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Starving to Death on $200 Million: The Short, Absurd Life of The Industry Standard    by James Ledbetter order for
Starving to Death on $200 Million
by James Ledbetter
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

There have been, since the explosion of the dot-com bomb, a fistful of books documenting the rise and swift fall of start-up companies and peripheral Internet-related ventures. One such venture was The Industry Standard, a magazine that documented the Internet age. It was founded in 1998, grew so fast that by 2000 it published more ad pages than any magazine in American history, and then, in about the time it takes to blink in astonishment, collapsed in a puddle of debts and bewilderment.

Written by an insider -- Ledbetter was one of the magazine's editors for its three-year run -- Starving to Death on $200 Million is, like its many similar contemporaries, a tale of ego, smart decisions, breathtaking success, bad decisions, and spectacular and (in hindsight) entirely predictable failure.

Where this book differs from similar stories is in its tone: unlike other writers, Ledbetter doesn't seem interested in scoring points, in I-told-you-so's, in making us shake our heads at the folly of these poor, misguided dreamers. While there were plenty of things that should (again, hindsight is a wonderful thing) have been glaring indicators of disaster to come -- huge rents paid for premises that were never occupied, for example, or high-priced computer systems that didn't really work -- there were also plenty of signs that the magazine would flourish; this was, after all, a magazine that sold very well, that drew advertisers by the bucketload, that was respected and important.

What went wrong? Well, that's a question with a subtle answer. The magazine failed, yes, but it really wasn't because of anything the magazine did wrong. When the Internet boom went belly-up, and companies started dropping like flies, the advertising dollars dried up; without ads, the magazine suddenly had a heck of a problem making ends meet. The Industry Standard's death, if you don't mind a little simplification here, was a by-product of the dot-com bomb. It's a fascinating story.

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