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September 2009

Kaupthing Bank promotional video: kaupthinking in retrospective

Kaupthing was the poster child for confusing audacity and financial nous with reckless growth and easy credit, says Investoralist on Twitter, and links to this brilliant must-see video.

Blogger Ultimi Barbarorum describes it thus: "Mildly tragic promotional video from Kaupthing Bank, back when Iceland was in the process of leveraging itself into, well, whatever it is now. Forget Lehmans and Bear Stearns, Kaupthing was the real poster child for the debt bubble of the mid Noughties. On Acid."

Problem is, I'd really like to believe this video. I've previously said Icelandic investment group Baugur's newspaper adventure reads like classic tale of hubris and nemesis, but I must admit that when I was younger I always used to think nemesis was rather unfair. In my mind I've archived nemesis as unjust punishment meted out by capricious gods to stop humans or other creatures, like Promotheus, from striving to be more than what they are, for enlightenment etc. But the financial mess on Iceland was very much a man-made mess, no divine retribution involved there. In retrospective, this line from the promo video explains it all: 

Kaupthinking is beyond normal thinking

Newspaper forced to put new subscribers on waiting list

On the face of it this sounds like a truly miraculous story amidst all the current  doom and gloom of the newspaper industry: Danish local Randers Amtsavis is unable to deal with the rush of new subscribers, reports

Almost 2000 new subscribers since mid-July is forcing the paper to meet subscription requests with the following message: "We're sorry, we can't give you the newspaper straight away, but we can put you on a waiting list". However, the comments reveal that these are not really new subscribers, but rather old subscribers who left the paper in droves when it changed from being a morning to evening paper five months ago, and are now returning after the paper swapped back to being a morning newspaper (the move was announced early July and made effective as of 17 August). A remarkable story nonthesame.

In the comment section one reader asks why ever the Randers Amstavis thought it a good idea to become an evening paper, to which the paper's chief-editor replies they are not too boneheaded (my hasty translation of 'stivnakkede') to admit they made a mistake.

Wikileaks, Kaupthing and the one per cent rule

Crowdsourcing is fascinating business. After Wikileaks recently published top secret information about loans made by Icelandic bank Kaupthing just before the country's economy went belly-up, interviewed one of Wikileaks' founders, Daniel Schmitt.

It's an interesting interview, worth reading in full (use Google translate if Danish is Greek to you), but I was especially taken by this part:

"The question is if people would like to be James Bond, or if they're happy just watching him on TV. People would like to read news, they sometimes even get excited about what they read, but very often they don't bother readig the documentation. As a result, we are mostly dependent on big media writing about it before people can be bothered reading the documentation." (my translation).

For those familiar with the once per cent rule, this is hardly all that suprising, but in the larger scheme of things I found it worth noting. Not at least for those who are despondent about the future of journalism (where there's demand, a need to me met, there's a market, right?).

Where Murdoch leads, others follow: paid content here we go again

'One great gap separated the advocates or charging for online content from all others, and that was its lack of recognition, its lack of respectability in the eyes of the public, and even in the most advanced circles.'

Then, in April, Rupert Murdoch stepped forward and said readers dependence on free content had to change and, lo and behold, media executives from all over the place stepped forward to praise the virtues of paid content and unveil plans to start charging for online news. At least my newsreader was abuzz with news about media execs all of a sudden coming out as staunch defenders of paid content in all the markets I follow.

A bit like my newsreader has been abuzz this week, though now with reactions to Murdoch's announcement he plans to charge for all his news websites by next summer - most of them decidedly negative: he's mad, he's wrong, what on earth is he thinking, it can never work etc. I find I can't bring myself to get too excited about having that debate again (though I did love this comment by Adam and this post by Charlie Beckett ), so I'd rather just deal with the facts: it might not work, but it will happen. I think Murdoch-biographer Michael Wolff says it well in his comment:

...[Rupert] is going to do the thing he has always done: buck convention, offend sensibilities, and not pussyfoot around. "I believe that if we're successful, we'll be followed fast by other media,” Murdoch said yesterday—which has pretty much been his method of operation in the media business. By force of will and clarity of position, he defines the world.

Now, take Mecom for instance. In Denmark the pan-European media group headed by one of Murdoch's former henchmen, David Montgomery, is ready to roll out a system for micro-payments on its news sites as early as 1 September. The company's Danish CEO, Lisbeth Knudsen, promised they would only charge for unique content, not for general news, but said they were hoping to develope a system for charging for online content that could also be used in other Mecom  countries (in Danish). Of course, despite everything (correct me if I'm, wrong, but I seem to recall Montgomery and Murdoch had some kind of fall out) Montgomery lists Murdoch as the businessman he admires the most, but other media companies have voiced similar plans, so I think we'll see plenty of more paid content experiments in action soon ...

Will I pay? Slightly different debate. Basically, I'm all with what Chris Anderson said here. I'd pay for content I can't live without, but mainstream news site currently offer very little I can't. News Corp., for one, has very little, if any, content that is specialist enough for me, my primary focus being the European media market. Mecom's Danish flagship, Berlingske Tidende, has a pretty decent media section, so perhaps ... if cost cuts don't limit its output more than it already has...

( Oh, and I found the opening quote here, and only made some slight edits to it, after I - struck by how vogue paid content all of a sudden became with media execs - googled "coming out" )

Another Icelandic Media Baron Bites the Dust

Björgólfur Gudmundsson is not only a bank chief in hot water,as The Telegraph describes him today: with his bankruptcy an era in Icelandic media history comes to an end.

Now that both Jon Asgeir Johannessen's investment vehicle Baugur and Björgólfur, also the former owner of West Ham FC, have been declared bankrupt, Iceland's media moguls are officially dead. Between them they used to control most of the tiny island's media, including leading newspapers such as Fréttablaðið, Morgunbladid and DV.

"You know, the sugar daddy behind DV and Fréttablaðið was Baugur, but the sugar daddy behind Morgunbladid was Björgólfur Guðmundsson? Every media here has its problem. We had Jon Asgeir, they have Björgólfur," said Reynir Traustason, Editor-in-chief of DV, when I interviewed him during my reporting trip to Iceland in December last year.

"Our sugar daddies are all dead", he asserted, describing Icelandic media as "alcoholics on detox" (my feature on Ragnarok for Icelandic media ran as the lead story in Journalisten's December issue, and my story on the role online media played in the "fleece revolution for can be found here). I also chronicled the Icelandic newspaper saga for IFRA Magazine last year, as the story is quite amazing.

When I interviewed Metro International's CEO Per Mikael Jensen about the company's Q2 results recently, I solicited questions on Twitter, and when I asked him if there ia a future for free newspapers in the economic downturn, given advertising is in decline - a question submitted by fellow freelance journalist Gwladys Fouché - he said those freesheet closures people referred to "that's those Icelandic guys". A bit rich given how Metro shocked the market by closing its entire Spanish operation in January, but you got to love how he phrased it:

"Remember the crazy guys from Iceland? There was a time there where all of them wanted to buy a football team or a newspaper,
" he said and remarked how Metro at least closed down Spain in a mature way (more on that here).


I'm reminded of these sculptures along the road to Keflavik Airport, some of which seemed to be close to falling down, but I have no idea what they actually represent (snapped from behind the bus window)