Numlock News: November 2, 2018

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend! Feel free to forward these emails to a friend you think may enjoy them and might subscribe.

Instagram Un-influencer

Luka Sabbat, an actor with 1.4 million Instagram followers, is being sued by PR Consulting for $90,000 because he wore Snap Spectacles in only one story and one post when he was paid to wear them in three stories and one post. Sabbat was allegedly paid $45,000 in advance of a $60,000 fee for appearing publicly at fashion weeks wearing the tech glasses. On one hand, it’s a fascinating look at the contracts underlying the sponsored content that is widespread all over social media. On the other, imagine working hard, going to a good law school, spending a decade working your way up the legal ladder, fighting to make it in the hardscrabble world of jurisprudence, finally achieving your life-long dream of becoming a judge, and then having this case land on your desk and now you get to ask your niece to slowly explain what “#sponcon” is at Thanksgiving.

Jenni Avins, Quartzy

Drugs That Will No Longer Save Poor People

Pharmaceutical giant Merck agreed in 2011 to sell a rotavirus vaccine to an international organization that vaccinates children in low-income countries for the reduced price of $3.50 per dose, compared the the U.S. price of about $70 per dose. The vaccine makes sure kids avoid getting a disease where they have diarrhea until they die. Merck has delivered 30 million doses to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, and São Tomé and Príncipe since then, but has told UNICEF and Gavi that they are pulling out of the deal and will only supply two-thirds of the doses in 2018 and 2019 and will deliver no vaccines in 2020, blaming supply chain stress. On a related note, congratulations to Merck, which coincidentally just landed a massive contract to supply China with a rotavirus vaccine for about $40 per dose and potentially $450 million over the next three years.

Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR

Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.

Robot Money

In 2018, companies are forecasted to spend $90 billion on robots. That’s a lot of money, if only a tiny piece of the $3 trillion companies are spending on capital investment. Increasingly though, robot employees are being given a run for their money by fleshy meat sacks that some industrial manufacturers call “human workers.” Yes, these pesky humans’ adaptability and capacity to do a diversity of tasks without the considerable up-front investment of “inventing robots” is appealing to manufacturers.

John D Stoll, The Wall Street Journal


The stuff in marijuana that gets you stoned is the chemical THC, but it’s hardly the only substance in cannabis that has an effect on the human body. One other chemical — CBD — is actually available online or in brick-and-mortar shops all across America right now and has considerably fewer psychoactive effects. It was estimated to be a $350 million industry last year, but estimating the value of legally grey markets is tough. Sales could possibly top $1 billion by 2020 if they have not yet already.

Dan Nosowitz, Vox

Concert Tickets

Live Nation recently reported its earnings and while the results are great for the middlemen who crank up the price of tickets, it’s full of rough news for music fans, concertgoers and sports fans who use the platform or its subsidiary Ticketmaster. In the first nine months of the year, the average ticket price was up 14 percent compared to 2017. Ticketmaster will deliver $31 billion worth of tickets this year, which would be impressive if it wasn’t the only game in town.

Taylor Mims, Billboard


This weekend is a big one for e-sports — BlizzCon means the weekend will have both the Overwatch World Cup, as well as the StarCraft Global Finals — but it comes on the heels of a banner year for competitive video gaming. The industry is projected to grow to $900 million this year and 29 percent of fans between ages 13 to 40 just began watching in the past year. Those fans are also becoming more diverse as the sport grows— women make up 25 percent of the domestic fan base — and overall fans are becoming less likely to be millennials, showing that the brand of sports is beginning to have broader appeal. I enjoy them because esports are fairly guilt free: namely, none of my favorite players are going to get CTE.

Stefanie Fogel, Variety


I regret to inform you that Crocs are now cool, thanks to teens. An annual market research survey of the youths reported that Crocs jumped to 13th place in the top footwear brand category, up from a measly 27th place last year. The brand is typically known for — is there a word for “iconic but in a bad way?” — foam clog styles of footwear, but there are specialty riffs on the original that sell for hundreds of dollars on specialty shoe sites.

Rebecca Jennings, Vox

Search and Destroy

This past spring, someone paid 3,800 people on the gig site Microworkers 20 cents each to participate in a dedicated campaign to nuke the search ranking of an investigation into a political action committee called End Citizens United. The report — published in HuffPost — highlighted the displeasure that other nonprofits had over the PACs pushy fundraising tactics. By paying thousands of people two dimes each to click on positive stories in Google’s search results, the anonymous benefactor was able to drop the investigation down from the top search results and on to the second page. Attempts to influence search results with that kind of effort aren’t exactly rare, but it is unusual to see one targeting news coverage.

Alexander Thorburn-Winsor and Paul Blumenthal, HuffPost

Thank you so much for subscribing! If you're enjoying the newsletter, forward it to someone you think may enjoy it too! 

Previous Sunday special editions: Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores

Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at