Audit Notes: Google “Grandeur,” Toxic Pet, Stop the Presses?

Valleywag’s Ryan Tate hammers Google about its “Six Delusions of Grandeur.” Tate points to this stunning quote in Fortune from CEO Eric Schmidt:

“All this information that you have about us… Does that scare everyone in this room?” The questioner asked… “Would you prefer someone else?” Schmidt shot back… “Is there a government that you would prefer to be in charge of this?”

You mean a democratic government subject to, say, open-records laws, checks and balances, and the periodic will of the people?

Combine that with Schmidt’s scary statement a few months ago (“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”) as Gawker does, and it’s clear, especially with its disastrous Google Buzz privacy lapse, that the company deserves far more skeptical scrutiny than it’s yet received by the press.

The borg (or “cult,” as Tate calls it) is getting awfully creepy.

— NPR’s Planet Money has a fantastic idea. It bought a thousand dollars worth of a toxic mortgage security and set up a site to track what happens to its “pet.”

Our toxic asset has 2,000 mortgages, many of them in hard-hit states like California, Arizona and Florida. A lot of the people in our bond are really struggling. Almost half are behind on their mortgage payments, and 15 percent of the homes are already in foreclosure.

At some point those homes will be taken over and sold for a loss. Every time that happens, the bond shrinks. Eventually, our part of the bond will disappear entirely.

Until then, we get a little money every month from people paying off their mortgages. We just got a check for $141. If it goes to Thanksgiving, we could double our money.


One bone to pick with Planet Money, though. In its nifty video explainer, it says the mortgages were made by Countrywide and that “Countrywide is gone now.” I don’t think so. It got bought by Bank of America and rebranded as “Bank of America Home Loans,” but a dog by a different name is still a dog.

Alan Mutter fillets Marc Andreesen for his numbskulled comment that the press should abandon the presses and go all digital:

The data show that the $3.1 billion in interactive advertising collectively sold by newspapers in 2008 accounted for 8% of the industry’s $38 billion in ad sales. If you assume papers generated another $7.5 billion in circulation revenues in 2008, then some 93% of the industry’s $45 billion in sales were associated with the legacy print product. Even though ad revenues probably fell $10 billion in 2009, print-driven newspaper revenues sill are running at better than $30 billion a year.

It doesn’t take a certifiable Silicon Valley genius to see that no business can walk away from some 90% of its revenue base without imploding. Andreessen should know this better than most, because he watched Netscape, the pioneering browser company he helped launch, go from supernova to black hole in a few short years.

And that $3.1 billion figure is badly inflated (as Mutter himself has said) by upsells—free online ads thrown in for advertisers who just want to buy print ads.

Now if, say, The New York Times abandoned its presses and gave everybody a $500 iPad (minus a bulk discount from Apple, of course) with a commitment to a two-year subscription (which averages $604 a year in print), then you might be talking.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.