In the ’80s came the Arabs. In the ’90s it was the Japanese. In 2000, it’s clearly been the dot-comers.Every few years another group emerges wielding such economic clout that normal mortals shrink into the shadows. I recall a time when Arabs seemed to own London, a year when you couldn’t get close to the counters at Hermes or Chanel in Paris because of the crush of super-rich Japanese. As for the current dot-com masters of the universe, you can’t pick up a magazine without reading about their new yachts and chateaus. At least, until last week’s Nasdaq tech wreck. Though mainstream tech stocks have since staged a recovery, the shock of Black Friday has nonetheless brought this newest band of economic conquerors crashing back to reality. Investors have summoned up the courage to ask all those inane questions of the dot-com mavens, like “is there any prospect of earnings?” Meanwhile newly recruited dot-com execs have awakened to the not-so-subtle distinction between “the stock-option rich” and “the moneyed rich.” Once haughty startups suddenly are seeking out new financial angels as they watch their cash flows dwindle. High fliers like Giftspots.com and Peapod Inc. are seeking protection within the bosoms of bigger companies, while Omnicom is selling off bits and pieces — its Internet recruiting site, for example. Talk to techie tycoons and you find that their swagger has been replaced by a recognition that they, too, are not immune to the Darwinian forces of the marketplace. Indeed, according to the Wall St. Journal, the dot-com insiders — founders and venture capitalists — were busily unloading $22.2 billion worth of their holdings in February alone, in advance of the tech wreck, while officers and directors also were feverishly bailing. Not only were these flagbearers of the New Economy racing for the sidelines, but their ad spokesmen were also close behind: William Shatner was selling his Priceline.com shares in the 90s before they plummeted to the 60s. All this represents an extraordinary attitude change. Even in naming their enterprises, the dot-comers had displayed a formidable arrogance. Consider the testosterone titles they have chosen: Massive Media, Powerful Media, Shockwave.com, Kapow.com, Eruptor, Big Entertainment, MegaChannels, Threshold Entertainment and so forth. Maybe the next wave of launches will have labels like Humility.com or New-Boys-on-the-Block Entertainment. And it would be in the nick of time. Among showbiz start-ups, for example, it’s fine to philosophize about acquiring short films for the Internet, but exactly what is the ultimate worth of a library of short subjects filmed by unknowns? A vast spectrum of new companies are heralding their myriad directories, guides and other resources, but is there really a market out there substantial enoughto nurture these enterprises? Will an industry that traditionally operates on a buddy system truly support this multiplicity of online resources? The potential for information overkill is especially apparent among the various entertainment news startups. Again, these new dot-coms, though targeted at narrow markets, are being launched with cosmic hyperbole. In an interview in Folio Mag.com, Michael Hirschorn, who started Powerful Media with Kurt Andersen, insists his online launch won’t just cover showbiz, it will “redefine journalism.” His hastily collected band of journalists will supply instant “smart analysis” rather than mere reporting. The impact of Powerful Media, says Hirschorn, will demonstrate to old-fogie competitors (Variety was born in 1905) that “there is no reason to be in print.” Interestingly, during their most recent short-lived stints in the editor‘s chair, Hirschorn at Spin and Andersen at New York Magazine, each tenure lasting under three years, neither managed to “redefine journalism.” Their new enterprise supposedly will blanket every sector of pop culture, from music to movies to teen Web sites, in addition to generating databases and customized research and, as a bonus, tracking over 1,000 books as they make their way from writer to publisher to movie deal. All this will be done with a limited staff that hasn’t previously worked together and whose small Los Angeles office includes one star reporter who hasn’t been near journalism for 10 years and another who has worked three months out of the past five years. Powerful Media hopes to survive by attracting support from a list of some 100 ,000 subscribers — over twice what any previous industry publication has ever built up — and charging between $150 and $200 a year for the service. But then, given the turmoil of the moment, even Powerful Media may soon change its name to Not-so-powerful Media. Perhaps its founders, too, will start sounding less like carnival barkers and more like prudent businessmen, acknowledging the risks built into their endeavor. London has been returned to the Brits and Paris to the French, so even the dot-com world may soon settle into something resembling maturity.
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