Spotify’s “sponsored content”: payola by any other name…

by Amber Healy

SpotifyIt’s too soon to know whether the new “sponsored content” policy helps artists or harms them.

Payola is the practice—the illegal practice—of a record label paying a broadcaster to play a song or artist at a higher rate than other artists.

There was a massive scandal decades ago in which radio stations were found to accept bribes to favor this artist or that one. It brought down some of the biggest names in the then-fledgling industry, including Alan Freed, the man credited with coining the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll,” and Dick Clark.

But times have changed. Things are different. And there’s no law governing the use of cold hard cash to encourage streaming platforms to promote artists for the right price. It also indicates a change in practice for Spotify, which called for a halt to payola-type practices back in 2015. At that time, the Swedish company announced it would “explicitly prohibit” users from taking cash to include songs on its curated playlists, the Financial Times reported.

Tech Crunch first noted this week that there was a new opt-out feature on Spotify, titled “Sponsored Content.”

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When a company cuts jobs, it shouldn’t spin that reality with corporate bullshit

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Time magazine’s first cover

The owner of the grandparent of weekly news magazines, Time, has decided to shed 300 jobs through layoffs and buyouts to reduce its costs.

A media corporation whacking jobs to save money? That’s not surprising news in the digital era. But what continues to aggravate and irritate is the lame corporate-speak executives use to explain the “downsizing” and to insist better, more profitable days lie in the future.

Consider remarks in a memo to staff from Time Inc.’s chief executive officer, Rich Battista:

[O]ne of the key components of our go-forward strategy is reengineering our cost structure to become more efficient and to reinvest resources in our growth areas as we position the company for long-term success. Today we took a difficult but necessary step in that plan as approximately 300 of our colleagues throughout Time Inc.’s global operation will be leaving the company. …

Time Inc. is a company in rapid transformation in an industry undergoing dynamic change. Transformations do take time and patience, but I am encouraged by the demonstrable progress we are making as we implement our strategy in key growth areas, such as video, native advertising and brand extensions, and as we see positive signs of stabilizing our print business, which remains an important part of our company. [emphasis added]

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Who really pays for cutting back rules limiting toxic emissions?

President Donald’s administrative minions, since day one, have been “reviewing” federal regulations they argue are so costly they curtail growth in American manufacturing, and worse, put American jobs at risk. Thus they are focusing on rules that govern environmental reviews in permitting processes and regulate impacts on worker health and safety.

Pollution Free ZoneIndustry groups oppose one particular regulation — the rule tightening ozone emissions under the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

According to a Reuters story by David Lawder, “The National Association of Manufacturers said the EPA’s review requirements for new sources of emissions such as factories can add $100,000 in costs for modeling air quality to a new facility and delay factory expansions by 18 months.”

According to Lawder, “Several groups argu[ed] this would expose them to increased permitting hurdles for new facilities, raising costs.” [emphasis added]

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What he promises, and what his budget does, differ markedly on fixing waterways

trump speechPresident Donald stood this week on the bank of the Ohio River before 400 steelworkers, coal miners, and construction workers with barges of coal parked behind him. Amid departures from his text to chastise those he called “obstructionists,” President Donald touted his plan to spend $1 trillion to rebuild the nation’s airports, roads, bridges and tunnels and all other elements of American infrastructure.

With barges as his background canvas, he told of lapses and collapses in the nation’s inland waterways. He cited a gate failure at the Markland Locks on the Ohio River that took five months to repair. He pointed to a massive section of a canal wall that collapsed near Chicago, delaying shipping. [See speech video.]

A release from the White House press office coincided with President Donald’s remarks. Regard inland waterways, the release said:

The infrastructure of America’s inland waterways has been allowed to fall apart, causing delays and preventing the United States from achieving its economic potential. According to [the American Society of Civil Engineers], most of the locks and dams needed to travel the internal waterways are past their 50-year lifespan and nearly 50 percent of voyages suffered delays. Our inland waterway system requires $8.7 billion in maintenance and the maintenance backlog is only getting worse.

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A daring young man … and a documentary dependent on his survival

Alex Honnold is a remarkable young man. He may be the foremost rock climber in generations.

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Alex Honnold

That his most recent feat was done entirely ropeless — meaning he’d die if he fell — adds to his impressive résumé.

Honnold, 31, climbed the Freerider route on the 3,000-foot granite monolith El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in just under four hours. (See the illustrated route map in The New York Times.) Just try to imagine it: He scaled vertical, sometimes overhanging granite, often using fingernail-sized handholds, with only his talent, control over fear, and sheer will protecting him from a fatal fall.

A life as a full-time, professional rock climber, such as Honnold, requires financial support. Honnold’s website points this out: “These are the companies that allow me to climb all day every day,” he writes. His sponsors include mountaineering equipment suppliers Black Diamond, Maxim Dynamic Ropes, La Sportiva, and North Face as well as GoalZero and Stride. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a climber who shuns the protection of a rope has rope manufacturers as sponsors …)

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Don’t worry: The rich will save the federal government. No, really. Right?

Imagine you’re filthy rich. A one-percenter. You’ve got tons of investments and other sources of interest-based income. Yes, I know, you’ve got that vacation house in Aspen and that skiing chalet in Zermatt. But those, and the house in the Hamptons, are getting a little pricey for upkeep and paying the household staff a livable wage.

Image result for tax images creative commonsYou’re tempted to sell off some of those investments to bring in some cash because the market’s pretty good right now. Besides, your Bentley is now three years old. Time to replace it with a new, $310,000 Mulsanne.

But your  team of crack accountants tells you to hold off selling anything: “Remember, President Donald says he’s gonna push serious tax reform through Congress real soon.” In fact, the president’s treasury secretary said the new tax plan would be “the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of this country.”

You, of course, salivate, thinking of all the money you’ll save if your top income-tax rate falls from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, to say nothing of the cut to 15 percent applied to all the businesses you own. (You know, of course, that team of crack accountants has for years kept you from paying anywhere near the top rate.)

So you indeed hold off selling. You tell all your one-percenter and one-tenth-of-one-percenter pals to hold off, too. So they do.

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President Donald on coal: ‘Yes.’ His chief economic adviser: ‘No.’

EnergyIs there a sane mind in the White House, one who believes the resurgence of coal promised by President Donald is a fiction concocted to garner November votes? Or who at least believes the coal industry is dead on its feet?

Even after his election, the president continued to promise coal renewal. In an address at the Environmental Protection Agency in March, he said:

We will unlock job producing natural gas, oil and shale energy. We will produce American coal to power American industry. [emphasis added]

President Donald has taken steps to unleash coal. He’s rolled back clean-air policies and regulations of previous administrations. He’s taken aim at President Obama’s Clean Power Plan with the goal of killing it. He has ordered the lifting of a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands. Continue reading

Tiger kills zookeeper because … the tiger had a set of keys?

Information wants to be free. Hamerton Zoo Park officials really fucked up the public statement.

You probably noted the story about the zookeeper killed by a tiger in England the other day. This is a tragic story in every way.

It’s also a maddening example of inept cover-your-ass PR language by the Hamerton Zoo Park’s spokespeople. By now we should all be getting used to the fact that every official agency of any sort on the planet spins us, from governments to Fortune 500s to sports agents to the local school board. If you’re frustrated by the fact that you have take a magnifying glass to every official pronouncement you come across, join the club.

This story features an unusually ham-handed example of what I’m talking about. Continue reading

A tale of newspapers’ financial collapse in three charts …

CATEGORY: JournalismThree charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two covering about 15 years, bluntly demonstrate the swift collapse of the centuries-old newspaper industry business model. They also herald the rise of an information-disbursing replacement — the internet.

A 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors shows newsroom (not overall) employment in the nation’s 1,400 daily newspapers at just under 33,000 people. That’s down from a high of 56,000 newsroom employees in the early ’90s. Of course, those paying attention to newsroom cuts over the past two years have seen what newspaper managements, particularly at Gannett, have done to its remaining workforce. I estimate the daily newsroom workforce to be down to nearly 31,000.

The BLS data covers all employment in the newspaper industry, not just reporters and editors, and not just from dailies. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook lists more than 6,500 community weeklies, defined as any newspaper publishing at least once a week but no more than three times a week.

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Want to save local news? Kill off local newspapers. Really.

Consider this verdict based on the evidence of economics: Local print newspapers ought to die. Now. That’s what one observer believes, and he’s pretty convincing.

CATEGORY: JournalismNewspapers are on their deathbeds now, burdened by several diseases associated with print. Their physical infrastructure — printing presses, distribution means such as delivery trucks, the large buildings that typically house them (and heating, cooling and electrical costs), news stands, and single-copy racks — is too expensive to maintain. The advertising revenue that system once gleaned in bucketloads is now merely a trickle.

Newspapers’ core product — presumably valuable local news — is insufficient to fill the space around the ads, so fluff of little or no value to local readers — wire copy, advice columns, national and international news, crossword puzzles, sports agate copy, and so on — occupies the remaining space.

Ben Thompson, who writes and speaks about strategy and business, argues to save local news, everything not associated with local news ought to be stripped away. A journalist entrepreneur focused solely on local news could fund that operation with subscriptions — not advertising, he says.

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Journalism’s new (not really) vehicle for delivering news — email newsletters

CATEGORY: JournalismI don’t read The Washington Post any more. I don’t see a hard copy. I don’t go prowling around its website.

Instead, I read four of its newsletters delivered by email every day. In fact, WashPo offers 68 newsletters culled from the work of its journalists and pundits. So it’s easy to select the kind of news anyone might want (rather than have an algorithm do it).

These newsletters are well-crafted and not necessarily hastily churned-out hodgepodges of factoids. For example, the Daily 202 (all about news from the American capital), begins like this today:

10 important questions raised by Sally Yates’s testimony on the ‘compromised’ Michael Flynn

Sally Yates’s Senate testimony in three minutes

THE BIG IDEA: Sally Yates’s riveting testimony Monday raised far more questions than it answered. Most of all, it cast fresh doubts on Donald Trump’s judgment. [boldface in original]

Each Daily 202 from WashPo is designed to be quickly read. Each item is one or two paragraphs and contains a link or two for further consumption.

WashPo’s not alone in the newsletter game. Continue reading

Donald’s new executive order gives really rich people another dark-money weapon

President Donald signed an executive order this week, intending to relax tax-law consequences on churches that endorse political candidates. In his zeal to “protect and vigorously promote religious liberty,” he opened the door to yet another avenue for really rich people to subvert democratic choice in U.S. elections.

https://www.legalzoom.com/sites/legalzoom.com/files/uploaded/articles/maintaining_tax_exempt_status_in_a_nonprofit.jpgDonald’s language a few months ago foreshadowed this: “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Well, he can’t do that. Congress makes law, not presidents.

However, his executive order “discourages the IRS from going after churches aggressively for their political expression.” The Johnson Amendment “prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations such as churches from participating directly or indirectly in any political campaign to support or oppose a candidate. Continue reading

Export U.S. coal to Asia? Not so fast, say three West Coast states — and Canada?

Coal-Train-300x268It appears Canada may no longer be a willing partner for American coal companies wishing to export coal to Asia. No economically feasible alternatives to get coal to Pacific Rim markets exist for those companies, either.

News item from October 2016:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A coal company with mines in Montana and Wyoming said Thursday that it’s begun exporting fuel to Asia through a Canadian shipping terminal, after its years-long effort to secure port access in the U.S. Pacific Northwest has come up short.

That’s not surprising. The use of coal in America, as S&R explained last year, has stalled — and it’s not going to rebound despite President Donald’s promise to revive the coal industry. So the owners of big coal mines in Montana and Wyoming are looking to export coal to Asian markets to shore up revenues.

But the states of California, Washington, and Oregon have opposed coal export terminal projects in Oakland, Calif.; Bellingham, Gray’s Harbor, and Longview, Wash.; and Port of Morrow, St. Helens, and Coos Bay, Ore. So coal corporations have decided to ship through Canadian ports on its western coast. For now, maybe.

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United Airlines and its ‘calculated misery’: happy customers just aren’t needed to make money

The future of Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, has just been re-accommodated.

You remember him, of course. After airport dragoons dragged a boarded, seated, paying customer off a United aircraft, Munoz’s first PR apology contained what Scholars & Rogues has called the “word of the year”: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

telemmglpict000125651009-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqbe6o56qrl4zbrlmqqi7ubfvse9jsn00kzbur3ixhagoWell, that’s cost him. Munoz had been groomed to move upstairs from CEO to chairman of United Continental Holdings, the airline’s owner. (You do remember, of course, that Continental agreed to merge with United seven years ago.) Well, Munoz won’t get that top job.

United’s twin clusterfucks of policy execution (overbooking issues) and PR aftermath (“re-accommodated”) have derailed Munoz’s career — well, a little. He may lose about $500,000 from his bonus, because it’s tied in part to what airlines call KPI — key performance indicators, as indicated in consumer satisfaction surveys. But don’t shed a tear for Munoz — he received $18.7 million in total compensation for 2016, more than triple that of 2015. Continue reading

What does it mean to be a “good ancestor”?

usa-2074What is a good parent? What is a good grandparent? These terms don’t mean what they used to.

I heard a comment a few weeks ago about someone who wanted to be thought of as a “good ancestor.” It has stuck with me, and I have been wrestling with what, if anything, is meant by the phrase. It’s a serious attempt to capture something that up to a decade or two ago would never have been in question. Up until recently, ancestors generally were good in the same way. They tried to make a career and livelihood for themselves that could be passed on to their children, or to equip their children with the tools necessary to survive and, hopefully, to prosper. My grandparents took this responsibility seriously—this is why some of them emigrated to America from Germany. And this sense of responsibility preceded them by generations, and was passed on to their children, who tried to, and sometimes even succeeded in, passing it on to my generation. Leaving the world a better place was a given.

But the world has changed. All of this took place in a world that seemed to have no limits—natural capital, if it was thought about at all, was thought to be inexhaustible. But we know now that this is not true. Not only is natural capital, the foundation of the global economic system, exhaustible, some parts of it (such as water) are being depleted at a more rapid rate than anyone could have anticipated. Continue reading

Economic development, and the decline of rural prospects, is a tale of many cities

Economic neglect unleashes the stalking demons of fear and bigotry.

We have seen those demons basking in the movements which gave us Brexit in the UK, Donald Trump’s election in the US, and which may soon yield Marine le Pen as the new Vichy leader of France.

I have started visiting small towns and cities around the UK in an effort to both understand what is happening there, and to promote small business investment in those areas.

I won’t post all the episodes here, but you can follow along at Coffee Conspiracies on YouTube.

In this episode, I look at the data for every local authority in England and Wales and consider the opportunities and threats for their communities.

HB2 cost NC a lot more than $3.76B

The AP says the “bathroom bill” cost North Carolina $3.76 billion. The real damage is likely much, much higher.

The AP yesterday released an analysis indicating that reaction to North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 – the “bathroom bill” – cost the state a staggering $3.76 billion in lost business, projected over 12 years. That’s a remarkable hit to economy, but as I read the full details of how the AP arrived at that number, I can’t help wondering just how badly they underestimated the true damage that former governor “One Term” Pat McCrory and the rest of the jackals in the state GOP caused NC.

Have a look at the WaPo article linked above, then consider: Continue reading

Business

The Ploughman: a modern business fable

No one likes to be thought a fool.

Farmer Moran needed a new workhorse, so he went to the local auction. There he spotted a strong, lean stallion he thought would be fine. He asked the owner about the horse, but the owner advised him against it. “This is Lightning,” he said. “Lightning is a thoroughbred. What you want is a draught horse.”

Moran, though, was confident in his own judgment. Undeterred, he outbid everyone for Lightning.

He got the horse home and harnessed him up, but Lightning proved no end of trouble. Continue reading

If Congress decides to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, keep tabs on who gets it

The grades are in. The nation’s infrastructure is close to failing.

aging-infrastructureThe 2017 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers, posted today, gives the infrastructure on which America depends for commerce, defense, recreation, flight, food, water, waste — almost everything — an overall grade of D+.

From the ASCE report:

The 2017 grades range from a B for Rail to a D- for Transit, illustrating the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. Three categories – Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit – received a decline in grade this year, while seven – Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater – saw slight improvements. Six categories’ grades remain unchanged from 2013 – Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads.

The areas of infrastructure that improved benefited from vocal leadership, thoughtful policymaking, and investments that garnered results.

Scholars & Rogues has long considered addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs essential for the nation’s economic, cultural, resource, and domestic security (see here, here, here, and here). Continue reading

delete-uber

Uber “Greyball” scandal: it’s time to consider the death penalty for corporations

delete-uberUber says they’ll stop using Greyball. But this is only the latest outrage from America’s most incorrigibly corrupt business. Time to#DeleteUBER. As in, delete the company. Permanently.

You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one

The American corporation exists for one purpose: to “maximize shareholder value.” Thanks to a variety of factors, including a Supreme Court decision that codified this particularly sociopathic view, employees don’t matter, communities don’t matter, the environment doesn’t matter, and really the only commandment when it comes to bending the rules is “thou shalt not get caught.” Continue reading