Economist 5/27/16

  1. THANKS in part to the surge of refugees from Syria, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN’s refugee body, now puts the world’s displaced population at a post-war record of 60m, of whom 20m are stranded outside their own countries.Except for a couple of bright spots, such as the possible return of up to 6m internally displaced Colombians after a peace deal between the government and the guerrillas, the problem is getting worse. New conflicts in places like South Sudan are creating fresh refugee problems; older ones, such as Somalia’s, grind on with no solution in sight.
  2. THE alarmingly named Expropriation Bill, passed on May 26th by South Africa’s parliament, is being hailed by the ruling party as a victory for blacks who were dispossessed of their land by white colonists. More than two decades after the first democratic election of 1994, the vast majority of land is still owned by white South Africans. The African National Congress (ANC) has until now operated a “willing seller, willing buyer” policy of land reform. But this has proved slow and ineffective. Only about 8-10% of white-owned land has been transferred to black owners since the party came to power, a third of its target of 30%.The ANC is heading into municipal elections, set for August 3rd, in a weakened state. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an upstart rival that promises the nationalisation of mines and expropriation of white-owned land without compensation, has been drawing votes from poor young blacks. Through the Expropriation Bill, the ANC hopes to steal back some of its popularity.
  3. Digital music landscape continues to narrow.Google has owned YouTube—named the number one music-streaming platform since 2006. In February, YouTube spent $8m to acquire BandPage, a San Francisco start-up that helps artists sell merchandise, concert tickets and fan experiences. In 2014, Beats Music, a subscription-based streaming service, bought Topspin Media, another innovative platform that helped artists sell merchandise and albums directly to fans. A year later, Apple bought Beats Music, and then discontinued the streaming service when it launched Apple Music.Spotify is positioned in the middle, between the mammoths and the remaining few independents. To the small fry, Spotify is huge: earlier this year, the streaming and subscription service—with its 30m subscribers —raised $1 billion in debt financing, on top of the previous $1 billion raised in several rounds of equity investment.
  4. SoundCloud, launched in 2007 by two musicians, now has roughly 175m users. It has built a solid reputation for allowing for remixes, mash-ups and commenting features that proved popular for artists as well as fans.8tracks, with its pleasingly-retro name, is either the biggest of the smalls, or the smallest of the medium-sized. Each month, approximately 5m people—mostly university students—use the crowd-curated radio service, whose biggest competitors are Pandora and iHeartRadio.It is also crowdfunding, raising money by selling equity to its loyal users.Pandora has never turned a profit since going public in 2011—last week an investor encouraged the company to sell itself. Mr Porter says 8tracks has music from all over the world being packaged by users who feel those tunes are underrepresented elsewhere.The only hope for Spotify—as well as SoundCloud and 8tracks—is to offer something besides a massive catalogue; they can never outspend Apple or Google. But they can help fans—and super fans—get more connected with artists in myriad ways.
  5. Today, Kharkiv remains a litmus test for whether Ukraine can satisfy its Russian-speaking people and turn itself into a functional country.Opinions differ on how close Kharkiv came to become another breakaway “people’s republic”.Kharkiv has always been a bit grander than its coal-dusted neighbours. In the late 1800s, local coal magnates built flamboyant mansions here. Under the Soviet Union the city became a centre for advanced engineering. The loss of the Russian market has dealt a near death-blow to state-owned monoliths that were in need of modernisation anyway. The Kharkiv Tractor Plant has virtually ceased production; Turboatom, a maker of turbines for nuclear power stations, has lost the bulk of its sale.Foreigners are frightened off by Kharkiv’s proximity to the front line, and the Ukrainian new rich prefer to make quicker bucks in property or commodities.For the young engineers still pouring out of the city’s institutes, the big new industry is information technology. More than 200 IT firms employ some 14,000 software developers, and boast a roster of big-name American and European clients.
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