By Me Today: Nintendo Pulls the Plug on Brazil

From my post today at WSJ Digits:

It’s game over for Nintendo in Brazil.

The Japanese videogame maker on Friday said it is ending direct sales of its games and consoles in Latin America’s biggest economy due to what it called a business environment that made its operations “unsustainable” there.

High import taxes have meant that games like the company’s popular “Super Smash Bros.” cost nearly 20% more than in the U.S. Other Latin American countries, which have a separate distributor, will not be affected.

Aunt Cece and Her Pecan Pie Make Their WSJ Debut

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Longtime Newley.com readers will recall that I have blogged, in past years, about my Aunt Cece’s pecan pie.

I absolutely love it. And I make a point to bake one every Thanksgiving.

I’m happy to say that her fantastic dish figures in this story I wrote for WSJ Expat about connections that folks who live abroad feel to food from home:

American holidays and customs resonate strongly with me during this time of year, even amid the heat and sunshine of my adopted Southeast Asian home.

The nostalgia surprises me sometimes. Born in Oregon and raised in South Carolina, when I still lived in the U.S. I never really cared that much about Thanksgiving, for instance. Then I moved to Thailand in 2006. It was only there, surrounded by central Bangkok’s gray concrete buildings, with puttering tuk-tuks buzzing in my ears, that this most American of holidays firmly took root in my heart.

Perhaps it was homesickness mixing with a bit of sentimentality I didn’t know I had. The result was a hankering for down-home side dishes like deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, and—best of all—my Aunt Cece’s South Carolina pecan pie, not to mention cranberry sauce and my mother’s oyster pie. My wife—also an American—and I used these dishes to maintain a connection to home and celebrate with our close-knit group of friends since our relatives were so far away. We moved to Singapore in February and continue to celebrate American holidays here, in this similarly tropical city-state.

It turns out I’m not the only foreigner whose view on his or her home country’s holidays have changed over time, though not always in ways you’d expect.

Click through for photos, input from other expats, and — perhaps best of all — the recipe for Aunt Cece’s pie.

John Cassidy on the Business of Journalism: VC Funding and Online Subscriptions Show Promise

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy, who writes about economics and politics, on the current state of the business of journalism:

While many journalists have lost faith in the future of their trade, venture capitalists are taking the opposite view. Far from giving up on journalism, they are providing big chunks of funding to online news providers, such as BuzzFeed, Vice, and Vox. Some of what these publishers put out is mere click bait, but they also produce serious journalism, such as this story, from The Verge, a Vox site, which details how the N.Y.P.D. is using social media to lock up Harlem teens, and this interview that Vice scored with James Mitchell, the psychologist who helped the C.I.A. to develop its “enhanced interrogation”—i.e., torture—techniques.

And:

In addition, online journalism is thriving at many publications that are still widely regarded as “old media.” At the New York Times and other major newspapers, digital subscriptions are rising steadily. To be sure, the revenues from this source haven’t fully replaced all the lost revenues from print subscriptions and print advertising: in some parts of the industry, this may well never happen. But subscription-based journalism (encompassing digital and print) is rapidly becoming financially viable, at least for national publications. And that really is good news. Advertising-funded journalists are beholden to advertisers, page-view metrics, and social-media algorithms. Subscription-funded journalists are beholden to readers.

And:

The rise of online subscriptions isn’t confined to the Times. According to figures from the Alliance for Audited Media, the Wall Street Journal now has more than nine hundred thousand digital subscribers. (Its total circulation is close to 2.3 million.) The Financial Times, which helped to pioneer the metered-paywall model, which allows readers to read a certain number of stories a month before being charged, has gone further in this direction than any other major newspaper. According to Rachel Taube, a spokeswoman for the paper, it now has 476,000 digital subscribers, compared with 217,171 print subscribers. Although it is still known as the Pink ’Un, a reference to the pink paper it is printed on, it is now predominantly a digital publication.

And:

Of course, none of this means that journalism is out of the woods. Regional newspapers, which by definition have smaller markets than national ones, have been hit particularly hard by the decline in print advertising. Magazines, especially small ones, such as The New Republic, also face major challenges, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post. Throughout the industry, job cuts and efforts to restrict wages and benefits will probably continue. Unless publishers can find a way to expand digital advertising and supplement the money they get from subscriptions, keeping costs in line with revenues will always be a demanding task. That means funding big, time-consuming investigative projects will continue to be a problem. But the argument that newspapers are dinosaurs, destined to be replaced by nimbler online competitors, looks a good deal less convincing than it did a few years ago. And considering where we have been, that qualifies as good news.

Read the whole thing. And subscribe to The WSJ here! :-)

Frontline’s ‘United States of Secrets’

If you haven’t watched it yet, clear a few hours from your schedule at some point and watch the two-part Frontline special on the NSA and Edward Snowden that ran in May.

It’s called “United States of Secrets.”

Even if, like me, you think you understand the history of the NSA and the general technical aspects of what Snowden leaked, you may be surprised. Very much worth a watch.

Part 1 is stream-able via the PBS site here.

Part 2 is stream-able here.

My Story on Lazada and E-Commerce in Indonesia

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My newest story focuses on a rapidly expanding startup, Lazada Indonsesia, that’s aiming to be the country’s Amazon.com. The piece also looks at the promise of e-commerce in the populous country.

It begins:

JAKARTA—Executives at Lazada Indonesia, a fast-growing e-commerce startup aiming to be the Amazon.com of Southeast Asia, faced a couple of unexpected challenges when they opened a cavernous new warehouse outside Jakarta last year.

The executives, who hail from Europe, were forced to build a special, refrigerated room after realizing that some perfumes they stocked were evaporating in Indonesia’s tropical heat.

Then there was something even more surprising: Staffers were forced to hold a special ceremony to rid the warehouse of what the staff feared was a ghostly presence lurking in the facility.

Challenges are par for the course at Lazada Indonesia, founded in Jakarta in 2012 and partly funded by Rocket Internet AG , a Berlin-based tech incubator that went public last month. Indonesia’s e-commerce market is still small, and Lazada had to build a lot of what it needed from scratch. But the company is plowing ahead so it can get a head start in the country over international giants like Amazon.com Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and eBay Inc.

Meanwhile, I wrote an accompanying post for our Digits blog about some of the local competitors Lazada is battling in Indonesia:

E-commerce startup Lazada is moving quickly in its quest to become Southeast Asia’s Amazon.com.

But as the company expands its operations in populous Indonesia — which analysts say is on track to be the region’s most lucrative market — it’s battling not just big multinational players like the Seattle-based behemoth. It’s also competing with some popular homegrown sites, too.

Lazada Indonesia, a business-to-consumer site founded in 2012 that offers everything from Xiaomi smartphones to bedding and badminton rackets, sees more visitors than the likes of Amazon, Alibaba and eBay in Indonesia, according to data from research firm SimilarWeb.

But several local shopping sites, little known outside Indonesia, are also hugely popular in the country of more than 240 million people.

At the top of this post: An image I snapped inside Lazada’s warehouse outside Jakarta.

Our Exclusive Friday: Twitter’s Opening a Hong Kong Office

As I wrote here:

Twitter Inc. plans to open an office in Hong Kong early next year to serve greater China and tap advertising revenues from Chinese companies that are quickly expanding, an executive said.

Shailesh Rao, Twitter’s vice president for Asia Pacific, the Americas and emerging markets, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that the office will mainly house sales staff, though he declined to say how many. The office is set to open in the first quarter of 2015.

“The real main focus of the office will be sales,” Mr. Rao said. “Building sales capability to work with agencies and advertisers domestically in Hong Kong and Taiwan and those Chinese advertisers looking to go global.”

Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009 due to government concerns it could be used to organize protests. Asked if plans for the Hong Kong office signaled Twitter’s eagerness to enter China should the government lift its restriction, Mr. Rao said, “We would love to have Twitter” reach people “everywhere in the world including China.” But, he added, “Unfortunately, we can’t. That’s not our choice. We don’t control that decision.”

Click through to read the whole thing.

The story was picked up by financial newswires, various news organizations and several tech blogs.

Zalora Opens ‘Offline’ Shop in Singapore, and Bhutan Gets Google’s Street View Treatment

Those are the subjects of a couple of stories I wrote last week.

The first:

Amazon may be planning to open a brick and mortar shop in New York City, but Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce startup Zalora has beaten them to the punch in Singapore.

Zalora, which launched in 2012 and says it has served more than 2 million customers throughout the region, late last week unveiled its first physical store, a 4,000-square-foot shop in an upscale Singapore shopping mall.

It’s the first such physical store for an online retailer in the region, according to Zalora’s regional managing director, Tito Costa, who cited clothier Bonobos and subscription beauty-products service Birchbox as having used brick and mortar stores to good effect in the U.S. In China, meanwhile, Internet giant Alibaba has invested in a local department store operator.

And the second:

You can now take in dramatic vistas from the tiny, isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan — via Google.

The tech giant Thursday unveiled Street View images — the Google Maps feature providing 360-degree panoramic images — for some 1,900 miles of roads in the remote country, which sits between India and China and is home to about 700,000 people.

That includes images of the Punakha Dzong administrative headquarters, which is one of Bhutan’s most beautiful buildings. There are also images from the capital, Thimpu, and the towns of Paro and Trongsa, as well as panoramas from a highway and photos of the country’s National Museum.

Google says the effort, which was undertaken with the cooperation of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications, required snapping more than 200,000 panoramic shots with one of its camera-equipped cars.

Worth Reading: An In-Depth NYT Travel Story on Cuenca, Ecuador and the Country’s Southern Coast

Long-time Newley.com readers will recall that about a decade ago I spent a year living and working in the fascinating, staggeringly picturesque city Cuenca, Ecuador, which is situated some 8,000 feet high in the Andean foothills.

I loved my time there, met some great people who remain my close friends, and think of the country often.

Indeed, I still keep an eye on international news about Ecuador, and came across this recent New York Times travel story by Michelle Higgins, headlined “Three Sides of Ecuador“:

On our nine-day trip in July we focused on three of these offerings — beaches, mountains and colonial charm. The plan was to head north along the Pacific coast, then head east into the Andean highlands for high-altitude trails before spending time with family in the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, where my mother was born. (We ended up doing it all, but not in that order, given our detour.)

Many travel pieces about the country focus, understandably, on other places: destinations in the north (the capital, Quito), the east (the Amazon jungle), and/or the far west (the Galapagos).

But this story, I was delighted to find, is not just about Cuenca, but about other areas I know well, like Cajas National Park and towns along the country’s southern coast coast, such as Puerto Lopez.

The food, the people, the insane driving conditions, and even the whale watching: there’s lots of good stuff here. And there’s a slideshow of photos by Meridith Kohut.