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    Published on: April 12, 2012

    This commentary is available both as text and video. They are similar but not identical. Enjoy both, or either.

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    I was interested this week to see that the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom was out with its annual list of what it calls its Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books - which is to say books that have been formally challenged in writing by citizens or groups because, according to them, the content is inappropriate.

    Now, I’m going to be honest here. I do not know all these books. And I’d be willing to bet that some of them probably are inappropriate to certain age groups ... and ought not be in the kids section of the library.

    That said, I was amazed that there are people out there who think that “To Kill A Mockingbird” deserves to be challenged. Or “Brave New World.” And while I’ve not read the books, the “Hunger Games” trilogy? Really?

    First of all, I don’t trust anyone who tries to get books removed from the library. Especially books like these.

    Especially these days, when the odds are pretty good that most kids are exposed to things far more distressing - on the internet, on cable TV and in video games - than “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

    This is something we all need to come to grips with, both personally and professionally.

    Our kids are exposed to far more than we ever were, and our customers know a lot more than we think they do. I think it is better to deal with it than to try to fight it.

    From a business perspective, marketers simply have to accept the fact that customers have access to a massive amount of information, and are influenced by a wide range of sources, most of which they have no influence over and many of which they don’t even know about. This affects their shopping behavior - sometimes it makes them ask questions about Pink Slime, and sometimes it has them counting Weight Watchers points. Regardless, one has to accept the fact that this is happening, and become part of the conversation.

    I remember when I was in high school, I wanted to see “Easy Rider,” which was rated R. So my dad took me. Now, this was way out of character ... my dad did not particularly like the movies, wasn’t always that thrilled with me, and would not under any other circumstances have gone to see that movie. I can’t even imagine what he was thinking when he saw it. But he was smart enough to know that it was better to share the experience than not. Obviously, more than four decades later, I remember it.

    Nothing is as it was. We have to deal with that.

    Besides...”To Kill A Mockingbird”? Give me a break...

    That’s what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to know what is on your mind...

    You can catch up on all KC’s “FaceTime” commentaries on MNB’s YouTube channel, which you can access by clicking here.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Associated Press reports that there has been one unexpected result of the decision announced by the Encyclopaedia Britannica three weeks ago that it was discontinuing the publishing of a print edition after 244 years.

    People actually started to buy the 32-volume 2010 edition, the last to be published on paper.

    The company says that before the announcement, it was selling about 60 sets a week. Afterwards, it began selling more than a thousand sets a week ... for $1395 apiece ... and now there are only some 800 sets left.

    The company says there are no plans to reconsider its decision to go online-only.

    Which probably is smart.

    Once the announcement was made, the print editions became collectors’ items. But that does not mean that they are any more relevant for a 21st century reading public.

    Still is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    The Lakeland Ledger reports that Albertsons LLC is closing 13 of the 17 stores that it has been operating in Florida, as well as a distribution center in Plant City, saying that the closures reflected an inability to generate enough revenue to keep up with cost increases.

    According to the story, “The stores to be closed include locations in Bradenton, Key West, Sarasota, Valrico, Vero Beach and multiple sites in the Orlando area. Albertson's LLC is keeping four locations in Altamonte Springs, Clearwater, Largo and Oakland Park.”

    The distribution facility actually is one that was sold by Albertsons four years ago to Gordon Food Service and then leased back.

    The news is just the latest in what has been an unhappy history for Albertsons in Florida. As the Ledger reports, “Albertson's LLC was formed in 2006 when a group of investors led by Cerberus Capital Management purchased 661 stores from Albertson's Inc. Two years later Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. acquired 49 Albertsons stores in Florida — roughly half of the chain's remaining locations in the state.”

    Albertson's LLC currently has operates some 200 stores in Florida, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.
    KC's View:
    So what’s the over-under on when those remaining four stores get sold or closed?

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the US Department of Justice has filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Apple Inc. and five publishers, alleging that the companies conspired to fix the price of e-books.

    According to the story, the Justice Department is charging that “CEOs of the publishing companies met regularly in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants to discuss how to respond to steep discounting of their e-books by Inc., a practice they disliked. The executives also called and emailed each other to craft a solution to what one of them called ‘the wretched $9.99 price point,’ the suit said.

    “The five publishers and Apple hatched an arrangement that lifted the price of many best-selling e-books to $12.99 or $14.99, according to the suit. The publishers then banded together to impose that model on Amazon, the government alleged.”

    Apple and the accused publishers promised to vigorously defend themselves in the suit, saying that they had done nothing wrong. Some publishers say that if the government wins the suit, the big winner will be Amazon, which could gain even greater dominance in the publishing business.

    Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that as the antitrust suit was announced yesterday, “Amazon announced plans to push down prices on e-books. The price of some major titles could fall to $9.99 or less from $14.99, saving voracious readers a bundle.”

    There is an economic advantage for Amazon, “Amazon, which already controls about 60 percent of the e-book market,” the Times writes. The online retailer “can take a loss on every book it sells to gain market share for its Kindle devices. When it has enough competitive advantage, it can dictate its own terms, something publishers say is beginning to happen.”

    As the Journal points out, “The lawsuit upends an industry already undergoing wrenching change as printed books give way to electronic books that can be transmitted anywhere in seconds. Publishers want to keep their role as gatekeeper and ensure that e-books are profitable.”

    The story notes that three of the publishers have settled with the Justice Department, “agreeing to let Amazon and other retailers resume discounting of e-books. Settlement of a separate suit filed by 16 states and U.S. territories could lead to tens of millions of dollars in restitution to consumers who bought e-books at the higher prices.”
    KC's View:
    I’m no lawyer, but if there is proof that those secret dinners took place, it sure sounds like collusion to me.

    The good news is that I expect that I’ll be paying less for my e-books from now on, and that maybe I’ll even get a check back for all the books I’ve apparently overpaid for. And since this is really all about me, I don't really care whether the allegations are true or not.

    The thing is, I always thought that one of the problems with the e-book business ... objectively speaking ... is that companies pitched it and readers thought of it as a substantial way to save money on books. Which it was. Though I’ve always thought it was more a convenience play, and that the economic incentive should have been downplayed.

    Again, because this is all about me, I just want to make sure that the system works in a way that the authors can make a living as writers.

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    Great piece in Fast Company about how Google is encouraging its employees to live happier, healthier lives through better eating - and is putting that philosophy into practice in its cafeteria.

    “In pursuit of that healthiness, happiness, and innovation, Google has turned to ‘nudges’: simple, subtle cues that prompt people to make better decisions. Behavioral economists have shown the idea works, but Google has taken it out of the lab and into the lunchroom. This is a sampling of the encouragement you'd get during trips through the company's eateries - and naturally, Google is measuring the results.”

    For example:

    • “No longer are M&Ms in clear hanging dispensers. If you're in Google's New York office, you now have to reach into opaque bins. The grab takes effort; the obscuring vessel quells enticement. The switch led to a 9% drop in caloric intake from candy in just one week.”

    • “Waiting for you as you enter the cafeteria is the salad bar. According to Jessica Wisdom, a member of the People Analytics team, studies show that people tend to fill their plates with whatever they see first. Thus, leafy greens get the most visible real estate. Desserts, meanwhile, are down another line of sight.”

    • “While grabbing a plate to load up on grub, you see a sign informing you that people with bigger dishes are inclined to eat more. It doesn't tell you what to do, but it affects your behavior. This simple ‘meta nudge"’caused small-plate usage to increase by half, to 32% of all plate traffic.”

    The whole piece can be read here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    • Walmart has announced six SolarCity projects on stores in Colorado, marking the company's 100th solar power installation in the U.S. and, it said, moving it closer to its long-term goal of using 100-percent renewable energy for all its retail and distribution facilities ... When complete, Walmart's SolarCity projects in Colorado are expected to generate nearly three million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy per year, which is the equivalent of powering more than 225 homes. The solar projects are expected to avoid producing more than 5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    • Earth Fare Inc., the 25-unit health-oriented supermarket chain with stores in the southeastern and midwestern US, has agreed to sell an 80 percent stake in the company to private equity group Oak Hill Capital Partners in a deal that values the company at about $300 million.

    Advertising Age reports that “nearly a year after Corporate Accountability International launched a campaign urging McDonald's to stop marketing to kids, it has turned its focus to hospitals that house a McDonald's and is imploring administrators to terminate contracts with the chain ... The heart of CAI's stand is that being in hospitals benefits McDonald's with an associated perception of healthfulness. The consumer-advocacy group also claims that McDonald's locations in such facilities builds an affinity for the brand with kids.”

    The whole idea of a McDonald’s in a hospital is so patently ludicrous that it is amazing that we’ve even gotten to the point where advocacy groups have to weigh in...
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    • Stuart McGuigan, SVP and CIO at CVS Caremark, announced that he is leaving the company, where he has worked since 2008. The company said it is conducting a search for a successor.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    I read a lot of newspaper and magazine stories, and it is amazing to see what actually is happening out in the real world.

    But sometimes, a headline just catches my eye, and I have to share it.

    In this case, the story isn’t funny, and I don;t want to make light of what could have been a tragedy.

    But the headline...from the Herald in the priceless:

    Tesco worker denies threat to behead his colleague

    Me thinks there is work to be done there both by the HR department and the PR department...

    (And Supervalu thinks it has problems in the ranks...)
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 12, 2012

    Responding to yesterday’s story and commentary about Supervalu’s quarterly results, one MNB user wrote:

    As an employee for Albertsons Inc for 21 years and now for Albertsons LLC I do not see a future in Supervalu. Most of my friends are gone and how they were let go was not good. Outsourcing to India is not the answer and getting rid of your most experienced people is devastating to a company. It is sad to see how Craig is running Supervalu as it seems that he just has one thing on his mind to get the company lean and sell it just like Larry Johnson did. If only they had Bob Miller run the company like he is running Albertsons LLC they would be very profitable company.  Yes, Albertsons LLC made some tuff decisions and sold many stores but in the long run in this economy I rather work for small and debt free company that is making the right decisions then Supervalu that does not have a future and owes billions and not making quality decisions.

    One of the ongoing problems at Supervalu is that a lot of people feel this way and do not have faith in upper management. It creates a cycle of discontent that is hard to break, and from which it is even harder to emerge profitable and productive.

    There simply are too many people at Supervalu who think that that despite all the focus on “hyper-localization,” management does not know the difference between Polish products brought in to stores in Polish neighborhoods and Poland Spring bottled water.

    I wrote yesterday that Supervalu sort of reminds me of the old joke that my dad told me when I was a kid about the airline pilot who gets on the intercom and announces to the passengers, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we’re lost. The good news is that w’re making good time.”

    Which led one MNB user to retort:

    In the case of Super Value I’m afraid you should alter your pilot joke slightly:

    “Passengers…this is your pilot. I have good news and bad news. The good news is we are going to be on the ground earlier than expected. Bad news…we’re crashing!”

    Got several emails regarding Kate McMahon’s column about the Weight Watchers point-counting craze. One MNB user wrote:

    Kate, I have been a life time member since 2005.  I weigh in once per month (free) and buy the 12week tracking books to keep daily track of my points.  If it goes in my mouth, it goes in my book.  By this time, the eating/buying habits are totally just that—i.e. habits.  It was a pain switching from the regular point system to the Weight Watchers point plus system last year since I had the original set memorized and had to start over.  But, I did the same thing this time that I did the first.  I would basically, on a shopping trip, take one food category at a time (say ice cream) and methodically analyze the labels for a potential working list.  I would then try those foods and come to permanent buying patterns based upon points and how much I liked the food.  As such, I have pretty much maximized my food enjoyment w/a minimum number of points.  For instance, there are about 7 cold cereals that I regularly buy where a 3point serving ranges from 2/3cups (shredded wheat) to 1 1/4cups (plain Cheerios).  They are the largest amount in a serving for the least number of points, and alternating those 7 gives me a great variety to choose from in the morning.   [I don’t use the serving size as the base and let the points fall out; I decide how many points I will allow for a food and then calculate how much of that food I can eat for that many points.  Since I allot 3 points for a cereal, the amount I can consume per cereal varies.  I don’t put 1 cup of skim milk on that cereal for 2 points; I put 2/3 cup on at 1 point because I have allotted 1 point for the milk.] 

    In 2005, I lost 40 pounds in just months, going from 150 to 110.  I was a little too thin so slowly took it back up to 115, and I have stayed there ever since.  At this point, I see no reason why I won’t be at this weight (and health) forever.  I’m 5’4” so I’m pretty much at the bottom of what they consider best weight for that size.

    However, and this is really the reason I’m writing to you, early on, I decided that I would NOT continue to buy the WW and Lean Cuisine frozen entrees.  I am asking you to just check the sodium levels of any/all of them.  They’re outrageous.  You can easily consume 30% to 40% of your daily sodium intake w/a paltry 4 to 5 points of your daily allowance by consuming just one of those.  In my opinion, it is absolutely unconscionable that they market these entrees as healthy alternatives to fat/calorie laden foods.  Likewise w/the Progresso soups.  They have a line of reduced sodium ones.  They are the ones that I concentrate on in deciding which ones have the lowest points and that I like.

    Good luck w/your program and please keep us up to date as to how you’re doing.  It would be interesting to hear how your family is coping w/this.  I don’t attend meetings anymore, just the once/month weigh in.  But what I remember hearing from others when I did attend is that this was one of the hardest parts of the program—i.e. all the grief they were getting from family members if any cooking/eating changes were made.

    And, from MNB user Harry Little:

    I am traveling this week and just finished my WW Instant Oatmeal (3 pts.) here in my room at the Hilton while reading your post.  You are right on about the convenience I find using my iPhone to track my daily points and I finally found a diet I can live with!

    Got several emails objecting to my criticism of various efforts in Canada to promote “made in Canada” products - whether yogurt or entertainment - via quotas and protectionist measures.

    For example, one MNB user wrote:

    I was just wondering why you would think that “protectionism” is a bad thing for Canadians (btw – this is more about cultural protection, not economic protection), but most Americans were applauding the efforts to “Buy American” – which was all about fighting the advent of globalization and competition?

    To be clear about my position ... I do not believe in protectionism. I think all economies have to compete in a global environment, and that assigning quotas simply puts off the inevitable and denies modern realities.

    That said, I have no problem with “Made in America” or “Made in Canada” efforts if they are marketing-driven. I want to know where the products I buy are made, and to have the opportunity to choose based on that information. I applaud and encourage such initiatives.

    But not government-mandated quotas.

    I think there is a big difference.

    More about Toys R Us from MNB user Kelly Soos-Fell:

    Expecting our first child, my husband and I proceeded to our local Babies R Us to purchase our crib.  Coincidentally, they were having their 20% off all cribs sale that weekend.  We decided on a crib and proceeded to the crib desk where we were told that while they had 15 of them in stock 2 hours ago, they are unfortunately out of stock.  They were unable to tell us when they would receive anymore.  They also mentioned that the ‘warehouse’ serves all of the Babies R Us in our state so the entire state was out of this particular crib.  The comments that came out of the sales clerk’s mouth next still haunt me to this day.  “I don’t know when they will come into the warehouse, but it looks like Babies R Us online has it in stock.  You can buy it there but it would cost $75 shipping and handling.”  There goes my 20% savings!  They wouldn’t even ask online to ship it to the store and waive the S&H.  I went home, promptly did my research online, and purchased a beautiful crib, for $50 less, that was delivered to my front door in 3 days and shipping was FREE! 

    I’m keeping my name on the ‘list’ for them to call me when it does come back in stock.  3 months and counting…

    And people wonder why bricks-and-mortar stores are having a tough time...

    And, on a related topic, one MNB user wrote:

    When you mentioned in your comments on this piece that the only real shot that bricks-and-mortar retailers have at competing with online retailers is offering the best in personal service/experience, I am wondering if that will be the right move. I offer up only myself as the counter-argument.

    I am part of a dual-income household and have two children under the age of three. Needless to say, I am busy and things have to get done when and where I have time to do them. So the other day I get a call on my way home from work and my wife wants me to pick up a couple items from the Publix because she did not have time to do the anticipated weekly grocery run that day. OK, no problem. So I pull into the Publix, I know exactly where I need to go to get what I want, and there are self-checkout registers to boot. Paying with my debit card, the whole experience took less than 10 minutes. When I walked out the door of the Publix, groceries in hand, weather being beautiful and knowing baseball would be on the TV when I got home, I could only think of one thing… I didn’t have to talk to a single living soul to get what I wanted at Publix. Nobody was there to slow me down, no lines, no meaningless conversation. I got what I needed quickly, and at the price I wanted to pay and I was on my way to doing what I REALLY wanted to do that evening.

    Now, isn’t that what on-line shopping is all about? I get what I want, at the best possible prices in most cases, without expending much energy or TIME on a task I would rather not do in the first place.

    So, maybe in the process of trying to differentiate themselves from on-line retailers, bricks-and-mortar retailers will actually hurt their cause even further. If I am already in your store touching and feeling your products, you need to just get out of my way and let me complete the transaction quickly, easily, and cheaply by utilizing some of that technology that is currently being used against you. I think it’s a tough uphill battle, but in the end I think it’s better to emulate than differentiate in this case.

    No lines at all? That’s probably not what the folks at Publix want to hear...

    But seriously...I think there are different kinds of shopping need states. What stores have to decide is how many of them they want to position themselves to serve.

    Your trip to Publix probably could not have been replaced by an online shopping trip. But there are other shopping trips that might be replaced by a few minutes spent on the computer.

    On the subject of Ozzie Guillen, one MNB user wrote:

    Don’t you find it the irony of all irony, though, that Ozzie is being censored for saying something favorable about Fidel Castro?  This is just rich.  In Cuba, you can’t criticize much of anything/anyone w/o fear of landing in jail.  For all the Cuban émigrés in Little Havana, wouldn’t one think they would appreciate someone’s being able to say what they like, to have the freedom to say stupid things w/o fear of repercussion?  Just asking.

    There are a lot of deservedly raw nerves there, and Guillen poured salt on them.

    Sure, it is ironic that he’s being censored. But what he said was thoughtless and stupid.
    KC's View: