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    Published on: July 14, 2006

    It was interesting yesterday to read stories in the media about a new Morgan Stanley report saying that Coca-Cola is in danger losing its beverage industry dominance if it doesn’t expand its non-carbonated product lines.

    "Coke's exclusive stronghold on the fountain channel shows early signs of cracks," said William Pecoriello, a Morgan Stanley analyst. "Pressure is mounting on Coke…as its bottlers consider distributing more non-Coke product as they are at a disadvantage in the faster growing, more profitable categories."

    Even as the report was circulating, there came news that PepsiCo has signed a deal with Ocean Spray to market, bottle and distribute single-serve cranberry juice products in the U.S. and Canada under the Ocean Spray name. The agreement also includes opportunities for the development of new product innovations across multiple trade channels in the future.

    Which would certainly suggest that Pepsi is intent on avoiding the kinds of cracks at Coke is said to be developing.
    KC's View:
    The question we ask in our headline is a serious one, because this would appear to be a textbook case of two companies with similar heritages seeing the world in entirely different ways.

    Who has the right stuff?

    It must be said, though, that even Coke CEO Neville Isdell seems to be torn on the carbonated/non-carbonated question.

    At the recent CIES Summit in Paris, he told the audience, “People like sweetness, like bubbles, and we make no apologies for that.” And, Isdell said that before Coke can grow in non-carbonated drinks, “we must demonstrate that we can grow carbonated soft drinks. We are the Coca-Cola Company. We have to grow carbonated soft drinks first. If we can’t, why would anyone believe we could grow anything else? Even more to the point, there are still enormous opportunities in carbonated soft drinks — and not just in fast growing markets like Brazil, Russia, Indian and China, but everywhere.”

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    Yesterday, MNB reported that McDonald’s apparently misjudged the taste buds of its customers, and will take its new Hot 'n' Spicy McChicken sandwich off the menu. The sandwich was introduced to much fanfare just last January, but soft sales have caused the company to replace it with a new snack-size chicken wrap.

    Today, however, the Chicago Tribune reports that Wendy’s is taking the opposite approach, test marketing a red hot chicken sandwich, which will complement a spicy chicken sandwich already being sold by the fast feeder.

    "We have defended our Spicy Chicken successfully against competitive intrusion--most recently by McDonald's," Ian Rowden, Wendy's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, tells the Tribune. "Now we see an opportunity to build on this effort and the strong equity of our product by giving our customers additional options that turn up the heat."
    KC's View:
    Smart move, and a well-timed one, by Wendy’s.

    Wendy’s is betting that consumers are willing to be more adventurous, that they want more options. We think this is a good bet.

    We also think that Wendy’s spicy sandwiches taste better than McDonald’s, which could have something to do with Mickey D’s failure.

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    In Florida, the Times-Union reports that Publix has opened a new, 62,000 square foot store in Mandarin that it describes as a “greatest hits combination of concepts” that the retailer has tested in other markets: “Splashy tile treatment in lime green and tangerine was lifted from Publix Sabor, a Hispanic-infused offshoot currently open in Hialeah and Kissimmee. The new liquor store - the only Publix liquor store in Northeast Florida - is a pilot program that's only available in 14 other locations chain-wide. Homier tabletop displays, a party-planning service and a cooking school set to open by January 2007 are also firsts for the area. For Publix, the new store is a laboratory where all the elements collide, and the company sits back to see how well it works - or doesn't.”
    KC's View:
    The store was opened in a location where an old Albertsons once stood, which certainly signifies something…

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Target Corp. has decided to not open two new stores in Chicago in the city approves new legislation that would require big box retailers to pay employees a minimum of $10 per hour and provide medical benefits worth at least $3 per hour. There are two projects that Target was developing that would be thrown for a loop by the retailer’s decision.

    The full city council is expected to vote on the measure by the end of the month, but local analysts have suggested until now that it was a done deal.

    The legislation has generally been perceived as being anti-Wal-Mart, but the decision by Target illustrates that it could have broader implications.
    KC's View:
    This legislation will prove to be of far greater harm to Chicago than a help, no matter what the unions think and what they tell the local aldermen.

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    In Detroit, Channel 4 News reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) raided a Troy warehouse and confiscated hundreds of pounds of chicken, goose and pork products from areas in China affected by bird flu. “USDA investigators seized more than 1,600 pounds of illegally imported poultry and pork products, the station reported. Most of the products were mislabeled and put in boxes that read frozen tilapia, according to the report.”
    KC's View:
    When the people who brought in these products are prosecuted and convicted, we have a suggestion for at least part of their punishment: a steady diet of the same chicken, goose and pork that they brought into the country illegally. While they’re in jail, let them eat this stuff…and wonder about their own fates.

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    The Boston Globe reports that CVS plans to acquire MinuteClinic, which operates 83 in-store health clinics, including 66 of them in CVS stores. Terms of the proposed deal were not disclosed.

    In-store health clinics, where certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide treatments for common ailments as well as services such as vaccinations and flu shots, have become a hot trend in the US, with everyone from chain drug stores such as CVS and Walgreen to retailers such as Wal-Mart and a number of supermarket chains offering them. They are not always embraced by doctors, who say that patients sometimes won’t be getting the medical treatment they need, but the high cost of medicine in this country has made them seem extremely attractive to an enormous number of people.
    KC's View:
    This move by CVS was inevitable. Look for other retailers – especially Walgreen and Wal-Mart – to make similar moves, as they look to control costs and operations while creating a differential advantage for themselves.

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    • The California Supreme Court has refused to review an appeals court ruling that said communities could create ordinances preventing the building of superstores and big box stores.

    The specific ruling concerned Turlock, California, where there is a law preventing stores larger than 100,000 square feet from devoting more than five percent of their space to groceries. Wal-Mart had sued Turlock, lost, and then appealed to the state’s top court.

    No word yet on whether Wal-Mart will take the suit to the next level.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group primarily funded by the retailer that tries to counteract the criticism aimed at the company by a variety of outside organizations, has launched a website – – to discredit those critics.

    Advertising Age reports that Wal-Mart has launched a new advertising campaign in print and on television that focuses on its organic food offerings. Price is very much an issue in the ads, which use as a tagline, "Introducing Organics at the Wal-Mart price."

    • The New York Times reports that Wal-Mart, which traditionally has taken a hard line against shoplifters, has quietly developed a new policy in this area. “According to internal documents,” the Times reports, “the company, the nation’s largest retailer and leading destination for shoplifting, will no longer prosecute first-time thieves unless they are between 18 and 65 and steal merchandise worth at least $25, putting the chain in line with the policies of many other retailers… Wal-Mart said the change would allow it to focus on theft by professional shoplifters and its own employees, who together steal the bulk of merchandise from the chain every year, rather than the teenager who occasionally takes a candy bar from the checkout counter.”

    According to the Times story, the change in policy may placate local police departments, many of which have protested the zero-tolerance approach that sometimes have stretched them thin. However, the Times also notes that it may be creating some confusion among some Wal-Mart employees who are concerned that this will increase shoplifting incidents at the chain.
    KC's View:
    : Of course, if the change in policy doesn’t increase shoplifting at Wal-Mart, the coverage by the New York Times and other media outlets certainly will.

    The agenda behind the revelation of this policy shift is contained within the Times story:

    “The changes in Wal-Mart’s theft policy are described in 30 pages of documents that were provided to the New York Times by, a group backed by unions that have tried to organize Wal-Mart workers in the United States. The group said it received the document from a former employee at the chain who is unhappy with the new policy.”

    The interesting thing about this is that we don’t see how publicizing such a change actually helps Wal-Mart’s opposition, except by creating a little random chaos in Bentonville. It certainly doesn’t make Wal-Mart more likely to be understanding and compassionate…in fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if the retailer decided to reverse this policy change just because of all the publicity.

    That’s what we’d do. Because to leave the policy shift in place and have it highlighted for all the world to see in the media is the same thing as painting a bull’s eye on its own back.

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Staples is engaged in a broad effort “to develop a stable of exclusive products to differentiate its own-brand line from those of competitors,” with a real focus on soliciting inventions from customers and granting contracts to those it feels have the greatest potential.
    KC's View:
    Not only does it make sense to try and have products that other retailers don’t have, but it also is extraordinarily smart to use customers as a source of such products. After all, who would know better about what customers really need and want?

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    • Even as Coca-Cola deals with bottlers that are suing it for agreeing to allow warehouse delivery of its Powerade sports drinks to Wal-Mart’s warehouses, instead of using the more traditional direct store delivery (DSD), the Wall Street Journal reports that it has added fuel to the fire by shipping some Minute Maid drinks to a Valero Energy warehouse in Texas rather than using DSD.

    Valero operates more than 5,000 gas stations and c-stores nationwide, and it asked for the change in shipment policy. Bottlers object to the change because it reduces their profitability, and they are looking to depose Valero officials about the Minute Maid shipments.

    • According to the 2006 Unsaleables Benchmark Report, just released by the Joint Industry Unsaleables Steering Committee and its sponsors, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI), average manufacturer payments for unsaleables declined slightly from 1.13 percent to 1.05 percent of sales between 2004 and 2005. Survey respondents cited packaging improvements and other changes to reduce damage, along with increased management focus on data, as the major reasons for decreasing rates. However, some companies reported rate increases, driven by product discontinuations, new item failures and new pseudoephedrine (PSE) legislation.

    Concurrently, distributor unsaleables costs as a percent of sales increased from 1.13 percent to 1.17 percent. Survey respondents cited manufacturer swell allowances/adjustable rate policies and lower reimbursements by manufacturers as key issues causing unsaleables costs to increase.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    • France-based retailer Carrefour reported that second quarter sales were up 9.1 percent to the equivalent of $27 billion (US), with sales in France up 7.2 percent and sales elsewhere around the world up 7.9 percent.

    • PepsiCo reported that its second quarter revenue was up 12 percent to $8.6 billion, from $7.7 billion during the same period a year ago. Profit for the quarter was up 14 percent to $1.36 billion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    We got a number of emails responding to yesterday’s story about the Cerberus-owned Albertsons stores deciding to get out of the e-grocery business.

    MNB user Thomas Murphy wrote:

    We need to look under the covers of the Cerberus portion of the Albertson's deal. Since they kept the underperforming stores from the Albertson's chain, it is likely only a real estate play. Even though a number of ex-grocery executives have been retained by Cerberus, it is probable that they will be used to "put lipstick on the pigs" before trying to sell them to other buyers, either grocers or other retail outlets. This said, they have little stomach for losses that resulted in the closing of the online business. Consumer impact? Not a concern for Cerberus in this scenario...close/sell what doesn't work, sell the minimal number of surviving locations to national, regional or local chains. Cerberus is into money...not consumers!

    Another MNB user wrote:

    It's not a dumb move for Albertson's to close their e-grocery business if they plan to sell all of their stores for real estate value!

    And yet another MNB user wrote:

    Perhaps the long range plan is the short range plan - Cerberus sells it all.

    And, from another MNB user:

    So you think it’s a dumb move for the new owners of Albertsons to shut down their E grocery business? My first reaction was that you comment sounded a bit naive. You are assuming that the new owners want to be in the grocery business. I don't think they do and I think their long-term plan is to get out of the grocery business. They make it sound like they are only closing down the worst performing stores. What a lot of people are forgetting is that for the most part, all 650 pretty much classify as being poor performing stores. That is why Supervalu did not buy them. Come on now, do you really think that a real estate company is going to take a group of low volume stores and try to run with the big dogs?

    We get the point.

    Another MNB user made a legitimate point.

    Just an FYI, as you stated in your view section, Albertson’s is discontinuing the online shopping. But, it is Albertsons LLC that is discontinuing it. If possible could you add the ‘LLC’ to the end of ‘Albertsons’ in “KC’s View” so it is not misinterpreted?

    Because of our travel schedule we didn’t get this email until late in the day…but the point is a good one. We were specific about it being the Cerberus-owned Albertsons, but need to get used to saying Albertsons LLC to drive home the difference.

    We’ll try to do better.

    On the subject of “long tail” economics, MNB user Glen Terbeek wrote:

    There are many great items that don't have enough mass volume to make it in each store, but across the US, as an example, have plenty of market and need.

    Think about special medical diets. Perfect for the Internet since the shopper can search for items, compare items, etc much better than finding the store that might have the item, and on and on and on. It makes sense for an Internet retailer to want to offer all products under the above. And of course manufacturers want all of their items available the same way. Niche items are no brainers for the Internet.

    Watch They carried every book that the author wanted to be carried by them, even mine, on a consignment basis. After all, it’s all about marketing, not about who owns the physical goods.

    But I could argue the same for the high volume, mass items as well. Many pantry items like Tide or Coke, are not exciting shopping experiences, the shopper just wants them in their pantry, in fact they are a pain to shop for. Doesn't mean that they are bad items, just the contrary or they wouldn't be high volume.

    I think that the potential for Tesco Express could be the perfect shopping continuum for shoppers and manufacturers. Focusing on the smaller "Moment of Value" store carrying solutions, fresh, interesting seasonal items, etc, creating value above and beyond distribution value It also could serve as a pick up location for preordered items, or the store could deliver for an additional fee when the shopper is ready to receive. They may carry a convenience selection of core items, for immediate need.

    It is interesting that a consumer doesn't mind paying $1 for a 12 0z. Coke at a store's deli since it is for immediate "moment of value" consumption, but they will shop and wait for deals when buying a 12 pack for their pantry at home.

    One other thing about the 20%, 80% rule. It is not the same in every store's market, making more argument for the above.

    The mass marketing stores and the current industry models that support them are dead. It worked economically when there wasn't any store or product saturation. The retailers could dictate what the shopper had to chose from. Not any more.

    MNB user Gunther M. Brinkman had another thought:

    The problem with the "Long Tail" in the retailing of physical goods is the unavoidable "Long Trek."

    Movies, songs, and other digital goods can be inventoried at virtually zero marginal cost, and the search cost for the consumer is practically nil (type "Bend it Like Beckham" into the search bar, and Amazon finds it). Even for many non-perishable hard goods (e.g., books) the economics are similar, especially given Amazon's strategies to minimize working capital needs.

    Try walking through a physical Amazon store. Your purchases would code-out before you found the cash register. Inventory carrying costs and spoilage would be massive, requiring minimizing the number of such Amazon stores. Consumers would have to drive from all over the Midwest to their "local" Amazon store in Des Moines.

    Alternately, not many consumers want to go to a half dozen different stores in order to find a half dozen highly specialized ingredients.

    Unlimited selection is a wonderful thing, but only if it can be done without significantly inconveniencing the consumer.

    Isn’t there a difference between selling physical product and having a physical store?

    “Long tail” economics is defined and made possible by the Internet. The question for brick-and-mortar retailers is whether they are going to let go of old, dead marketing notions and find ways to embrace new methods of going to market that consumers are going to demand.

    Those last five words, by the way, are the most important ones: “Consumers are going to demand.”

    Ignore them at your peril.

    Responding to yesterday’s piece about Target’s operations, MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

    If you have checked Super Target food pricing compared to Wal-Mart, the answer is quite obvious--its pricing is way, way higher.

    Last year, Wal-Mart operated with a 23.1% gross margin all year. Target was 31.9%. That margin difference explains, I think, why Target is not doing as well on consumer electronics and some other categories as well. Its pricing might be competitive on advertised items, but you lack the qualified help offered by Best Buy.

    Not long ago, while my wife was checking out apparel at Target, I bought a memory card at Target. She also wanted to check out Wal-Mart clothing, so I tailed along and decided to price that memory card at Wal-Mart. $10 cheaper at Wal-Mart, so back I went to Target to get my money back.

    An 8% margin difference chainwide means some significant pricing differences on many items.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    While I was running a produce division for a southeast regional retailer, Target entered one of our major marketing areas and was very successful in hiring several of our produce managers. Conversations with these managers once they were on board with Target were interesting in what they revealed. They were pretty consistent in one area and that was that they were not allowed to build mass selling displays. They were to follow their merchandising plan to the letter. For example, one former manager decided to order pallet quantities of Clementine oranges and put the pallets directly on the sales floor for mass sales. He was successful but told never to do that again! The explanation he was given was that Target offers food as an extra service for their customers. I don’t know what that means, but it is pretty easy to see that Target merchandises their food area in the same manner as they do their general merchandise business. Spill over displays, floor stacks, shippers, or any other type of display that expands what shelf space will hold is virtually non existent. They are just not about exuberant price shopping. Who is to say they are not right? The company I worked for was in bankruptcy, ended up selling to a larger firm, and is now currently being beaten rather severely by Publix and Wal-Mart.

    Responding to our pieces about the employment contract negotiations taking place between Winn-Dixie and CEO Peter Lynch, one MNB user wrote:

    It’s pretty simple, in my view. W-D thinks that Lynch is a talented executive. They are the ones that must take some risk in order to have him working there. If they ask him to take more risk (e.g., modest salary with a big kicker at the end), he can simply leave for a job with more guaranteed money. Seller’s market (just like a talented starting pitcher hitting free agency in baseball)…

    We had a piece yesterday about Unilever and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s embracing the activism that defined that brand’s beginnings, and said in our commentary that we think this is a good thing: “We happen to be a child of the sixties, and remember when social activism had a good name. That isn’t always the case anymore. (Where’s Moses Wine when we need him?) Then again, we’ve found that the world can be fairly divided into two groups – people who think that the sixties were a positive force in American life, and those who think the sixties were the worst thing ever to happen to American society.

    An MNB user responded:

    Great points. Even more interesting to me is a third possible group.

    As a child of a "Child of the 60's" - I've noticed that my parents, their friends, and many others of that generation regard their activism efforts as more of a "consequence of their youth" than anything else. That is, they don't completely dismiss the activism of the 60's as the "worst thing to happen to American Society" but they don't necessarily embrace it as a "positive" activity either.

    It’s almost that they consider their activism a childish expression of rebellion – and are not quite sure whether embracing their efforts at this stage in their life is "socially acceptable" or not.

    As you discussed in a piece a few weeks back - I think it just goes to show you that the reckless abandon human beings have in youth gets beat out of them by society as long-standing--even permanent "Adult societal norms" take hold later in life. Maybe letting go of those burdensome and often irrational societal norms and embracing more of that "childish" reckless abandon is exactly what the world needs today.

    So, I challenge the Children of the 60's who share my parent's view of their activism to embrace it. For it was not just a "consequence of your youth" or a "childish expression of rebellion," but it was something you believed in at a time when your beliefs were closer to the surface without being jaded by societal norms. We should all embrace the idealism that youth brings with it, and let it be a reminder to our "politically correct," "social-conscious" selves of today.

    Again, I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes. One that I refer to and try to avoid its implications daily....

    "Idealism is what precedes experience; cynicism is what follows." - David T. Wolf (1943 - )

    And, speaking of reckless abandon…

    We got a number of responses to yesterday’s exchange between us and an MNB use who suggested that we needed to stop being so critical of the US government about what we view as a completely inadequate response to mad cow disease; “there are times in life,” she wrote, “when the best plan of action is to voice your thoughts and then sit back quietly and let the truth surface. Constant badgering doesn’t accomplish the ultimate goal.” We acknowledged that this is a perfectly sensible and mature approach to life, though it runs contrary to what MNB is all about: “If we didn’t do this stuff, we’d be just like all the vanilla sites out there that don’t illuminate issues, don’t try to entertain readers, don’t take a stand and, to be honest, don’t risk irritating the people who use the site every day.

    “Sit quietly and let the truth surface? We don’t think so.”

    MNB user John Rand chimed in:

    Go ahead and keep badgering everyone – it’s been over thirty years since my very brief flirtation with the news business, but I remember thinking what heroes good newspapermen could be – from Peter Zenger to William Lloyd Garrison to Watergate – the country needs information delivered with passion and consistency. Please go ahead and hammer on the truth – even when I don’t agree (rarely) I want to know you are willing to say it and hope you can build support around it.

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing” - Edmund Burke

    Several MNB users brought it back to the global warming issue. One wrote:

    It seems to me that there is a strand of similarity in the folks who want climate change to be a theory, instead of a reality, and the reader who wants you to stop "badgering" about mad cow and BSE.

    That's not true, and I offer you Watergate and Vietnam as two examples, lead paint and ethyl as two others. The active and expressive voices of concerned citizens, whether it's about food safety or environmental issues, is what will make a difference in this country and around the world. Stand up, shout it out, and keep fighting to get the word out and help people educate themselves. Unfortunately, most of the "top of the hour" news that I see and hear is more concerned in parsing the latest Britney Spears activity or keeping me up to date on American Idol. Which is why many of us think the mainstream media has stopped doing its "news" job to focus on entertainment.

    I am dismayed by the number of your readers who have written in with insults about Al Gore and/or praising the Crichton book. The fact that so many clearly intelligent people (because they read Morning News Beat!) don't "believe" in global warming/ climate change or think it's still a subject for debate is quite frightening. There is NO question that climate change is happening, there is no question that human actions have an effect, and there is no question that immediate behavioral changes on the part of humans - the planet dwellers with the greatest capacity to affect this - are necessary. It's "inconvenient" because it requires change - and that is, after all, what you're talking about every day in your column: advising stores and producers to adapt to the changing conditions.

    Let's stop this artificial argument about whether it's happening and use our considerable collective intellect to do something about it. Little changes make a difference - but big changes -- the cars we drive, the kinds of houses we build, the electricity we use (or conserve), the policies we support with our votes -- have a huge impact. I believe the American people are much smarter and much more capable than anyone gives us credit for. Let's keep badgering - keep it smart, keep it respectful - but keep focusing on what we can do. Sitting back and waiting quietly to see how the government - or the corporations - "fix" things isn't my idea of a solution.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    If one more person says “I don’t know any of the science, but I’ve read a novel that contains the subject of global warming” I think I’m going to scream. I don’t want to hear someone’s opinion on a real scientific debate if their opinion is based on a made-up story.

    It’s like someone basing their entire opinion of Christianity on what they read in “The DaVinci Code.” Please.

    I did see “An Inconvenient Truth” and I would urge everyone to if they want to contribute to the conversation. Al Gore’s conclusions are based on science. This is not Michael Moore, smart-cracking and exaggerating to bolster his position. “An Inconvenient Truth” is full of the raw data of scientists. A few wise cracks, but mostly facts.

    I wish these debates were full of a few more facts and a little less fiction. The world, no matter how warm, would be a better place.

    And, from yet another MNB user:

    First, on Mad Cow and your reply that "MNB was designed for ongoing expression and debate of ideas, not to mention badgering, sarcasm, and criticism," I just have to say BRAVO! and keep at it. I have not seen a lot about BSE in the news (unlike the guy who wrote you - does he live in Japan?) and am worried that once again the Fourth Estate (present company excepted) has dropped the ball. Then again, I argued with my father a lot too (and still do to this day). Keep up with the badgering, sarcasm and criticism (BSC) on BSE, Larry Johnston, Federated, Wal-Mart, Target, K-Sears, banks, Winn-Dixie, ConAgra, Bob Nardelli, lawyers, nuance, and the continuing controversy over cinematic success measurements - as well as everything else.

    Secondly, on Mr. Gore and the coming climate change crisis, I am always impressed by people who commit themselves with a passion to an (unselfish) specific project like Mr. Gore has done (or like Mr. Gates with his foundation, or Mr. Carter with Habitat for Humanity). I don't know one human that I've agreed with on everything they've said and I'm sure a lot of your readers might say something similar about Mr. Gore. Then again, I can usually find some point of agreement with most folks as well. An important life lesson occurs when you figure out that not all the stuff you need to know about is going to be delivered to you by someone you like or tied up in a pretty lil' package with a bow.

    I did see the movie and his presentation at Wal-Mart and was taken by the seriousness of the subject, his command of the facts and information, and the engagement and commitment that he brings to it. In my opinion, those who do not want to think or talk about global warming are the ones who most need to see "An Inconvenient Truth."

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 14, 2006

    We’ve had a lot of discussion of “long tail” economics on the site this week, and another example popped up yesterday when announced a new deal with CBS News. The online retailer has begun offering customized DVDs with “60 Minutes’ segments dating back to 2000..though there are suggestions that they eventually will go farther back into the archives in the near future.

    "We're digitizing great programming that doesn't make it into mass-produced releases," said Greg Greeley, VP of Media at Amazon. "We have the capability to manufacture on demand and, within 24 hours, ship it out."

    You can either buy a single segment – like the recent profile of Starbucks and its chairman, Howard Schultz, or a piece of global warming – or you can bundle together as much as 90 minutes worth of material together for $24.95.

    This is a great example of product not only being made available, but more attractive, simply because the Internet and technology creates the environment for a whole new kind of marketing. It also changes the whole nature of profitability, when stories from six years ago can start generating fresh revenue for the producers.

    I left the theater in a profound depression last weekend after seeing “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” and the dark feelings only deepened when I saw that the movie made $135 million in its first weekend of release. I am sad to report that while the movie may be an enormous financial hit, I cannot remember a major studio release that I’ve hated more. It is, in short, a giant piece of celluloid crap.

    There are characters without characterizations, plot lines without development or resolution, and special effects that pile up without going anywhere. Sure, the movie has Keira Knightley, who is always great to look at. And, to be fair, much of the movie is gorgeously shot, some of it breathtaking to behold. But it is a movie utterly without purpose or distinction except to get as many patrons as possible to pay $10 to get in.

    The original “Pirates,” released back in 2003, was a surprise hit, seeing as its inspiration was the longtime ride at Disneyland. I remember liking it a lot, and thinking that it seemed fresh and engaging. Neither of which I thought about this new one, the first of two sequels.

    I am reminded of what film critic Roger Ebert once said about a different movie:

    “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

    Enough said.

    I had entirely different feelings about “Superman Returns,” the Bryan Singer-directed movie that tries to recapture the magic of the old Christopher Reeve films and update the character for a new generation of filmgoers.

    While I didn’t love “Superman Returns,” I liked it a lot. Sometimes it seemed a little too much like “filming an epic by the numbers” for my taste, hitting all the right notes not because they are the right notes to hit but because there are certain notes you have to hit in a superhero movie. The plot was good but not great; this is a case where the DVD will be a great buy because it will include all the scenes that didn’t make the final cut but explain some of the scenes that did. And sometimes I just plain missed Reeve’s performance, and thought that Brandon Routh was playing Reeve playing Clark Kent and Superman instead of playing the roles themselves.

    But those actually are fairly minor quibbles. Kevin Spacey is excellent as arch villain Lex Luthor, and there is a neat and palpable tension between him and Routh as the movie unfolds. And in the end, Superman is Superman – the original and the best superhero, the very sight of whom can awaken the child in most of us.

    And best of all, when you see this movie it fulfills the ad line from the old Reeve version:

    You’ll believe a man can fly.

    I’ve read three books worth recommending in recent days.

    I finally found the time to read “Game of Shadows : Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports,” by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. This is a remarkable book for the depth of its research and the damning portrait it paints of the athletes and enablers who created the steroid scandals in sports. And nobody comes off worse than Barry Bonds…though it now appears that the chickens may be coming home to roost for Bonds and that a grand jury may indict him on a number of counts. This is a compelling, though disheartening, look at the smarmy underbelly of sports. I couldn’t put it down.

    I also finally got around to reading a book that’s been on my shelf for some time: “Why Sinatra Matters,” by Pete Hamill. I ordered this book more because I am a fan of Hamill’s than out of any compulsion to know about Sinatra, but I found it to be a fascinating look at not just the man, but the eras and the sensibilities that he defined in this country. Though Sinatra, Hamill gives us a look at the nature of masculinity, the changing role of popular culture, and how America – especially urban America – changed dramatically through the 20th century.

    I also loved “Heat,” by Mike Lupica, which is the second of his young adult novels but is a great read no matter what your age. “Heat” is the story of Michael Arroyo, a 13-year-old Cuban immigrant who is living in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, though he’s never actually been inside. For Michael, baseball is everything, and he never feels as at home as when he is on the pitcher’s mound playing Little League. The problem is that Michael is enormously gifted, which leads some of the coaches for competing teams to question whether he actually is 13…and he doesn’t have a birth certificate to prove his actual age. Great stuff.

    Finally, I have three wonderful white wines (all probably retailing for less than $20 per bottle) to recommend this week, each of them perfect for these hot summer days when you’re nibbling on some cold seafood, or eating a salad, or, as I was, munching on a BLT pannini.

    • The 2005 “Pomelo” Sauvignon Blanc from California’s Mason Cellars, which is crisp and grapefruity – and even (gasp!) comes in a screwtop bottle.

    • The 2005 “Ken Forrester” Petite Chenin Blanc from South Africa’s Stellenbosch vineyards, which has a nice pear-flavor with just a hint of minerals.

    • And the 2004 (Chenin Blanc) Vouvray, Demi-Sec, Yves Breussin from France’s Loire Valley, which may be the fullest-bodied white wine I’ve ever tasted – and in fact may be one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

    Thanks to the always-terrific Bin 36 in Chicago for these taste sensations – it remains one of the great places to go for unusual and often thrilling wines.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


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    Published on: July 14, 2006

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