Economy

Time Rebrand Labor Day?

It’s time to give Labor Day a rest. Let’s rename it—rebrand it, if you will. Let’s call it Irony Day, or maybe Opposite Day — a holiday in honor of what it isn’t. Taking a day off to celebrate work… you gotta love that. Plus, hasn’t a day originally set aside to honor unions become an anachronism, even disingenuous? Irony has a shelf life, so each year our reimagined festival could put a different subject to on its pedestal: the first Monday of next September, say, could celebrate war and we’d call it Peace Day. Then the following Sept. 1 could be devoted to gluttony, which we’d naturally dub Diet Day. And Communications Day could celebrate our obsession with ever-new ways to connect through technology — not so much with each other than to our devices. The possibilities are endless.

Forget Elephants and Donkeys, Beware the Pigheaded

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck devoted his life to observable phenomena and logic, but he had a dim view of their power to change minds. “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,” he said, “but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Read more

Father’s Day and the Value of an Education

Father’s Day is as good a time as any to reanimate the PubArts blog after its months-long slumber. It’s my offspring, after all. And where would I be without my own dad, who worked so hard to make sure I had a great education and could earn a living myself. Okay, so I chose to ply the writing trade and calling that a living is a bit of a stretch at times. But still. It was awfully good of him, and I have always been tremendously grateful to him, and my mom, for their innumerable, and strangely willing, sacrifices.
It's among the most basic parental (and societal) responsibilities: preparing the young to stand on their own.
So it’s worth looking at the value of college education today, which can confer crippling amounts of debt with dubious real skills as a crutch. Does Shakespeare pay off? The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University studied lifetime earnings of degree holders to find out. The chief finding: those who majored in engineering, computer science or business earn half again as much as those who majored in the humanities, the arts, education, and psychology. [http://wapo.st/lgVnDT ] Well, duh. The study found the median annual earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering is $120,000, in pharmaceutical sciences $105,000, and in math and computer sciences $98,000. Not too shabby. Holders of bachelor’s degrees in English, on the other hand, have median earnings of $48,000, while a degree in early childhood education will likely earn you $36,000. Counseling or psychology brings up the rear at $29,000. The lesson: daddies, don’t let your kids grow up to be philosophers. Yet it’s worth noting that the holder of a bachelor’s degree still makes 84 percent more than someone who topped out academically in high school. The Georgetown study didn’t cover advanced degrees. But if money is your bag, also note that an MBA can really pay off, especially if granted by a top institution, according to research done for Bloomberg Businessweek. A Harvard MBA is particularly rewarding, netting its average holder $3.6 million over 20 years, and consulting is the most lucrative field. [http://buswk.co/k8TgUp] What have we learned? Spouting synergistic babble means big-time bucks and helping kids make good choices, not so much. That’s the marketplace. But here’s something no study can quantify or slap a price tag on: Education is still the greatest gift because it is the give of love. So a big thank you to all the good, education-minded fathers out there. ... Especially mine. I love you, Dad.

The Best Way to Shop, Bar None

It’s not just mobile devices that are increasingly “smart” – they’ve earned their sobriquet by greatly boosting their owners’ intelligence as well. Consider how they’ve broken the bar code, that series of thick and thin vertical lines attached to a product that contains price information and helps vendors track inventory. Now your clever little hand held friend can scan it and track down the best price, wherever it may be. You may only need you to type or speak the name (or even just description) of your object of desire. And shazaam: the best deals, online and in stores. Retailers have grown afraid of these ruthless new competitors residing in the pockets of their erstwhile customers. But not nearly enough.
Almost half (45 percent) of shoppers with smartphones use them to do on-the-spot price checks, according to consulting firm IDC Retail Insights, putting huge pressure on retailers to compete on price – on everything, all the time.
The big box has become a big sponge, letting all sorts of precious, valuable information in and out. “The four walls of the store have become porous,” Greg Girard of IDC told The Wall Street Journal. “The retailer’s advantage has been eroded.” [WSJ, 12/16/10] That leaves the salesman with less and less to do. Almost three quarters (73 percent) of shoppers with smartphones preferred to consult their mobiles rather than an appliance jockey on the floor, according to a 10-nation study in 2010 conducted by the big management consultancy Accenture. The casualties are already mounting. Best Buy, the nation’s largest electronics chain, saw its stock plunge before Christmas 2010 (typically its most lucrative period) after it conceded it was losing market share, which analysts said was due at least in part to mobile-equipped bargain shoppers. On the day retailers traditionally go “into the black” for the year (dubbed “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving), 5.6 percent of shoppers used a mobile device to access retail sites in 2010 – a 56-fold increase in one year, according to Coremetrics, an IBM division that measures e-commerce activity. [WSJ, 12/16/10] Soon enough it will be the percentage of those not shopping with their mobiles that will be in the single digits. There are ways for retailers to suck it up and make lemonade from the new reality. Beleaguered Best Buy, for instance, has partnered with TheFind (which was downloaded 400,000 in its debut month) to target consumers with ads while they’re in the store – or at a competitor’s like WalMart. “That is an opportunity to steal a sale right when someone is in the throes of making a decision,” Barry Judge, Best Buy’s chief marketing officer, told The Wall Street Journal. “That is what makes mobile so powerful.” And shameless. Siva Kumar, chief executive of TheFind, is unapologetic of playing both sides of the transaction. “It is not a consumer-only game,” he told the Journal. “Retailers can use it to their advantage.” Nobody said war was pretty, but competing strictly on price is a losing battle, especially with the high upkeep of physical stores. More promising survival tactics would include:
  • Selling merchandise that customers can’t get anywhere else
  • Bundling special services with products
  • Removing or encrypting bar codes to stymie deal-seeking mobile customers
No matter how retailers adjust to the mobile age, it seems clear there will be less need for so many or such large retail showrooms, especially those selling commoditized merchandise or stuff readily available on the web. You have to wonder what’s going to happen to the commercial real estate market when this realization really sinks in.

Mobile Just Smote the Remote

Forget about rooting around in the sofa cushions for your remote control. Just reach for your mobile. It’s soon all you’ll need to navigate your life – not just on Facebook or Mapquest but among the ever-expanding choices you’ll have on internet-fed TV. A number of companies already make apps designed to task your mobile device as a remote control. Google’s TV app runs on Android or iOS (iPhone, iPad); Apple’s TV app only on Apple’s own iOS devices. Google’s has voice search; the Apple Remote app lets you control your Apple TV as you would your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. http://rww.to/eJ1Dcm
Not known as speedy technology adopters, pay TV distributors are also in the game of enabling mobile devices to serve as remote controls and program navigators. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Dish Network, Verizon and others have apps for iOS and Android devices. http://bit.ly/dK55Dw
Verizon’s FiOS Mobile Remote app lets customers change channels, manage parental controls, pause, rewind and fast forward or record a TV show.  Customers can also click on the video on demand (VOD) button or switch to live TV. And here’s an interesting bonus: customers can transfer apps from the mobile device to the TV. http://rww.to/eJ1Dcm Certainly viewers crave new ways to search and discover content, to escape the up-down-left-right “grid” that has displayed program line-ups for decades. Universal remotes have tried to solve the problem of choice but they’re too big or too complicated. If we’ve learned one thing about consumer electronics it’s this: it has to be easy to appeal to the masses. The remote control even as it is still plays a crucial function. Its real estate is consequently highly valuable. Television will feature more apps as it becomes an appliance of the Internet, and those apps will compete for viewers’ attention. No wonder streaming movie provider Netflix has struck deals with TV manufacturers to feature a Netflix button on next-generation remote controls (yes, even before they become an app on your mobile). [ http://on.wsj.com/icYxJY] With Amazon, Apple, Hollywood, and the cable companies gearing up to keep Netflix from extending its lead in movie exhibition, you can’t blame the scrappy company from thinking ahead. Which is the lesson for all of us in the rapidly moving tech-dominated world: think and act strategically or get buried under someone’s backside.
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