Explaining Southern California's economy

Chris Dodd wants Hollywood and Silicon Valley to patch things up

CinemaCon 2011 - Day 2

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Former U.S. Sen. and new Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America Chris Dodd speaks at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, March 29, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

You could say that it's the great business question of our era. Certainly it is in California. Why can't Silicon Valley, seat of the tech industry, and Hollywood, capital of the entertainment business, join forces and create a juggernaut of technotainment that will establish the Golden State as the most important place on Earth for innovation and global media?

In theory, it should be a no-brainer. But in practice it's a case of colliding business models. Big Content has built up its ownership of media over the course of a century. It's not going to share the goodies without claiming its cut.

Big Tech, on the other hand, wants all that content to be free, free, free. Chris Anderson pretty well laid it all out, in detail horrifying to Hollywood, in 2009, in his aptly titled book "Free: The Future of a Radical Price." Why? Because the ability to fragment and share content is a critical piece of Silicon Valley's overall business model. Users need to be able to do this by the millions if not billions, so that various Web companies and appmakers can sell ads against the — wait for it — free labor of those users. 

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Is Research in Motion where Apple was before Steve Jobs came back?

The International Consumer Electronics Show Highlights Latest Gadgets

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A Blackberry Bold with the new Slacker personalized radio application is displayed at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center January 8, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I've been advocating, to pretty much anyone who will listen, that Apple should buy Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes the BlackBerry smartphone and has seen its stock price completely collapse in the past few years, falling more than 70 percent. Apple, mean while, has gone from around $350 per share per-holiday last year to more than $600 this week. 

Apple's success has yielded a cash hoard of $100 billion, some of which Cupertino is dealing with through a dividend and stock-buyback plan. But there's still tons of money left over. I say, Why not buy RIM? At a market cap of $7.25 billion, Apple could pick up the dominant player in the business-and-government smartphone market and plug the one gaping hole in its dominance of consumer electronics.

Apple could do this, possibly using cash that it's keeping outside the U.S. (RIM is Canadian! Apple wouldn't have to re-patriate the money!), and still have enough left over to buy, you know, the Eiffel Tower or something...

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In Silicon Valley, nice guys aren't for real

Paul Sakuma/AP

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg poses at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., Feb. 5, 2007. This was long before he became a modern-day robber baron.

At Breakingviews, Rob Cox lays into our presumptions about the virtues of Silicon Valley startup founders like Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Pincus, and (by implication) Steve Jobs. Here's a salient paragraph:

Though Silicon Valley’s newest billionaires may anoint themselves the saints of American capitalism, they’re beginning to resemble something else entirely: robber barons. Behind the hoodies and flip-flops lurk businesspeople as rapacious as the black-suited and top-hatted industrialists of the late 19th century. Like their predecessors in railroads, steel, banking, and oil a century ago, Silicon Valley’s new entrepreneurs are harnessing technology to make the world more efficient. But along the way, that process is bringing great economic and labor dislocation, as well as an unequal share of the spoils. Just last week, the Justice Department warned Apple that it planned to sue the company along with several U.S. publishers for colluding to raise the price of electronic books - monopolistic behavior that would have made John Rockefeller proud. 

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The hot Apple time machine

Apple Announces Digital Textbooks Service At Guggenheim

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Apple's new iBooks 2 app is demonstrated for the media on an iPad at an event in the Guggenheim Museum, January 19, 2012 in New York City.

We've all done it. Lamented the fact that we didn't load up on Apple stock back in the day, when it was trading at $10 or $15 a share and and the company, with Steve Jobs in exile, was fumbling toward bankruptcy. 

What a difference a decade makes. Apple is now either the most valuable company in the world or among the most valuable, depending on what the stock market is doing on a given day. Fifteen bucks a share to $533. Zowie!

Oh, how easy it is to set the investment time machine to 1999 and say that you would have bought AAPL instead of sinking your dough blindly into a 401(k) or chasing a dot.com "superstar," post-IPO.

At USA Today, Matt Krantz throws some cold water on that nostalgia trip. Should you consider Apple, which has risen nearly 5,000 percent since 1999, the big beating heart of a current retirement plan? Nope:

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This is where Apple pays Chinese workers $2 an hour to make iPhones

 

It's actually starting to build: the Apple backlash. A decade ago, the company was almost bankrupt. Today, it has a market cap of $481 billion, almost $100 billion cash in the bank, and a share price that some analyst think could go to $1000 by 2015, if not sooner.

Those numbers come from Apple's astonishing growth — around 40 percent since January of last year — and its equally astonishing operating profit margins: 30-plus percent. But what enables that growth and those margins is two things: cheap Chinese labor; and customers who are willing to pay a premium.

The video above is from a February 22 broadcast of ABC's "Nightline." The news program got an inside look at Foxconn, the "iFactory" in China where workers are paid less than $2 an hour for a 12-hour shift. More than a dozen of these workers have committed suicide, although it's unclear whether the working conditions drove them to it or whether Foxconn's facilities employ so many Chinese that suicides are going to be inevitable, as a percentage of the employed population.

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