Numlock News: October 3, 2019 • Irish Butter, Korean Pop, Chinese Movies
By Walt Hickey
To fully grasp just how dominant K-Pop sensation BTS has been in both Korea and the music business as a whole, just look at the U.S. stadium leg of their tour. Resuming in October, they sold 300,000 seats with an average price of $452 each in minutes. Add onto that the merch — BTS is at the top of a $130 million memorabilia empire — and the mere album sales. BTS had three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 in less than one year, and has passed 5 billion streams on Spotify, and it all comes out to $4.65 billion of South Korean GDP, which is Samsung-tier business. According to a Korean study, 83 percent of BTS fans are women, and 45 percent aged 10 to 30.
The second-best selling butter in the U.S. is Kerrygold, imported from Ireland and the kind of food commodity that has a massive following among the foodie crowd. Butter consumption rose to 5.8 pounds per person in the U.S. in 2018, up from 4.6 pounds in 1999. The Irish stuff is genuinely better: Ireland is lousy with grass, with the largest grass growing season in Europe, 80 percent of the farmland going to growing grass, and in turn one dairy cow for every 3.6 citizens eating that grass. So while in the U.S. grass-fed cows account for only 1 percent to 2 percent of the dairy output, for the 14,000 farms that make Kerrygold it’s the norm. Irish farmers are making more milk too, jumping from 5 billion liters in 2015 to 8 billion liters today, projected to hit 9 billion liters in 2022 and then level off afterwards. By comparison, the U.S. makes 96 billion liters.
Chicago’s libraries wiped out late fees this month and are erasing the outstanding fees of current borrowers. Right now, 343,000 cardholders have had their borrowing privileges revoked because they racked up more than $10 in unpaid fees, which an analysis found disproportionately impacted residents in poorer neighborhoods than richer ones. Following this change, the borrower will be charged the market value of the checked out item, which will be cleared upon return. San Francisco also reformed its policy, where a third of cardholders owed money to the library at an average of $24 per adult. About 92 percent of public libraries charge late fees, but that may yet change.
You’ve Got To Do The Cooking By The Book
The cookbook business is brisk. Sales of print cookbooks grew 24 percent in 2018 over the previous year, which is rapid growth considering in 2016 the annual sales growth was a more modest 6 percent. Despite that growth, it’s still really tough for writers of those cookbooks, as while appetites from publishers are all-consuming, their willingness to grant an advance is not, so lots of aspiring Julia Childs are out several grand buying the food necessary to produce the work in the first place. Sure, I’d considered the Numlock Cookbook, but gave up on the venture after I realized it’d just be a chapter exhorting the reader to cook their grilled cheese with mayonnaise on the outside, some delicious recipes that in retrospect I originally picked up from the superior Chrissy Teigen cookbook, several crude and impertinent stories from my days as a line cook in college, and a list of nontoxic solvents found in any typical home that can adequately dilute whiskey in a pinch.
In late September, Interactive Brokers Group Inc. announced that trading of U.S. listed stocks and ETFs would be free on its IBKR Lite platform. That decision blew a massive hole in the share prices of other low-cost brokerages: TD Ameritrade lost a third of its value, E*Trade dropped 20 percent, Charles Schwab was down 13 percent and Interactive Brokers itself was down 9 percent. This week, the other show dropped: on Tuesday, both Schwab and TD Ameritrade announced they too will drop fees to zero, and Wednesday the last holdout E*Trade announced it’s ending commissions on domestic stocks. Robinhood gets to be the new Moviepass, I guess? They must hate that. Anyway, commissions make up an enormous chunk of net revenue at TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers — 36 percent and 41 percent respectively — and solid chunks at Schwab (7 percent) and E*Trade (14 percent), which expects to lose $300 million annually because of this decision.
China celebrates its National Day holiday from October first to seventh, and one of the nation’s peak times for movies may be slightly dampened this season given a softening economy and a longer blackout on foreign content. Just six foreign films and two U.S.-China co-productions — Gemini Man and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — will land in the Middle Kingdom this October, down from the 10 foreign releases and one co-production last year. Generally the box office is in the ¥3 billion to ¥4 billion ballpark, but this year ticket sales are only expected to hit ¥2 billion.
Concussion Snake Oil
Players and parents are aware of the risks posed by concussions, and are seeking out treatments and preventative technology to eliminate the risk of concussions on the football field. The issue is that the only way to eliminate the risk of concussions on the football field is to walk off of that field and into the stands, and so lots of what’s being hawked to parents and athletes is junk science and branding. Helmets — which are excellent at their original job of reducing skull fractures — can’t eliminate the risk. While they dissipate the force of an impact, they don’t eliminate it. One device, the “Q-Collar,” applies pressure to the jugular and asserts that the higher blood pressure in the skull serves as bubble wrap for the brain. Researchers have tried and failed to replicate the company’s study that backs that up, and the correlation may be spurious to begin with: using the same methodology as the paper, one researcher demonstrated concussion risk is 30 percent lower in teams with animal mascots rather than non-animal ones.
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