a committee of about 50 United Church of Christ representatives gave nearly unanimous approval to the resolution. It was supported by the UCC's president, John H. Thomas.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Rent-a-forehead

According to this AP Wire story:

For $10,000, Kari Smith has gone ahead and had her forehead tattooed with the Web address of a gambling site.

...Smith's eBay auction attracted more than 27,000 hits and 1,000 watchers. Bidding reached $999.99 before Goldenpalace.com, an Internet gambling company in the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Canada, met Smith's $10,000 asking price.

Ellison on philanthropists demanding results, accountability

As we are beginning to have similar conversations about figuring out where our contributions can have the most impact -- whether in the arena of equal rights for all, HIV research, or cultivating the best people for the highest offices in California and the United States -- this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required) on Larry Ellison's expected $115M gift to Harvard quotes Ellison expressing the same concerns.

It is time that we as donors, no matter how large or small, asked for specific results from the nonprofits that we support (and an explanation of how our contributions are being spent strategically on the most critical issues). It is no longer enough to simply give money to those that do good work. It is time to give money where it will have the most impact today.

"We're going to monitor the return on investment in different medical programs," Mr. Ellison said. "It's very easy to say, 'We should invest in this, we should invest in that.' But how good, in terms of fighting malaria, are mosquito nets infused with pesticide? What's our return on investment for cleaning up water? What's our return on global warming? It's important to look at every dollar spent on health care and the return on that."

..."One of the great problems of philanthropy is that we measure the wrong thing," Mr. Ellison said. "We measure the inputs, not the outputs. The obligation of the philanthropist should not end when the check is written. There should be some accountability for how that money was used, and how much good was done."

Sleep in it? May as well wear it!

According to this Wall Street Journal story, high thread counts are coming to a shirt near you just as you were getting used to sleeping in your Frette sheets:

In an effort to justify higher prices, high-end retailers have started selling men's cotton shirts with thread-counts as high as 220. On a typical men's shirt, thread-counts, which measure the number of threads per square inch, are about 100 or less, retailers say. Generally, the higher the thread-count, the softer and lighter the shirt.

[For example, this] month, Thomas Pink introduced a line of $325 "200s" cotton shirts for men (with a thread-count of 200) in blue, lilac, white or pink with stripes or checks (call 212-838-1928 to order). It also has custom-ordered, 200-thread-count shirts for $425.

Spain and Canada lead

According to this New York Times story, there's still a difference between the same-sex marriage permitted in The Netherlands and Belgium vs the truly equal gay marriage to be allowed in Canada and Spain:

The Spanish measure simply adds one sentence to existing law: "Marriage will have the same requirements and results when the two people entering into the contract are of the same sex or of different sexes."

The laws in Holland and Belgium, by contrast, create a separate category of rights for same-sex couples that fall short of full equality on issues like adoption, these advocates say.

..."Today, Spanish society is responding to a group of people who have been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, their dignity offended, their identity denied and their freedom restricted," Prime Minister José Luis Rodíguez Zapatero told Parliament.

HIV+? Poor? Tough

Unbelievable that so few people are receiving the HIV drugs that could help them live almost-normal lives around the world according to this New York Times story, which also quotes the WHO that some 40M people are now infected with HIV around the world (although it isn't clear how many are without access to HIV drugs):

About one million people in poor countries are receiving antiretroviral drugs, said Dr. Jim Yong Kim, director of the World Health Organization's AIDS department, meaning the program is not on track to reach the goal announced in late 2003. The agency set three million as its goal because it seemed to be a reasonable target that could inspire donors and poor countries to act quickly.

Donors have committed $27 billion over the next three years but have delivered only $9 billion, the health agencies said.

The end is near

At least that's what the Religious Right will tell you and I'm sure I'll be getting my next mailing from Focus on the Family very soon. First Massachusetts, then the end of the world (uh, one year later, I don't see the end of the world on the East Coast?!).

With Belgium, The Netherlands and now Canada and Spain, gay marriage is becoming the law in countries who get it... that all citizens deserve the same rights and that separate but equal didn't work for African-Americans and other minorities, and it won't work for gays and lesbians.

There's a difference between civil marriage (and the 1000+ rights that come with that) and what a religion is willing to call (or doesn't want to call) religious marriage. That's a decision for each religion to make -- and Canadian law will ensure that no religion is forced to conduct gay marriages -- but a country's civil laws must treat all citizens equally. According to this CNN story on the Spanish decision:

The measure passed the 350-seat Congress of Deputies by a vote of 187-147 with four abstentions. The bill, part of the ruling Socialists' aggressive agenda for social reform, also lets gay couples adopt children and inherit each others' property.

..."We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven, ladies and gentlemen, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told the chamber before the vote.

Zapatero said the reform of Spain's legal code simply adds one dry paragraph of legalese -- but means much, much more.

He called it "a small change in wording that means an immense change in the lives of thousands of citizens. We are not legislating, ladies and gentlemen, for remote unknown people. We are expanding opportunities for the happiness of our neighbors, our work colleagues, our friends, our relatives."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Canada moves forward

With the 158-to 133-vote in the House of Commons, which represents the support of the majority of three of the four parties, the Canadian legislature voted to approve same-sex marriage across the country despite strong opposition from the Conservatives -- and in contrast to its neighbor to the south that believes that rights should be granted to only some of its citizens. Note the separation of church and state in the last paragraph below. According to this New York Times story:

The vote sealed two years of provincial court decisions that gave same-sex couples the right to marry in 8 of 10 provinces and one of the three northern territories. When the Senate approves the measure, considered a formality, Canada will become the third national government, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to enact such rights.

...With enactment of the legislation, same-sex couples will be able to marry for the first time in Alberta, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the unions of couples who have already married in other jurisdictions will now be recognized everywhere in Canada.

...Before passage, members agreed to an amendment that would protect the charitable status of any religious institution that refuses to perform same-sex marriages.

Ireland's advice

According to this Thomas Friedman New York Times column on Ireland, the second-richest country in the European Union based on per capita GDP:

Ireland's advice is very simple: Make high school and college education free; make your corporate taxes low, simple and transparent; actively seek out global companies; open your economy to competition; speak English; keep your fiscal house in order; and build a consensus around the whole package with labor and management - then hang in there, because there will be bumps in the road - and you, too, can become one of the richest countries in Europe.

"It wasn't a miracle, we didn't find gold," said Mary Harney. "It was the right domestic policies and embracing globalization."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Advertisers head to the movies

With more and more of us zapping the ads out of television programs (we do it via our Comcast recorder since our TiVo never worked with our HDTV box), it seems that advertisers are headed to product placement and ads at the movies (with 27,000 of the 37,000 American movie screens running ads) according to this New York Times story (registration required):

Last year, ads in United States movie theaters grew 23 percent to $438 million, according to the Cinema Advertising Council. The two-year-old trade association, scheduled to announce the increase today, is also expected to report that on-screen advertising revenues grew 20 percent last year to $374 million. Off-screen promotions - including revenue from in-lobby promotions - rose 41 percent to $64 million.

...In the first quarter of 2005, 50 percent of United States moviegoers were between the ages of 12 and 34 and a third were 12 to 24, according to Nielsen Cinema. The education levels and spending power of those in the movie theaters are attractive to marketers, too. In 2004, 35 percent of all moviegoers were college graduates or more highly educated, while their median household income was $66,000, according to Nielsen.

Would you like Dylan with that venti blended latte?

Starbucks, music distributor. Makes sense. I plan to buy the Coldplay album from Starbucks the next time I'm in there even though I'll be paying full price. It's convenient. And it was Starbucks that introduced me to Coldplay's music the last time I was in its Menlo Park store for a couple of hours working on my laptop. And based on the long line of teenagers at that store at the end of a school day, Starbucks is the perfect sales channel for music. According to this New York Times story yesterday (registration required):

Starbucks plans to announce today that it will exclusively sell "Bob Dylan: Live at the Gaslight 1962," further encroaching on the turf of traditional music retailers by offering a recording that has been prized by fans as a bootleg for decades.

Over the last year, the chain has become a force in the music business with the success of the Grammy-winning album of Ray Charles duets, "Genius Loves Company." Starbucks sold more than 750,000 copies of the album.

..."We're focused on providing our customers unique opportunities," said Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment, referring to albums that were unavailable elsewhere. "We want the music customer to think of Starbucks as a destination."

Google bubbles over $300

Even though I like Google the fact is that I'm starting to move away from it...to Amazon's A9.com for search (yep, that's my toolbar now), to Interactive Corp./Ask Jeeves' Bloglines and experimenting with MyYahoo for RSS feeds, and since Froogle never worked very well I'll be checking out eBay's new acquisition Shopping.com instead.

So why is the one-trick pony (the vast majority of its revenue comes from Internet advertising which is growing, sure, but what if advertisers stop pouring money?) that goes by GOOG on Nasdaq going thru the roof -- seems like professional pools of money have decided they need to be invested in Google no matter what the price and by May 38% of Google shares were owned by them up from 35% a month earlier according to this New York Times story (registration required):

"This is where you can say this is like 1998," Mr. Tinker said. "Institutions realize they can't afford not to be in, whatever the price."

...Comparisons are also being made between Google and Time Warner, another company deriving the bulk of its revenue from advertising. Time Warner had a market capitalization of $79.19 billion at the close of the market on Monday, below Google's though it posted first-quarter revenue eight times that of Google, and profits about three times as large.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Dave Eggers on improving schools

In this New York Times op-ed co-written by Dave Eggers, the co-authors recommend an increase in teacher salaries as the first step:

But where will local districts get the money to increase salaries? One idea: every day, bonds are approved to build stadiums, even schools. The presumption is that the new buildings will increase the profile of a given city, thus attracting more visitors, more businesses, more families and more tax revenue, all of which will pay down the bond. By the same token, then, wouldn't it make sense to create a bond to pay for better educators?

The district would get the best teachers, families would get better schools, businesses would settle in the city with the great public schools, property values would go up, and everyone would be happy. Especially the students, who would get the best educators, gain respect for the profession and might even consider becoming teachers themselves. The talent pool would then grow ever stronger, and in 20 years we could have created the best corps of teachers the country has ever known.

High prices delivered ice cold

An amusing New York Times story (registration required) on the more expensive the stores the colder the temperature:

A recent experiment in which a reporter visited various commercial corners of Manhattan with a high-grade thermometer found that almost without fail, the more ritzy the establishment is trying to be, the colder the air-conditioning is kept. In other words, the higher the prices, the lower the temperatures. Consider the clothing stores: Bergdorf Goodman, 68.3 degrees; Bloomingdale's, 70.8; Macy's 73.1; Club Monaco, 74.0; the Original Levi's Store, 76.8; Old Navy 80.3.

...The idea of enticing customers with air-conditioning dates to early-20th-century movie houses. The managers would often keep the front doors open to allow cool "advertising air" to spill out onto the sidewalk to attract sweltering passers-by.

Gates Foundation funds 43 scientists' proposals

According to this Dow Jones Newswire story on the Wall Street Journal site, the Gates Foundation has committed $450M to what it calls its "Grand Challenges in Global Health" initiative:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced Monday that it is funding 43 proposals on public health research with grants totaling $436.6 million. The grants will pay for research ranging from finding AIDS vaccines to boosting the nutritional content of bananas.

The proposals were chosen from 1,500 submitted by scientists in response to questions asked by the foundation two years ago. The questions were: How can we improve public health in developing countries? Can we develop vaccines that don't require refrigeration or needles? Are there better ways to stop insects from spreading malaria and other diseases?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Contemporary art heating up

The success of recent auctions in London at Christie's and Sotheby's show that the contemporary art market is heating up -- and one my favorite artists, Sean Scully, who's newest work on paper we recently acquired coincidentally from a London gallery -- hit a record high for his work. Plus, there's a major US show of his work coming up this Fall. According to this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required):

Contemporary work dominated this week's fine-art auctions in London, continuing a trend that began four years ago. At Sotheby's Wednesday, sales of contemporary works rose 37% from last year, to $35.3 million. Yesterday, Christie's posted $44.5 million in contemporary sales, up almost 74% from the total in 2004.

In contrast, evening sales of Impressionist and Modern pieces sank 25% from fall 2004 at Sotheby's and rose 9% at Christie's.

...At one point Wednesday night at Sotheby's, eleven bidders were vying for Sean Scully's large geometric painting, "Wall of Light, Temozon," which set a record for the artist when it sold to a private buyer for £377,600.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Silicon Valley and Hollywood join forces -- for good!

According to this San Jose Mercury News story, Jeff Skoll's Participant Productions has several films in the works as well including one that features George Clooney and Matt Damon and another with Academy Award winner Charlize Theron in collaboration with Warner:

Jeff Skoll, the billionaire former president of eBay, and actor Robert Redford have teamed up for projects designed around philanthropy and filmmaking. One of the results gets a national unveiling starting Tuesday: ``The New Heroes'' documentary series for PBS stations.

The series, which focuses on a globe-spanning group of ``social entrepreneurs'' who want to use business strategies to finance non-profit goals, epitomizes a longtime Redford ideal of using film on behalf of cultural and humanitarian causes.

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