Friday, February 27, 2009

Picking the Hits

A few years back, I worked as an A&R director for a digital record label... it didn't last long. By the time I came on board, the Founder and CEO had already signed 11 artists. Unfortunately, only two of those artists should have ever been considered for the label... and to be completely honest, only one of them had a real chance of ever succeeding in the digital space. I quickly discovered that although the CEO had a passion for music, his ability to "pick the hits" was sorely lacking. He loved the music of his youth and was drawn to those same dated styles of music. Not that it was all bad, some of it was quite good, but it wasn't right for the market... or the times.

The company ran out of money before I could bring my first project to market. Luckily, an employee was able to connect some investors to the founder and the company reinvented itself as a media aggregator... although it never made a profit. A few months after the record company bit the dust, the COO said to me, "We should have never been in the business of picking hits, it was too risky. Nobody wants to be in that business." I disagreed then... and I still do today.

Every successful company is in the business of picking hits, whether it's software or soft rock. I understand that the concept of identifying what's going to be popular ahead of time is terrifying to most investors... but that's where the game is won... or, as in the case of my former employer, lost.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shiver Me Cyber Timbers

OK, I admit my last few posts have drifted away from the traditional topic of this blog. I guess I let the wave of news stories focusing on the economy wash me away from my media mooring. I can't guarantee that it won't happen again... but for now my content Katrina has passed.

Modern Media is a powerful force. Just as it ripped me away from the digital dock I was tied to, it can also cast others away from their charted course onto the rocks of some unexpected cyber shore. Is there a way for a company to create such a media generate a virtual hurricane of attention so wide and engulfing that it captures countless web surfers and releases them on an island of content designed specifically for them? There is... but the waters are perilous and rarely easy to navigate... and my seafaring metaphors have become tiresome.

Let me conclude by simply saying, "Land ho!"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Corporate Greed... Smoke Screens... and the Working Man

Wal-Mart released Q4-08 earnings reports Tuesday (02/17/09). They were impacted by the ailing economy, stronger dollar and increased costs ($3.8 billion, or 96 cents a share, compared with year-earlier earnings of $4.1 billion, or $1.02 a share). Still, they turned a very hefty profit. With the pressure of the economy crushing everyone's spirits, and their wallets, saving a few bucks by shopping at Wal-Mart makes sense. But some of Wal-Mart's actions this past week don't make sense... at least not on a human level.

The company has announced that it's closing a return center in Georgia and laying off all 400 employees. That's the second round of job cuts the retailer disclosed this week. Last Tuesday Wal-Mart revealed that it's cutting 700 to 800 positions at its corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. In addition, The Economic Times has reported that the retail giant is considering outsourcing business processes to India... contracts worth 300 to 500 million dollars. Hey, that's good for America!

As all of this was taking place, a spokesman for the company announced that the retailer would create thousands of store level jobs this year... which makes everything alright. Eliminating higher paid jobs and creating lower wage positions is exactly what American workers need... no?

This is the kind of thing that threatens to drag the U.S. down into the depths of depression. Why can't the country's largest retailer wait until we emerge from the economic crisis we're in to address these business issues? Why? Because the bad economy is a great smoke screen to restructure the company so it generates more money for the Walton family and other major stockholders of Wal-Mart. The little working minions at the bottom levels of the corporation don't matter... it's the bottom line that's important.

The right thing to do would be keep all current employees working and create thousands of new jobs. The frustrating thing is, Wal-Mart could do exactly that and still be profitable! But then of course, we wouldn't get to transfer a little more wealth to the top... and that's what America's all about... right?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The American Dream?

Ah, the American Dream. Everyone who has grown up in the United States knows what it is... people in every corner of the globe know what it is. It's probably the central motivating force that brought thousands, if not millions, of people to these shores. Here in the good ol' U.S.A. anyone can make a million! But, perhaps it's time to take a second look at the American Dream because of what it has become... and maybe always was... simply a dream.

Let's say, in some alternate reality, there were ten people sitting around a table. On that table there was a jar containing 100 one dollar bills. Let's also say that to make a dream come true in this other world, a person needed 7 dollars. No problem, they each could take 7 dollars out of the jar and there would still be 30 dollars remaining. Now lets say that one of those people figured out a way to take 40 dollars out of the jar. Suddenly, at least two of the other 10 people wouldn't have enough for their dreams... and if the loss of the 40 dollars was spread evenly across the other nine people, only the one with 40 dollars could make his/her dream come true. Unfortunately, this alternate world resembles the United States more than you might think.

Some economists estimate that currently in the U.S., the richest one percent of the population controls 40 percent of the wealth. That's right, all of those Gates and Buffetts, Adelsons and Ellisons that we are taught to idolize and emulate have taken 40 dollars out of the jar. To be fair, these super wealthy individuals also give millions to charities and other worthy causes, which is admirable. But the fact remains, if we continue to transfer wealth to the top one percent of our population at an accelerating rate, there will be an increasing number of "American Dreams" that don't have a snowball's chance in hell of ever coming true.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Put America to Work!

Have you seen the list of the richest people in America according to Forbes Magazine?

Here’s the top ten:

1. William Gates III - 59 billion
2. Warren Buffett - 52.0 billion
3. Sheldon Adelson - 28.0 billion
4. Lawrence Ellison - 26.0 billion
5. Sergey Brin - 18.5 billion
6. Larry Page - 18.5 billion
7. Kirk Kerkorian - 18.0 billion
8. Michael Dell - 17.2 billion
9. Charles Koch - 17.0 billion
10. David Koch - 17.0 billion

These ten people have a combined wealth of over 270 billion dollars! You have to go over 400 numbers down on the Richest Americans list to even get under 1 billion dollars.

We should applaud these people for doing so well… after all this is America. Now, however, with the country teetering perilously close to a depression shouldn't we also ask these same individuals to show some personal responsibility… maybe even some nobility?

If these people decided today that their companies would not lay off workers, even if they had to dig into their own cache of cash to do it… well, it would hardly put a dent in their personal bottom line, but, it could make the difference between an economic downturn… and a national disaster.

What if they went even further and launched an American Enterprise Fund designed specifically to invest in thousands of new start-ups... with the condition that each of those companies had to put unemployed people to work. We all know that many, if not most of these companies would fail... as is the case with all start-ups. But, some companies would thrive. New ideas and new products would emerge and who knows, those investors might even get richer. At the very least, there would be a new wave of optimism and creativity that would sweep across this great nation.

So, I am challenging the American’s on that list to seize the day! Embrace this opportunity to make the difference of a lifetime. Put America back to work! We need you!