Tag Archives: nytimes

Free parking not actually free

Tyler Cowen writes in the NYTimes

The subsidies are largely invisible to drivers who park their cars — and thus free or cheap parking spaces feel like natural outcomes of the market, or perhaps even an entitlement. Yet the law is allocating this land rather than letting market prices adjudicate whether we need more parking, and whether that parking should be free. We end up overusing land for cars — and overusing cars too. You don’t have to hate sprawl, or automobiles, to want to stop subsidizing that way of life.

Treme Trailer

"Treme", David Simon's latest premiers Aprill 11 on HBO. The show and Simon got the
New York Times Magazine treatment on Sunday...

The story lines in “Treme” begin three months after Katrina, and they follow a diverse group of characters as they rebuild their lives in a city torn apart, a city in which tens of thousands of houses are abandoned, in which only 50 percent of the population remains, in which neighborhoods are still without power. The main characters in “Treme” aren’t the overburdened cops, spiraling addicts, ruthless dealers, struggling dockworkers, corrupt politicians or compromised journalists of “The Wire.” In their place, for the most part, are musicians.

Mad Men Barbie Dolls

I really hope we don't look back at this and say, "Then. It was then we knew the show had jumped." I mean... it doesn't mean anything, right? It's nothing. Shake it off.
The dolls are part of a premium-price collectors’ series for adults that Mattel calls the Barbie Fashion Model Collection. Although there have been Barbies and Kens based on other TV series, among them “I Love Lucy” and “The X-Files,” the dolls will be the first licensed line for that collection, Mattel says, with a suggested retail price of $74.95 each.

The Trouble With Debit Cards

The NY Times discusses the problems caused by rewards earning credit/debit cards for merchants and consumers alike. Visa, and to a lesser extent Mastercard, come off looking like health insurance companies. Entities who don't add significant value to the economy, but manage to skim huge profits and act as a burden anyway. One solution:
Life might be simpler and more efficient if retailers could levy a surcharge that covers their costs to accept cards and let consumers figure out whether to pay it. But the card companies don’t allow that, and Congress hasn’t yet forced their hand, though this is now how things work in Australia (where some retailers charge excessive fees, alas).

And from a few days earlier, here is the Times talking about why the fees are so high.
The banks have used interchange fees as a growing profit center and to pay for cardholder perks like rewards programs. Interchange revenue has increased to $45 billion today, from $20 billion in 2002, driven in part by the surge in debit card use.

Strategic Default

I missed this NYTimes piece by Roger Lowenstein discussing how incongruous it is for big banks to be the main cheerleaders for the idea that people have a moral imperative to continue paying mortgages when their homes are underwater. This concept seems perilously close to a tipping point that would have disastrous results for the economy. What would the banks do then? Lowenstein, by the way, wrote the great, "Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management", which is as good as, "Liar's Poker" at helping to explain the genesis of this entire mess.

Think of private-equity firms that close a factory — essentially deciding that the company is worth more dead than alive. Or the New York Yankees and their World Series M.V.P. Hideki Matsui, who parted company as soon as the cheering stopped. Or money-losing hedge-fund managers: rather than try to earn back their investors’ lost capital, they start new funds so they can rake in fresh incentives. Sam Zell, a billionaire, let the Tribune Company, which he had previously acquired, file for bankruptcy. Indeed, the owners of any company that defaults on bonds and chooses to let the company fail rather than invest more capital in it are practicing “strategic default.” Banks signal their complicity with this ethos when they send new credit cards to people who failed to stay current on old ones.

Best Books of the Year?

The Omnivoracious blog on Amazon compared their year end top 100 books list, with the New York Times 100 Notable Books and Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2009 to get a composite of the best books of 2009. There were 11 books that were on all 3 lists this year, plus 2 that were not on the Notable 100, but were on other NY Times lists. For what it's worth, there were 13 last year and 11 in 2007. No women authors made the cut, only 2 novels, and 2 graphic novels.
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
Born Round by Frank Bruni
Cheever by Blake Bailey
Columbine by Dave Cullen
Fordlandia by Greg Grandin
The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford
Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan (not in NYT's 100 Notable, but in their best cookbooks list)
The Jazz Loft Project by Sam Stephenson (not in NYT's 100 Notable, but in their Gift Books list)

A Month’s Worth of Links About Newspapers

I Read The News Today Exhibition, The British Library [120709]
Photo by Flickr user danielweir.esq

It's important to note when discussing the problems at newspapers that spending on advertising is down almost EVERYWHERE, not just in newspapers. Industries that are dependent on ad dollars, of which Big Newspaper is just one, are all hurting. Yes, circulation is down, but there aren't less people reading the news necessarily, there are just less people subscribing to newspapers. If newspapers were able to charge higher fees for online advertising, they'd be in much better shape, obviously.

On that note, I noticed I had about a zillion tabs open related to the newspaper industry and I thought I'd collect them all here.

Via Daring Fireball, The Awl, demanding context from how bi-annual newspaper circulation numbers are typically reported, put together a chart showing newspaper circulation over the last 2 decades. It's pretty if you like looking at line graphs with dramatically plummeting line graphs. The LA Times' fall is breathtaking in its suddenness, and circulation is down 10% across the board.

In supporting Steve Coll's idea that newspapers should be nonprofits and in attempting to determine the value of local newspapers, Clay Shirky decides to do a "news biopsy" on his hometown newspaper, the Columbia Daily Tribune. From his biopsy, he finds that only 1/6 of the newspaper is "created news" or content created by the newspaper's 6 reporters and those 6 reporters work for a newspaper with 59 employees.
The city desk editors and the copy chief make the work...more valuable than it would otherwise be. But you can pick any multiplier you like for necessary editorial and support staff and that number, times six reporters, won’t be a big number. In particular, it won’t be 59, or anywhere near it.

His conclusion? "There are dozen or so reporters and editors in Columbia, Missouri, whose daily and public work is critical to the orderly functioning of that town, and those people are trapped inside a burning business model."

Also commenting on the "the power and necessity of local reporting" Esquire.com uses the recent Samoan earthquake/tsunami as an example of the big guys besting the little guys.

Newsosaur looked into pay walls and found that paywalls might never come because publishers are realizing they can't afford to lose the traffic a paywall would cost. Which is good news, because some columnists are quitting over paywalls. At the end of the Newsosaur's piece, there is bleating from Stephen Brill that, “You are misinformed about folks being less inclined” to add paywalls. Stephen Brill, by the way, founded Journalism Online, a company dedicated to helping publishers charge consumers for content, so, you know, he might be biased. (Journalism Online has a funny section of their site called Why Readers Will Pay For Online News, which features several different newspapers talking about why people SHOULD pay for news, but not why they WILL. That's a distinction worth making.)

Finally, via Kottke, Daniel Gross has a piece in Slate that says despite the falling circulations numbers, it's not as bad as you think. Several publishers were able to raise subscription revenue by raising subscription costs enough to make up for canceled subscriptions. "This is the new emerging model—cutting costs, raising prices."

I debated whether to include this last one because I kind of hate Megan McArdle's writing. I figured since I had already read her post and linked it, I'd leave it there for you to decide if you want to read it or not. Here's Megan McArdle doing what she does best, spewing confusing nonsense. She doesn't add anything to the conversation, but wants you to know she's very concerned about the future of journalism.