September 4, 2023

Today's Topics

Hello! Off the back of Barbenheimer, Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer 3 rounded out the first $4 billion summer box office since the pandemic — and delivered the second best Labor Day weekend debut ever, amassing an estimated $42m in just 4 days. Today we explore:

  • Labor days: Unions don't have the numbers they used to.
  • Paid social: Meta could be trying a new business model in Europe.
  • Out-husked: Brazil is the new corn capital of the world.

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Fruits of labor

Whether you were enjoying the sunshine at a parade, cooling down by the beach or pool, or just scoring some bargains in the sales, we hope you had an uplifting Labor Day weekend.

With so many celebrations, it's easy to forget the origin of the day as a national recognition of the achievements of American workers. More than 140 years ago, some 10,000 workers participated in the first parade, organized in New York City by the Central Labor Union, before the day was officially made a federal holiday in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland.

Although the role of labor unions has diminished dramatically in America — with just ~6% of private workers currently in a union — this year, organized labor movements in the US have been making waves. High-profile negotiations at UPS, Starbucks, within the automotive industry, US Steel, and the ongoing strikes in Hollywood have thrust unions into the spotlight. With the unemployment rate at or near multi-decade lows, and labor shortages in some key sectors, the relative bargaining power has, at least slightly, shifted back towards employees.

Interestingly, a recent Gallup poll found that, although the public approval rating of labor unions has slightly dropped, at 67% compared to 71% last year, overall support remains near a 50-year high.

Paid social

Meta is considering introducing paid versions of Facebook and Instagram for European users, giving them access to endless ad-free scrolling. The move is largely in response to the bloc’s increasingly stringent policies on data collection, which has limited the company's ability to deliver targeted advertisements in the region — you know, the slightly creepy ones that crop up on your feed with the exact thing you were browsing for the other day.

A paid subscription tier would be a huge departure from Meta’s hyper-efficient core business — a $110bn+ advertising monolith that's leaps ahead of its rivals in extracting value from users. Despite being a free service, Facebook alone rakes in nearly $18 every single month for each one of its US & Canadian users — substantially more than the $10-15 a month you might pay for services like Netflix, Spotify or Amazon Prime.

Adios and adieu, ads

If it is somewhat forced to experiment with a new business model, Europe is arguably the safest place for Meta to try one. At just over 400 million monthly active users, the region is substantially smaller than Facebook’s Asia-Pacific and Rest of the World user bases, of 1.35 billion and 1 billion, respectively. Furthermore, European users are far less lucrative than their American counterparts, contributing on average less than a third of what a typical American user adds to Facebook's revenue.

Convincing those European users to part ways with ~$6 a month to look at memes, vacation pictures and news headlines might be a tough ask though, even for the masters of monetization at Meta.

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The US — once the corn capital of the world, accounting for nearly 70% of global exports of the golden crop — could be about to spend its second consecutive year as runner-up. Brazil is once again set to topple the US as the world's largest corn exporter, according to forecasts from the USDA.

Bloomberg reported that the 2023 harvest year was the only period since records began where the US did not hold the top spot, save for a nationwide drought in 2013, with the trend set to continue into the 2024 season that started on Friday.

Popping off

Brazil, meanwhile, has been breaking corn exporting records this year, thanks to logistical breakthroughs, a bountiful harvest, and more money being pumped into unclogging shipment routes in the north of the South American nation. The Brazilian supply has been instrumental in filling in market gaps left by the war in Ukraine and tensions between China and the US, with the country’s share of global exports soaring in recent years.

In 2003, Brazil was responsible for 6% of world corn exports, with the country's industry being massively out-husked by the US. But, things have shifted rapidly in the intervening years, with the South American nation capturing 32% of the global export share in the 2023 season.

More Data

• More than 70,000 attendees of Burning Man festival are still stuck in Nevada's remote Black Rock Desert after a rainstorm swamped the area — although roads might reopen today.

Pay-OF: Leonid Radvinsky, the Ukrainian-American owner of OnlyFans received over $338m in dividends last year, more than $1 million for each working day.

• Go down the cyber rabbit hole and explore the 50 weirdest corners of the Internet (including, but not limited to: a fish doorbell, historic sandwiches, and an account of Japanese mascots).

• America great (again): A Pew Research poll found that the majority (72%) of Americans think the US is the greatest or one of the greatest countries in the world — although this figure has fallen 7% since 2019.


• Visualizing the hundreds of wildfires that ravaged Greece this summer.

• While a reported 43% of Americans have a passport, this poll breaks down how this figure changes if you’re under 30 or went to college.

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