May 23, 2019

Merger of Penguin and Random House Is Completed

Random House and Penguin completed their planned merger Monday morning, creating the biggest and most powerful book publisher in the world.

The new company, called Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States, giving it unmatched leverage against, a growing force in the industry.

Bertelsmann and Pearson, the European owners of Random House and Penguin, respectively, announced the merger in October, saying that Bertelsmann would control 53 percent of the company and Penguin 47 percent. Since then, the merger has sailed through regulatory approvals in the United States and Europe, as well as China, Canada and other countries.

The new company would have more than 10,000 employees, 250 independent publishing imprints and about $3.9 billion in annual revenues.

Markus Dohle, the chairman and chief executive of Random House who will take on the role of chief executive of the new company, announced the finalization of the merger in an e-mail to employees Monday.

“Today, we are Penguin Random House,” he wrote. “You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished and what we are all now a part of: the first truly global trade book publishing company. Together, we are even better positioned to fulfill our core purpose: to bridge authors and readers by publishing the very best books.”

Bertelsmann acquired Random House in 1998 for more than $1 billion.

David Shanks, the chief executive of Penguin Group USA, has stepped down and will be a senior adviser to Mr. Dohle and the executive team, Mr. Dohle said in his letter to employees. John Makinson, the head of Penguin Group since 2002, will be the chairman of Penguin Random House.

“Penguin Random House starts life today as a freshly minted company, but also as a creative enterprise that will draw on the greatest legacies in the history of book publishing,” Mr. Makinson said in a statement.

Over the last several months, executives at both companies have sought to assure employees on the publishing side that it will be business as usual.

There are no immediate plans for laying off employees or shuttering imprints.

Executives at Penguin and Random House said the initial focus would be on unifying the infrastructure of the companies, including establishing pay scales, health benefits and new e-mail addresses.

There will also be an effort to sort out redundancies. As physical book sales decrease, so does the need for gigantic warehouses to store and ship books; the newly combined company is likely to find ways to trim printing, distribution and storage costs.

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With a Solid Hit, CBS Breaks the Summer Ratings Mold

Borrowing heavily from the cable playbook, CBS has set out to reverse the trend toward ever-dwindling network ratings — and intense attention directed toward cable dramas — in the summer. In its new series, “Under the Dome,” CBS may have done it.

The opening ratings for “Dome” last Monday qualified as spectacular: more than 13.5 million viewers for the premiere, the biggest audience for a summer drama in more than 20 years. The show added more than three million more viewers when three days of delayed viewing was counted, CBS announced Saturday.

Maintaining numbers like that could mean significant profits for CBS, which created a can’t-miss formula for financing the show that included a presale of the episodes for streaming on Amazon Prime, and now may expect a surge in spending from advertisers looking to reach summer consumers at the same time.

Even more important, CBS’s executives are so encouraged by the early ratings results that they foresee the potential “to create a whole new model for summer programming” said David F. Poltrack, the network’s chief research executive.

That model relies on some traditional network advantages. “One of the things the premiere’s ratings illustrated was the power of network television as a marketing medium,” Mr. Poltrack said. CBS began promoting “Dome” during the spring in its highly rated shows.

But the model is also new for CBS because, in this case, it includes such elements as a highly serialized plotline with science-fiction elements and characters who would not qualify as traditionally likable heroes on the networks.

Those have been among the drama conventions on cable for years, where such shows as “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” on AMC, “Burn Notice” on USA and “True Blood” on HBO have played in the summer. This summer, the cable networks have a full roster of prominent dramas, including “The Newsroom” on HBO, “Ray Donovan” on Showtime and “The Bridge” on FX.

But none of them are likely to come within 10 million viewers of “Under the Dome.” And this is only the first salvo in a network strategy to retake some summer territory. Already numerous projects are in the works at other networks, including shows called “limited series” on ABC, like “Resurrection,” (a town is shaken by the return of long-dead relatives) and “event series” on the Fox network, including the resumption of the action hit “24” and a “Twin Peaks”-style suspense series called “Wayward Pines.”

The last two are being prepared for summer 2014, part of an ambitious effort by Kevin Reilly, the chairman of entertainment for Fox, to shake up the scheduling paradigm that has dominated network television.

“The networks have to stop losing viewers,” said Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media. “After the season they just had they can’t afford to lose any more.”

Mr. Reilly at Fox has been saying for several years that it makes no sense for network television to keep doing the same thing year after year even as its audiences shrivel. He announced this spring that Fox would invest heavily in short-run series with high production values and A-list casts. (“Wayward Pines” has already cast Matt Dillon and Melissa Leo.)

But CBS, the network that for years resisted the concept of the serial drama, planted its flag first. “Under the Dome,” an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, was conceived as a cable entry, developed by Showtime. When that network passed, CBS (which owns Showtime) picked up the project specifically intending to reinvigorate a deteriorating summer schedule.

Networks have tried to improvise in summer, spreading a few reality shows around a diet of repeats. But this summer, reality regulars like “America’s Got Talent” on NBC and “Big Brother” on CBS have experienced early ratings erosion. “Those shows are showing the same fatigue that affected ‘American Idol’ in the regular TV season,” Mr. Adgate said.

“Viewing habits have changed,” said Jeff Gaspin, the former head of NBC Entertainment who also oversaw cable networks like USA. “Broadcasters started programming summer years ago because of cable inroads. They mostly tried weak scripted content and ultimately settled on nonscripted.”

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After Weak Holiday Sales, Nook Tablets Will Add Google’s App and Media Store

Barnes Noble, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, is seeking a lift in the highly competitive tablet market after a disappointing holiday season for the Nook.

“It opens up a whole world of content and really gives HD and HD Plus a unique position,” William J. Lynch Jr., the chief executive of Barnes Noble, said in an interview, referring to the company’s two color tablets. “There’s no question this is going to accelerate sales.”

Company executives said Nook owners would be able to choose from 700,000 apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Netflix — even Amazon’s Kindle app.

The bookseller has recently vowed to focus more on digital content, including books, movies and popular apps, while beginning to moderate its investment in its digital hardware division.

In the quarter that ended Jan. 26, Nook revenue declined to $316 million, from $427 million over the same period the year ago.

“Of all the things that Barnes Noble could do to expand its potential audience, running the features of Android that consumers like is a great step,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. “You can’t change the fundamentals of Barnes Noble’s brand and their customer footprint and the economics of their business, but adding more Android features makes this product more appealing to more customers.”

After the holiday season, Mr. Lynch said on Thursday, Barnes Noble learned that “the No. 1 reason for nonbuyers in the tablet market, as it related to Nook, was the lack of breadth and apps.” That was, he said, “the one area where we were deficient.”

Michael Norris, senior analyst for Simba Information, said the deal with Google would help Barnes Noble do what Amazon has done well: create a comprehensive online shopping center of nonbook media.

“I think Barnes Noble is learning a few lessons from Amazon,” Mr. Norris said. “And that has to do with sweetening the deal and adding value for the consumer. Amazon has always had a greater variety of movie and video content, and I think Barnes Noble is hoping to erase part of their entertainment deficit.”

Barnes Noble’s seven-inch Nook HD sells for $199, and the nine-inch Nook HD Plus for $269.

Mr. Lynch said that Barnes Noble executives had considered a deal with Google for two years, but stepped up those discussions in the last four months.

To date, Barnes Noble has sold more than 10 million Nooks in the United States; it introduced the product in 2009 as e-book sales took off.

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Amazon’s Profit Falls as It Spends Heavily on Distribution Centers

On Thursday, Amazon told investors it’s still not time for a drink.

The Internet retailer reported a 37 percent decrease in profits for the first three months of the year.

That drop was expected, and it was even a bit less than some investors had forecast, which initially helped lift the company’s shares slightly in after-hours trading. The stock eventually ended up falling about 3 percent in after-hours trading.

Amazon said its net income for the first quarter, which ended March 31, fell to $82 million, or 18 cents a share, from $130 million, or 28 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue jumped 22 percent to $16.07 billion from $13.18 billion.

While the company’s profit was better than analysts had expected, its revenue fell slightly short. Wall Street analysts expected Amazon to report earnings of 9 cents a share and revenue of $16.16 billion, according to an average of their estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters.

Amazon previously told analysts to expect its sales to grow to between $15 billion and $16.6 billion, or somewhere from 15 to 26 percent.

“It’s more of the same from Amazon,” said Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Robert W. Baird Company.

Mr. Sebastian added that the waves of investments that Amazon was making were unlikely to abate soon. “That’s going to be a continuing trend,” he said.

The seeming indifference of many investors to Amazon’s slim profits shows how much more effective the company has been at articulating its vision of future opportunities to Wall Street than another tech favorite, Apple.

Apple, which made a profit 116 times bigger than that of Amazon last quarter, has been plagued by investor doubts about its growth prospects, driving its stock down 33 percent over the l ast year.

Amazon’s shares are up 38 percent in that period.

Jordan Rohan, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, said investors had been reassured by comments from Amazon management that suggested the company was not being hurt as much by weakness in European economies as another e-commerce giant, eBay. “That’s an acknowledgment that the growth outlook for Amazon remains quite robust,” he said.

Amazon is spending heavily on fulfillment centers to speed delivery of physical goods to customers. It is also investing aggressively in data centers to expand its Amazon Web Services business, which provides start-ups and big corporate clients with computers and bandwidth they can rent as needed for their online initiatives.

Then there are the consumer devices that are becoming an increasingly important part of Amazon’s plan to deliver media electronically to customers. The company’s Kindle e-readers are now a full-blown family of tablet computers, which it sells for little or no profit, with the goal of making money over the long term by selling books, movies, music and other services.

Amazon is also developing a television set-top box that it is expected to announce in the fall, a device that could give its video services a more meaningful audience in living rooms. The company recently introduced pilot episodes for 14 original comedy and children’s television shows and is soliciting viewer feedback to determine which ones will be turned into full series.

In a conference call, Tom Szkutak, Amazon’s chief financial officer, repeated an oft-stated Amazon motto about its priorities. “We believe putting customers first is the only way to create lasting value for shareholders,” he said.

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Amazon Plans an Internet Video Device

The company is developing a television set-top box and has begun discussions with outside providers of content to distribute their video services to the device, according to three people briefed on the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Amazon product had not yet been announced and remained confidential.

Amazon is planning to introduce the set-top box in the fall, one of these people said.

Bloomberg Businessweek first reported news of Amazon plans on Wednesday.

Kinley Pearsall, an Amazon spokeswoman, declined to comment.

It was not immediately clear why Amazon would bother designing its own set-top box. The device will most likely showcase Amazon’s own online video offerings, which include Prime Instant Video, a Netflix-like subscription video service with more than 40,000 movies and television episodes that is included as part of Amazon’s broader Prime membership.

Among other benefits, Prime members, who pay $79 a year, get free two-day shipping on orders bought through Amazon’s site.

Amazon also offers a much broader library of video content, totaling 150,000 titles, that anyone, including people who aren’t Prime members, can buy and rent.

But Amazon’s video services are already available on hundreds of devices, many of which connect to television sets, like game consoles, digital video recorders and Blu-ray players. An app for using Amazon’s video service is even embedded in some television sets, including models from Sony, Panasonic and Samsung.

Although Amazon was an early entrant in the e-reader market with the Kindle, the company is late to the market for set-top boxes, where the incumbents include Apple’s Apple TV device and a family of products from Roku.

Amazon, though, has considerable strengths and has shown an aptitude for reinventing itself in new categories, like cloud computing and tablet computers. One media executive who has participated in discussions with Amazon about its set-top box said he thought the company’s standing as a top shopping destination would allow it to promote its new device and give it a strong chance of attracting an audience.

The company could use other creative techniques for getting its set-top box into more living rooms.

Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said one approach that could make sense was for Amazon to sell the device for $100 or less, about what Internet set-top boxes cost today, and to include a free year of its subscription video service.

At the end of the term, customers would have an incentive to sign up for Amazon Prime to continue receiving all of its membership benefits, including the video service. “I think this is a Trojan horse to get people to join Prime,” Mr. Pachter said.

Amy Chozick contributed reporting from New York.

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Barnes & Noble-Simon & Schuster Dispute Said to Hurt Sales

Industry executives, as well as authors of recently published Simon Schuster books and their agents, say that Barnes Noble has reduced book orders greatly, to almost nothing in the case of some lesser-known writers. They contend that the move is damaging their sales. Authors say the retail chain has taken other steps, like not giving them display space or allowing book tour appearances in its stores.

Simon Lipskar, the president of Writers House, a literary agency in New York, said, “Without pointing fingers, authors are being hurt by this, and I think it is despicable.”

The conflict, which is being closely watched by other publishers, underscores the pressure on the publishing industry and Barnes Noble as they try to compete with online retailers like Amazon. This is the first time that Barnes Noble has used the sales of books as a negotiating tool, industry executives say. Amazon, which is known as an aggressive negotiator, has removed online “buy” buttons from books during negotiations before, most famously with Macmillan in January 2010.

The dispute centers on the financial arrangement between Barnes Noble and Simon Schuster. While neither side will specify exactly what new terms Barnes Noble is seeking, a senior executive familiar with the negotiations said that the bookseller wanted to pay less for books and receive more money for giving titles prominent display in its stores. Such display spots are coveted because they are thought to be critical in helping customers discover new books.

Those familiar with the disagreement — who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are confidential — say Barnes Noble believes that because its physical display space is so important to publishers, and because it is the last major retail chain remaining, publishers should be doing more to support it. Barnes Noble has told Simon Schuster, a senior executive said, that at least one other publisher has accepted these new terms.

Simon Schuster has argued that while it wants to support the retail chain, it cannot afford the terms Barnes Noble is demanding. The publisher’s chief executive, Carolyn Reidy, would not give specific details, but said the two sides were at odds over many issues, including both physical and digital distribution.

“In this new world, it is just getting more complicated,” she said in a phone interview. “There are more factors involved. They get more fraught. Terms have to work for both sides, and obviously we have not agreed yet.”

While it was clear that an accord  was not imminent, Ms. Reidy tried to put the best face on the situation. “We expect ultimately there will be an agreement,” she said.

Mary Ellen Keating, a spokeswoman for Barnes Noble, said: “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on relationships with individual publishers. However, we do support publishers who support our digital and retail book businesses.”

Barnes Noble first asked for new terms from Simon Schuster last summer, but the negotiations became more serious in January when the bookseller started limiting orders as part of its strategy. The development was reported in late January in Publishers Weekly, and on Friday The Wall Street Journal’s Web site reported further on the standoff.

Barnes Noble would not confirm that it had reduced Simon Schuster books as leverage. But Simon Schuster editors, as well as agents and writers who work with them, are apoplectic on the subject, since Barnes Noble accounts for about 20 percent of consumer book spending and is a main conduit for publicizing new releases.

Laura Gross, the literary agent for the best-selling author Jodi Picoult, said the dispute had certainly hurt sales of her client’s latest book, “The Storyteller.” Barnes Noble has “taken limited orders, limited placement, and did not do the normal outreach to their customers online, which really hurt,” Ms. Gross said.

Ms. Gross said that through public speaking engagements, Ms. Picoult has been able to rally sales (her book is now No. 1 on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list), but, she added, “This must be hitting smaller authors hard.”

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Media Decoder Blog: Actress’s Suit Against IMDb for Publishing Her Actual Age Can Go to Trial

LOS ANGELES — Junie Hoang, the actress who sued Amazon and its Internet Movie Database unit for posting her age, can take her complaint — or at least some of it — to a jury.

Judge Marsha J. Pechman, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, ruled on Monday that Ms. Hoang, whose legal name is Huong Hoang, could proceed to trial with a breach of contract claim and a request for damages related to her career.

But Judge Pechman excluded Amazon as a defendant, leaving only its IMDb unit in the suit; barred any claim by Ms. Hoang for emotional distress; and granted summary judgment denying a claim that the database had violated the Consumer Protection Act by publishing Ms. Hoang’s age without her consent.

“Anyone who values their privacy and has ever given credit card information to an online company like IMDb or should be concerned about the outcome,” Ms. Hoang said Tuesday in a statement.

A call to Amazon’s media relations department drew no immediate response.

In 2011, Ms. Hoang, who is now 41 years old, filed a complaint that said, a widely used film and television database, had illegally used her credit card information to obtain and post her age. The disclosure, she said, exposed her to age discrimination in an industry that values youth — a claim that was bolstered by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which publicly criticized IMDb for posting the ages of performers and others.

In her order on Monday, Judge Pechman described a series of communications in which Ms. Hoang had first omitted her age when subscribing to IMDb, then submitted a false date of birth that made her appear to be seven years younger than her actual age. Eventually, Judge Pechman noted, Ms. Hoang asked IMDb to remove the false birth date, going so far as to submit a fake Texas identification document to show that it was wrong.

Instead of relying on the fake document, the judge said, an IMDb employee gained access to Ms. Hoang’s credit card information, then used that to ascertain her actual 1971 birth date from a public records database called PrivateEye.

Ms. Hoang’s misrepresentations, the judge said, were not sufficient to bar her claim. But whether IMDb had breached its contract with her, or is liable for damages, must be decided at trial, she said.

In an order issued last August, Judge Pechman set the trial date on April 8 of this year.

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Economix Blog: Nancy Folbre: The Unregulated Work of Mechanical Turk

Nancy Folbre, economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Nancy Folbre is an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She recently edited and contributed to “For Love and Money: Care Provision in the United States.

Ever wonder what our labor market would look like without minimum wages or labor law protections? Take a look at the brave new world of online piecework platforms, like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which allows employers, politely termed “requesters,” to post jobs for a “global, on-demand, 24 x 7 work force.”

Today’s Economist

Perspectives from expert contributors.

Workers are offered pay for completion of a series of Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs), easily fragmented activities (like transcription, categorization or tagging) in which computers actually need assistance from carbon-based life forms like ourselves.

Spamming and fake reviewing can be easily commissioned. For instance, I could probably pay less than 10 cents apiece for unique posted comments of at least 50 words including at least two positive superlatives on this blog. (Should I discuss this with my editors?)

Estimates of what workers can earn on these crowdsourced tasks range from about $1.20 to $5 an hour without any benefits. Employers treat them as independent contractors not covered by federal minimum-wage legislation. A standard terms-of-use agreement gives employers the freedom to reject an employee’s work on any grounds; workers (oops, I mean contractors) have no easy recourse.

Mechanical Turk takes its name from an 18th-century hoax featuring a man-size Turkish puppet that could vanquish most opponents at chess with serene equanimity. Years later it was revealed that his chess table concealed a human prodigy who could manipulate the pieces from underneath with magnets. Other successful companies have adopted equally poetic names, like CrowdFlower and CrowdCloud.

What started as a niche experiment has become a major global industry. Like some other activities, like work at call centers, digital piecework represents a form of virtual labor migration that denationalizes employment. Research by Panos Ipeirotis, a computer expert at the Stern School of Business at New York University, estimates that Mechanical Turk alone engages 500,000 active workers in more than 100 countries, with workers heavily concentrated in two countries: the United States (with 50 percent of the total) and India (with 40 percent).

About 70 percent of its employees are women, many of whom probably can’t find other opportunities to work from home with flexible hours and are therefore willing to accept low wages.

The Mechanical Turk Web site promotes itself with a quotation from a proud chief executive: “Over all, we estimate saving 50 percent over other outsourcing methods.” Yet as both Zakia Uddin on Alternet and Julian Dobson on The Huffington Post point out, these labor practices haven’t gotten as much attention as sweatshop practices in other countries.

A recent Utne Reader article by the California journalist Ellen Cushing briefly profiles some of the industry’s fans as well as its critics. In general, computer scientists, including Professor Ipeirotis, seem quite cheerful about its prospects for improving both efficiency and opportunities for people in developing countries who can gain access to computers.

Low-quality wages may elicit low-quality work. But as Professor Ipeirotis points out, companies can compensate in two different ways, through redundancy (hiring several workers to do the same job and comparing their results) or through use of “gold data” — questions to which employers already know the answer, randomly inserted as a test of worker competence.

One recent academic paper on the future of crowd work, acknowledging sweatshop anxieties, asks, “Can we foresee a future crowd workplace in which we would want our children to participate?” It does not provide a clear answer.

Such a future can clearly be imagined. But can it be achieved?

Workers relying on such low wages and unstable employment are not likely to be able to educate their children enough to escape increasingly high rates of unemployment. A sustainable form of crowdsourcing will require forms of collective governance that mitigate the effects of market competition on those treated as mere links in a chain of algorithmic logic.

In other words, it will require some assurance of human rights, including access to decent employment, living wages and high-quality public education.

Computers don’t care whether they have meaningful opportunities for the development of their potential capabilities. Most humans do. If they had such opportunities, they would not be willing to crawl under a table and create the illusion of an eternally smiling, amazingly intelligent global machine. They would not be willing to get turked.

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Amazon’s Labor Relations Under Scrutiny in Germany

Then Mr. Sauer and several other activists unfurled a banner demanding in a curious mix of German and English that Amazon, the American online retailing juggernaut, negotiate a union wage contract with its currently nonunion work force here. “Make Tarif Vertrag,” it said in fluorescent letters. Then the organizers marched toward the gates of the Amazon complex to deliver the results of an online petition drive supporting the union’s demands.

That brief bit of guerrilla theater was the latest skirmish in an escalating battle between ver.di, one of the largest unions in Germany, and Amazon, which employs 8,000 permanent workers at eight distribution centers in the country, one of the online retailer’s largest markets outside the United States. Deservedly or not, Amazon’s labor relations have lately come under intense scrutiny by German media.

The triggering event was a Feb. 12 broadcast by one of Germany’s two main public television networks of a documentary about the treatment of some of the 10,000 temporary workers that Amazon hired last year to cope with the holiday rush. Many of those workers were bused in from countries like Spain or Romania where jobs are scarce.

Aired on ARD, a publicly financed broadcaster considered left of center, the documentary even implied that Amazon used neo-Nazi thugs to keep workers in line. It showed a team of security workers hired by an Amazon subcontractor roughing up a camera crew outside the temporary workers’ quarters.

The broadcast has since inspired countless headlines, preoccupied pundits on Germany’s ubiquitous television talk shows and may even become an issue in national elections this autumn in which left-leaning Social Democrats will be challenging the government coalition led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

The continuing furor raises the question of whether Amazon will be the latest big American company to run afoul of German labor laws, which provide much broader worker rights than in the United States.

Walmart abandoned Germany in 2006 following an array of setbacks that included a legal struggle with ver.di, which represents two million workers in service industries including retailing, hotels, food service and public transportation. The name is an abbreviation of Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, or United Service Industries Union.

General Motor’s Opel unit, represented by the IG Metall union in Germany, has struggled for more than a decade to cut costs and stem losses in the face of strong worker resistance. Last week, Opel finally struck a truce with its employees that will allow it to close a factory in Bochum, Germany, in 2016 — but only after promising not to impose involuntary layoffs.

Now it seems to be Amazon’s turn to serve as a symbol for everything that many Germans resent about American-style management and so-called Anglo-Saxon capitalism. As an American company that has helped drive at least one German competitor out of business and makes heavy use of temporary workers, Amazon is a ripe target.

More flexible job regulations, introduced since 2005, have contributed to a plunge in unemployment. Germany’s 5.3 percent jobless rate is less than half the euro zone’s overall rate of 11.9 percent. But the changes are perceived by many Germans as creating a class of poorly paid workers with few protections. Amazon’s work force more than doubles every Christmas season when it hires an additional 10,000 temporary employees, many of them foreigners.

Amazon, which already pays above the union rate, has refused to negotiate with the ver.di union on wages or any other issue. But so far Amazon seems to be doing a better job than Walmart did in German public relations.

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Media Decoder Blog: The Breakfast Meeting: Comcast Buys Rest of NBCUniversal, and Sites That Appeal to Book Lovers

9:28 a.m. | Updated Comcast agreed to pay General Electric $16.7 billion to acquire their remaining 49 percent stake in NBCUniversal on Tuesday, Amy Chozick and Brian Stelter write. Brian Roberts, Comcast’s chief executive, said that the acquisition was a necessary step given the rapidly changing television business and the necessity of owning content. Comcast bought a 51 percent share in NBCUniversal in early 2011, with the option of buying the rest of the company over the next seven years; the process was accelerated at least in part by a clash in corporate cultures between G.E. and Comcast. The deal will also include 30 Rockefeller Plaza and the CNBC headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., for about $1.4 billion. Naming rights are included in the deal, so the red G.E. sign atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza could be replaced with a Comcast logo.

Web sites devoted to reviewing and recommending books have begun to fill the void left by disappearing bookstores, inconsistent book clubs and potentially suspect reviews on retail sites like The largest of these sites is, a social media site devoted to finding and sharing titles that has 15 million members and is exploding in popularity, Leslie Kaufman writes. The theory behind Goodreads and two smaller competitors, Shelfari and LibraryThing, is that people will put more faith in recommendations from a network they construct themselves. Publishers like HarperCollins now consider Goodreads a necessary part of promotion, and USA Today features Goodreads reviews on its Web site.

Streaming digital music service Slacker takes aim at much larger competitor Pandora in an online-only ad meant to highlight the differences between their approaches, Ben Sisario explains. The spot features two women in a coffee shop, one of whom opens a blue box bearing Pandora’s “P” logo, unleashing a particularly annoying song on all within earshot. “It plays that over and over again,” one of the women says to her friend, who blames Pandora’s small music library. The commercial points out that Slacker has 10 times as many songs as Pandora. The campaign will also include display ads on sites like that point out the site’s human element, like playlists created by music experts and stations featuring D.J.’s. The ads points to the difficulty in building a following as a digital music service, which often happens by word of mouth; despite its many features Slacker only has four million monthly users to Pandora’s 65 million.

Jonah Lehrer, the journalist who was fired from The New Yorker for plagiarizing published blog posts and fabricating quotes, was paid a $20,000 honorarium to appear at a journalism conference in Miami on Tuesday sponsored by the Knight Foundation. Mr. Lehrer began with a firm mea culpa, but then tended to describe his troubles as “errors” and “mistakes” rather than deception and lies, Jennifer Schuessler writes on ArtsBeat. Mr. Lehrer vowed to implement “Standard operating procedures” that, he acknowledged, most journalists already follow, if he is ever lucky enough to write again. Dylan Byers also addressed Mr. Lehrer’s talk on Politico.

The Oscars and host Seth MacFarlane are poised to help one another, Michael Cieply explains in The Carpetbagger. Henry Schafer, executive vice president for the Q Scores Company, which rates celebrity appeal among consumers, said that a new Q Score for Mr. MacFarlane was surprisingly high. Though Mr. MacFarlane is mainly known as a television writer and producer, jobs that generally lack the caché of a famous actor, he was ranked as comparable to Sally Field and Matt Damon.

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