Month: December 2010
Enjoying the Pineapple Express
As I do each year at this time, I review the rather short list of publications I receive (and pay for) and decide which ones will get my money in the coming annual cycle.
I do not take this exercise lightly. While I think much of the garment-rending over how the Internet is bringing about The Death of Journalism and The End of Good Writing is hyperbolic melodrama, I intend to hedge my bets by writing checks to a small but growing number of periodicals.
My Subscribe list for 2011 will be:
The Wall Street Journal (Online Edition) – Despite growing signs that News Corporation is trying to turn the WSJ into The New York Times, the Journal remains one of the two papers of record for global business. What is more, The WSJ’s Beijing Bureau Chief Andy Browne maintains a nonpareil bullpen of superb journalists which, paired with the staff of the Dow Jones Newswire down the hall, offers the best coverage of business and economic issues available in China.
The Financial Times (Online Edition) – The other, equally essential newspaper of record for global business and economics. As good as the WSJ is, I could never imagine not having a subscription to The Financial Times. The FT‘s coverage compliments the Journal’s, both through its more Euro-centric (and delightfully Murdoch-free) point-of-view and through the scope of stories that it covers. Besides, any paper that has Richard McGregor on its staff deserves support.
The Economist (Online Edition) – If any publication proves that there is still a value to a weekly publication covering world events, The Economist is it. Wading through each issue demands discipline, but it is always time well spent. I understand why their writers contribute without a byline, but I continue to believe The Economist does itself a disservice by not recognizing and celebrating the superb people who make the world’s best news weeekly possible.
The Atlantic – There are few articles in The Atlantic from which I do not learn something of value, and find myself entertained in the process. And little wonder: with a lineup of writers that includes James Fallows, Robert Kaplan, Marc Ambinder, Megan McArdle, Ben Schwarz, B.R. Myers (who helped me understand why I couldn’t get through Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom) and Christopher Hitchens (whom I respect as deeply as I loathe), there is no non-fiction monthly in the English-speaking world that can come close.
Harper’s – I am anything but the target demographic of this unabashedly left-liberal publication (George McGovern is on the board, Naomi Klein is a contributing editor, but the virtue of Harper’s is that, for the most part, it manages to be passionate without being shrill in its coverage of a wide range of issues. I like reading that challenges my thinking, and Harper’s does that each month.
Foreign Affairs – As the journal of record of the international relations establishment in the United States, Foreign Affairs is the platform in which U.S. policy and its alternatives are publicly debated, in many cases by the people making that policy.
Thunderbird International Business Review – Leave aside for a moment that I am a Thunderbird alumnus and would have an automatic bias in favor of TIBR. I am a past subscriber to both The Harvard Business Review and The Sloan Management Review, and where both of those outstanding publications fail me is on relevance. In any given issue, well over two-thirds of the articles have little or nothing to do with my work, my interests, or my aspirations. I suppose it would be different if I was leading a division of General Electric, running a global supply chain, or trying to make my company more innovative. But I’m not: I am helping companies figure out how to succeed in places far from home. TIBR wins, even at $100 a year.
The Wilson Quarterly – This is a new one this year. I have found myself reading its online articles with growing frequency, and I’m impressed with its deep-dives on key topics, as well as its attempt to bridge journalism and academic writing.
Those are the magic eight that I am buying and reading in 2011, but they were not the entire field. There are a handful of publications I considered getting this year, but something stopped me for each one.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek – I have always enjoyed the coverage from Tiff Roberts and the BusinessWeek team in Beijing, and I’ve been a subscriber off-and-on over the last ten years. I still feel like the dust from the merger of these two news powerhouses is still settling, and once it does, I expect I’ll subscribe again.
Commentary – As both a thinking Jew and a Bull-Moose conservative, Commentary should be the first journal I pick up each month. Indeed, I subscribed for several years. Alas, the magazine’s Judaic fervor comes largely from a no-questions-asked AIPAC Zionism, and its conservative chops remain decidedly Neocon. As soon as Commentary evolves beyond those, I’ll start paying for it again.
Esquire (iPad) – Technically my subscription runs until May, but I will not be renewing. Writers like Tom Junod and Thomas P.M. Barnett originally influenced my to give Esquire a try, but far too much of the magazine is devoted to telling me what clothes to wear, what Scotch to drink, and what music to listen to. I’m old enough to keep my own sartorial, dipsomaniacal, and terpsichorean counsel, and I trust the advice of friends and family more than some stranger with a word processor and an expense account.
Foreign Policy – An excellent magazine. As soon as I get over FP Editor Moises Naim’s near-hysterical December 2007 editorial predicting disruptive demonstrations and unrest in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, I will probably subscribe.
Vanity Fair – Every month there are at least three articles in each edition of VF that are simply outstanding. Unfortunately, there are also far too many articles about the parties, affairs and scandals of the decadent elite of the declining Atlantic civilization (i.e., the Main Line – Manhattan – Hamptons – Cape Cod – London – Paris – Gstaad crowd). I am sure these are very nice people, but I’d rather not kill the trees for 150 pages of articles about people I don’t care about and ads for products I’ll never buy just to read 15 pages of articles I want.
Wired – After it was purchased by Conde Nast and moved from San Francisco to New York, Wired lost its edge, and for a long time hovered on the cusp of becoming, well, Esquire for geeks. I can see improvements, though, so I’ll wait another year to see if S.I. Newhouse has the cojones to let Wired be less tired.
It’s quiet, alright
The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle asks an important question in her article “Can GM Get Its Groove Back?” Sadly for the subject and surprisingly for McArdle, she predicates her answer on a single factor: GM’s prospects in North America.
The home market is critical for GM, of course. At the same time, the U.S. is a mature and probably shrinking market, so It is not where GM’s growth prospects are. Even though the company downplayed its growing dependence on global markets (and global production) during the government bailout, GM’s reliance on China and Europe are no secret.
Indeed, one wonders how it is possible to conduct even a cursory analysis of GM’s prospects (or those of Ford, Boeing, Coca-Cola’s, or McDonald’s) without considering or even mentioning China.
But I’ll take it one step further: anyone really looking at the prospects of these companies should assume that the U.S. market will shrink over time while experiencing increased competition. Can GM survive if the US market declines…or implodes? And if not, why not?
In the Hutong
Almost Sundown…I think
“Those of us who care for Rupert, and I do very much, hope we don’t get the fifth act of King Lear,” says David Yelland, former editor of Murdoch’s London tabloid the Sun, now a partner with the Brunswick Gro
up. “You won’t find anyone to say anything critical about James Murdoch on or off the record. But the moment Rupert goes, that changes. Once he does pass, it will be very difficult to keep the company together. I almost wonder if he senses that and, toward the end of his life, we’ll suddenly wake up one morning and we’ll see an announcement he’s taking it private, or merge it with Google, or Microsoft, or [Liberty Media’s chairman] John Malone.”
Yelland offers some interesting scenarios. The alternative is to dismember the group into its component parts, selling them off one-by-one. The only bits worth keeping are the subscriber-driven businesses. If I were Mr. Murdoch, I’d be getting out of the ad-supported business right quick.
But, of course, that business is what he know. So it is unlikely.
I hope, for the sake of all involved that Yelland is right. If Murdoch clutches the lot to his chest until he takes his last breath, Wall Street’s carrion birds will be circling News Corp, not even waiting for it to fall over before picking it apart.
In the Hutong
One more case to prove volume and share leadership is overrated in the mobile device business: Sony-Ericsson CEO Bert Nordburg explained to The Wall Street Journal why the company doesn’t make cheap handsets. From the WSJ:
After several fiscal quarters of net losses, Sony Ericsson became profitable earlier this year, thanks to a restructuring and successful releases of Android-based smartphones.
Mr. Nordberg said analysts have been too focused on sales-volume declines in the July-September period. Sony Ericsson could easily increase sales volume by offering more inexpensive phones, but profitability is more important, he said. “We do no phones under €50 ($68.43), because we won’t make money,” he added.
You need scale to make money in that business, and SNE does not have that scale. Nor, apparently, does it want it.
I wonder if Nokia is at all worried that the rest of the industry is prepared to cede the low end to the Finns and a growing host of low-cost Chinese manufacturers?
Probably not: I think we are still a year or two away from Nokia realizing they really don’t want to be the cheap phone provider to the world. That will only happen when one or two large Chinese (or Indian) volume handset producers start beating Nokia with The China Price.
- Sony Ericsson Playstation phone launching in February (dialtosave.co.uk)
- Most up-to-date Design Sony Ericsson Cellphones – Tokyo, Japan (travelpod.com)
- Sony Ericsson ‘PlayStation Phone’ Filmed; Branded Xperia Z1? (pocketnow.com)
- Sony Ericsson Slyly Tips ‘PlayStation Phone’ for MWC Debut (pocketnow.com)