Monthly Archives: October 2009

Financial Times' new low

I’ve lamented the US political coverage by the Financial Times’ Edward Luce before. And the other day Felix Salmon picked up the theme. But I think today may mark a new low.

Luce provides political analysis on the award of the Nobel peace prize to president Obama. He takes the church of the savvy line that the prize will reinforce the view that Obama is all talk, no action. Given that Luce has never found a conservative take on conventional wisdom that he doesn’t like, that’s unsurprising. But he plumbs the depths with his language.

Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host, spoke for a large number of conservatives when he described the award as a display of humour by God that was designed to “emasculate the United States”.

“This fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama,” Mr Limbaugh told Politico, the Washington news site. “They love a weakened, neutered US and this is their way of promoting that concept.” The “they” in Mr Limbaugh’s world view consists of effete Europeans and their ideological cousins living on each of America’s coastlines who believe in multilateralism, the UN and diplomacy.

Unsurprisingly, America’s Merlot-drinking classes were more respectful of the announcement. Ted Turner, head of the UN Foundation, a private group set up to defend an institution that is unpopular in the US, said: “This is an exciting time when global co-operation is recognised to be necessary for securing a peaceful and prosperous world.”

Strobe Talbott, head of the centrist Brookings Institution, told the Financial Times: “While some might see the prize as premature, Obama has already had an extraordinary and salutary effect on the view of the US in much of the world. But the progress in Geneva with the Iranians [on uranium enrichment talks last month] suggests that there is already some concrete benefit.”

Gosh, who would you rather be? A talk radio host who speaks for a “large number of conservatives” or part of “America’s Merlot-drinking classes”? Think Luce’s language expresses any preference?

Brad DeLong often laments the inadequacies of The Washington Post and The New York Times. The FT is in a different league and it does a remarkable job of covering the world. But they do a piss poor job in Washington.

Venture capital harms your wealth

My latest column for Reuters has been published. I argue that the venture capital industry in the US will be forced to shrink as institutional investors pull back from all except the most successful funds:

Everyone believes they are investing in the children of Lake Wobegon, who are all above average. But institutional investors won’t play the fool for long and the response from potential LPs is bound to get stonier for all but the most accomplished funds. So what, if anything, will save venture capital?

There will need to be fewer, smaller funds, making smaller bets with their investors’ money. Fewer exits won’t be such a problem, because fewer exits will be needed. It will be something that looks, in fact, a lot like the VC world pre-dotcom. That will be a wholly good thing, for venture capital, for investors and for entrepreneurs.

A smaller industry will have fewer hangers on who invest with the latest trend, and there will be less dumb money buoying poorly formed, unrealistic dreams.

The death of magazines

Manplan 2

For most of my professional life, I worked on magazines. So when knowledgeable observers who I respect sound the death knell for magazines, I find it sad. Jeff Jarvis writes, “What’s the point of emotions? It’s economics.” I don’t think economics necessarily invalidates the emotions.

My own magazine history reflects the truth the death of individual titles has always been reality. Look at the magazines I worked on (I’ve only included ones where I played a major role):

Five magazines, two deaths. I have no idea whether the others are on life support or are thriving.

More important, I look at my own magazine consumption. Like Jarvis, I used to buy magazines by the bushel (unlike him, I never put it on an expense account). I just loved the feel, form, structure and content of magazines. Now? I subscribe to two: The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. If I have a long-haul flight, I will probably buy a couple of magazines at the airport.

If magazines have lost the fanatics like me, there’s probably not much hope for them.

It may be, as Jarvis points out, that just as the music business has had to find a way to move from the album to the song, publishing is figuring out a way to navigate from the issue to the article to the post. That will necessarily be online, not in print.

I think, however, there will still be some limited space for some magazines that deliver more than individual articles. The two titles I subscribe to provide that for me. I just re-upped with The New Yorker today, in fact. I can’t imagine not getting it every week — there’s too much I want to page through and read for the online experience to compete. Ditto for NYRB, not least because of the length of most of the articles. The other category I can see surviving, and perhaps even thriving, are magazines that rely heavily on visual impact. My old stamping ground, The Architectural Review, could be one of those survivors. And my friends who produce the world’s most stunning magazine, Eye, may also find a path to the promised land. They certainly deserve it.

Photo from Flickr by Eversion