Numlock News: February 15, 2019

By Walt Hickey

Have an excellent weekend! We’re off Monday for Presidents’ Day. See you Tuesday. In the meantime, check out my piece over at Marvel about their romance comics, it’s a lot of fun!

Billion With A “B”

The Federal Trade Commission is negotiating with Facebook over what is shaping up to be a multi-billion (billion with a 'b') dollar fine, in an unprecedented and momentous move to settle the company's many privacy lapses. For some perspective, right now the largest fine the FTC has ever imposed on a technology company was $22.5 million (million with an 'm') that Google paid to settle a consumer data security probe. This is a big deal for Facebook, an international data dragnet and precision advertising company that also operates a photo sharing and social networking feature. If talks break down, the FTC may go to the courts. Should Facebook fight it out there, it'd be the Oppenheimer-in-the-desert moment for big tech, as the FTC would plausibly gain broad new regulatory powers and a bad judgement for Facebook could result in a fine that might be existential for the company.

Tony Romm, The Washington Post

Not Very Neighborly

Amazon will claim a federal tax rebate of $129 million for 2018, essentially paying a federal tax rate of negative 1 percent. The company, which recently concluded it could not hack it in New York, made over $11 billion in 2018, yet will not pay any federal income taxes, but instead get a refund. In 2018, Amazon also didn't pay any federal taxes on $5.6 billion in profits for 2017. From 2011 to 2016, Amazon paid an effective rate of 11.4 percent.

Marianne Dodson, The Week

Chicken Soup for the Soul

In 1993 the first of hundreds of Chicken Soup for the Soul books was released. Since then, Quartz has been able to catalog 276 books in the Chicken Soup Literary Universe, a publishing juggernaut of good vibes and ill-advised DARE-related verse. According to the analysis, 28 of those books (10 percent) were focused on teens, preteens, or kids, one in five were targeted at the souls of family members like "Mothers" or "Grandparents," 12 percent had a specific religious target audience, 10 percent a career track, and the rest were aimed at increasingly slim subsets of souls, like golfers, Canadians, country music fans, inmates or extremely specific animal aficionados.

Amanda Shendruk, Quartz

Saffron City

Saffron is an inordinately expensive spice, and the Kashmir region grows the best stuff. The flower’s petals go in medicine, the yellow strands are discarded, but the red strands in the middle of the flower are the pure saffron. One flower produces three red strands. A gram of saffron is 350 strands. A kilogram of saffron requires 150,000 flowers. But lately the crop has been dipping: in 1997, 5,700 hectares of land produced just shy of 16 tonnes of saffron. A severe drought basically wiped out production in 2001, and the next 13 years notched an average 8.71 tonnes annually. In 2015 the crop was 9.6 tonnes off of 3,674 hectares, but production has yet again tanked, with output for the ensuing years less than 10 percent of 2015's figures. As is typical with “perfectly good system suddenly gets weird” stories, climate change is a suspect.

Sharanya Deepak, Eater


The greeting card industry is booming and is expected to bring in $933 million this Valentine's Day, up from $894 million in 2018, which are honestly staggering numbers. There's still some secrecy in the business —the best guesstimate we have for the number of cards sold annually is based on a 2012 report at 6.5 billion cards — but outside research estimated 3 percent revenue growth last year. The sentiment-on-cardstock biz is thriving thanks to young people who are sticking with the physical manifestations of affection even as the rest of their interpersonal life is exported to the cloud. Younger folks have stomached the rising prices by shelling out for fancier cards as a way to convey affection beyond liking, commenting or subscribing.

Janhvi Bhojwani, NPR

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Put A Modestly-Priced Ring On It

A new poll finds that the median American spent 4 percent of pretax income on an engagement ring, which breaks down to two week's pay. The median payment for a ring was $1,900, and most spent $500 to $3,000 on an engagement ring. Still, you've got some big spenders — 7 percent of respondents paid over $10,000 for the ring — but at the end of the day the marketing campaign pushing three month's salary for an engagement ring is fairly obsolete.

Quoctrung Bui, The Upshot

Slime Bills Are Through The Roof!

Nickelodeon and its sibling brands like Nick Jr. are the crown jewel of Viacom, pulling in $729 million in ad revenue in 2018. Still, the company saw its audience aged 2 to 11 decline 24 percent in the fourth quarter. Similar declines were noted at Cartoon Network and Disney Channel, which saw decline of 37 percent and 30 percent in that period. This leaves those companies in a pickle, as you can't have a flagship youth brand if the only people still watching are a bunch of high people and kids who haven't heard of YouTube. That's one motivation for some fairly ambitious new programming efforts at Nickelodeon, namely a Paddington series, the IP rights to some Lego Movie characters, revivals of past Nick successes in the works, and most significantly SpongeBob SquarePants spinoffs.

Brian Steinberg, Variety

The Oscars are in mere weeks! Want to have the inside track on who’s ahead? Check out the awards coverage in the Numlock Awards Supplement, and if you’re just tuning in start here.

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