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"This is an abuse of the public trust." -- FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, criticizing a Sinclair Broadcasting Group move to force its stations to air an anti-Kerry documentary Starbucks (SBUX
) is getting back into publishing. Having been burned by the unsuccessful launch of its own magazine, Joe, in 1999, the Seattle gourmet coffee giant is trying the book business, BusinessWeek has learned.
Starbucks will publish its first offering, a children's holiday story called The Biggest Gift of All, by Lily Small. The $13.95 volume will be available at 800 Starbucks stores beginning Nov. 10. "We have been interested in self-publishing for a while," says Chairman Howard Schultz.
So far the children's book is Starbucks' only offering. If it's successful, the company could publish more. That would further expand the business beyond coffee and food. Starbucks is already planning a nationwide rollout of new digital music offerings it has been testing in the Seattle area.
If their move into the music arena is any indication -- an album of song duets featuring the late Ray Charles is in the Top 10 -- Schultz & Co. may be ready to give their customers even more reasons to hang out at Starbucks. Could connecting to the internet be as easy as flicking on a light switch? On Oct. 14, the FCC was expected to give the go-ahead to rules that will let consumers get broadband access through the electric outlets in their homes. Since electricity travels over low frequencies, utilities can use higher ones to send data. The agency hopes that broadband over power lines will give consumers an alternative to cable and telco services.
The technology also could provide another way to make phone calls. AT&T (T
), MCI (MCIP
), and other Bell rivals are eager for the utilities to sell them broadband access so they can offer voice-over-Internet phone service to compete with the local phone giants. Atlanta-based Southern Co. (SO
), one of the largest utilities, says it's considering offering wholesale broadband service and is running trials in Hoover, Ala.
Other utilities will offer consumers broadband services themselves. Current Communications Group, a Germantown (Md.) startup, has a pilot service with Cincinnati utility Cinergy (CIN
), charging slightly less than cable operators -- $29.95 to $35.95 a month. Now power companies can light customers' homes and their computers, too. Just how downbeat are U.S. chief executives? The Business Council, a collection of 125 business luminaries, raised eyebrows on Oct. 6 with its surprisingly pessimistic growth forecast. The survey of its members, including A.G. Lafley of Procter & Gamble (PG
) and Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric (GE
), showed 70% of the group fore-casting flat to 2% gross domestic product growth in 2005 -- much more anemic than most economists expect. Then, on Oct. 12, the Business Council released a revised forecast, saying that 70% actually call for 2.1% to 4.5% growth.
The original forecast surprised at least two members of the group, Business Council Chair Charles Holliday Jr., DuPont's (DP
) CEO, and Rick Wagoner Jr., General Motors' (GM
) CEO, who have expressed more optimistic views. Turns out some survey responses were put into the wrong spreadsheet column, throwing off the data.
Who prepared the report? Fannie Mae (FNM
) Chief Economist David Berson. "Fortunately, I have nothing to do with the accounting" at Fannie Mae, jokes Berson. At least he has a sense of humor. How do you get young people in a largely pacifist nation to care about what the military is up to? In Japan, the answer is a manga comic book. On Oct. 8, the Defense Agency, which oversees the country's military, released a comic book version of its annual White Paper outlining Japan's defense policies. The 24-page comic follows the exploits of Mirai, a college student, as she gets a tour of the armed force's history, its role in Iraq, and legislation to give it a freer hand in defending Japan. The $3 comic is unlikely to be a best-seller. But in a country where comics about the likes of Nissan (NSANY
) CEO Carlos Ghosn have sold well, who knows? Public companies have complained about the high cost of compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. But a recent survey of CFOs at privately held companies from Baruch College and Financial Executives International shows that 60% are voluntarily enacting at least some aspects of Sarb-Ox.
Why the compliance? Most of the CFOs say it's a better way to run a business and believe Sarb-Ox will eventually apply to private companies. What's more, "stakeholders should be treated like public investors," they say. Now that's the spirit. When Michigan ex-Governor John Engler took office in 1991, the state was in a manufacturing downturn, business costs were high, and regulations were stifling. Engler took bold steps: In 12 years he cut taxes by $21 billion, pruned environmental regs, and cut welfare.
So when the 12,000-member National Association of Manufacturers went looking for someone to head its lobbying effort, Engler, a Republican, seemed perfect. His top priorities: cutting the tax, health-care, and regulatory burden on manufacturers and bringing accountability to a public school system that, says Engler, has failed to produce the workers the sector needs.
It's a tough job with small manufacturers viewing China as a threat and large companies embracing it as a chance to move offshore: "There is a mediating role for me, sorting out the differences among companies," he says. Getting Congress' warring tribes to back an NAM agenda may be easy by comparison. Finally getting a handle on blogs? Get ready for the next wave: podcasting. In the past three weeks the blogosphere has been buzzing about software that enables do-it-yourself radio. Since Sept. 28, the number of listings that mention podcasts on Google (GOOG
) has jumped from 24 to nearly 14,000.
What is podcasting? It is a free audio show that anyone can subscribe to for listening on a mobile device, such as an MP3 player or an iPod (hence the name). Here's how it works: A show is created using Really Simple Syndica-tion (RSS) -- free publishing software that zaps files to users without their visiting a Web site. The software is used now by blogs and mainstream companies such as the online edition of The New York Times to send out news updates. A show is broadcast to subscribers' PCs, so it can be downloaded at their con-venience to a mobile device.
Podcasting is the latest example of how grassroots technology is getting around big media. Three months ago blogger and former MTV host Adam Curry created iPodder software using RSS that can download and play audio shows on a music player. Now there are podcasts on everything from rock 'n' roll to politics. WGBH, an NPR station in Boston, is using podcasts for an interview show. As more companies adopt RSS, they, too, could turn to podcasting. "Personalized media is the next frontier," says Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research (FORR
). From blogs to podcasting, it's a frontier that keeps expanding.