Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Business June 1st 2011, "Jack Boulware" Edition

The Business blasts into June with a visit from author and journalist Jack Boulware. Mr. Boulware is one of the founders of Litquake, has written for Playboy, the New York Times Magazine, Wired, and Salon. He recently published "Gimme Something Better," an oral history of Bay Area punk rock, and Wednesday, he'll be reading with us at The Business.

We've got a full set of Businessmen this week, with Alex Koll returning, and Bucky Sinister, Chris Garcia, and Sean Keane abiding. As always, The Business is just five dollars, the greatest deal in the Mission outside of Benders' Whiskey Wednesdays. Doors at 7:30, show at 8:15. BYO-Burrito.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Google, Newspaper Archives, and the Business of Cultural Heritage

Google announced this month that it is ending its ambitious project to digitally archive newspapers. The project to scan the archives of the nation’s newspapers and make them available online as a searchable historical record was announced in 2008 with the level of hubris only found in online enterprises.

"Our objective is to bring all the world's historical newspaper information online,” said Adam Smith, director of product management at Google, announcing the project. Those lofty aims were echoed by Punit Soni, manager of the newspaper initiative: “As we work with more and more publishers, we'll move closer towards our goal of making those billions of pages of newsprint from around the world searchable, discoverable, and accessible online…."Over time, as we scan more articles and our index grows, we'll also start blending these archives into our main search results so that when you search Google.com, you'll be searching the full text of these newspapers as well.”

After scanning about 60 million pages and beginning to make them available as full page shots--because costs of disaggregating and indexing were too high and copyright clearances were difficult to obtain for older material—the company announced that it will quit scanning pages, but continue offering the existing pages available on it Google News Archive site. It said it would not invest any new effort to improve indexing or add tools to better search and manage the archive.

The project may have been well-intentioned, but it was not well thought out. It was a free service designed to use the search traffic at the site to raise revenue through advertising Google would put on the site. The scale of the project was enormous and requiring finding, scanning, and indexing thousands of daily and weekly newspapers--many no longer in existence. It would require a long-term commitment of funds, personnel and server capacity to catalogue and scan the material and provide and maintain search functions. The project ultimately incorporated on a fraction of the papers it had hoped to scan, did so spottily in many cases, and its usability was poor because it never mastered the problems of handling so much content. Worse yet, it discovered that history was not a money making business.

The exit announcement is not a surprise and is another sign that players the virtual world are stopping deluding themselves that they are replacing the entire world and that the laws of economics and finance to not apply to them.

As laudable the preservation of newspaper archives might be, expecting it to be completed and maintained by a commercial firm defied sense and historical experience. For centuries, the most important historical records, books, art have been maintain in governmentally and charitably funded collections because commercial enterprises were either unwilling to bear the costs or to allow the large scale efforts required to preserve, catalogue, index, and make available cultural heritage materials distract them from their business activities.

Why would anyone expect Google to act otherwise?

As Google increasingly acts as a mature business it will increasingly shed activities that were launched as goodwill gestures because the costs of their operations reduces the company’s financial performance and will diminish the value of its stock compared to other tech firms. Over time it will be harder for the firm to maintain the stance that it is not self-interested and motivated only by the opportunities to improve the lives of the public by providing access to all the world’s information.

The tentacles of its operations that have reached out into to many fields will increasingly be pulled back if they do not yield financial results. And fears that Google will rule the world will diminish. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other big players of the digital world all have limits, just as did the handful of firms that once controlled steel, oil, and shipping through cartels. At some point even mammoth, wealthy companies do not have the resources and capabilities to keep expanding endlessly and their performance declines, leading shareholders to rein them in and competitors to find opportunities.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

What Were the Koreans Thinking?

This week's Fasig-Tipton Timonium sale of two-year-olds in training is being reported as at least a modest success. The average price was down only slightly from last year ($47,263 versus $47,984 in 2010), the median was down 7.4%, from 27,000 to $25,000, and the percentage of horses in the catalog that were actually sold (subtracting both RNAs and scratches) was down 10 points, from 68.2% of last year's catalog of 400 horses to only 57.2% of this year's enlarged catalog of 600. I guess that, in a difficult market for sellers, modest losses count as success.

[Note that my numbers differ slightly from those reported in the Blood-Horse; mine are calculated from the official sale report released by Fasig-Tipton, which can be found here.]

Perhaps the most bizarre element in the Timonium sale was the eager participation of Korean buyers at the lower end of the market. Koreans, bidding principally through the K.O.I.D. purchasing agency, bought 46 of the 343 horses sold, or nearly one of every seven two-year-olds that went to new owners. Kudos to Fasig-Tipton for attracting a new group of buyers; without the Koreans' participation, the overall numbers would certainly have been even lower.

But the way the Koreans bid and bought was truly bizarre. Of the 46 horses they purchased (including two "post-sale" purchases recorded in the official totals, and including two horses bought not by K.O.I.D., but by buyers with Korean names and no previous presence in the US market), 33 of them -- more than 70% -- were bought for a single price, exactly $20,000. Overall, the Koreans' average price was $19,935 and the median was, unsurprisingly, $20,000.

There is simply no way that kind of distribution occurs in a normal auction. The Koreans may well have set a limit of $20,000 for most of their purchases; they bought only five horses for more than that, the highest a Mineshaft filly for $45,000. But a $20,000 limit doesn't mean one should pay $20,000 for virtually every horse, which is what these neophyte buyers did.

So here's what I think happened. Early on the first day of the sale, Monday, at least a few consignors noted that the Korean bidders were going to $20,000, but no higher, and not often lower; only three of their 30 Monday purchases were for less than that magic number. So, I suspect, when consignors saw how the Koreans were bidding, the consignors or breeders kept pushing the bidding up to $20,000, or set their reserves at $19,999 (in which case the auctioneer will pull bids out of the air up to one step below the reserve price). The Koreans followed their game plan, which apparently was to pay up to $20,000 for anything they wanted, and a lot of sellers went home very happy with anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 more than they would have gotten without those locked-in bids.

How much extra did the Koreans pay? Let's say an average of $5,000 each for the 33 horses they bought right at that magic $20,000 figure. That's a total of $165,000. Not a lot, perhaps in the overall scheme of the Korean economy, or even of the overall auction totals, but a very nice bonus for the consignors who caught on. $165,000 can buy a lot of hay.

Just as the Arab, European and Japanese buyers in the American bloodstock market over the years, I suspect the Koreans will learn too, and the good old boys selling horses will need to find ever-newer marks. But that's capitalism, right?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Business, May 25th 2011 - "Two Seans/Shawns, One Kurt" Edition

This week The Business returns like a video you saw on YouTube years ago that you can never get out of your mind no mater how much you cry and drink. And we're bringing comedians Shawn Robbins and Kurt Weitzmann to help hold you down and make you watch it again.

Shawn Robbins is creator and smooth operator of the successful indie rock and stand-up comedy showcase, Snob Theater (recently featured in the Noise Pop Music Festival). A young whippersnapper with eyes on the prize who has acclimated to the San Francisco comedy scene very nicely (thank you very much) since relocating here from New England. His cup runneth over with jokes.

Also performing is
comedic renaissance man Kurt Weitzmann. Kurt is one of the founding evil genii behind Comedy Noir Productions (and their popular "Roast" show series), writerproducerdirector of the short film "Last Call" (“Believably written, deftly directed and beautifully acted..." - San Francisco Weekly) and a Bay Area stand-up comedy heavyweight. Getting his start at the infamous Holy City Zoo was a fitting launch for his unique and darkly creative talents that we are pleased as punch to have on our stage.

Joining them will be your four steadies: Bucky, Chris, Sean and Alex. And joining them will be all of you, for only $5. And joining you will be burritos and joy.*

*(Joy provided. Burritos are on you)

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Business is Back in LA May 27th!

Los Angeles, you were so wonderful to us last month, we just can't stay away any longer. The Business is coming back to do it again this month! We'll be there for you, Lakers Fans, in your time of need and sorrow with another show and another burrito. All new material from Sean, Chris, Alex and a video from Bucky. Plus, special guests! The Medically Transported Burrito Raffle was a big hit in April, so we will be trafficking another Mission Style down to the show to give away. What taqueria will it be from? Will it be vegetarian (most likely)? Will Sean not be allowed to sit near it in the car because the warmth of his cheeks will mess with the ice packs? Come find out the answers on the last Friday in May.

Special guests Jonah Ray and Aparna Nancherla will be joining the Business for our May show!

Space is limited, so get your tickets here:


The Business
Friday, May 27th 2011
The Improv Lab
8162 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046


Monday, 9 May 2011

The Business May 11th 2011, "Spiegelmania" Edition

It's going to be quite a month for the Business! After a may-jorly triumphant journey to Los Angeles, and a packed, mays-morising show last Wednesday, The Business keeps the may-hem going by welcoming back one of our favorite guests, Mike Spiegelman, this Wednesday, May 11th.

Mike "Speegz" Spiegelman is a founding member of sketch groups Fresh Robots and The Bitter Show, as well as the comedy duo of Laundry Basket & Spiegelman. He has opened for Neil Hamburger, Emo Phillips, David Cross, the late Mitch Hedberg, Robin Williams, and may-ny, may-ny more. He is a frequent host of the Darkroom Theater's "Bad Movie Night," and runs the popular Layover Bar comedy showcase in Oaksterdam (a may-rijuana-friendly section of Oakland). In addition, his website "Luggage Tuesdays" is the Internet's finest repository of restaurant- and produce-themed humor.

We've also got Bucky, Alex, Chris, and Sean on the bill, and you never know who might show up. Tickets are still just five bucks, and our Bring-Your-Own-Burrito policy remains in effect.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Business May 4th 2011, "Cuatro de Mayo" Edition

The Business celebrates Cinco de Mayo one day early, welcoming comedian Matt Morales to our show this Wednesday. It's the 149th anniversary of the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla, so we encourage audience members to stop by Cancun Taqueria before or after the show. Crepes are not welcome, nor are any of Emperor Maximillian's family. Find your own acclaimed alternative comedy showcase, Frenchy!

Matt Morales... is a native of Slidell, Louisiana (home of diminutive SF Giants pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot), who moved to SF in 2002. He performs at clubs and colleges all over the place, and has appeared at the Edinburgh fringe Festival, as well as the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland. He plays in a metal band called Run Amok, and he's very excited about the Mark Ingram era in New Orleans.

We are absent Chris Garcia, but we've still got Alex Koll, Bucky Sinister, and Sean Keane on hand to entertain you. While the French founded the Second Mexican Empire in an attempt to regain their outstanding debts, we at The Business don't follow those greedy principles, as admission remains just five dollars. No francs accepted!