Tag Archives: All Things Digital

Mr. Sulzberger, Tear Down This Wall

Jeremy W. Peters at NYT:

The New York Times rolled out a plan on Thursday to begin charging the most frequent users of its Web site $15 for a four-week subscription in a bet that readers will pay for news they have grown accustomed to getting free.

Beginning March 28, visitors to NYTimes.com will be able to read 20 articles a month without paying, a limit that company executives said was intended to draw in subscription revenue from the most loyal readers while not driving away the casual visitors who make up a vast majority of the site’s traffic.

Once readers click on their 21st article, they will have the option of buying one of three digital news packages — $15 every four weeks for access to the Web site and a mobile phone app, $20 for Web access and an iPad app or $35 for an all-access plan.

All subscribers who receive the paper through home delivery will have free and unlimited access across all Times digital platforms except, for now, e-readers like the AmazonKindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. Subscribers to The International Herald Tribune, which is The Times’s global edition, will also have free digital access.

“A few years ago it was almost an article of faith that people would not pay for the content they accessed via the Web,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company, said in his annual State of The Times remarks, which were delivered to employees Thursday morning.

Felix Salmon:

Rather than take full advantage of their ability to change the numbers over time, the NYT seems to have decided they’re going to launch at the kind of levels they want to see over the long term. Which is a bit weird. Instead, the NYT has sent out an email to its “loyal readers” that they’ll get “a special offer to save on our new digital subscriptions” come March 28. This seems upside-down to me: it’s the loyal readers who are most likely to pay premium rates for digital subscriptions, while everybody else is going to need a special offer to chivvy them along.

This paywall is anything but simple, with dozens of different variables for consumers to try to understand. Start with the price: the website is free, so long as you read fewer than 20 items per month, and so are the apps, so long as you confine yourself to the “Top News” section. You can also read articles for free by going in through a side door. Following links from Twitter or Facebook or Reuters.com should never be a problem, unless and until you try to navigate away from the item that was linked to.

Beyond that, $15 per four-week period gives you access to the website and also its smartphone app, while $20 gives you access to the website also its iPad app. But if you want to read the NYT on both your smartphone and your iPad, you’ll need to buy both digital subscriptions separately, and pay an eye-popping $35 every four weeks. That’s $455 a year.

The message being sent here is weird: that access to the website is worth nothing. Mathematically, if A+B=$15, A+C=$20, and A+B+C=$35, then A=$0.

Andrew Sullivan:

We remain parasitic on the NYT and other news sites; and I should add I regard the NYT website as the best news site in the world; without it, we would be lost. But like most parasites, we also perform a service for our hosts. We direct readers to content we think matters. So we add to the NYT’s traffic and readership.

But what makes this exception even more interesting is that, if I read it correctly, it almost privileges links from blogs and social media against more direct access. Which makes it a gift to the blogosphere. Anyway, that’s my first take: and it’s one of great relief. We all want to keep the NYT in business (well, almost all of us). But we also don’t want to see it disappear behind some Great NewsCorp-Style Paywall. It looks to me as if they have gotten the balance just about right.

MG Siegler at Tech Crunch:

There are a lot of interesting angles to the news this morning about The New York Times’ new paywall. Top news will remain free, a set number of articles for all users will remain free, there will be different pricing tiers for different devices, NYT is fine with giving Apple a 30 percent cut, etc, etc. But to me, the most interesting aspect is only mentioned briefly about halfway down the NYT announcement article: all those who come to the New York Times via Facebook or Twitter will be allowed to read for free. There will be no limit to this.

Up until now, we’ve seen paywall enthusiasts like The Wall Street Journal offer such loopholes. But they’ve done so via Google. It’s a trick that most web-savvy news consumers know. Is a WSJ article behind a paywall? Just Google the title of it. Click on the resulting link and boom, free access to the entire thing. No questions asked. This new NYT model is taking that idea and flipping it.

The Google loophole will still be in play — but only for five articles a day. It’s not clear how they’re going to monitor this (cookies? logins?), but let’s assume for now that somehow they’ll be able to in an effective way. For most readers, the five article limit will likely be more than enough. But that’s not the important thing. What’s interesting is that the NYT appears to be saying two things. First, this action says that spreading virally on social networks like Twitter and Facebook is more important to them than the resulting traffic from Google. And second, this is a strategic bet that they likely believe will result in the most vocal people on the web being less pissed off.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

Here are some predictions about the #nytpaywall:

1. No one will be able to figure out how it works. Quick: How many links did you follow to the NYT last month? I’ll bet you a testicle* that you can’t remember. And even if you could remember, could you tell me what proportion of them originated as a social media or search-engine link?

2. Further to that, people frequently visit the NYT without meaning to, just by following a shortened link. Oftentimes, these links go to stories you’ve already read (after all, you’ve already found someone else’s description of the story interesting enough to warrant a click, so odds are high that a second or even a third ambiguous description of the same piece might attract your click), but which may or may not be “billed” to your 20-freebies limit for the month

3. And this means that lots of people are going to greet the NYT paywall with eye-rolling and frustration: You stupid piece of technology, what do you mean I’ve seen 20 stories this month? This is exactly the wrong frame of mind to be in when confronted with a signup page (the correct frame of mind to be in on that page is, Huh, wow, I got tons of value from the Times this month. Of course I’m going to sign up!)

4. Which means that lots of people will take countermeasures to beat the #nytpaywall. The easiest of these, of course, will be to turn off cookies so that the Times’s site has no way to know how many pages you’ve seen this month

5. Of course, the NYT might respond by planting secret permacookies, using Flash cookies, browser detection, third-party beacons, or secret ex-Soviet vat-grown remote-sensing psychics. At the very minimum, the FTC will probably be unamused to learn that the Grey Lady is actively exploiting browser vulnerabilities (or, as the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse statute puts it, “exceeding authorized access” on a remote system — which carries a 20 year prison sentence, incidentally)

6. Even if some miracle of regulatory capture and courtroom ninjarey puts them beyond legal repercussions for this, the major browser vendors will eventually patch these vulnerabilities

7. And even if that doesn’t work, someone clever will release one or more of: a browser redirection service that pipes links to nytimes.com through auto-generated tweets, creating valid Twitter referrers to Times stories that aren’t blocked by the paywall; or write a browser extension that sets “referer=twitter.com/$VALID_TWEET_GUID”, or some other clever measure that has probably already been posted to the comments below

8. The Times isn’t stupid. They’ll build all kinds of countermeasures to detect and thwart cookie-blocking, referer spoofing, and suchlike. These countermeasures will either be designed to err on the side of caution (in which case they will be easy to circumvent) or to err on the side of strictness — in which case they will dump an increasing number of innocent civilians into the “You’re a freeloader, pay up now” page, which is no way to convert a reader to a customer

Yes, I was going to hate this paywall no matter what the NYT did. News is a commodity: as a prolific linker, I have lots of choice about where I link to my news and the site that make my readers shout at me about a nondeterministic paywall that unpredictably swats them away isn’t going to get those links. Leave out the hard news and you’ve got opinion, and there’s no shortage of free opinion online. Some of it is pretty good (and some of what the Times publishes as opinion is pretty bad).

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

The Times will put up its paywall in 11 days, on March 28th. It promises to comply with Apple’s subscription terms by making “1-click purchase available in the App Store by June 30 to ensure that readers can continue to access Times apps on Apple devices.”

And as previously announced, this isn’t a formal payall. Or, at least, it’s a porous one.

Anyone can use the Times’ Web site to read up to 20 articles a month for free. And if you’ve surpassed your monthly limit, you’ll still be able to read Times articles if you’ve been sent there from referring sites like Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else on the Web. The Times says it will place a five-article-per-day limit on Google referrals, however; it’s currently the only search engine with that limit, Murphy says.

To spell that out: If you want to game the Times’ paywall, just use Microsoft’s Bing. For now, at least.

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And The Dry Erase Board Is Represented By William Morris, Too

Leo at The Chive:

We received the following photos last night from a person who works with this girl. Her name is Jenny (not confirmed) – we’re working our contact for Jenny’s last name. Yesterday morning, Jenny quit her job with a (flash)bang by emailing these photos to the entire office, about 20 employees we’re told. Awesome doesn’t begin to describe this office heroine. Check back as we will be updating if we get more details.

Jessica Pressler at New York Magazine:

It’s probably fake — there’s something super actressy-looking about this girl, and the change of clothes at the end is weird — but it’s still good fodder for the cubicle-bound masses who have been secretly fantasizing about what form they might use in their own dramatic exit — YouTube? Skywriting? Jumbotron?

Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

Yesterday, everyone on the Internet loved Steve Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who quit his job by cursing out his passengers and bolting out of his plane using the emergency slide.

Today, our favorite job quitter is “Jenny”–”a girl” who left her job by sending co-workers a series of photos where she uses a whiteboard to insult her boss and expose his fondness for Farmville.

We know that the Steve Slater story is true. But what about Jenny’s story?

Almost certainly made up.

The story showed up this morning on theChive.com, a dude-centric site run by brothers John and Leo Resig, who own a series of photo/humor sites. (That’s Leo on the left.) Before that, the Resigs ran a site called Derober, which features doctored photos of celebrities in their underwear.

And Derober’s moment in the spotlight came back in December 2007, when it made up a story about Donald Trump leaving a $10,000 tip on a $82.27 bill. The story was convincing enough to fool Fox News and the New York Post (both of which are owned by News Corp., which also owns this site).

So Jenny is a fake, too. Right, Leo Resig?

No, Resig says over the phone. “Jenny’s very real.”

Really? Really, Resig says.

He says Jenny is with his brother John at this very moment, and that the three of them are trying to figure out the best way to identify her and tell her story.

Jay Leno wants Jenny on his show, Leo Resig says. “Good Morning America” wants her, too. He’s not sure the best way to proceed, because “we’re trying to be respectful of that girl.”

But don’t worry, Leo says. The brothers plan on identifying Jenny “tomorrow morning around 10 am. We’re not exactly sure who or how we’re going to release it. Obviously it will be on thechive.com as well.”

Okay. But you’re the same guys who gave us the Donald Trump story, and that was fake. Is this one different?

Pause. “Good homework. That was a good time.”

Ah. So is Jenny’s story real, then? “This one is to be determined. People are kind of making up their own stories.”

James Joyner:

Aside from the Resig brothers connection, there are all manner of indications that the story is dubious.

  • The posing and photo quality are both professional
  • Why would a boss spying on his employee’s Internet habits give the codes to his secretary?
  • Why would Jenny think being a secretary was a route to becoming a broker?
  • Why would she consider being referred to as a HOPA grounds for quitting?
  • Why does she think HOPA and HPOA are the same thing, anyway?
  • It’s plausible that a broker is spending a lot of time on Scottrade.  But Farmville?  Seriously?
  • The story was “broken” on a professional comedy site

It’s amazing how often these things go viral without people getting suspicious.

Ryan Tate at Gawker:

Their near-certain hoax will provoke some outrage, but the Resigs should get some credit for supplying the world with yet another bizarre story to laugh at this week. That’s no small accomplishment, even if it did mean suckering everyone into trusting two known media pranksters.

Chris Matyszczyk at Cnet:

Porterfield, 22, is already on Twitter at Twitter.com/officialelyse. And the only tweet she would offer about her little hoax with TheChive is: “Yes, I am Jenny (the dry-erase board HPOA) 🙂 Thanks to the creative and amazing duo John and Leo Resig at TheChive.com.” I am sure she now has very good agents.

Part of the fascination of Jenny’s fictitious story is that it coincided with the real story of a JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, who, having been allegedly cursed out by a passenger, announced that he was quitting just after his plane had landed, proceeding to sweep down the emergency slide, only to be subsequently arrested.

Slater has also become a hero. He now enjoys more than 120,000 friends and supporters on Facebook.

Working people who feel they have been squeezed a little too much, a little too often, may find that the only way to receive some modicum of revenge–or even a sympathetic audience–is on the vast, (currently) open support group that is the Web. This should make it quite fun for everyone else.

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Gawker And Apple, Yet Again

Ryan Tate at Gawker:

Apple has suffered another embarrassment. A security breach has exposed iPad owners including dozens of CEOs, military officials, and top politicians. They—and every other buyer of the cellular-enabled tablet—could be vulnerable to spam marketing and malicious hacking.

The breach, which comes just weeks after an Apple employee lost an iPhone prototype in a bar, exposed the most exclusive email list on the planet, a collection of early-adopter iPad 3G subscribers that includes thousands of A-listers in finance, politics and media, from New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson to Diane Sawyer of ABC News to film mogul Harvey Weinstein to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It even appears that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s information was compromised.

It doesn’t stop there. According to the data we were given by the web security group that exploited vulnerabilities on the AT&T network, we believe 114,000 user accounts have been compromised, although it’s possible that confidential information about every iPad 3G owner in the U.S. has been exposed. We contacted Apple for comment but have yet to hear back. We also reached out to AT&T for comment. [Update: AT&T has confirmed the breach and the FBI has opened an investigation. Updates below.] A call to Rahm Emanuel’s office at the White House has not been returned.

Taylor Buley at Forbes:

Gawker contributor Ryan Tate set the Web ablaze on Wednesday with a blog post detailing the alleged breach of 114,000 iPad users’ email addresses. The post named names: among them, executives at News Corp, The New York Times Company and Dow Jones.

According to “Weev,” a well known Internet “activist” who we likened to Shakespeare’s Puck after a baffling Amazon.com security incident last year, the “Goatse” security group alerted various members of the mainstream press via email before granting Gawker’s Tate an exclusive on the data.

“i disclosed this to other press organizations first (ones who had ipad users affected by the breach, lol) and was ignored,” writes Weev in an email. “gawker found out and ran with it immediately.”

To prove it, Weev sent Forbes copies of emails sent to press at Reuters, News Corp, The Washington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle. The veracity of the emails has not been confirmed, but each has a timestamp dating back to Sunday night.

[…]

Asked if Gawker paid for the scoop, Weev said the publication did not provide remuneration. “we did a benefit analysis and decided they could take our story viral the fastest,” he writes in an email.

Hello Reuters!

An information leak on AT&T’s network allows severe privacy violations to iPad 3G users. Your iPad’s unique network identifiers were pulled straight out of AT&T’s database.

Every GSM device (including 3G iPads), has an ICC-ID on its SIM card. This ICC-ID is a unique identifier to the cellular network that is used by the carrier to route calls to your cellphone. If this ICC-ID is compromised an attacker could theoretically (thanks to recent cryptanalysis that cracked GSM’s hash and stream functions) clone your SIM card to act as you on the AT&T network.

Devin, the iPad you registered to your email has the ICC-ID of 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx94.
Shannon, yours is 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx73.
James, yours is 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx74.
Carl, yours is 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx72.
David, yours is 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx71.
Neil, yours is 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx05.
Rob, yours is 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx03.
Joseph, yours is 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx11.
Mike, yours is 8901xxxxxxxxxxxxxx57.

You can locate your ICC-ID number of your iPad and verify this information by using the following item from Apple’s FAQ:
http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4061
There is nothing in Apple’s SDK APIs that would allow an application to have this identifier– it is a shared secret that should indicate physical proximity to the iPad. In addition, by harvesting ICC-IDs, an attacker can build a complete list of contact information for all iPad 3G customers. All these Thomson Reuters employees were revealed in a short data harvest by my working group along with hundreds of thousands of other iPad 3G customers.

If anyone in your organization would like to discuss this particular issue for publication I would be absolutely happy to describe the method of theft in more detail.

Have a good evening.

John Hudson at The Atlantic

David Coldewey at Crunch Gear:

he hackers, a group known as Goatse Security (I’ll let you work out the reasoning for the name yourself), organized a brute-force attack in which they pummeled a public AT&T script with semirandom ICC-ID numbers, which would return nothing if invalid but an email address if valid. A few hours later, they had the ICC-IDs and email addresses of everyone from Michael Bloomberg and Diane Sawyer to a Mr. Eldredge, who commands a fleet of B-1 bombers.As is occasionally the case with grey-hat hacker actions like this, the hack seems to have been executed first and AT&T notified shortly afterward — though not before an unknown number of third parties had access to the script. AT&T closed the hole immediately (it was as simple as turning off the script), and apologized as follows:

AT&T was informed by a business customer on Monday of the potential exposure of their iPad ICC IDS. The only information that can be derived from the ICC IDS is the e-mail address attached to that device.

This issue was escalated to the highest levels of the company and was corrected by Tuesday; and we have essentially turned off the feature that provided the e-mail addresses.

The person or group who discovered this gap did not contact AT&T.

We are continuing to investigate and will inform all customers whose e-mail addresses and ICC IDS may have been obtained.

We take customer privacy very seriously and while we have fixed this problem, we apologize to our customers who were impacted.

Impacted. Like wisdom teeth. Why not “affected?” Anyway, I notice they say they were not contacted by the group but by some business customer. The timing isn’t clear from the Gawker article, but I wonder if there’s a little more to this than anyone cares to admit. Groups like Goatse often warn their targets beforehand, but it seems like one or the other would have mentioned that if it happened. You’d think a company as exposed as AT&T would have bells on its scripts that would ring if suddenly requests increased by 1000%, but practices like that are perhaps too much to be expected.

Jason O’Grady at ZDNet:

Even worse is the potential security threat this could expose to members of the military that adopted the iPad. On the list are several devices registered to the domain of DARPA, the advanced research division of the Department of Defense, including William Eldredge, who “commands the largest operational B-1 [strategic bomber] group in the U.S. Air Force.”

Um, yeah. It’s that bad.

Media moguls and celebrities are one thing, but I’m guessing that the government and military users are taking this one pretty seriously too.I’m guessing that Al Qaeda would pay big bucks to have access to Eldridge’s iPad 3G?

According to data furnished to Gawker by the Web security group that exploited vulnerabilities on the AT&T network at least 114,000 user accounts have been compromised, although it’s possible that confidential information about every U.S. iPad 3G owner in the U.S. has been exposed.

Tony Bradley at PC World:

In truth, there was nothing elite (or ‘l33t’ in hacker speak) about the iPad 3G data leak. In fact, according to an interview on CBS News by Larry Magid with Goatse Security analyst Jim Jeffers, the security researchers more or less stumbled upon the authentication glitch. Jeffers said the exploit “was almost discovered by accident. One of our employees is an iPad 3G subscriber, and he noticed it in the process of the normal user experience of this device. It was something he just noticed as he was using it.”

Sort of like how finding and taking a car with the driver’s door open, keys in the ignition, and engine on does not make one an elite car thief. The lesson for IT administrators is to be more vigilant about closing these holes and making sure that the car door isn’t open, with the keys in the ignition, and the engine on–especially for Web-facing servers.

There is an entire genre of hacking dedicated to finding sensitive or confidential data inadvertently exposed to the Web. The book Google Hacking by Johnny Long, and the accompanying online Google Hacking Database, list hundreds of search queries that can be used to ferret out juicy information not meant for public consumption. It is actually not unique to Google. It should be called “Web search hacking”, but Google is essentially synonymous with Web search and “Google hacking” has a better ring to it.

George Kurtz, McAfee CTO and proud owner of not one, but two iPads, provides a detailed analysis of the iPad 3G data leak in which he ponders, “why is there such a dust storm over the recent AT&T/Apple iPad disclosure of 114,000 iPad owners and is it warranted?”

Kara Swisher at All Things Digital:

Now the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the AT&T breach, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, in what seems to be an early probe.

Oooh, the Feds are involved now.

I wish I could say it will make a difference. Because it won’t.

In fact, coming on the heels of privacy controversies at Facebook and Google (GOOG), it’s just another log on the digital fire that has been burning up privacy for a very long time now.

And now more than ever, it is part of a massive confluence of trends, including:

Consumers more interested than ever in sharing information about themselves in order to make ever better social networking connections online; a plethora of innovative devices–mostly mobile–and Internet tools available to seamlessly and easily allow those consumers to do so; and, perhaps most of all, Internet companies intent on hoovering up as much information as possible, in order to garner more consumers and sell it to advertisers.

In large part, this is all well and good, creating a range of valuable and entertaining services at little or no cost and making the computing experience more personal and relevant.

Because of that, I have to admit I was less tweaked than I thought I would be, although I wish I were not.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose email was also compromised, expressed the feeling best.

“It shouldn’t be pretty hard to figure out my email address,” he was quoted saying in the Journal article. “To me, it wasn’t that big a deal.”

That’s because all of us are thinking less that such information is private or will remain that way for long.

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Are They Birds Of A Feather And Do They Fly Together?

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

When will Comcast and GE’s NBCU finally unveil their hook-up plans? When Vivendi says they can.

The former French water utility has the ability to hold up the deal due to its 20 percent stake in NBCU and a put option that gives it the right to sell the stake back to back to GE (GE), hang on to it or take the thing public.

There’s no reason for Vivendi to do anything but the first option, but the company is not going to come out and say so, which means that negotiations for GE to buy the stake aren’t going as fast as it or Comcast (CMCSA) would like. Vivendi itself wrote down the value of the stake by a few billion earlier this year, but that was then, and this is now.

Sam Gustin at Daily Finance:

How fitting that NBC, perhaps the most distinguished TV brand in the world, would become controlled by Comcast, a company that provides TV programming on cable — a medium that was once once scorned by the legacy networks, but now appears to have supplanted their one-time dominance. In a way, Comcast’s deal to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal represents one of the final nails in the coffin of the Big 3 networks’ 50-year monopoly of the TV business.

Among the complex deal’s basic outlines are the following. Comcast will contribute cash and its cable channels. GE will raise several billion dollars in debt and buy out Vivendi’s 20% stake. GE will then sell 51% of its newly full ownership stake to Comcast. GE will contribute the NBC Universal assets and pass on to the joint venture some additional debt.

The deal will value NBC Universal at “about” $30 billion, but that could change as the final valuations of the various components are hammered out, according to a source with knowledge of the talks.

It’s entirely possible that NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker, as well as “a good portion of their management team” — could stay on to run the joint venture, but it’s too early to know for sure, and no decisions have been made.

Diane Mermigas at Seeking Alpha:

It could just be posturing, but Vivendi (VIVEF.PK) says it is in no hurry to sell its 20 percent stake in NBC Universal, which would trigger a $30 billion deal to make Comcast (CMSCA) the majority owner. Even if the transaction does not occur, there will be interesting fallout.

Vivendi is in talks to unload its minority stake to the highest bidder. That could be NBCU co-owner General Electric (GE), a third party, or the public (in a stock offering). Vivendi has until 2012 to sell its stake during an annual window from Nov. 15 to Dec. 10. Sources close to the deal say cash-strapped GE would place $12 billion against the new NBCU to buy out Vivendi. GE would be a minority owner in NBCU with Comcast.

Vivendi Chief Financial Officer Philippe Capron said today no decision has been made yet about the “complex” situation. “We have never been closer to the end of the story. It’s in the future, but I can’t comment on the timing or the likelihood of what will happen,” Capron said at the Morgan stanley Technology, Media and Telecoms Conference in Barcelona.

Huffington Post:

Media mogul John Malone said Thursday that Comcast Corp.’s plan to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal would give it too much market power and force competitors to consider similar acquisitions.

Comcast Corp. – the nation’s largest cable TV provider – is in talks to buy a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. GE is negotiating to buy back Vivendi SA’s 20 percent ownership in NBC Universal and then sell a majority stake to Comcast.

Malone, who is chairman of Liberty Media Corp., which has a controlling stake in satellite TV carrier DirecTV Group Inc., said GE did not approach him about investing in NBC Universal.

“It was developed very quietly between Comcast and GE and they did not seek any other,” Malone told The Associated Press on Thursday.

UPDATE: John Hudson at The Atlantic

UPDATE #2: Tim Arango at NYT

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Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

Xbox Freedom:

The Fab Four have made their way into the Beatles Rock Band the Video Game and now take another entrance into gaming with this fabulous Xbox 360 Mod created and painted in tribute to the Fab Four and the new video game.

Game Guru

Josh Hathaway at Blogcritics:

It’s Beatlemania one more time and I get to be a part of it. The New Album Releases column existed before I entered the picture and I’ve pretty much held to the format used by others since taking over, but I shall, from time to time, declare a special occasion and do something different. This week is one of those occasions.

Like Brian Wilson, I sometimes wonder if I was made for these times. I do know I’ve always wished I could have been a part of Beatlemania the first time. I hate how The Beatles are always going to be a bit of a history lesson for me. The Beatles broke up three years before I was born. My mom watched them on Ed Sullivan. I was seven when John Lennon was murdered. I didn’t get to experience what it was like when The Beatles ruled the world.

There won’t be a reunion tour to recapture the glory years, but there have been a few moments when the world turned their attention back to the best thing to come from Liverpool in history. I remember watching The Beatles Anthology documentary and going to buy the first 2-CD volume of the three-volume set. It was the first time I felt like I got to be part of the phenomenon in real time, even if it was a celebration of past glories.

Lawrence Bonk:

What’s not to like? It’s “Rock Band” mixed with the Fab Four. To the uninitiated, “Rock Band” is a series of video games that has you playing along on fake instruments to popular songs. It’s similar in form to the popular “Guitar Hero” franchise but incorporates singing and drums into the mix. People go gaga for it. This Beatles version goes several steps further than usual, allowing for three part harmonies and an interactive story mode.

The game’s developers boast that they worked hand in hand with the Beatles, which is surprising considering Ringo Starr constantly asks his kids if e-mail and the Internet are the same thing. Still, the attention to detail is fairly astounding. From a virtual Ed Sullivan to psychedelic dreamscapes, this game goes out of its way to provide a sense of realism that is usually lacking from the genre.

Rolling Stone:

When The Beatles: Rock Band really clicks — when you’re pounding out “Helter Skelter” hard enough to get blisters on your fingers; when you’re loping through the bass line of “Dear Prudence”; when it starts feeling like you are, in fact, the Walrus — the experience is almost eerie. It begins to seem like the Beatles didn’t write and record these songs so much as construct them — so sturdily that they translate with absurd ease to an interactive format that was four decades away. The Beatles’ musical development lends itself oddly well to a game — the songs become both more difficult to play and more rewarding as the band’s story moves along: It’s a lot more fun to play “And Your Bird Can Sing” than, say, “I Wanna Be Your Man.”

That said, unlike the Beatles’ music — and the original Guitar Hero and Rock Band games — there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here. Aside from the ability to sing in three-part harmony (a frippery that few users are likely to exploit), the gameplay is familiar: You hit the correct color at the proper time and score points. But thanks to richly detailed and artful graphics — highlighted by the psychedelic images that pop up once the Beatles quit playing concerts — it is the most refined music video game ever. From the Beatles’ facial expressions to the signs at Shea Stadium, there’s enough verisimilitude that it’s forgivable when no animated Eric Clapton turns up for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” or when cartoon Ringo is shown playing drums on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (it was really Paul).

In any case, Starr may be the big winner here: Anyone who has questioned his chops will repent after failing for the 10th time to make it through “Birthday.”

But what about getting the Beatles on iTunes? Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

iPods with cameras? Maybe. iTunes with new features? For sure. iTunes with Beatles? Nope.

I’m sure that Apple (AAPL) will indeed sell the Fab Four’s music via its digital music store one day. But it’s not happening at Apple’s keynote presentation tomorrow.

The Beatles estate, Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Viacom’s (VIA) MTV will be releasing a new version of “Rock Band” that features the band’s songs tomorrow. And on the same day, EMI Music Group will release all of the band’s music on remastered compact discs.

But that’s it, a source familiar with the band’s plans tells me. For now.

Harry McCracken at Technologizer:

I’m not going to entirely discount the possibility of a surprise tomorrow until the event (which I’ll be liveblogging) ends and Paul McCartney hasn’t emerged from behind the curtain. I’m not sure why I care, since I long ago ripped the music I wanted from CD. Like most Beatles fans who have gone digital. Perhaps the band and EMI wants us to buy the music one last time on CD in these new remastered versions before it gives us the chance to purchase it yet again in downloadable form.

This whole saga is as old as the iTunes Store: It began with the news that the Beatles were suing Apple over iTunes and the lads’ Apple Corps trademark, segued into musings on whether digital Beatles were in the offing after the spat was settled, and in recent years has involved repeated rumors that a deal had already been struck and was about to be announced. After the jump, a recap of the last six years of developments.

Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone on the remastered albums:

As you probably know by now, the remastering of the Beatles catalog was carried out with the caution of translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. Happily, the results justify the obsessive care. These 14 stereo remasters — from Please Please Me (1963) to Let It Be (1970), with a two-disc Past Masters added for good measure — make the original recordings sound newly invigorated and alive, whether you’re listening on standard earbuds or a high-end system.

An enormous effort was made to stay true to the original mixes, so there aren’t going to be any easy revelations for Beatles fans. Instead, these albums sound deeper, richer and fleshed-out. The buoyancy of “Something” becomes more comprehensible when you hear clearly Paul McCartney’s nimble bass line. You knew that “Twist and Shout” featured one of John Lennon’s most visceral performances, but here you can feel his vocal cords shred. The horns on “Good Morning Good Morning” roar, driving the song in a way you may not have noticed before. Lennon and George Harrison’s guitars on “You Can’t Do That” sharpen to a gleaming edge.

One tip for deep-pocketed fans: The 12-CD The Beatles in Mono box set is more than a collector’s indulgence. The warmth and punch of early albums With the Beatles and Beatles for Sale evoke the experience of first hearing songs like “All My Loving” on the original vinyl. But in stereo or mono, these albums have finally received the treatment they deserve.

Tony Sachs at Huffington Post:

This isn’t for those music fans who pre-ordered the newly remastered Beatles CDs the instant they were offered. It’s not for the people who have double-checked their stereos to make sure they’re properly wired to capture every nuance of newly-tweaked sound. And it’s certainly not for the folks who, when they heard that the Fabs’ catalog was going to be reissued in both stereo and mono, didn’t think twice about buying both boxes.

No, this is for that small but stubborn minority of naysayers who rolled their eyes when they heard that the Beatles’ recorded legacy was being given a state-of-the-art sonic overhaul for the first time in more than two decades. “Ripoff artists,” they snorted. “They keep repackaging the same music over and over again.”

Well, you know what, naysayers? You’re wrong.

Let’s look at it by the numbers. In the CD era, EMI has released 14 Beatles albums, not counting the straight CD reissues of the original British LPs in 1987. Of the fourteen, five consist partly or entirely of previously unreleased music (Live At The BBC, Anthology 1, 2, 3, and Let It Be… Naked). Two are collections of singles and rarities that weren’t included on the British albums (Past Masters Vols. 1 & 2). Three are well-thought out, fairly comprehensive greatest hits collections (the CD versions of the classic “red” and “blue” LPs, which were originally released in 1973, and 1).

Which leaves a grand total of four questionable Beatles releases over more than a quarter century. These include:

The Capitol Albums Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, featuring the American mixes, sequencing and artwork of the early Beatles’ LPs in both stereo and mono, which American fans had been requesting for years;

Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which jettisoned the incidental music from the 1968 film in favor of more Beatles songs;

and Love, the inessential but interesting 2006 mash-up collection with absolutely stellar remixing and remastering.

And not a skimpy, ten-song compilation in the batch. By comparison, in the ’90s alone, RCA released over 50 Elvis CDs, a good chunk of ’em short collections of random hits, and Frank Sinatra’s various labels put out over 30 “new” collections of his — some essential, many pointless. The Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers has, by my count, been issued on CD a half dozen times with assorted packaging and remastering variations since the mid ’80s.

In Entertainment:

It looks like the Beatles Remastered box sets are proving very popular amongst the fans at the moment, as according to reports from latimes.com, both the mono and stereo box sets were sold out at Amazon.com, a day before their official release.

Although reports say, that the online retailer is still taking orders for individual CD reissues and they will be restocking on the box sets soon. Amazon’s sell out just proves that the band’s tradition of topping the charts is still alive after 39 years.

UPDATE: Farley Katz in the New Yorker

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The Marriage Of Wolverine And Snow White (They Are Registered At Bed Bath & Beyond, Thank You)

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All the images in this blog post are from this post at Super Punch. “Donald/Wolverine” by SaiyaGina. “Beauty And The Thing” by A. David Lewis. “Mickey vs. the Punisher” by alexfugazi. “Venom/Mickey” by Serge Kliavaing.

Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic:

In one of the most notable acquisitions in some time, Disney announced today that it will acquire Marvel Entertainment. Marvel is best known as a comic book company with a broad portfolio of over 5,000 characters. Some of its most notable comics include Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America and Fantastic Four. Disney will pay around $4 billion in stock and cash for the firm. Find the official press release here. I listened to the conference call regarding the acquisition this morning and had several thoughts.

First, the potential synergies of this deal are obvious. Disney has always been in a similar business to Marvel’s. As a result, it can relatively easily absorb Marvel into its empire. According to the call, much of Marvel’s management team will remain in place and will continue to have creative control over future efforts involving Marvel characters. But the Disney platform and infrastructure will give Marvel new opportunities to enhance and broaden its brand. Disney’s global reach should also benefit Marvel abroad.

Marvel characters expand far beyond just comics. They’ve had great success in recent years with films like Spider-Man, Iron Man and X-Men. Their characters have also brought about television shows, video games and other merchandise. Disney can soon begin to reap profits on all of these levels. But it can also soon utilize the Marvel characters in its own endeavors, including its theme parks. Expect to see a Spider-Man character walking around Walt Disney World garnering almost as much attention as Mickey. I would also expect to see new theme park rides and rollercoasters based on Marvel characters or stories.

Marvel has hundreds of characters that are largely untapped beyond comic books. We saw the kind of success that great characters and stories can have in the film sphere with Iron Man. That was a character well-known to comic book junkies, but lesser-known to the rest of the public. If Marvel can continue to bring such characters to life on the big screen, that can translate to huge profits for Disney.

thing

Steven Mallas at Bloggingstocks:

As a long-time shareholder of Disney, I have to ask: Does CEO Bob Iger know what the heck he’s doing anymore? I thought the news was quite surreal. I suppose we all knew that Marvel would be a takeover target someday but, honestly, I thought some other media conglomerate, like maybe News Corp. (NASDAQ: NWS), would do a deal before the Mouse would.

Why do I say this? Well, let’s think about it. Disney already has a ton of characters to manage. Why would it want to add the hassle of 5,000 more intellectual properties to the mix? Remember, Marvel isn’t just about Hulk and Spider-Man. There are all kinds of lesser-known players in the company’s library.

But I’m seriously flummoxed. Disney has not been a great long-term investment. As a trading vehicle, it’s probably been good to some. Yet, the overriding thesis that every long-term shareholder focused in on when deciding to buy was the amazing potential value of Disney’s own library of characters: Mickey Mouse, Hannah Montana, Buzz Lightyear. . . . I’m not sure Disney was a stock individuals bought on the speculation that management would engage a plethora of acquisitions to propel shareholder value.

Gwen Robinson at FT

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Judith Howard at Politics Daily:

I’m not a longtime comic-book fan, as are my husband and brother. I didn’t store comic books in crates like my brother (my guilty pleasures were Harlequin romances and romantic suspense novels), but I have a special affection for Peter Parker and the tribulations of Spider-Man. And because my husband has continued to school me about the ins and outs of the Marvel Universe, I wonder about the potential Disney-fication of the Marvel characters. Will Disney dampen the dramatic voice of superheroes like Thor? Will Marvel compromise realistic characters for pixie dust?

Don’t get me wrong. I was weaned supercalifragilisticexpialidociously on Disney — from “Mary Poppins” to “Peter Pan” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” I yelped and hollered at the Pirates of the Caribbean when the pirates were features of a Disneyland ride — not characters in movies with Johnny Depp’s trademark eyeliner. When I was babysitting years ago, I was more touched watching “The Lion King” than the kid was. But Disney joining up with Marvel is like a collision of galaxies. Pinocchio and Iron Man? The Hulk and Tinker Bell? Aladdin vs. Galactus? The Fantastic Four and Hannah Montana?

Matthew Milam at Blogcritics:

When I remove myself from the picture as a fan, I see why Marvel accepting Disney’s offer makes sense.

When young boys look at Disney, they think of Disney in terms of shows and movies associated with more girlish aspects. Hannah Montana and That’s So Raven are two examples that do seem to cater more to young women. Marvel, as some have stated, could give Disney back the young male audience that it so often in recent years has left behind.

Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney, has himself stated that the purchase of Marvel itself was also a matter of acquiring writers. I give kudos to Bob on that point — Marvel is known for making comic book characters a darker shade of gray in their psychological profiles. Perhaps we will see (jesting of course) a psycho version of Mickey Mouse, or a cool, suave Cary Grant like Donald Duck.

Disney is also a huge powerhouse when it comes to advertising, which Marvel could certainly use in an age where very few are buying comics. When cooler heads begin to assess the situation from a different perspective, I think Marvel fans will see that this is a good move on the company’s part.

Time will tell if something creative comes from this endeavor as opposed to nothing (see, Time Warner/AOL). I, for one, hope Spider-Man doesn’t start singing in his future sequels.

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Armando Cordoba at San Diego Entertainer:

The words together present an oxymoron in itself. Much like summer school, and non-alcoholic beer, Marvel and Disney have joined the echelons of ultimate oxymorons. The two companies are so different in ideals and content that one would think they could never co-exist, let alone work together. Four-billion dollars later, the once unthinkable became possible, and the shocking news struck fear into the heart of comic book fans everywhere.

How can Iron Man be Iron Man, when he’s wielding anti-air love missiles, rather than explosive armor piercing tips? How can Hulk smash when his fists are made of gummy bears? Although blown out of context, the message is clear.

Disney isn’t known for its hard-hitting, deeply rooted story lines and intense characters. Instead it is most notably associated to lovable cuddly characters and the happiest place on earth. Who wants happiness in their comics and comic book movies? We want uninhibited violence, sex, drug use, villains that can rival the greatest of dictators, and most of all ass-kicking plots. Disney can’t bring that, they are too inhibited by their corporate binds that will keep this sense of carnage brought by Marvel down with it.

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital on the conference call

Garth Chouteau at Blast:

With Disney forking over $4 billion for some Marvel and its 5,000+ characters, we here at Blast thought we’d help the two companies think up ways to combine their portfolios.

Here’s what we came up with:

2009volkswagenjettabluetdi_11010. X-men meet the Seven Dwarfs

The X-men have always lacked just a little something, but by adding Dopey, Sleepy Grumpy and the gang they pick up seven little somethings in one fell swoop. And if you don’t think the dwarfs are mutants, you haven’t seen Grumpy eat soup.

Little_Mermaid--The_metaphor_is_obvious9. Sub-Mariner meets The Little Mermaid

A couple of nights with Namor and Ariel would never pine for the surface world again.

Do you get the metaphor?

beverly8. Donald Duck meets Howard the Duck

Oh, the (in)humanity!

You have heard of Howard the Duck, right?

bambi7. Bambi meets The Incredible Hulk

Each an orphan in his own way, the purple panted one and the world’s most beloved deer would get along famously — at least, a helluva lot better than Bambi and Godzilla did!

6396. Beauty & the Beast meet Wolverine

The two beastie boys battling over Belle? Put some protective covering on the furniture and an extra coat of scratch-resistant polish on the floors!

deadpool_final5. Deadpool meets Dumbo

Teleportation is so overdone. What better way to strike terror in the hearts of your enemies than to come swooping in on a flying baby elephant who cries if you criticize his ears?

stgenie_400x3004. Spider-man meets Aladdin

You gotta believe smart-alec Spidey and the jovial blue Genie would get along famously. Although with skyscrapers hard to find in the ancient middle east, the magic carpet could get a bit crowded!

iron_man3. Iron Man meets Wall-E

I’m sure each has a few spare parts the other would love to accessorize, and imagine the epic quests across the galaxy looking for a 220-volt outlet!

goofy0032. Daredevil meets Goofy

The blind leading the congenitally idiotic! At least Goofy could lighten the mood during some of those tense courtroom battles..

review_buzzm_31. Captain America meets Toy Story

Could there be two more pompous crimefighters than Cap and Buzz Lightyear? By the time the two of them decide on a rallying cry/motto, all the super villains will have retired.

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