March 10, 2023

Today's Topics

Good morning! As it’s the 95th Academy Awards on Sunday, have a look at the recent memorabilia auction of the best picture favorite, Everything Everywhere All At Once, where a stuffed raccoon raised $90k. Today we’re exploring:

  • Expensive lessons: Charting the rise of college tuition fees.
  • Playback: Vinyl is back on top against the once-ubiquitous CD.
  • A to B: Uber is mulling its options for Freight, its lesser-known division.
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Collegiate grief

This week, private loan company SoFi filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education, attempting to stop the government-sanctioned student loan billing suspension that’s been benefiting the majority of borrowers for 36 months.

The filing comes as the conversation around student loans in the US amplifies, with Biden’s proposed forgiveness — which could see some 40 million former students have up to $20k of debt erased — hanging in the balance as the Supreme Court reviews a host of lawsuits against the motion.

The cost of education

College enrollment in the US has started to drop in recent years, falling some 4.1% in 2022, as would-be attendees question whether it’s still really worth it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which has been tracking the rising cost of college for the last 40 years, won’t relieve any prospective students of their financial pessimism either.

Indeed, the BLS estimates that college-goers are now forking out 1246% more than their predecessors were in 1980 — and that’s just on tuition fees. Textbooks, materials and other educational supplies have also soared 949% since then. Both are way ahead of overall inflation, which has climbed a relatively modest 285% over the same period.

Vinyl revival

Audiophiles and retro-heads rejoice: vinyl records shifted more units than CDs in 2022. That’s the first time vinyl has outsold CDs since 1987, completing an uprising that’s been brewing in the music industry for years.

While vinyl revenues passed CDs back in 2020, because of higher relative prices, this is the first time people have actually picked up more records than CDs. Indeed, data from the Recording Industry Association of America shows that 42m vinyls were sold last year, the most since 1989.

Sounds good

Vinyl's resurgence hasn't just been driven by the older generation getting a hit of nostalgia — last year’s best sellers, for example, came from the poppier end of the spectrum, with artists like Taylor Swift and Harry Styles taking top spots. Swift was particularly instrumental, with her latest album Midnights accounting for 1 in 25 vinyl sales in 2022.

With streaming now dominating the industry, vinyl's resurgence during Covid was striking. The pandemic was a great time for collectors to expand their stacks, with vinyl unit sales jumping from ~19m in 2019 to more than 40m just 2 years later.The other format victim, not shown above, has been downloads. Just 24m digital albums were sold last year according to the RIAA, down some 80% from their peak in 2013. Panic-buying an iTunes gift voucher doesn't work quite as well these days.

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Uber is reportedly considering spinning off its freight division, either through a sale or as a separate public company.

Delivering revenue

The freight business was started in 2017 as part of the “Uber Everything” initiative. As the name suggests, that was Uber’s goal to find ways of using its technology — which was already good at brokering transport for people to go from A to B — to transport anything.

Uber Eats has become a particularly important part of Uber’s business and helped the company survive the pandemic when ride-hailing dried up, but Uber Freight, which connects carriers with shipments in a similar way to how the rides business works, has also grown quickly. Thanks in part to the acquisition of shipping software company Transplace in 2021, Uber’s logistics arm has grown into a $1.5bn-per-quarter business, contributing 18% of the company’s overall sales.

Uber Freight is already run separately from the core Uber business, and a spin-off could help Uber concentrate on mobility and Eats. Plus, as the company scales its advertising offering, it’s easy to imagine pop-ups for food or a ride (think adverts for food on your way home, or ads for specific brands on your way to the airport, mall or cinema). It’s harder to see how adverts would boost margins in the competitive freight business.

More Data

• Explore what’s in the $126k Oscars gift bag.• Microsoft Bing hits 100 million daily active users after the browser increased the number of AI powered chats to 120 per day.

• Chuck E. Cheese still uses a 3.5-inch floppy disk for its animatronics system, but Boeing does the same for its jets.

• With more than 139 million boxes sold, Cheerios is the king of cereals in the US.


• Charting the highest paid athletes of all time.

• Watch: How South Koreans got so much taller over the past 100 years.

Off the charts: Bank stocks fell sharply yesterday, after a dramatic panic sell-off in which company's shares? Hint: It's a major partner to many of America's tech start-ups. [Answer below].

Answer here.

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