Mark Twain appears to be alive and working the Web--in the form of e-tailer Buy.com Inc. (BUYX). Claiming rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated, Buy.com launched a "Not Going Out of Business Sale" on Oct. 1. "We were concerned customers weren't aware Buy.com still existed," says Stew Duncan, managing director of Thinkbig Marketing Group, Buy.com's ad agency.
Will this latest gasp for attention work better than Buy.com's 1999 TV ads featuring a man sniffing a dog's rear end? Analysts wonder why Buy.com, having abandoned its original strategy of selling electronics below cost, would think it could price-cut its way to profits. The startup lost $51 million in the first half of 2001. "Low prices mean low margins," says Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. analyst Ken Cassar.
Founder Scott A. Blum says he can do better, and made a still-pending offer in August to buy the 56% of Buy.com he doesn't own for 17 cents a share. Shareholders, who have seen their stock fall from $35 since February, 2000, might get more consolation from Twain's fictional hero Huck Finn: Being rich ain't what it's cracked up to be. To get to Carnegie Hall, the drill has always been, practice, practice, practice. But Lori Weintraub says if your dream is Madison Square Garden, the next thing to do is log on.
The ex-Time Warner AudioBooks exec is president of InsideSessions.com, a distance-learning site set for launch on Oct. 17. InsideSessions says it can help anyone with $49.95 and rock `n' roll dreams. The theory is that people will pay for a class that offers five hours of video tutelage from the likes of rapper Shaggy or rocker Sting. The latter, for example, waxes on about how The Police shared hotel beds to save money before hitting it big. Budding writers' classes feature authors Kurt Vonnegut and Doris Kearns Goodwin. "We think there is a great market out there for folks who want to break into the business and need the first step," Weintraub says.
The idea hatched when Universal CEO Doug Morris and Penguin chief Phyllis Grann considered co-teaching a course at Columbia University--but decided to take their act online instead. Weintraub won't say how much the two companies invested in the site. InsideSessions says graduates will get their demo tapes or manuscripts reviewed for their fee. Hollywood insiders point out a problem: You can't teach talent. Just ask Milli Vanilli. Web stocks were so popular that in early 1999 former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers joked that Brazil could fix a currency crisis by dubbing its currency, the real, Real.com. Now, Web companies are shedding their dot-com names--though it's not helping much.
Old Name: InfoSpace.com Inc.
New Name: InfoSpace Inc. (INSP)
Date Changed: Mar. 2, 2000
* Stock Price (old name): $119.00
** Stock Price (new name): $1.78
Old Name: Autobytel.com Inc.
New Name: Autobytel Inc. (ABTL)
Date Changed: April 11, 2001
* Stock Price (old name): $1.49
** Stock Price (new name): $1.00
Old Name: DrKoop.com Inc. (KOOP)
New Name: Dr. Koop LifeCare Corp.
Date Changed: Aug. 30, 2001
* Stock Price (old name): $0.12
** Stock Price (new name): $0.08
Old Name: GoTo.com Inc.
New Name: Overture Services Inc. (OVER)
Date Changed: Sept. 10, 2001
* Stock Price (old name): $14.95
** Stock Price (new name): $18.59
* Stock price right before name change
** Stock price as of Oct. 12, 2001
Data: Bloomberg Financial Markets