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The Roundup June 26

The billions of dollars that people are going to make on Michael Jackson’s death started yesterday on the Web.

For Yahoo News, Jackson’s passing drew an even bigger crowd than Obama’s swearing-in. The site set a one-day record for unique visitors with 16.4 million, topping the 15.1 million visitors drawn on election day. Four million users visited the site between 3-4 p.m. PST, also a record. And the front page story “Michael Jackson Rushed to Hospital” received a staggering 800,000 clicks in 10 minutes. . . .

AOL users have also turned out in droves to relive Jackson’s music. AOL Radio’s All-Michael Jackson saw an outrageous spike of 28,471 percent, more than 45 times its normal traffic. Music lovers also flocked to CBS’, which following the Jackson news was streaming an average of 43,000 tracks per hour. . . . enjoyed its third-largest unique audience of the year: 1.7 million unique visitors, a surge of 79 percent vs. the same day last week. Visitors streamed over 137,000 videos on the site on Thursday, and six of the top-10 music videos were Jackson’s.

(“Web Traffic Soars on Jackson Death Coverage,” Adweek, June 26) Okay, forgive me for being cynical. Michael Jackson’s death is untimely and tragic, yes. But within just a few minutes of his death, he became big business all around the world . . . starting with TMZ, which scooped the story a full hour before anyone else through its, ahem, questionable journalistic tactics. The poor man died with somewhere between $300 million to $500 million in debt, and in just the next few days, we’re going to see everyone from mainstream businesses to feisty entrepreneurs make twice that amount because of his passing. It’s the kind of opportunity that comes only once in a Michael Jackson lifetime. The poor man, he’s getting friended at the rate of 100 per minute over at MySpace — one for the record-books. It’s like the old joke about the ghost at his own funeral: “If I knew I had so many friends, I wouldn’t have died!” I, for my part, in grateful honor of all that talent and all the enjoyment he gave in his music and performances, will kindly and gracefully sit this one out.

And in today’s trivia department: Google got attacked by Michael Jackson yesterday.

Also, today there was news that Google’s system initially took the huge spike in “Michael Jackson” searches as an automated attack. For 25 minutes, some people who searched Google News received a “we’re sorry” page.

(“How did the search engines handle Michael Jackson’s death?,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Let history record that when Google was called to serve, they ran and hid. The dreaded “Michael Jackson search” automated attack.

What?! Stimulating the economy actually . . . stimulates the economy? Oh, the horror.

Official figures showed on Friday that incomes jumped by 1.4 per cent last month, or $167.1bn, beating economists’ expectations and doubling the previous month’s revised rise of 0.7 per cent.

Personal consumption expenditure rose by 0.3 per cent or $25.1bn last month, in line with estimates, and a rebound from April’s pull-back.

The sharp rise in spending was mainly due to benefits payments doled out through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provides one-time payments of $250 to people who receive social security funds, veterans’ benefits or railroad retirement income. Although disposable personal income, which factors out taxes, rose by 1.6 per cent in May, it increased by just 0.2 per cent without the stimulus benefits. . . .

Meanwhile the savings rate, which is measured as the proportion of income left after spending and taxes, rose to 6.9 per cent last month, up from a revised 5.6 per cent, bringing it to the highest level since December 1993.

Some economists predict that the savings rate could reach as high as 10 per cent as the recession has caused a collapse in household wealth, while others argue that the stimulus will continue to spur spending.

Separately on Friday, the latest reading from the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer survey found that confidence rose from 68.7 in May to 70.8 in June, its highest level in 16 months. It was the fourth consecutive monthly increase and exceeded expectations.

(“US incomes surge as stimulus kicks in,” Financial Times, June 26) The difference between the rise in income and the rise in consumer spending reflects the change in household savings rates. People are using stimulus money to pay down debt or simply sock away for increasingly possible financial emergencies, such as joblessness. So this recovery is going to be interesting as it’s tempered by a long-term shift in consumer spending and savings rates. It’s likely that we’ll see American consumers reverting to more responsible and sustainable savings and spending habits. That is great for business in the long-term, but the shakeout will continue in industries that depend on consumer debt to fuel demand, such as appliances, cars, and home remodeling.

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