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AT LARGE: That's AOL, folks

AT LARGE: That's AOL, folks

This week we send out invitations. As with pretty much every stage of this whole wedding process, we're not doing it the easy way. We're making the invitations ourselves, by hand, from our own design. We've bought this fabulous paper - handmade cotton bond embedded with silk fibres - and we're printing them on a high-resolution inkjet.

The inkjet may make you think "oh, how disappointing, they'll look like computer-printed invitations". Well, you'd be wrong. Each one is individually customised, so the lettering doesn't look like it's come out of a computer. There are individual swishes and ligatures that make it look, at first glance at least, as if each one has been done by hand. It's a lot of effort, but the results are worth it.

Contrast this with revelations emerging from the investigation into AOL Time Warner. The latest reports indicate that the company engaged in "round trip" and "back to back" transactions to boost its revenues artificially. Basically, both of these transaction types involve selling an asset to a customer, and then buying it again at roughly the same price (if the buy-back is immediate, it's "round trip"; if there's a delay, it's "back to back").

The end result is not profit for either company, nor indeed any actual exchange of goods and services. But on the books that get shown to shareholders, there's increased revenue on both sides. For Internet companies, especially during the boom times, revenue was much more important to investors than profits. It should be no surprise to learn that this kind of smoke-and-mirrors shell-game accounting was common.

And very disappointing that the questionable practices of an Internet-bubble baby like AOL might eventually bring down Time Warner. Time Warner was founded, as were its antecedent companies, on traditional business methods - where you make money by making something and selling it at a profit. Where revenue was generated by actual commerce, not wink-and-nod agreements between companies to cook each other's books.

I'm not saying that Time Warner has never engaged in any questionable business practices - I'm not that naive, and Jack Warner's reputation makes it seem unlikely. But heck, this is the company that gave us Bugs Bunny, Peter Paul and Mary, and Casablanca. It's on comfortable ground producing and selling information and entertainment. Pretty much every time it's forayed into technology, it's been a disaster (anyone remember Atari?) My point is, making money by selling stuff is hard. Making money by pretending to sell stuff is easier, but not nearly as satisfying.

And these invitations are going to look really good.

Matthew JC. Powell invites contact on mjcp@optushome.com.au.


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