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    Published on: April 8, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Call them "Zero TV Nation."

    They are the five million US households that "fall outside the traditional definition of a TV home," meaning they have "stopped paying for cable and satellite TV service, and don't even use an antenna to get free signals over the air. These people are watching shows and movies on the Internet, sometimes via cellphone connections."

    The Associated Press reports that the number of Zero TV households has more than doubled from the two million that existed in 2007 ... just six years ago.

    According to the story, "The Zero TV segment is increasingly important, because the number of people signing up for traditional TV service has slowed to a standstill in the U.S.

    "Last year, the cable, satellite and telecoms providers added just 46,000 video customers collectively, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That's tiny when compared to the 974,000 new households created last year. While it's still 100.4 million homes, or 84.7% of all households, it's down from the peak of 87.3% in early 2010. Nielsen's study suggests that this new group may have left traditional TV for good. While three-quarters actually have a physical TV set, only 18 percent are interested in hooking it up through a traditional pay TV subscription."

    There's one business component to this trend that calls out for attention from traditional businesses of any ilk and in any venue: "While show creators and networks make money from this group's viewing habits through deals with online video providers and from advertising on their own websites and apps, broadcasters only get paid when they relay such programming in traditional ways. Unless broadcasters can adapt to modern platforms, their revenue from Zero TV viewers will be zero," the AP writes.

    It strikes me that this is just one of several stories this morning that share a theme - how traditional businesses are being made irrelevant, slowly but surely, by empowered consumers equipped with technological capabilities that give them unprecedented strength in the balance of power.

    In this case, it is consumers who do not need traditional networks and televisions to watch the programs they want to watch. (This story does not mention it, but there's the dovetailing trend that has new competitors, like Netflix, getting into the content business, offering their wares via new technologies.)

    Below, you'll see stories about Jeff Bezos is investing in content companies that are looking to bypass traditional "gatekeepers"; how the digital world has claimed yet another traditional business victim; the potential power of same-day delivery when provided by companies like Amazon, Google or Walmart; and how Costco is allowing - encouraging, even - its customers to use technology to access more and more information about its products.

    Remember that moment, early in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones turns around and sees that giant boulder bearing down on him?

    That's a terrific metaphor for what is happening right now. This very minute. No matter who you are, no matter how safe you think you may be, no matter how strong you think your business advantages are or how unassailable your business model may be ... this is your reality.

    Deal with it. Eyes wide open.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    The New York Times reports on how "a dozen or so state legislatures" have responded to videos shot by animal rights activists - showing acts of animal cruelty that resulted in federal investigations and the loss of business by some suppliers - by proposing or passing "bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms."

    "Critics," the story says, "call them 'Ag-Gag' bills." But proponents of the legislation say that "businesses have suffered financially from unfair videos that are less about protecting animals than persuading consumers to stop eating meat."

    According to the story, "Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have included such things as 'stand your ground' gun laws and tighter voter identification rules.

    "One of the group’s model bills, 'The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,' prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to 'defame the facility or its owner.' Violators would be placed on a 'terrorist registry'."

    You can read the whole story here.
    KC's View:
    This is a crock.

    This kind of legislation is created by people who never read the great quote by Louis Brandeis, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, who believed that "sunlight is the best disinfectant." Or, it is created by people who believe that sunlight is their enemy.

    I am not saying that every video produced by an animal rights group is accurate, nor that every animal rights group is above reproach. But I am saying that to criminalize the shooting of such videos, and to suggest that all the people who produce such videos are terrorists, is an affront to common sense and, in its own way, dangerous because it diminishes the threat of real terrorists.

    Give me a break.

    It is hard for me to believe that such legislative efforts will hold up to challenges based on Freedom of the Press. But you never know.

    I cannot help but be reminded of what happened in Egypt last week, when President Mohamed Morsi, offended when a television satirist (described as that country's Jon Stewart) made fun of him, helped to launch an investigation of the comic, accusing him of making fun of Islam and Morsi while simultaneously talking about the importance of freedom of expression.

    That's the kind of stuff that can happen when people don't value daylight. I'd like to think that it cannot happen here, but then one hears about the efforts of organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and model bills like the "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act," and I have to wonder.

    Let the sun shine in. Please.

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    Bloomberg Business Week has a piece about Jeff Bezos' decision to invest $5 million in a six-year-old news start-up called Business Insider, and how it reflects his belief in the disruptive influences affecting traditional business models.

    "Bezos’s investment in the scrappy news site is perfectly aligned with his overall philosophy about changes in the media business," Bloomberg Business Week writes. "He believes the intermediary layers or 'gatekeepers' of traditional media are being threatened by tectonic shifts in the economics of content creation and distribution, and Amazon is investing heavily to accelerate the transition and profit from it. It’s allowing authors to publish their own books directly to the Kindle, as well as funding its own television shows through its Amazon Studios division ... Bezos clearly believes the same transitions are happening in the new business. He’s personally a fan of e-mail newsletters such as Very Short List, a daily assortment of cultural tidbits from the Web, and Cool Tools, a compendium of technology tips and product reviews written by Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of Wired. Both e-mails are short, well written, and are delivered right to readers via e-mail with minimal fuss and no expense. Internally, Amazon has even experimented with its own simple, editorially crafted newsletters that would be e-mailed directly to customers."
    And the piece quotes a recent Bezos shareholder letter, in which he observed that even “well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation."
    KC's View:
    Gatekeepers are irrelevant when everybody has a set of keys, a blueprint with all the secret and not-so-secret entrances, and an invitation to come on in.

    I just wish Bezos wanted to invest in MNB. Maybe next year.

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal reports that it may not just be the saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat that could be a health risk, and that a study published in Nature Medicine points to carnitine, described as "a compound abundant in red meat that also is sold as a dietary supplement and added to energy drinks" as being a potential problem.

    According to the story, "Carnitine typically helps the body transport fatty acids into cells to be used as energy. But researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that in both humans and mice, certain bacteria in the digestive tract convert carnitine to another metabolite, called TMAO, that promotes atherosclerosis, or a thickening of the arteries."

    The story goes on to say that "the new findings don't mean that red meat is more hazardous than previously thought, but they may help explain the underlying risk."

    Critics of the study say that it is just an "emerging hypothesis," and that large conclusions are being drawn from small studies.
    KC's View:
    Suddenly, I'm glad I had a tuna steak last night, marinated in a nice Thai Ginger Sauce and cooked with onions.

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    The Chicago Tribune reports that "portrait studios at Sears and some Wal-Mart stores - the scenes of innumerable family photos - have unexpectedly closed as their operator, CPI Corp., goes out of business ... The St. Louis company has been making photo keepsakes for more than 60 years and offered its services at more than 3,000 North American locations, mostly in Sears and Wal-Mart stores."

    According to the story, "CPI has suffered in recent years amid the popularity of digital cameras and smartphones that allow easy photo-taking — the same trend that sent Eastman Kodak into bankruptcy."

    Both Sears and Walmart are said to be working to fulfill orders placed before CPI went out of business.
    KC's View:
    I keep hearing the Queen song...

    Another one bites the dust
    Another one bites the dust
    And another one gone, and another one gone
    Another one bites the dust
    Hey, I'm gonna get you too
    Another one bites the dust
    Another one bites the dust...

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    Interesting column in the Boston Globe this weekend by Scott Kirsner, in which he says he did something "evil" last week: "Instead of walking two blocks to the Staples near my house to buy printer ink, or 10 blocks to my neighborhood bookstore to pick up a paperback that a friend recommended, I placed an order on and selected the 'same-day delivery' option. Just over nine hours later, an Amazon box appeared on my doorstep. The convenience cost me $11.97.

    "Why do I say evil? Because I appreciate having stores in my neighborhood that keep the main drag vibrant and participate in the life of the community. And Amazon’s same-day service is just the beginning of a new wave of experimentation that could pose yet another Darwinian challenge to brick-and-mortar businesses of all sizes."

    Kirsner notes that "eBay and Google are also testing the waters - though not yet in Boston - and last month Walmart hinted at an intriguing strategy that would involve inviting its customers to become volunteer couriers. In the same way that e-commerce and the digital delivery of books, videos, and music led to the demise of lots of companies (remember Mike’s Movies, Strawberries, and Borders?), this feels to retailers like a new threat."

    Now, Kirsner concedes that there are plenty of arguments in the marketplace for why same-day delivery won't work, though most of them seem to hinge on the likelihood that it will simply be too expensive to be a sustainable business proposition.

    But, he says, this may reflect a lack of imagination more than anything else: "Let’s fast-forward a few years. Amazon has already acquired a North Reading company, Kiva Systems, that sells warehouse robots that help fill online orders, and Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos is an investor in a Boston company, Rethink Robotics, that makes a dextrous, two-armed robot named Baxter. Google is developing a self-driving car. Several companies, including a new Harvard Business School start-up called Daedalus Systems, are considering using airborne, battery-powered drones to deliver small packages — once the Federal Aviation Administration establishes guidelines.
    In other words, the FedEx of the instant gratification age may not need pilots, distribution center workers, or drivers on its payroll."
    KC's View:
    Ironically, the Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that Sport Chalet, the sporting goods chain, "s now offering same-day delivery service, hopping on a crowded bandwagon that includes Amazon, Wal-Mart, Google and eBay ... The new program is in place in most of California as well as in the Phoenix, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City areas."

    The move is seen as a value-added service that will enable customers to make both purchases and returns without having to actually go into the store ... which Sport Chalet sees as being a differential advantage for the company as it competes both with other sporting goods chains and online retailers.

    Traditional businesses and traditional thinkers will come up with all sorts of reasons why this can't work. And while they do so, innovators will be figuring out how to make it work.

    And another one will bite the dust...

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    In this case, Target's aim seem to have gone astray.

    Here's what happened. A shopper - one who describes herself as a "Digital Maven" - noticed that a dress sold by the company online in standard sizes was described as coming in "Dark Heather Grey," while in "plus sizes," the same color was described as "manatee grey."

    Susan Clemens tweeted the difference, and the apparent decision by Target to describe the color of a dress that comes in large sizes by using the name of an aquatic mammal often referred to as a "sea cow" went viral. Fast.

    Target was paying attention. A spokesperson quickly released a statement pointing out that the color "manatee grey" was used for a number of products, not just women's dresses. And the spokesman said that because different buyers handled "standard sizes" and "plus sizes," the discrepancy was inadvertent. At the same time, Forbes reports, Target "also apologized directly to Clemens, and to its 536,000 other Twitter followers, tweeting, 'We apologize for this unintentional oversight & never intend to offend our guests. We've heard you, and we're working to fix it ASAP.' The fix has been made: On the webpage for the plus-sized version of the dress, which is manufactured exclusively for distribution through Target, the color is simply labeled 'gray'."

    Clemens apparently was satisfied: "@Target handled it really well," she tweeted. "I'm still a big fan."
    KC's View:
    Props to Target for paying attention and moving fast when things started going bad. Go into a shell, or indulge in denial, and this thing can go bad nine different ways. but deal with it fast, and you are able to manage it on your own terms.

    Also ... Target gets credit for giving credit to its shoppers for bringing attention to the problem .... the words "we've heard you, and we're working to fix it ASAP" have enormous power.

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    Reuters reports that IKEA has stopped selling moose lasagne - produced by a Swedish company and sold in its stores in 18 European countries - after tests revealed that there were traces of pork in the moose meat.

    This is the second time this has happened to IKEA recently; back in February, it had to stop selling beef Swedish meatballs when horse meat was detected in them.
    KC's View:
    If I had reported this story last Monday, you would've thought it was an April Fools joke.

    Alas, it is not.

    When Dr. Peter Venkman talked about "dogs and cats living together" as being a sign of the apocalypse, or at the very least, "a disaster of biblical proportions," he never could have known that cows and horses would end up in the same meatballs, and moose and pigs would end up in the same lasagne.

    Now, I note that the moose lasagne was made by a Swedish company, and the tainted meatballs were, in fact, swedish meatballs.

    Coincidence? I think not.

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    Internet Retailer reports that "Costco Wholesale Corp. is bringing the power of the mobile web to its monthly magazine The Costco Connection," embedding "transparent digital watermarks in editorial and advertising content starting with the April issue."

    As the story explains, "A watermark functions much in the same way as a two dimensional QR code. A consumer uses a free scanner app, pointing the smartphone’s camera at the watermark, and the app automatically recognizes the mark and opens up the browser on the smartphone, sending the consumer to relevant mobile web-based content ... ... The magazine reader—there are 8.6 million, Costco says—is able to scan more than 50 unique digital watermarks included in articles and ads in April to view product information, videos and store information, and even make purchases on her mobile device."
    KC's View:
    This is why companies cab be exhaustive and transparent ... because technology makes it possible.

    No excuses.

    Published on: April 8, 2013

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

    • Canada Safeway said over the weekend that it has "reached a tentative agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1518, covering approximately 6,600 company employees in British Columbia." Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, pending ratification by unionized employees.

    • In the UK, The Grocer reports that Tesco plans "to offer its One Stop c-store chain as a franchise model" to independent retailers," a move that some say "could spark a new convenience war" among banners ... especially if other c-tailers follow the franchise model.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    A follow-up to a recent MNB story and commentary...

    Several weeks ago, MNB posted the following story:

    There is a story on, a website that describes itself as "a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics," saying that there is language in the 2013 continuing resolution preventing a government shutdown that essentially "stripped federal courts of their power to restrict the use of genetically modified crops that they find have not undergone a complete environmental impact assessment from the USDA. The rider essentially eliminated the only legal tool environmental advocates had for slowing down or stopping the use of new genetically modified crops."According to the story, the bill passed the Senate "by a vote of 73-26 and the House today by a vote of 318-109. Sec. 735 was inserted in the bill when it was in the Senate Appropriations Committee, although so far no member of the Committee has publicly acknowledged putting it in."Where it gets interesting is where MapLight offers "analysis of campaign contributions to members of the 113th Congress from the political action committees of several organizations supporting the use of genetically modified crops, since January 1, 2009," based on data provided by the US Federal Elections Commission (FEC), and finds that "current members of Congress have received $7,450,434 from the PACs of these organizations," and that "members of the Senate Appropriations Committee have received $371,925 from the PACs of these organizations."

    And I commented:

    I'm not sure what I find scarier - the implication that our government may be for sale (which we all knew, but hey, seeing the numbers still can be alarming) or the fact that when I read Sec. 735 of the continuing resolution, I never would have guessed that this has anything to do with genetically modified crops.

    (Here is a link to the text of the continuing resolution. You see if you can figure out where it talks about genetically modified crops and the federal court system. Though the notion that legislation would be written in an obtuse way also is hardly a surprise.)

    But on reflection, I guess I find it scarier that government is for sale. Though in this case, the fact that nobody is taking "credit" for the rider, would suggest something far more frightening about government officials - that they themselves have been genetically modified to have no backbone and no cojones.

    Well, over the weekend, reported that the government official who put the rider in there has been identified: "The Senator responsible is Missouri Republican Roy Blunt — famed friend of Big Agriculture on Capitol Hill. Blunt even told Politico’s David Rogers that he 'worked with' Monsanto to craft the rider (rendering the moniker 'Monsanto Protection Act' all the more appropriate)." And, the story notes that over three election cycles, Monsanto has contributed close to $120,000 to various Blunt campaigns.

    To be sure, the willingness to sell one's office to the highest bidder is hardly the province of one political party or another. Witness this story from Sunday's New York Times:

    "Restaurant chains like McDonald’s want to keep their lucrative tax credit for hiring veterans. Altria, the tobacco giant, wants to cut the corporate tax rate. And Sapphire Energy, a small alternative energy company, is determined to protect a tax incentive it believes could turn algae into a popular motor fuel.

    "To make their case as Congress prepares to debate a rewrite of the nation’s tax code, this diverse set of businesses has at least one strategy in common: they have retained firms that employ lobbyists who are former aides to Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will have a crucial role in shaping any legislation.

    "No other lawmaker on Capitol Hill has such a sizable constellation of former aides working as tax lobbyists, representing blue-chip clients that include telecommunications businesses, oil companies, retailers and financial firms, according to an analysis by LegiStorm, an online database that tracks Congressional staff members and lobbying. At least 28 aides who have worked for Mr. Baucus, Democrat of Montana, since he became the committee chairman in 2001 have lobbied on tax issues during the Obama administration — more than any other current member of Congress, according to the analysis of lobbying filings performed for The New York Times ... Many of those lobbyists have already saved their clients millions — in some cases, billions — of dollars after Mr. Baucus backed their requests to extend certain corporate tax perks, provisions that were adopted as part of the so-called fiscal cliff legislation in January. Baucus aides who later became lobbyists helped financial firms save $11.2 billion in tax deferments and helped secure a $222 million tax benefit that is shared with the liquor industry."
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure I have to comment on this, since these stories, in my humble opinion, speak for themselves.

    I guess I'm not really surprised. Government probably always has been for sale to the highest bidder. But somehow the size of the numbers involved, not to mention the crassness and cynicism with which these transactions are made, make me sick to my stomach.

    How can we have faith in any of these clowns, or the institutions that they run? Institutions that, by the way, belong to us - the citizens of this country - not to the fat cats who sit in the Capitol or in the offices on K Street, believing that they know better.

    I suppose that if you believe in Monsanto's approach to GMOs, you don't find the actions of Sen. Blunt to be all that bothersome. And if you think that Sen Baucus's approach to tax policy favors your company or industry, then "lobbyist" isn't going to seem like such a dirty word.

    But you should be worried. Because there always will be a higher bidder, and political whores will always be willing to cash the biggest check, and someday that check may not be yours.

    Published on: April 8, 2013

    Got the following email from Lynn Olsen:

    I’ve been reading MNB for years and had, frankly, grown a little jaded about your constant litany about the seismic influence of digital technology on the future of retailing. Even as I became more adept at using Amazon and B&N to feed my reading habit, I still somewhat resented your almost daily comments about the need to embrace the rapidly changing digital world. Until this week.

    Here’s the story. Since last fall I have been trying to replace a favorite bomber jacket that finally gave up the ghost after a decade of dependable wear. I knew exactly what features I wanted and was willing to pay whatever price to get the real deal.  Smooth, brown leather. Epaulets. Front, snap-button patch pockets and side slash pockets. A real metal zipper with a leather flap to keep it dry. Removable insulated liner and sheepskin collar. You know, the kind of jackets aviators wear.

    So, as I did the first time, I looked for my store at the giant Mall of America. No dice; the store was gone. Three floors, umpteen stores, and many hours later later, I found out that no other store there had anything close. So, over the next few weeks, I trekked to all the major retail stores in two different cities. Same result. Frustrated, but with winter coming on, I finally drove to an exurban Outlet Mall and reluctantly paid over $300 for a substitute jacket that soon developed a rip due to a flaw in the leather. I was ticked off, but patched the thing and wore it through the winter.

    So this week, after listening to me complain for months, my wife used her iPad to search online for “men’s brown leather bomber jackets” and quickly found exactly what I wanted from (through a sponsored link on the marketplace). The site had great 360-degree pictures, a complete description of features, and all 5-star ratings from previous buyers. The jacket was on sale and had free shipping, too. Next, she searched for a Leatherup “promo code”, instantly found and applied one that knocked 10% off the price. The whole process – start to finish – took under 30 minutes.

    Yikes! I’m sold. Next thing you know, I’ll be ordering groceries from my iPhone and using Ibotta coupons to feed my PayPal account so I can buy something from eBay!

    Kevin, keep sending the message. Retailers, listen up.

    I would have suggested LL Bean ... I know exactly what kind of jacket you are describing, have one that I got there and love it. And it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

    But hey ... my goal is not to suggest that bricks-and-mortar are going to be killed off by online retailers. Rather, it is to suggest that bricks-and-mortar stores are committing suicide if they don't acknowledge the threat and compete actively against it.

    On another subject, an MNB user wrote:

    Wanted to weigh in on the negative press that some are giving Wrigley’s new Alert gum. The packaging clearly shows exactly how much caffeine each piece contains and if a person has had “problems with arrhythmias, rapid heart rates” they probably shouldn’t be consuming caffeine in any form. One of the advantages of Alert is that it doesn’t have all the other ‘junk’ that some of the energy drinks contain (citicoline, taurine, tyrosine, etc.). People know exactly what they’re getting when they chew a piece and can select the dosage they want based on the labeling on the front of the package. I think it’s going to be a hit and hope people see the advantages of such a product!

    MNB took note the other day of a New York Times story about how some retailers are using a database to essentially blacklist employees accused of theft - but never formally charged or convicted - so they have trouble getting another job in retail.

    There are a lot of good reasons for using such databases, but I wondered about the "us vs. them" climate that seems to exist at some companies. It just doesn't seem consistent with a sustainable strategic approach to retailing.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    Perhaps management is just defending against the "us vs. them" climate established by their employees.

    I would never argue that employees are blameless in creating such a climate in many companies. There's plenty of blame to go around.

    But y'know something? Companies have leaders. It seems to me that at some level it is up to leaders to actually lead ... and that eliminating an "us vs. them" atmosphere ought to be a high priority ... especially because front line employees are critical to companies being successful.

    There's a line from the movie Black Rain that I love, when a Japanese detective says to Michael Douglas's NYC detective, "In Japan, we fix problems. In America, you fix blame."

    Maybe some companies would be better off if so-called leaders stopped fixing blame and started fixing problems.

    On the subject of charges that Anheuser-Busch InBev may have been watering down its beer, one MNB user wrote:

    I grew up in St. Louis and when I turned 21 I enjoyed drinking any AB Product.  My now husband and Father in Law worked for AB and the beer was actually good.

    Throughout my years I've moved on to much darker beers but recently drank a Bud Light.  I thought I was drinking flavored water.  Maybe it's partly because of the many years of dark beer drinking but a Bud Light taste is not something you forget.  Kind of like an In n Out Burger.

    A-B InBev definitely did something to cut corners.

    I'm pretty sure that this does not qualify as a scientific analysis. But based on a number of emails I've gotten, I have to wonder if A-B has a perception problem it needs to address, regardless of whether the beer actually is watered down.

    Regarding the changes at JC Penney, one MNB user wrote:

    Your ongoing commentary about JCP has inspired me to share. On a recent shopping trip to JCP, I was checked out by a sales associate using a mobile device. She told me that they are going to be rolling out this type of checkout experience throughout the store sometime soon. I thought it was an interesting development, not necessarily groundbreaking but still a sign of where this retailer is going and how they plan to bring value driven changes to their stores.

    I might be one of the few people in the minority but as a longtime JCP shopper, I’ve seen the retailer improve tremendously under Ron Johnson. The shops format is genius because not only is it easier to find the style of clothing/designer I like, but the way they’ve designed the shops creates an emotional connection in how each shop stimulates the senses – an example is the liz claiborne collection, where that shop invites the shopper in via open yellow doors and comfortable lounge seating. Great place to be if you’ve got kids with you. I also find that their clearance sections are superbly organized with minimal clutter and their changing rooms are very clean. But my recent shopping trips to my local Kohl’s are quite a stark contrast; the clearance racks are many and literally packed with clothes with no rhyme or reason to their “organization” and their changing rooms are often littered with clothing. As for their regular priced items, I seldom find a style of clothing I actually like because it’s such a laborious task to navigate through their selections.

    I truly hope JCP is able to stay afloat in these murky waters it finds itself in because there are a lot of great things about this retailer that would be simply shameful to helplessly watch sink in a capsizing ship. And please excuse the sailing metaphors.

    Last week I posted a criticism by an MNB user that the site veers too often from a "just the facts" approach. My response was that that MNB has never been about "just the facts." It is about identifying stories that I think shed some light on how consumers behave and/or how marketers respond, stating my biases when relevant, and then trying to offer provocative commentary when appropriate, and letting you do the same.

    Which led MNB user Gary Harris to write:

    I wanted to respond to almost every part of your column today, but ran out of gas. That made me realize that while my own opinions matter a lot to me, the real value you bring is presenting a lot of stuff to your readers in a way that’s enlightening and compelling and to some, sometimes infuriating. But never boring. So thanks for that, and for sticking to your MNB guns about what you want to talk about.

    And another MNB reader chimed in, drawing a connection to another story from last week:

    Roger Ebert was not a political figure, but he had a platform and a voice and he was 100% authentic, and therefore, there were times he made personal statements, and he had every right to do that. At the risk of flattering you, I feel you also offer authentic, thoughtful commentary, and I appreciate your deft handling of some very difficult topics – which you convincingly argue are relevant to the forum you have created.

    Don’t let the nay-sayers get you down!

    I am flattered. But thanks.

    Following my comments about "Justified" in Friday's "OffBeat," MNB user Ben Ball wrote:

    Well, I'll be damned …I actually agree with you on something.
    "Justified" is the first and only series my wife and I have actually “followed” (i.e. DVR and watch religiously – saving all the back episodes) in our 10 years of marriage. We actually have a “Raylan returns” dinner party for a few other addicts each season when the show returns.

    Maybe there’s explanation for this however. My ancestors hail from Madison County, NC – usually referred to as “Bloody Madison” ever since the Civil War. It is now best known for moonshine and marijuana.

    In the process of researching the family tree several years ago, I discovered that some kin folk had been forced to leave Madison “in the dark of night” so to speak in the 1920’s. The next place they appear in history? Harlan County, KY.

    BTW, let me know if you ever need any moonshine. My family doesn’t do marijuana though.

    Thanks. I'll keep that in mind.

    Also in Friday's "OffBeat," I wrote about becoming totally smitten with Shakira on "The Voice," though I also confessed that I don't think I've ever heard one of her songs.

    MNB user Catherine Storer wrote:

    While skimming through channels the other night, I too landed on "The Voice" and became hooked!   I have such a  crush on all four of the judges!  Usher and Adam Levine are adorable...what a sense of humor from Blake. And Shakira?  Well, I totally agree with your assessment!   So much fun to watch when ego is left out of the show and what you see is genuineness, down to earth people - just like the viewers!"

    From another reader:

    Nice take on Shakira.  I haven’t watched "The Voice," but I might just to get to know her better.  She is pretty as can be, can dance like no one else does, and she apparently packs arenas around the world.  But what really seems to set her apart is that her stage persona is often a front for her ability to use that power to accomplish powerful acts of charity and support for the disenfranchised.  She is politically astute, and working to accomplish just what you quoted Roger Ebert as valuing: kindness and joy.

    And, from another MNB reader:

    Time for you to watch the video "Hips Don't Lie." Shakira just makes it happen.

    So I immediately went online to check out "Hips Don't Lie."

    And at the risk of sounding like President Barack Obama describing the Attorney General of the State of California, let me just say this:

    KC's View: