Explaining Southern California's economy

How much traffic is the Los Angeles Times willing to lose on new paywall?

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David McNew/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Times building as seen on the evening of September 20, 2006 in Los Angeles, California.

It's finally happened. The Los Angeles Times has joined the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in charging for online content. It's a paywall, but they're not calling it that. They're calling it a membership program. And the switch gets flipped March 5.

LA Observed sums it all up (and also included LAT President Kathy Thomson's memo):

Freeloaders get 15 stories for free in a month. Otherwise, it's $3.99 for a week of digital access, less if you take the Sunday paper in print, the Times story says. There's a cheaper introductory rate of 99 cents for four weeks of what the paper calls a membership program, to go into effect March 5. Print subscribers get the online paper for free.

You can compare this with the New York Times paywall, which we learned earlier this month has managed to convince 325,000 folks a month to to pay for access the online edition. The NYT also charges a 99-cent four-week intro rate, but thereafter it jumps to $15-35, depending on whether you want full online, mobile, and tablet access. For now, the LAT is keeping tablet and mobile access free — perhaps because it's reportedly pursuing a proprietary tablet that may affect how content for the device is bundled. 

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Dodgers sale: Rick Caruso and Joe Torre yank bid over parking lots

Dodger Stadium Bleachers

pvsbond/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

The bleachers stand empty at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.

Parking lots? Yes, parking lots. The Dream Team of bidders for the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers, developer Rick Caruso and former Dodgers manager Joe Torre, has dropped out of the final rounds of bidding because current owner Frank McCourt insists on keeping the parking lots that surround Dodger Stadium.

The Los Angeles Times has obtained a copy of the letter that Caruso and Torre sent to Major League Baseball on Feb. 17. In it, they leave open the possibility of re-entering the fray. But in retrospect, we should have seen this coming. The parking lots aren't part of the bankruptcy proceeding. But it was widely assumed that McCourt would let them go to sweeten the deal. 

Of course, McCourt is, down deep, a parking lot guy. This is where he made his money, back in Boston before he came west to try his hand an running a storied MLB franchise. Caruso is also a parking lot guy, in a manner of speaking. If he and Torre had been able to buy the Dodgers, he would have let Joe run the team while he set about remaking Chavez Ravine in the manner of the Grove and the Americana at Brand, his beloved, Vegasized shopping meccas in L.A. 

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Hewlett-Packard tablet reload still won't move the needle

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was chosen to take over at Hewlett-Packard.

As you may recall, Hewlett-Packard distinguished itself in the tablet market by bringing out the TouchPad at $500 and then having to slash the price to $99 (well, BestBuy slashed the price) a little over the month later. Debacle! And this was with a reasonably nice device that ran WebOS, the superb operating system that HP picked up when it took over Palm.

Now Meg Whitman — she of the ill-fated bid for governor of California, now HP's CEO — has said that HP will introduce another tablet "before the end of this year" (Bloomberg) and that it will run Microsoft's Windows 8 OS...eventually.

Oh, also, there will be Intel chips.

It will be an HP Wintel tablet.

Hooray! What a wonderful plan! But... 

As I've written before, there is no tablet market — there's an iPad market. And the only company that's been able to take a bite out of Apple's dominance is Amazon, which with its Kindle Fire isn't selling a tablet but a tricked-out Kindle (a Kindroid) to use as leverage to get more people to purchase Amazon content.

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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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Gas prices: It's about the efficiency, people!

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Corey Bridwell/KPCC

Gas prices at a Chevron station in Pasadena, CA.

As the price of oil pushes higher and gas prices ascend nationwide to levels we're already seeing in California, there's been unleashed a fury of discussion about "Why, oh why?" this is happening. Speculation on oil futures has been blamed (Hedge funds!), as has the threat of an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites or a temporary shutdown of the Strait of Hormuz by Iran itself.

Neither makes much sense to me, although there may be elements of the true story in each. Speculators can drive prices up just to bet on them falling, so you have to factor in a certain amount of volatility there. As for Iran's naval capabilities...well, the Strait could be closed for maybe a few days, possibly even a week. But it wouldn't take long for the U.S. Navy to sink pretty much everything Iran has that floats.

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