Economist 2/17/15

  1. FOR fashion buyers and editors, New York Fashion Week, which opens on February 12th, marks the beginning of their twice-yearly, month-long tour of the world’s main shows. London, Milan and Paris come next; and in the autumn they repeat the circuit.Fashion houses take part in them for two reasons. First, because buyers from department stores and other retailers are in the audience, ready to sign contracts if they like what they see. Second, as a broader brand-building exercise, to convince consumers that a label is still at the cutting edge. Luxury brands have been cutting out the middlemen in their distribution chains. More than 80% of the shoes, bags and other products bearing the Prada label are now sold in its own shops, compared with about 50% a decade ago.Fashions change faster than they used to: brands can no longer get by with just two collections a year.Burberry has led the way: it was one of the first to live-stream its displays, and last September it became the first to use Twitter’s “buy” function, allowing consumers to purchase items straight off the catwalk.
  2. Standing out as a book writer today requires more than a bright idea and limpid prose. Authors need to become businesspeople as well, thinking strategically about their brand, and marketing themselves and their products.Authors mostly used to rely on public-relations staff provided by the publishing house. Now, wise writers hire their own publicists,Authors must court an expanding variety of “influencers”—people whose opinions can determine a book’s success.Entrepreneurial authors find it more effective to devote themselves to a more achievable aim: getting onto the bestseller lists. The secret of such lists, the most prominent of which are those in the New York Times, is that they do not measure total sales, but their velocity. Books that fly off the shelves in their first week make the lists, and that in turn boosts their subsequent sales. Pre-orders of books all count toward the first week’s sales figures, so canny authors try to get people to buy copies in advance of publication.Eric Ries, a lecturer on entrepreneurship and innovation, went on a “pre-book” book tour to drum up interest before his work, “The Lean Startup”, even had a firm name, and started selling it online more than a year in advance of its publication.Even some of the most successful ones make most of their money from public speaking, consulting or teaching, and use the publicity gained by their books to justify higher fees.
  3. Russia is one of the three biggest military powers in the world. It has almost 3,000 tanks, many of which have been deployed near the Ukrainian border. By contrast, the entire tank force in European countries now numbers 8,000. Its armed forces number 770,000 active personnel but reservists and paramilitaries add a further 2.5m to that total. Defence spending rose by 10% in real terms annually for the three years to 2014, when it reached $70 billion, or 3.4% of its GDP. Only the United States, China and Saudi Arabia spent more.China’s submarine fleet is the biggest in the world, although only a few are nuclear-powered.
  4. GERMANY’S training for young people is medieval—in the best sense. As in the old guild system, young people wanting to join a trade, from welding to hairdressing, go through apprenticeships while completing school, earning formal qualifications.  Many attribute the country’s apprenticeship system for the country’s low youth unemployment, of just 7.4% compared with a European Union average of 21.9%. A quarter of young Germans have foreign roots, but just 15% of the companies currently running apprenticeship schemes have at least one apprentice with what German bureaucrats call a “migration background”. The biggest such group is ethnically Turkish, but the numbers also include ethnic Germans from formerly communist Europe. But when 70% of Mittelstand companies complain of a lack of skilled labour, there is all the more reason to cast a wide net.
  5. WHEN disputes arise on Wikipedia, contributors are encouraged to go to a “talk page.” But often an “edit war” ensues: a change is repeatedly done by one person and undone by another—known as a “revert.” These reverts represent the most controversial articles. Taha Yasseri of the Oxford Internet Institute and colleagues looked at Wikipedia’s different language editions from their inception (January 2001 for English) to March 2010.Americans bicker over politics and professional wrestling; among the top French squabbles is Freud. 

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