January 6, 2023

Today's Topics

Hello! House speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy will be praying it’s 12th time lucky after coming up short in the previous 11 ballots — the most drawn-out speaker nomination in 164 years. Today we’re exploring:

  • State of the union(s). Taking stock of organized labor movements in America.
  • Plz fix. Subscription clothing company Stitch Fix is struggling.
  • World Wide WordPress. The service that powers much of the internet.
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This week, Microsoft recognized the company’s first ever labor union, formed of 300 employees in their videogame unit, ZeniMax. The tech giant now joins the list of other major organizations, such as Apple, Starbucks, Amazon and Alphabet, that have seen unionization attempts, some of which went better than others.

State of the union(s)

Although labor movements at high-profile companies now routinely grab headlines, they remain unrepresentative of the bigger picture in America. In the last 50 years, private sector union membership has declined dramatically — in the 1970s nearly 25% of private sector workers were trade unionists, today that figure is closer to 6%. The public sector, however, is a different story, with union membership holding steady.

Why such a disparity has emerged between private and public is a topic for an economics PhD. Some have argued that organizing efforts are just more difficult in the private sector, where bankruptcies and corporate restructuring are common. Others argue that legislative changes have made organizing difficult, and there is also evidence that unions are simply more effective when bargaining for better wages in the public sector — making them more likely to persist.

Don’t call it a comeback?

Whether the current momentum translates into a meaningful unionization trend remains to be seen, but public perception suggests it might be more than a few isolated cases. A recent Gallup survey showed that 71% of Americans approve of unions, the highest number since 1965, and other studies suggest Gen-Z are more pro-union than any other generation.

Plz fix

Online personal stylist Stitch Fix is cutting 20% of its workforce and parting ways with CEO Elizabeth Spaulding, after sales slowed and shares shed more than half their value last year.

Always on-trend, Stitch Fix is now following in the footsteps of giants like Disney and Starbucks by electing former CEO Katrina Lake, who founded the company, to step back up to the top job.

Lake founded Stitch Fix in 2011 while studying for an MBA. The company started with just 29 clients, most of whom were friends of the founder, with each box of clothes delivered in-person by Lake herself. That concept proved popular and the offering scaled to where it is today, where users leave their fashion fate in the hands of algorithms and stylists, receiving garments delivered to their door at frequencies they choose.

So last season

Using data to pick trends and garments propelled Stitch Fix to more than $2bn of sales in 2021, boosted by COVID which shifted many people’s shopping habits online. However, even in that record-breaking year, operating losses had already begun to mount and — after Katrina Lake stepped down as CEO in August 2021 — sales stalled, leaving the company with a $208m loss last year.

Whether Stitch Fix users have become subscription fatigued, grown wary of the ever-growing influence algorithms hold in everyday life, or simply have a stronger desire to get more agency in their clothing choices, it’s clear that algo-picked apparel is out of fashion... for now at least.

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Insecure

Websites powered by the content management system (CMS) Wordpress have reportedly been under attack from malware that targets vulnerabilities in some of the content manager’s major plugins, which could have been going on for years.

World Wide WordPress

Although it's not a household name, WordPress likely plays a far bigger role in your internet experience than you might imagine. The open-source system, owned by Automattic — which also acquired Tumblr in 2019 — is the quiet workhorse behind many of your favorite websites, hosting, managing, and modifying more site content than any other single entity.

Back in 2012, a year that spawned all manner of online phenomena from Gangnam Style to Grumpy Cat, much of the online landscape was hand-coded by creators. Indeed, 71% of websites were using unmonitored CMSs, or none at all, compared to just 32% of sites that go without today. WordPress tapped into the idea that making websites should be easy, in a similar way to Shopify simplifying the process of setting up an online store.

WordPress's customizability, via plugins that anyone can make, has proved wildly popular, and sites built on WordPress now account for more than 40% of the web. But WordPress has greater ambitions. The king of website content wants to keep growing — Automattic’s CEO Matt Mullenweg predicts that the system will extend its market share in the CMS space to 80-85% in the next decade.

More Data

• Following their World Cup success, regions of Argentina have seen a 700% increase in newborns named Lionel and Lionela.

• Is your name more human or more dog? The Post crunched the data for this interactive test.

Southwest Airlines' meltdown — which saw it cancel 16,700 flights in December — may end up costing the airline as much as $825m.  

• As North America suffered from winter storms, temperature records were broken all over Europe, forcing many ski resorts to close on the continent, with temperatures even hitting 77F in Spain.

Hi-Viz

• Feeling the January blues? Have a look at what people are doing when they are happy at different ages.

• Hi-Viz faves The Pudding recently explored the inevitability of the super rich.

• Beautiful illustrations and data visualizations exploring the one million species on the brink of extinction.

Off the charts: Which retailer were we charting about below? Hint: the company became a meme stock in recent years and warned this week it was considering filing for bankruptcy [Answer below].

Answer here.

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