Friday, June 24, 2016

When the Elites become tone deaf

Source: Daily Telegraph
The #Brexit vote will have a major impact on Britain, EU, NATO and the West more broadly. The 52-48 majority voting to leave the EU — like many recent US presidential elections — shows a country deeply divided.

The Telegraph’s map shows how London and a few other city centers voted strongly for the EU, while the rest of England voted decisively against the EU. (As the Guardian notes, Labour voters at the edges of London and Liverpool voted against the city center).

Before the results were in (HT: NY Times), pro-EU columnist John Harris wrote Thursday in the Guardian
The UK is now two nations, staring across a political chasm
Leave voters aren’t lemmings jumping off a cliff, and the left urgently needs to understand their choices.

Two nations, in short, are staring at each other across a political chasm.

Even those who understand that something seismic is afoot among predominantly working-class voters are still too keen on the idea that they are gullible enough to be led over a cliff by people with whom they would actually disagree, if only they knew the facts. But most people are not really being “led” by anyone. In my experience, Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove et al are viewed by most people with as much cynicism as the people fronting the remain campaign. Moreover, this argument is dangerously redolent of that lousy old Marxist trope of “false consciousness”, whereby people enthusiastically following the supposedly wrong cause are only a speech or poster away from enlightenment, and a sharp left turn.

We need to face up to two things. First, a lot of people want out of the EU because they are worried and angry about the consequences of the free movement of people, and in that sense they have made their choice rationally. Second, even if Farage, Johnson and Gove would doubtless use Brexit as an opportunity to further our journey towards an essentially sink-or-swim society, there are plenty of working-class voters who would probably go along with that.
Meanwhile, pro-Brexit James Bartholomew made a similar point today in the Spectator
Britain’s great divide
The referendum has exposed a huge rift between the metropolitan elite and the rest

Every election is divisive, but none has pitted rich against poor like this one. The social divide has been far more dramatic than the divide between the two main political parties. In general elections, the professional and managerial classes favour the Tories by a margin of four to three. The difference is nothing like as marked as the social divide in the referendum vote. As a generalisation, the split has been between the educated ‘haves’ on one side and the working class on the other. The Remainers found ways of making this point — casting themselves as cosmopolitan and ‘open’ against the crude and (presumably) closed-minded Leavers.

I came across quite a bit of scornful self-righteousness among the rich Remainers. In one street of private houses, a woman repeatedly shouted at us: ‘You’re all bonkers! Get out! You are not wanted here!’ A prosperous-looking man at the doorway of his private house informed us that immigration was a good thing and was economically necessary: the implication being that those who seek controlled immigration are both anti-immigrant and ignorant of the economics of the matter. His irritated parting shot was: ‘I hope you lose!’

The divide shows how changes brought about by globalisation and large-scale immigration have affected different classes in contrasting ways. For the ‘haves’, it has been a boon. The Notting Hill crowd now has cheap, highly qualified Polish builders, well-educated Polish cleaners and perhaps a Romanian nanny for their children. They go to Caffè Nero and are served by polite Italians. They feel deliciously international and open-minded while enjoying cheaper, better services than they otherwise would.

At the other end of the spectrum was Gladys, who I met at the door of her council house on Monday. She was reluctant at first to say which way she was voting. She got her council house in 1975 after two years waiting for it. But now she worries for her sons and grandchildren. How are they going to afford somewhere to live? The cost of mortgages just goes up and up, she said.

Gladys was not xenophobic or racist. What bothers her isn’t immigration, as such, but the government’s inability to respond to immigration and the resulting shortage of housing and school and hospital places. The rich folk across the road could get round these problems. Hector and Harriet could go to a private school if necessary. If there was a two-week wait to see their NHS GP, they could go private. They have already got their own flat or house, which has gone up nicely in value, thank you very much.
Both reminded of whjat Peggy Noonan — a moderate Republican and former Reagan speechwriter — wrote in February:
Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected
Why political professionals are struggling to make sense of the world they created.

I keep thinking of how Donald Trump got to be the very likely Republican nominee. There are many answers and reasons, but my thoughts keep revolving around the idea of protection. It is a theme that has been something of a preoccupation in this space over the years, but I think I am seeing it now grow into an overall political dynamic throughout the West.

There are the protected and the unprotected. The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.
The protected are the accomplished, the secure, the successful—those who have power or access to it. They are protected from much of the roughness of the world. More to the point, they are protected from the world they have created. Again, they make public policy and have for some time.

I want to call them the elite to load the rhetorical dice, but let’s stick with the protected.

They are figures in government, politics and media. They live in nice neighborhoods, safe ones. Their families function, their kids go to good schools, they’ve got some money. All of these things tend to isolate them, or provide buffers. Some of them—in Washington it is important officials in the executive branch or on the Hill; in Brussels, significant figures in the European Union—literally have their own security details.

Because they are protected they feel they can do pretty much anything, impose any reality. They’re insulated from many of the effects of their own decisions.

One issue obviously roiling the U.S. and western Europe is immigration. … It is of course the issue that made Donald Trump. Britain will probably leave the European Union over it.

If you are an unprotected American—one with limited resources and negligible access to power—you have absorbed some lessons from the past 20 years’ experience of illegal immigration. You know the Democrats won’t protect you and the Republicans won’t help you. Both parties refused to control the border.

Many Americans suffered from illegal immigration—its impact on labor markets, financial costs, crime, the sense that the rule of law was collapsing. But the protected did fine—more workers at lower wages. No effect of illegal immigration was likely to hurt them personally.

It was good for the protected. But the unprotected watched and saw. They realized the protected were not looking out for them, and they inferred that they were not looking out for the country, either.

The unprotected came to think they owed the establishment—another word for the protected—nothing, no particular loyalty, no old allegiance.

What marks this political moment, in Europe and the U.S., is the rise of the unprotected. It is the rise of people who don’t have all that much against those who’ve been given many blessings and seem to believe they have them not because they’re fortunate but because they’re better.

You see the dynamic in many spheres. In Hollywood, as we still call it, where they make our rough culture, they are careful to protect their own children from its ill effects. In places with failing schools, they choose not to help them through the school liberation movement— charter schools, choice, etc.—because they fear to go up against the most reactionary professional group in America, the teachers unions. They let the public schools flounder. But their children go to the best private schools.

This is a terrible feature of our age—that we are governed by protected people who don’t seem to care that much about their unprotected fellow citizens.

And a country really can’t continue this way.

In wise governments the top is attentive to the realities of the lives of normal people, and careful about their anxieties. That’s more or less how America used to be. There didn’t seem to be so much distance between the top and the bottom.
Now is seems the attitude of the top half is: You’re on your own. Get with the program, little racist.
My European history isn’t very good, but the French Revolution happened in part because the Elites became tone deaf. (IIRC it was also a factor in the Russian and Chinese revolutions, although both involved a well-organized grab for power by one faction against another). In a democracy, we get to have our elections via ballot box — as long as the system isn’t rigged. In that regard, such a vote is a triumph (and not a failure) of the system of democracy that England pioneered in the 2nd millenium.
Source: Financial Times

Monday, June 13, 2016

Understanding Apple's platform strategy: A little theory can help

Today is the first day of the Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC), Apple’s annual effort to both inform and excite its ecosystem of third-party providers. As with any conference, it’s also a chance to get together with friends, old and new, particularly at parties thrown by companies that want to improve their visibility to the developer attendees.

I remember in 1988 going to my first WWDC in San Jose: our company was so poor that the two cofounders (Neil and I) had to split a single pass to be able to have any presence at all. My last WWDC was in 2003, as my company neared its end, and I went to meet with a former employee who was in town for the conference. The conference is capped at 5,000 developers, but rather than use price to discourage demand (as do most media companies), since 2014 Apple has used a lottery system to allocate seats to registered developers.

Since the early years of the Jobs II era (1997-2011), WWDC has been used to make important product and technology announcements for the broader public. As such, it also gives the business press to take another junket to San Francisco and write their annual (or quarterly) pontifications on the state of Apple, its products, market position, competitive advantage, business model, stock price or anything else.

One article caught my attention on Twitter this morning:

Apple's True Strengths Don't Lie in Innovation
By Christopher Mims
Wall Street Journal, 13 June 2016, p. B.1.
…Apple's normally festive Worldwide Developers Conference begins Monday under something of a pall. The company's first quarterly sales decline in 13 years has many people asking whether it will grow again. They also want to know how Apple, with its healthy supply of cash, could make that happen.

The conventional answer is "create a totally new product line," or its cousin, "unveil something no one has done before." That is, Apple should try to out-innovate its competitors.

That is a terrible idea. It runs counter to Apple's strengths, as well as its growth trajectory.

Here is why: Apple's core strengths are the scale of its ecosystem -- the company says it has more than one billion active devices world-wide -- and the spending power of their owners.
As someone who’s studied the theory of standards wars for two decades — and Apple’s practice of standards wars for three decades, and wrote the most-cited paper on Apple’s iPhone strategy — this seemed somewhere between foolish and idiotic.

But if you dig a little deeper, what the columnist (who seems prone to exaggerating for effect) really is doing is playing a semantic game. The language of "innovation is bad, no innovation is good” would be more accurately summarized as “risky radical innovation is bad, continuous incremental innovation is good.”

The author states
Apple is expert at offering a more polished, more accessible version of products and services that rivals have offered for years. And yet, it reaps over 90% of the smartphone industry's profit, and in 2015 its App Store delivered 75% more revenue to developers than Alphabet Inc.'s Google Play store.
If you look up “innovation” in the Oxford English Dictionary, the very first definition is:
1a. The action of innovating; the introduction of novelties; the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms.
In other words, by offering a superior (and unique) version of a now standard product category, Apple is following the dictionary definition of “the introduction of new elements of forms.”

Meanwhile, any MBA who’s had a decent competitive strategy class can tell you that if you have a better product — and consistently superior profits — then you have successfully created some form of sustained competitive advantage that has survived efforts by your rivals to compete away that advantage and those superior margins.

Perhaps this confusion is because the author has an undergraduate neuroscience major but no business degree.

But once we get away from the terminology problems, I did find one paragraph that seemed both factual and prescient:
In any case, I think it will be many years before mobile is toppled as the dominant platform. The PC ruled for nearly 30 years, and we are less than a decade into the age of the iPhone.
I don’t agree with the conclusion that Apple (or Google or Facebook) shouldn’t pursue related diversification. However, I do agree that it must feed and harvest its mobile “cash cow” (as BCG defined it 45 years ago) while continuing to search for new growth opportunities.

As an Apple shareholder, I’m disappointed at the loss in price and market cap over the past year as it lost its growth multiple. But I still think there’s enough of the company’s DNA (even after the loss of its visionary founder) to propel it to new growth as it finds a way to meet needs unmet by its many competitors and imitators.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Who will disrupt Google and Facebook?

Driving home from a breakfast meeting this morning, I got to wondering who is going to disrupt Google — and how soon.

Those of us who teach strategy know how all about examples of new entrants commoditizing and destroying the revenue models and profit sanctuaries of long-stable, long-established businesses. (The term “disruptive innovation” seems most convenient here, despite the recent controversy over the original evidence of same). Here are a few examples.

  • Craigslist and various Internet portals (such as Google and Yahoo) destroyed newspapers — aided by the latter’s poor business models, some unfortunately inaccurate assumptions about the supply (and thus price) of Internet advertising and key tactical errors along the way.
  • Two entrepreneurs created GrandCentral, a (temporarily) free telephone answering and forwarding service, and in 2007 sold it to Google (where it is now Google Voice). It now has voicemail transcripts and other improvements but is still free. Thousands of small companies and nonprofits (including my own) use it in lieu of an answering service.
  • I learned how to use Google Forms from my friend Mako Hill (and his need to run the OUI conference with limited cash and volunteer resources). Now I use it for most things that other people use SurveyMonkey for.
So the question I mulled over was, who will disrupt Google? Facebook would like to take business away from Google, but it’s not through cost reduction or elimination of revenues. Rather, Facebook imagines that its socially embedded ads will be more valuable than Google’s search context-specific ads.

Instead, I find Facebook ads creepy and sometimes invasive of my privacy, particularly when Amazon ads show up for a book that I looked at (but ruled out buying) five minutes earlier. (Apparent Amazon is not alone). I am appalled at what would happen if I had looked at a socially undesirable product on Amazon (sex toys, a book on bombing government buildings) — even though I know that anonymous browsing without cookies would allow me to ask a question (if not make a purchase) without leaving digital breadcrumbs.

Then when I got home, I saw this wonderful article by Andrew Orlowski of The Register (who I mainly know from his insightful analysis of mobile phone platform wars). One passage (emphasis mine) touched on the same theme:
'Dear Daddy...' Max Zuckerberg’s Letter back to her Father
What do you mean, I can't get off Facebook?

2 Dec 2015 at 13:02, As told to Andrew Orlowski

Comment Yesterday Mark Zuckberg accompanied the birth of his first child, a daughter Max, with a long open letter.

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, we've found what Max might write back, and we're sharing it with you:

Dear Daddy

Thank you for the letter that your PR and public policy team wrote to mark my Birth, and sent to every news outlet in the World. Most Daddies wouldn’t do this. Heck, most Daddies don’t even have PR and public policy team, and those that do wouldn’t use to leverage a private family event!

That’s why you Daddy, are so special.

You write: "We want you to grow up in a world better than ours today."

Well, duh!

If I discovered that my well-educated billionaire parents wanted me to grow up in a world that’s worse than ours today, I’d already have crawled my way to a phone booth and dialled 911 to alert the authorities.

That goes for "a world without suffering from disease” too. Wow. Where do you get this stuff, Daddy? I heard more original ideas when I was a single cell blastula!

You also write:

"Technological progress in every field means your life should be dramatically better than ours today."

I’d like to think so too, Daddy, but there’s this thing that’s bothering me.

It's called Facebook.

And not just Facebook, it’s the way Silicon Valley companies like yours pile up huge wealth by destroying value in every other part of the economy, as if technological progress were a zero sum game. It’s the way you strip-mine individuals so they have no ability to be autonomous economic agents, owning and trading the stuff we make, so all we have to live on is some feudal digital plantation - and we have to be grateful for it. It's the way some Valley firms place themselves above the law and try to block the work of elected officials who want to defend human rights.

Not you of course, Daddy. Just some of your friends.

I mean, come on. There's a lot to teach children in this modern world I've just been born into. But one thing we've got to learn is that just because you can do something, it's not necessarily morally acceptable to do it. Who's going to teach me that in Silicon Valley?

And Daddy. Connecting people all over the world through an internet website is very cool idea indeed. But it's not that cool or original. It’s as if the guy who invented the bottle-opener wrote a plan to become Emperor of the World. Like, "Remind me who you are again?"

I think that’s pretty weird already. And I’m only one day old!

Well if there’s any of the economy left by the time I graduate, perhaps my generation will be a bit less selfish than yours, Daddy, and we can teach you about it.

Well, I’m kinda tired writing all that. It’s time for nap. Just remember when you’re burping me, do it over your shoulder, that way I won’t puke all down your front.

Your loving baby daughter,

Max
In the Google (and now Facebook) case, I thought about Microsoft. They were a one trick pony that was handed a monopoly in operating systems (and used that to build another one in business productivity apps) that they exploited to the maximum degree possible. But a) they lacked the ability to create new compelling products and business models and b) everybody distrusted them and thus were wary of providing them new monopolies, no matter how good their technology.

So at some point, the shoe will be on the other foot: what happens when Google and Facebook have their profit sanctuaries destroyed? Google — now Alphabet — appears headed towards becoming a diversified technology conglomerate. It has worked (so far) for Hitachi and Samsung, but not for HP or Sony. Thus far, it appears that Apple and IBM have been the masters of re-invention: will the new kings of Silicon Valley be able to replicate such feats?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Open Social Media is a decade away

Today we wanted to send a video birthday greeting to our eldest, who is far away. We asked our youngest to make it happen (in part because her newer iPhone has 64gb while my two-year-old 16gb is full).

The two of them have in common Snapchat and Instagram; the eldest also has WhatsApp and the youngest has Twitter. Our youngest first considered Snapchat, but that’s temporary and has a 10-second video limit, so instead chose Instagram that has a 15-second limit. They both also have Facebook, but that seems mainly used for relatives and other clueless people to send one-way communications to these teens. They also talk via Skype but (like me) don’t launch it often enough to see text messages.

I use Twitter hourly and Facebook every day or two, while my Instagram and LinkedIn (web page) get launched perhaps once a month. So I went to Facebook to send a birthday greeting to our eldest — as did 11 other people, including my sister — but unlike with my middle-aged friends, did not prompt an ongoing stream of likes and replies.

Clearly there is both a proliferation of competing social media platforms and little or interoperability. Some people do automatic (one-way) feeds using tools like TwitterFeed and Hootsuite, but that doesn’t allow for conversations to take place across social media boundaries.

I am told that at the turn of the (20th) century telephone systems were not fully interoperable, and having a phone in one town meant you couldn’t call another. I wasn’t there and my dad’s gone, so (short of spending an afternoon on Google) I can’t confirm this. But (grabbing The Fall of the Bell System from my bookshelf) it’s clear that by 1913 AT&T had achieved interoperability between its local operating companies and its Long Lines division, allowing transcontinental calls to be made on its system.

From my (aborted) dissertation, I also know that the design points of 1st generation analog cellular systems in the US, Japan and Europe were to be fully interoperable with the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). The US pre-cellular mobile phones of the 1960s required an operator to route calls to the PSTN, but the invention of the microprocessor made it possible for the AT&T’s car phone (and later Motorola handheld phones) to automatically complete calls. When the EU and the CEPT invented GSM —and with it Short Message Service — they made text messaging also interoperable (except with landlines) over the PSTN.

And, of course, fax machines used the PSTN to complete calls, but generally agreed on a series of (ever-improving) transmission standards for the graphical representation of the images sent over those calls. So when the telcos were involved, they grokked interoperability.

A Lesson from E-mail

Perhaps a better — or at least more recent — analogy comes from the proliferation of incompatible e-mail systems prior to the commercial Internet.

Using Google, I found a February 1987 posting I made to the Info-Mac e-mail list. After I quit my job to become a Mac developer but before co-founding Palomar Software, I used this as the signature line

Joel West                            MCI Mail: 282-8879
Western Software Technology, POB 2733, Vista, CA  92083
{cbosgd, ihnp4, pyramid, sdcsvax, ucla-cs} !gould9!joel
joel%gould9.uucp@NOSC.ARPA
In between, I know my various Palomar business cards had e-mail addresses for MCI Mail, AppleLink (later eWorld) and perhaps my AOL account as well. When Apple finally provided full Internet interoperability, it said joelwest@AppleLink.apple.com, while the next business card said joel@palomar.com when we bought our own domain name and locally hosted server.

So there was roughly a 10-15 year period when the proliferation of proprietary e-mail systems meant that two people could have e-mail accounts but not be able to e-mail each other — and (like today’s social media) people might maintain multiple e-mail accounts.

Now, any e-mail user can send to any other. With various MIME and HTML extensions — and dozens of client implementations —  the e-mail may get garbled or unreadable due to mutually incompatible interpretations of the format standards, but that’s a function of commoditized (often free) e-mail clients that don’t reward quality control.

Open Social Media

Will we ever have open social media? That would mean that there was some sort of formal interoperability standard (beyond OpenSocial), that it was implemented by the major platforms and that these implementations include the full functionality of their native platforms — public and private messages, text, images, video, “like” and perhaps even adding friends. (This ignores inherent incompatibilities such as the SnapChat model of disappearing messages).

The business models of these various companies seems to assume (or hope) that we will not, and that they can create stickiness and keep us in their proprietary walled gardens for as many hours/day as possible. This creates winners and losers: I like the idea of LinkedIn for contacts but hate it as a content site, and so only visit it when I’m seriously procrastinating (not Twitter or Facebook or blogging procrastinating) to avoid something I really ought to be doing.

One path forward would be vertical integration, but with one exception that seems a long way off. The exception is Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, and so could make them interoperable at any point.

Microsoft has Skype — but no real social media — but until one of these platforms falters and is available for sale, it will have nothing to integrate. Google still thinks people will someday use Google+ and would probably be blocked anyway by the EU from buying one of the major social media platforms. Apple with iMessage seems to want to add convenient, easy-to-use clients on top of the existing (commodity) addressing and delivery systems like text messaging, rather than build a proprietary communications platform and try to gain share against the Silicon Valley upstarts.

The 10-15 year time horizon could apply here as everyone copies each other’s features and (like email) social media platform become passé and readers move on to something else. Twitter launched in 2006, WhatsApp in 2009, and Snapchat in 2011. So realistically, barring some blockbuster acquisition there’s not much hope for the rest of the 2010s, but the 2020s seem likely to bring improved interoperability in this segment.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Business journalism: Math is hard!

As a buyer, I hate price increases as much as the next consumer. As a business professor for the past 17 years, I have tried to develop (and encourage) economic literacy among future employees, entrepreneurs and voters.

Thus, as a parent about to shell out $200 for Disneyand tickets for two teenagers, last weekend I had decidedly mixed feelings as I read an article in the Washington Post:

How theme parks like Disney World left the middle class behind
By Drew Harwell
June 12

When Walt Disney World opened in an Orlando swamp in 1971, with its penny arcade and marching-band parade down Main Street U.S.A., admission for an adult cost $3.50, about as much then as three gallons of milk. Disney has raised the gate price for the Magic Kingdom 41 times since, nearly doubling it over the past decade.

This year, a ticket inside the “most magical place on Earth” rocketed past $100 for the first time in history.

Ballooning costs have not slowed the mouse-eared masses flooding into the world’s busiest theme park. Disney’s main attraction hosted a record 19 million visitors last year, a number nearly as large as the population of New York state.

But looking closer at the article, I found two math errors — both obvious to someone of my generation (but perhaps not a 30-ish graduate of U. Florida’s j-school). The net result was an apples and oranges comparison that undercut the core premise of the breathless 1,730-word exposé.

As a former newspaper reporter, I thought I'd follow procedure — by writing to the ombudsman to request a correction. Here is the letter that I sent:
Subject: Inaccurate statistic in Disney story
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 2015 22:03:06 -0700
From: Joel West
To: readers@washpost.com

Dear Reader Rep,

I am writing to call attention to the inaccurate (or at best misleading) story and graph in the story on Disneyland.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2015/06/12/how-theme-parks-like-disney-world-left-the-middle-class-behind/?tid=pm_business_pop_b

The story says:
When Walt Disney World opened in an Orlando swamp in 1971, with its penny arcade and marching-band parade down Main Street U.S.A., admission for an adult cost $3.50, about as much then as three gallons of milk.
This number is highly misleading because today's $99 admission includes unlimited rides, and the 1971 admission included no rides whatsoever. Instead, (when I was a kid) we had books of A- through E-tickets, or just E-tickets -- an additional amount that always totaled more than the amount of admission.

Wikipedia and this local TV station explain it clearly:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_ticket
http://www.mynews13.com/content/news/cfnews13/on-the-town/article.html/content/news/articles/cfn/2014/2/27/disney_ticket_price_history.html

In the story's graph, the "price" jumps in 1982 because 1982 was when (according to Wikipedia) admissions included unlimited rides. So the 1982 price is not directly comparable to the 1971-1981 price

This website estimates that the actual net cost in 1971 was $10.25, or almost 3x as much as your newspaper reported:

http://historical.whatitcosts.com/facts-disney-1971.htm

According to this inflation calculator, that would be $59.88 in today's dollars:†

http://www.usinflationcalculator.com

So yes, Disney pushed through a 65% price increase ($59.88 to $99) in an era when the real price of air travel, computing, TVs and other products fell. (California and Northern Virginia real estate probably increased faster than inflation during this period).

Still, the claim the price went from $3.50 to $99 is inaccurate, since today's readers would assume the admission prices would include unlimited rides (as it has for the past 40+ years).

Joel West
…, California
(I have never worked for Disney Co nor has any member of my family)
† With the June CPI update, the website now says the present value is $60.19.
The ombudsman didn't think the criticism was important enough to investigate (let alone publish):
Subject: RE: Inaccurate statistic in Disney story
Date: Mon, 15 Jun 2015 19:43:59 +0000
From: Readers Internet DropBox <readers@washpost.com>
To: 'Joel West'

Hi Mr. West,

Thanks for taking the time to write. I’ve forwarded your feedback along to the author of the piece.

Best,

--
Alison Coglianese
Reader Representative
The Washington Post
As I suspected, when asked to self-police, the reporter neither published a correction (or clarification) or even bothered to reply to my correspondence.

The article overstates the increase in the out-of-pocket price by a factor of three: as someone who went to Disneyland before Disney World opened, I can testify first hand as to how much parents had to feed the mouse to satisfy teens and pre-teens. The 6x increase in the CPI is also not negligible: a gallon of gas that today is $3.50/gallon was 25¢/gallon up until the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. So the 28x increase is less daunting when there’s an 18x correction needed for a mouse-to-mouse comparison.

Now I get that business skills and journalism skills are a rare combination. When in my 20s as a (small-town) reporter, I had two years of college calculus, one semester of upper division math (tensor calculus) and a degree from a prestigious technical university. Despite that, I didn’t really understand business or economics until I left journalism — starting my own company in 1987 and getting an education from the school of hard knocks. Still, a cable TV station in Orlando (the 19th largest TV market) managed to get it right — in a story written by their “web content editor”.

This is not rocket science, folks. The reality is that the Walt Disney Company charges all the traffic will bear because it can. Knott’s, Six Flags and other amusement park are pale imitations of Uncle Walt’s original. It’s much more than the proprietary IP, as teens really don’t care about mice and princesses — but the imagination and creativity that make the rides more than just spin-until-you-puke physical entertainment. (Universal Studios —with its Wizarding World of Harry Potter — seems to be the only park operator who seems interested in competing in this segment of the market).

Overall, one would think that America’s seventh largest newspaper — one with a historic disproportionate policy influence — would be able to hire more qualified business reporters in what is clearly a buyer’s market. (Or at least one will derive the story from the facts rather than the other way around.) For example, the WSJ is laying off a veteran business reporter who’s knows a lot about pharma and has a bachelor’s in accounting.

That’s why I usually find more insightful and accurate coverage from industry professionals (and part-time columnists) at sites such as Forbes or Seeking Alpha. For example, more than any other news source, I learn the more about the pharma industry from Scott Gottlieb (who brings both FDA and Medicare/Medicaid experience to his MD).