By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Kaplan has a new approach to dot-com success. Don't promote yourself at all, and dare the media to write about you anyway. In his newsletter, the FC Sporadic, he boasts about the journalists he's left waiting at Starbucks, and when he does submit to an interview he answers questions with the greatest reluctance. (Q: "Do you see a trend in which dot-coms are failing, which ones are surviving?" A: "Yup. The ones that don't sell anything are failing.") But maybe Kaplan is on to something: Emerging from this era of relentless promotion and packaged cool, a man of the Internet who can't be bothered to return phone calls is irresistible.
WHILE KAPLAN RACKS UP FUCKS, SOME DOT-COMS are still breathing, hoping to show they can turn a profit before their venture capitalists turn their money to cloning. Ifilm.com, a cinema-preview site, just scraped up another $10 million from a united front of Hollywood power brokers, including Sony and Eastman Kodak. Two online ticketing services, Expedia.com and Travelocity. com, rank among the Top 10 travel agencies in the country, and have seen their stocks rise periodically even in recent weeks. And according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, online retail sales from the fourth quarter of 2000 accounted for a full 1 percent of all retail sales in the country, up two-tenths of a percent over the year as a whole.
"This is the third wave," says Steffano Korper, co-author with Juanita Ellis of The E-Commerce Book: Building the E-Empire. "The first was when people had an idea and right away found funding and venture capital, and then went immediately public. In the second wave, people started to struggle to get their second rounds of funding, and a lot of ideas were being dismissed because of the stock market. And the third wave, which is coming now, is about solid businesses using the Web to create revenue."
Korper and Ellis are consultants -- a species that has thrived in the Internet years, for fear of times like these. Currently, they conduct a program through UCLA and UC Santa Clara in which, according to Korper, "We teach people to build an e-commerce solution from beginning to end." Tuition is $5,500 for the 12-week course, and students emerge with a certification in "e-commerce architecture." (Korper won't elaborate. You just have to take the class.)
"When I moved here around a year ago, everyone had under one arm a movie script, and under the other an e-commerce plan," says Korper. "If you wanted to pick up a girl, the cool thing would be to say, 'I'm a venture capitalist.' And they'd receive double-digit sums of funding, move into the biggest office and buy the nicest stuff, and never look at their business plan. But the most successful companies now are moving over to a 'clicks-and-mortar' e-commerce solution -- they have a real ä business in the real world first. They don't even want to be known as e-commerce businesses. Southwest Airlines and JC Penney -- they're both e-commerce success stories, but they're not doing anything to publicize it."
"It's important to remember that the Internet created a million jobs," says Korper, "and we've only lost 50,000 of those."
"THE INTERNET NOW HAS A CHANCE to be what it was always meant to be -- not a money-maker, necessarily, but a place where the underground can express itself," says Marco Ferrari, a 38-year-old Italian artist who goes by the name of Ladzarus.
On his Flash-animation-heavy Web site Element Zero (element-zero.com), Ladzarus has for years displayed the work of friends and collaborators: video documentaries of performances, photographs of Burning Man, commentary on political events (I contributed during the Democratic National Convention, after we'd argued about the usefulness of activism). But in three months he plans to re-launch the site as a place where digital artists and animators can exhibit their skills -- and where the out-of-work can still use what they learned on their lost jobs. "The corporate structure will never connect with any community," says Ladzarus. "They hire all these kids to do something they think is good, but when it doesn't work, they have nothing." Thirsty.com, an L.A.-based rave-teen news portal that folded in November, is the perfect example, he says: "They were a Westside-based company with a lot of kids working on it, and they built a huge, beautiful Web site in a few months' time. But they didn't have a community, and no one was interested, so when they ran out of money, everything was lost."
Every three months, Ladzarus plans to bring digital art to living and breathing humans at a festival. And of course, he hopes the event will bring in sponsors. "If you want to make something happen, you have to start with a little thing. I don't think it's possible to make a lot of money right now unless you want to become a corporation. And if you want to touch the core of the underground, you can't be a corporation.
"We are in a city that has collected artists like nowhere before. There is something here about the sense of space, the opportunities, it is so vast and big and welcoming at this time, it's very alive. But the digital-art community, all these kids who were working for these corporations, they're very spread out. There's no tribe that connects them. So a project that connects all these kids together as a big tribe creating things -- it will be like a big production company. One day I'll connect the community to the business world, and the money will come."
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