retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I don't often start “OffBeat” with a book review, but in this case I am going to make an exception.

Go right now and order “The Scarecrow,” by Michael Connelly. And then prepare yourself for a long evening, because it is can’t-put-it-down great.

“The Scarecrow” is a sequel of sorts to “The Poet,” a thriller about a serial killer that Connelly wrote more than a decade ago. It features as a protagonist Jack McEvoy, a newspaper reporter who (like Connelly before he turned to writing novels) specializes in the crime beat, and who finds himself tracking down, at great personal risk, a new serial killer who likes to torture and kill women and then stuff them into the trunks of cars.

What gives ‘The Scarecrow” an extra bit of juice is that it is played out against the background of the collapsing newspaper business. In “The Poet,” McEvoy worked for the Rocky Mountain News which has since gone out of business; as “The Scarecrow” begins, he’s being laid off by the Los Angeles Times, where in real life countless reporters have been sacrificed by bean counters with no understanding of what journalism means. At the same time, the serial killer of the piece actually a technological wizard who revels in the cultural shifts turning newspapers and reporters into dinosaurs. So, there’s a lot of context and subtext to “The Scarecrow” – plus, it is a terrific read by one of the best novelists working today.

Order it from Amazon. Download it to your Kindle. Or go down to the local bookstore and buy it the old fashioned way. But don't miss out on “The Scarecrow.”

I cannot say the same, unfortunately, for the film version of Dan Brown’s best selling book, “Angels & Demons.” It is, unfortunately, eminently missable.

That said, I had a pretty good time watching it. It is better, without any of the pretensions, than the film version of Brown’s other hit book, “The Da Vinci Code.” It has a tighter narrative, and the production values are wonderful (much of it takes place in the Vatican, which refused to allow director Ron Howard access because it believed that the book and movie were anti-Catholic; still you’d never know that it was shot elsewhere, that’s how good it is).

Tom Hanks is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, and he actually makes the movie work better than it should because he’s utterly believable. “Angels & Demons” is like really good junk food…you can enjoy the experience as it happens, but never for a moment afterwards do you think that it was good for you or had any nutritional value.

There was a piece in the New York Times that made a point that more companies should consider.

Essentially, it argued that companies – especially retailers - need to be nice to the people who apply for jobs, even if they are overrun with resumes because of the recession. The reason? Job applicants also are shoppers…and they not only will avoid buying products from companies that treat them badly, but will spread the word about poor behavior at a time when retailers can least afford to have that happen.

On the other hand, if they are treated with respect, they may actually become good customers, even advocates for a company.

“Companies have much to gain,” the Times writes, “in talent, in positive word of mouth and in basic corporate responsibility — by bringing greater civility to their recruiting … Let’s hope that some basic human courtesy and kindness find their way back into recruiting. And, of course, when those of you who are out of work do land that next job, don’t forget what it was like on the other side — and be sure to treat your prospective employees accordingly.”


Thanks to the folks at GS 1 US for all their hospitality and hard work in putting together the panel discussion that I moderated at their U Connect Conference this week. Great people to work with…and I had blast. Hope it was as good for them as it was for me…

It is an interesting decision by Best Buy – to offer more than 5,000 albums on new vinyl (not used) through its online store.

This isn’t a category with big demand. Unless you are a purist about such things, CDs and downloads simply remain the way to go.

But there is a small and dedicated audience that believes in the purity of the sound that can come from a record turntable, and Best Buy is looking to satisfy them.

This is, it seems to me, a classic example of the “long tail” – using the Internet to satisfy fringe customers, and to make available to customers products that they ordinarily might not be able to find because more and more stores only want to carry the 20 percent of products that do 80 percent of the business.

Every once in a while, I get to taste something that is both delicious and a unique surprise. That happened last Saturday night, when we went to a little joint called Nicholas Roberts Fine Food in Norwalk, Connecticut…and I ordered something called crawfish beignets, served with a Cajun Aioli…and it was remarkable. Spicy and crispy on the outside, while soft and melt-in-your-mouth good on the inside. Just one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time…and it reminded me of the wonderful passions that great food can awaken.

I have a wonderful wine to recommend to you this week.

The Bodega Septima 2007 Malbec, which is delicious. The wine testing notes said that it had flavors of dark toast, bacon and coffee … which only served to make me feel completely inadequate, since I didn’t taste any of it. I just thought it was delicious, which is enough for me.

And perfect, by the way, with crawfish beignets.

Finally, I just want to give a big shout-out and thanks to the members of the MNB community who stopped by the Bonefish Grill in Rogers, Arkansas, last night…it was great meeting you, and it remains a privilege to be part of your mornings.

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


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