Sunday, January 04, 2009

Media Report Week 52

The Economist had a several interesting articles over the break.

Firstly, they note the 1,000 anniversary of The Tale of Genji which they note is the world's first modern novel. (Link)

Sheer scale is not all that is forbidding about the book. Japanese prose was still in its infancy in Murasaki’s day, so her syntax can be opaque. Sentences lack subjects, direct speech is often unattributed and, most alarmingly, the characters change names according to their rank or circumstances. Genji, for instance, is variously referred to as the captain, the consultant, the commander, the grand counsellor, the palace minister, the chancellor and the honorary retired emperor.

The subject matter is also challenging. There is polygamy, bisexuality (when one young woman rebuffs his advances, Genji consoles himself with her younger brother who turns out to be “no bad substitute for his ungracious sister”) and something very close to incest. Genji is attracted to Fujitsubo, one of his father’s consorts, because of her resemblance to his dead mother. Even though she is, in effect, his stepmother, he fathers a child with her.

The article goes on to examine how several translators (into English) have handled the story.

In their annual double issue there is a very interesting article on the development of Cookbooks from the first recognized cookbook "De ne coquinara". (Link)

The first Western cookbook appeared a little more than 1,600 years ago. “De re coquinara” (concerning cookery) is attributed to a Roman gourmet named Apicius who, legend has it, poisoned himself upon learning that he could no longer afford to eat fancy food. It is probably a mishmash of Roman and Greek recipes, some or all of them drawn from manuscripts that have since been lost. The editor was careless, allowing several duplicated recipes to sneak in. Yet Apicius’s book set the tone of cookery advice in Europe for more than a thousand years.

It has a decadent, aristocratic flavour. There are recipes for ostrich and flamingo, befitting the sweep of the Roman Empire. Apicius instructs cooks to add honey to almost everything, including lobster. He teaches them how to cook one dish so that it resembles another and how to disguise bad food.
The author goes on to look at how different countries approach their cookbooks and draws particular contrasts between the UK and the US.

Over at HuffPo, Andrew Foster Altschul asks publishers to forgo memoirs from Al Gonzales. (Link)
We all know the drill: disgraced Bush insider-cum-war-criminal licks his wounds for a year or two, then publishes a "tell-all" that either tells us what we already knew (cf. Scott McClellan's What Happened, which shocked the world by revealing that the White House had lied about its justifications for invading Iraq) or blames everyone else for what happened (cf. George Tenet's At the Center of the Storm, which excuses its author for his "slam dunk" comment by writing off its context as a mere "marketing meeting"). Prurient readers, believing mistakenly that they've breached the wall of executive secrecy, buy truckloads of the slimy documents, and the morally deficient scoundrel makes a ton of money and hits the lecture-and-talk-show circuit to make a ton more.
Ron Burkle's Yucaipa has bought a chunk of B&N for investment purposes. (Reuters)
Yucaipa Cos, a private equity firm controlled by billionaire Ron Burkle, said on Friday it it had acquired an 8.3 percent stake in bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc, saying it believed the shares were undervalued. The company's shares rose 4 percent after-hours to $15.99, after the announcement. Yucaipa funds said it had bought about 4.58 million shares since Nov. 24 for about $67.3 million, net of commissions, the company said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Some real analysis of the concept of The Long Tail as applied to the music industry indicates that the theory may not be as airtight as Chris Anderson would have us believe. (TimesOnline)

But a study of digital music sales has posed the first big challenge to this “long tail” theory: more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year.

The idea that niche markets were the key to the future for internet sellers was described as one of the most important economic models of the 21st century when it was spelt out by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail in 2006. He used data from an American online music retailer to predict that the internet economy would shift from a relatively small number of “hits” - mainstream products - at the head of the demand curve toward a “huge number of niches in the tail”.

However, a new study by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, the not-for-profit royalty collection society, suggests that the niche market is not an untapped goldmine and that online sales success still relies on big hits.

An Op-Ed in the NYTimes looking for some help from Treasury (Link)

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