April 2, 2008 7:36 pm

EMI poaches Google executive

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EMI has recruited a senior Google executive to lead its digital operations who suggests he can take the record company in a new direction, including a possible relaxation of its position on online piracy.

Douglas Merrill, chief information officer at the software group, is Google’s latest executive departure following several high-profile moves to Facebook, the social networking site.

Sheryl Sandberg, formerly Google’s vice-president of global online sales and operations, moved to be Facebook’s chief operating officer at the end of March, while Ethan Beard, previously Google’s director of social media, is now director of business development at Facebook. Gideon Yu, who negotiated the sale of YouTube to Google as the video-sharing website’s chief financial officer, is now Facebook’s finance chief.

However, Mr Merrill denied there was a “mass exodus” from Google, adding: “Google has been a tremendous place for training internet talent.”

Last November, EMI publicly welcomed a French proposal to cut off internet connections of people who download music illegally over the internet. A similar “three strikes” rule has since been proposed by the UK government.

However, Mr Merrill cited “interesting” academic data that says “file sharing is not necessarily bad for artists and might actually be good for artists under certain circumstances”.

“That’s fascinating,” Mr Merrill told the Financial Times.

“That piece of data forces us to step back and re-evaluate what we think [about the music industry]”. Mr Merrill also hinted that EMI would investigate advertising-supported music downloads and allowing music fans to put songs from EMI’s back catalogue on their own websites.

EMI is already discussing a partnership with MySpace, the social networking site that is owned by News Corporation.

Mr Merrill ranks as the highest-profile outsider that Guy Hands, EMI’s chairman, has brought in since his private equity firm, Terra Firma, acquired EMI last year for £4bn ($7.96bn).

Mr Merrill’s career to date has been based in technology, though he describes himself as a “huge music fan”.

“I’ll have a lot to learn ... but part of the reason Guy and the team brought me on was to bring some of what Google did well into EMI – a focus on experimentation, a focus on following users, and creating revenue where value is created.”

Soros opts for an e-book release to hasten his views to readers

George Soros’s new book about the crisis in financial markets is not scheduled to land on bookshelves for another six weeks, writes Joshua Chaffin.

But nervous central bankers and desperate investors need not wait to read the legendary investor’s latest insights. From Thursday, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means, will be available for sale as an electronic book.

Mr Soros opted for the digital format, according to his spokesman, Michael Vachon, because it allowed him to bypass typical production delays to share his views about a crisis that is still unfolding.

“From George’s point of view, he felt that the nature of what he had to say was sufficiently urgent and timely that he was looking for a way to make the material available in a much faster time span than the publishing industry typically allows,” Mr Vachon said.

For Mr Soros’s publisher, the release offers a test case for what he hopes will become a more flexible approach to publishing books in a digital era.

“What we’re trying to do is give people the option of how they want to get the book,” said Peter Osnos, founder of Public Affairs, which is releasing The New Paradigm.

In spite of years of hype, e-books remain a tiny part of the book publishing industry. Yet executives say they are beginning to gain traction as new and improved reading devices have come on the market, including Amazon.com’s Kindle and the Sony Reader.

While it has traditionally taken publishers nine months to turn a submitted manuscript into a finished book and truck it to stores, Mr Soros’s book will be available for download less than two weeks after the author submitted it.

False ideology at the heart of the financial crisis

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