December 5, 2022

Sold Back to Its Founder, Frommer’s to Publish Anew

It didn’t last long.

Arthur Frommer, the 83-year-old founder of the company, announced in April that he had bought the brand back from Google, which did not publish any Frommer’s guidebooks.

Now he is moving quickly to release his first batch of books in October under a new name, FrommerMedia.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Frommer said he had struck a deal with Publishers Group West, a member of the Perseus Books Group, to distribute and help market and promote the books, a major step in reviving the publishing machine of one of the most renowned brands in the travel industry.

“I feel like I’m starting all over again,” Mr. Frommer said. “I’m working hard to bring them back to what they were.”

Mr. Frommer, often considered the father of the travel-guide business, wrote and published his first guide, “The G.I.’s Guide to Traveling in Europe,” when he was a young Army corporal living in Berlin.

That guide, turned into a book called “Europe on $5 a Day,” became a huge success. Several years later, after a brief career practicing law, Mr. Frommer began publishing more travel books, building a business to be a leader in the industry. For many years, Mr. Frommer said, the Frommer’s books made up close to 25 percent of all the travel guides sold in the United States.

He has not had direct control over the Frommer’s guides for decades. In 1977, Frommer’s was sold to Simon Schuster and later acquired by John Wiley Sons. (Mr. Frommer remained involved as a consultant.) Last year, Google paid about $23 million for the brand, saying that it would incorporate the Frommer’s content from its books, mobile apps and Web site into local reviews. This year, it sold the brand back to Mr. Frommer for an undisclosed price. By the end of 2014, Mr. Frommer expects to release as many as 80 books. Mr. Frommer and his daughter, Pauline, will be co-presidents of the company. A new series, called EasyGuides, are an answer to the increasingly lengthy travel guides on the market that Mr. Frommer said were too long to be practical.

The Frommers are restarting the publication of the guides at a difficult time in the travel-book business. Sales of travel guides have been in decline for years, publishers said, under pressure from free Web sites like TripAdvisor, VirtualTourist and Yelp.

“There’s the availability of free information on the Internet, and there’s the fewer number of brick-and-mortar stores,” said David Steinberger, the chief executive of Perseus Books Group. “But you can still have a very successful business if you have the right brand and the right content.”

Travel guides have also failed to pick up the e-book sales that could compensate for print losses; reference books are still lagging far behind most other categories, especially fiction, in e-book sales.

Mr. Frommer said he believed that in a time in which user-generated content is pervasive, there is also a demand for carefully edited information by a trusted source.

“I think there’s been a reaction to the user generation source of travel information,” he said. Most of the newly issued Frommer’s guides will be written by freelancers who live in the cities they are reviewing — unlike online reviews elsewhere, which might be written by “people who have been to one hotel in Paris in their lives.”

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You’re the Boss Blog: A Small-Business Office Is Accused of Advocating for Big Business

The Agenda

How small-business issues are shaping politics and policy.

For decades, the Office of Advocacy, a bureau within the Small Business Administration, has worked behind the scenes to soften the impact of federal regulations on small companies. It is charged with, among other responsibilities, representing “the views and interests of small businesses before other federal agencies.” To learn how regulatory policies might affect small businesses, the office regularly convenes round-table discussions with its constituents.

But before one such forum on labor safety in January 2011, an Office of Advocacy official invited a lobbyist for General Electric to participate, according to e-mails obtained by an organization known as the Center for Effective Government. “You are welcome to attend as long as you maintain a small business perspective!” the official wrote, adding the well-known emoticon to suggest winking irony. Then he wrote, “Seriously, we would very much appreciate your input and expertise!”

To some critics, the participation of G.E., one of the biggest corporations in America, in a meeting ostensibly about small-business concerns is one example of a larger concern about the Office of Advocacy. These critics suggest that — just as other divisions of the S.B.A. have come in for criticism about looking the other way as big companies get government contracts or increased access to government-guaranteed loans — the office has provided big businesses with a back door into the government’s rule-making deliberations.

With a staff of 47 and a budget of $9 million — and its own appropriation, separate from the rest of the S.B.A. — the office is tasked with making sure that other agencies consider the impact of their regulations on small businesses under procedures set by federal laws, particularly the Regulatory Flexibility Act, and prods those agencies to find alternatives to minimize that impact.

Not surprisingly, that kind of prodding has its fans. “The Office of Advocacy continues to be the only voice within the federal government actively advocating to alleviate that burden,” Susan Eckerly, senior vice president for public policy at the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement. The N.F.I.B. is a conservative trade association that generally takes little interest in the activities of the S.B.A., but it came to the Office of Advocacy’s defense recently after two organizations separately published critical reports on the office. “In our many years of working with the Office of Advocacy,” Ms. Eckerly said, “we have found them to take great pains to ensure they are representing the views of small businesses that otherwise would have no voice in the rule-making process.”

The office claims to have saved small businesses more than $88 billion in just the first-year costs of complying with new regulations since 2002. For example, in 2011 the Justice Department adopted a proposal from the office to allow companies to avoid having to comply with new standards under the Americans With Disabilities Act — a change the office has claimed saved small businesses $8.3 billion. In this example and others, however, it is impossible to know whether the impetus for the rule change came from the Office of Advocacy or elsewhere.

Some critics of the Office of Advocacy maintain it goes beyond its mandate and exhibits a general hostility toward regulation. They blame the office and the Regulatory Flexibility Act for delaying regulations by months, or even years, and for weakening the final policies. And in their reports, the Center for Effective Government and the Center for Progressive Reform claim the office works too closely with large corporations and the trade associations that represent them.

For example, in 2010 and 2011 the Office of Advocacy criticized efforts at other agencies to lay the groundwork for regulating three hazardous chemicals, citing the concerns of small businesses. But based on e-mails and other documents obtained from the office through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Center for Effective Government concluded that the office entered into these three scientific debates at the behest of trade groups, principally the American Chemistry Council, and relied on them extensively — if not exclusively — to frame its line of attack.

“No small businesses objected to the scientific assessments or asked the Office of Advocacy to intervene in the cancer assessments,” Randy Rabinowitz, the center’s director of regulatory policy, wrote in the report. “The Office of Advocacy made no effort to determine whether the positions it took represented small-business views and interests.”

Moreover, according to the Center for Progressive Reform report, the S.B.A. office “commonly seeks to weaken the requirements of proposed rules for all affected entities” instead of proposing rule changes narrowly tailored to small companies. Indeed, in at least four of the six rules established in 2012 in which the Office of Advocacy claims cost savings for small businesses, the office pushed changes that would benefit all businesses, not just small ones. In another case, the office proposed increasing the small-business size standards set by the S.B.A. to accommodate larger businesses.

Brad Howard, a spokesman for the Office of Advocacy, said in an e-mail that “our sole focus and Congressional mandate is and always has been on minimizing the burden on small businesses.” But, he said, “occasionally, these alternatives benefit everyone.” And the office’s work with trade groups “is only part of the picture,” adding that staff members of the office also talk directly with small companies.

Trade associations are essential to the Office of Advocacy’s efforts to understand how regulations might affect small companies, said Thomas M. Sullivan, a Washington lawyer who served as chief counsel for the office during the Bush administration. “Do you know how hard it is to find an independent trucker and get them to read an 800-page Federal Register proposal? They just don’t have time!” he said.

Of course, the interests of small and large companies may coincide, even when small companies are granted preferential treatment. A handful of large companies make the chemical styrene, and thousands of small companies use it to manufacture other products. All could face consequences if the Health and Human Services Department labels it a cancer risk. The fact that no small businesses complained to the office about the assessment for styrene, or submitted comments while the Health and Human Services Department was preparing its report, could indicate lack of interest or, as Mr. Sullivan, the former chief counsel, suggested, lack of time or awareness.

Ms. Rabinowitz, of the Center for Effective Government, sees it differently. The Office of Advocacy was set up to give voice to businesses that otherwise would not have one. “But in the cases we’ve looked at, and the cases C.P.R. has looked at, apparently, Advocacy is not voicing any unique small-business perspective,” she said. “The American Chemistry Council is adequately, legitimately and loudly representing the interests of the chemical companies — they’re a big player in these debates.

“As a matter of policy, why is the taxpayer subsidizing an office of the federal government to amplify their complaints?”

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Olympus Whistleblower Woodford Quits Board

Woodford said his exit from the board, about seven weeks after he raised the alarm over accounting tricks at the maker of cameras and medical equipment, would enable a clean-out of directors and pave the way for his own return to the top job.

“Let me make it explicitly clear: I am not walking away from Olympus,” Woodford said in a statement issued in New York, where he had met Federal Bureau of Investigations officials probing the Olympus scandal, which involved some U.S. firms.

“I would like nothing more than to return to Olympus and lead it towards achieving this status (of a world-class organisation),” added the Englishman, who was a rare foreign CEO in Japan before his sacking from the top job in mid-October.

“However, in the absence of a shareholder vote enabling me to do this, I am committed to ensuring that Olympus has the best possible opportunity to succeed going forward, starting with a new and untainted board of directors, and I believe my resignation is necessary in this context.”

“Following my resignation, I intent to liaise with all interested stakeholders with a view to formulating a proposal for the constitution of a new board,” he added.


Olympus has lost more than half its market value since firing Woodford on October 14, an event that prompted him to go public with concerns he said he had been raising internally over a string of dubious acquisition payments dating back five years.

Sacked as CEO, Woodford remained a board director, however.

The company admitted last month to hiding investment losses from its investors for two decades and using some of $1.3 billion (828.3 million pounds) spent on questionable deals to aid in the cover-up.

The stock rose 6 percent in morning trade after Woodford’s statement, though the firm still faces heavy writedowns and possible delisting from the Tokyo stock market, a humiliation that could put it under pressure to sell core assets.

Authorities in Japan, Britain and the United States are still trying to get to the bottom of the complex cover-up.

An investigative panel of experts, set up by Olympus after the scandal broke, is due to report its findings within days

Some of Olympus’s big cornerstone shareholders have cut their stakes in the 92-year-old company, joining an initial rush of selling that also left Wall Street bank, Goldman Sachs, a market-maker in the stock, with a large holding.

Goldman Sachs recently emerged with nearly 7 percent of the stock, currently worth more than $200 million, and said the holding was not strategic — a development that could further erode shareholder support for the existing Olympus board, which wants to preside over the initial clean-up.

Nippon Life Insurance Co, previously Olympus’s biggest shareholder, said last week it would continue to support Olympus, though it had cut its holding to 5.11 percent from 8.18 percent, according to a regulatory filing on November 17.

Big foreign investors, by contrast, have called for Woodford to come back and lead a clean-up of the company and want the current board to leave, but they have so failed to convene an urgent shareholder meeting to force the issue.

The biggest foreign shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, with about 5 percent, has supported Woodford’s call for a board overhaul. And UK fund manager Baillie Gifford Co, with about 4 percent, wants him reinstated as CEO.

Woodford himself is clearly on a mission, and says he is digging deep into his own savings to fund his campaign to return to the helm of the company where he had spent three decades.

He told Reuters in an interview in New York that his legal bills were the biggest drain on his resources.

“They (his law firms) are all being reasonable. They understand I am not a corporation. But nevertheless, if you don’t have any income coming in, and you have school fees to pay …it is a heavy burden,” he said.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly)

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Economix Blog: The Top 1%: Executives, Doctors and Bankers

The “99-percenters” protesting at Occupy Wall Street should think about occupying the C-suites across America as well, at least if their primary complaint is about income inequality.



Dollars to doughnuts.

That is one implication of this fascinating paper on the occupations of the top 1 percent of Americans, which I came across via Mike Konczal. The paper is by Jon Bakija of Williams College, Adam Cole of the Treasury Department and Bradley T. Heim of Indiana University, and is based on tax data from 2005 (so, before the financial crisis).

It finds that about a third of Americans in that top percentile were executives, managers and supervisors who work outside of finance. The next biggest share, at 15.7 percent, went to medical professionals, followed by those in financial services with 13.9 percent.

The share of 1-percenters who work in finance has been rising, as you can see. In 1979, the earliest year analyzed, just 7.7 percent of those at the top percentile worked in finance, about half the share in 2005.

As we’ve written many times over, the total share of income going to the top 1 percent has increased in recent decades. In 2005, the top 1 percent of earners received 16.97 percent of total income distributed to all households across the United States.

The C-suiters accounted for about a third of that chunk received by the top percentile. Put another way, the nonfinance executives, managers and supervisors at the very top of the income distribution received 6.35 percent of all income received by all Americans in 2005.

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Food Inflation Kept Hidden in Tinier Bags

As an expected increase in the cost of raw materials looms for late summer, consumers are beginning to encounter shrinking food packages.

With unemployment still high, companies in recent months have tried to camouflage price increases by selling their products in tiny and tinier packages. So far, the changes are most visible at the grocery store, where shoppers are paying the same amount, but getting less.

For Lisa Stauber, stretching her budget to feed her nine children in Houston often requires careful monitoring at the store. Recently, when she cooked her usual three boxes of pasta for a big family dinner, she was surprised by a smaller yield, and she began to suspect something was up.

“Whole wheat pasta had gone from 16 ounces to 13.25 ounces,” she said. “I bought three boxes and it wasn’t enough — that was a little embarrassing. I bought the same amount I always buy, I just didn’t realize it, because who reads the sizes all the time?”

Ms. Stauber, 33, said she began inspecting her other purchases, aisle by aisle. Many canned vegetables dropped to 13 or 14 ounces from 16; boxes of baby wipes went to 72 from 80; and sugar was stacked in 4-pound, not 5-pound, bags, she said.

Five or so years ago, Ms. Stauber bought 16-ounce cans of corn. Then they were 15.5 ounces, then 14.5 ounces, and the size is still dropping. “The first time I’ve ever seen an 11-ounce can of corn at the store was about three weeks ago, and I was just floored,” she said. “It’s sneaky, because they figure people won’t know.”

In every economic downturn in the last few decades, companies have reduced the size of some products, disguising price increases and avoiding comparisons on same-size packages, before and after an increase. Each time, the marketing campaigns are coy; this time, the smaller versions are “greener” (packages good for the environment) or more “portable” (little carry bags for the takeout lifestyle) or “healthier” (fewer calories).

Where companies cannot change sizes — as in clothing or appliances — they have warned that prices will be going up, as the costs of cotton, energy, grain and other raw materials are rising.

“Consumers are generally more sensitive to changes in prices than to changes in quantity,” John T. Gourville, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, said. “And companies try to do it in such a way that you don’t notice, maybe keeping the height and width the same, but changing the depth so the silhouette of the package on the shelf looks the same. Or sometimes they add more air to the chips bag or a scoop in the bottom of the peanut butter jar so it looks the same size.”

Thomas J. Alexander, a finance professor at Northwood University, said that businesses had little choice these days when faced with increases in the costs of their raw goods. “Companies only have pricing power when wages are also increasing, and we’re not seeing that right now because of the high unemployment,” he said. 

Most companies reduce products quietly, hoping consumers are not reading labels too closely.

But the downsizing keeps occurring. A can of Chicken of the Sea albacore tuna is now packed at 5 ounces, instead of the 6-ounce version still on some shelves, and in some cases, the 5-ounce can costs more than the larger one. Bags of Doritos, Tostitos and Fritos now hold 20 percent fewer chips than in 2009, though a spokesman said those extra chips were just a “limited time” offer.

Trying to keep customers from feeling cheated, some companies are introducing new containers that, they say, have terrific advantages — and just happen to contain less product.

Kraft is introducing “Fresh Stacks” packages for its Nabisco Premium saltines and Honey Maid graham crackers. Each has about 15 percent fewer crackers than the standard boxes, but the price has not changed. Kraft says that because the Fresh Stacks include more sleeves of crackers, they are more portable and “the packaging format offers the benefit of added freshness,” said Basil T. Maglaris, a Kraft spokesman, in an e-mail.

And Procter Gamble is expanding its “Future Friendly” products, which it promotes as using at least 15 percent less energy, water or packaging than the standard ones.

“They are more environmentally friendly, that’s true — but they’re also smaller,” said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner for retail systems research at, an online specialist network. “They announce it as great new packaging, and in fact what it is is smaller packaging, smaller amounts of the product,” she said.

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Special Section: Your Taxes: Help on the 1040 and Beyond

A Marks  Spencer ad by WPP Group, which left Britain as its base. Stung by such exits, the nation is cutting corporate tax rates.

The Push to Trim Corporate Tax Rates

Advocates of lower rates point to other nations that have tackled the issue in the last two decades. But several hurdles, both fiscal and political, need to be cleared before any change occurs.

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