Jon Regardie does not like the L.A. Times online mall, The Downtown News editor complains that the Times seems to be plugging its revenue holes with such Times-identified tchotchkes as coffee mugs and T-shirts. Regardie notes the national spike in these kind of items following the election of Barack Obama, which occasioned newspapers across the country “to cash in on the Obamapalooza.” Yet Regardie believes the L.A. Times went far beyond merely offering the books and and photos being sold by other papers:

“Want two coffee mugs with images of Times covers from the day

after the election and the day following the inauguration? That'll be

$24.99, kind sir. A desktop paperweight? A steal at $29.99, my good

lady. How about an entire “Election Souvenir Pack” featuring all of the

above plus a copy of the Nov. 5 newspaper, a poster and more? It was

$259.94, but taking a tip from the purveyors of the Ginsu knife set and

the Pocket Fisherman, the price had already been slashed without anyone

asking for it.”

As unseemly as the Times' manic self-promotion has been, there's a definite marketing logic to it. For years publications from the New York Times to the Nation have set up similar shopping links within their Web sites, hawking everything from such “class” items as framed front pages or photographs taken during their publications' nostalgic glory days, to company-branded mugs and tote bags. Then, following Barack Obama's election triumph, there was the surprising phenomenon of newspapers enjoying runaway sales of their front pages reporting Obama's victory and inauguration. What marketing convergence makes better sense than to promote the hell out of Obama tie-ins to the L.A. Times?

Still, one can understand Regardie's dismay, especially when the Times is owned by an unsentimental freebooter like Sam Zell. Perhaps now that capitalism is in a tailspin following years of free enterprise gone wild, Americans will begin to remember traditional leftwing explanations of where corporate mugs, T-shirts and tote bags come from. It's an explanation now grounded more in new-found experience than theory — after all, even the Communist Party's Web site has a store.

LA Weekly