Stupidity is contagious. It gets us all from time to time. Even respectable companies can catch it. As I do every week, let's take a look at five dumb financial events this week that may make your head spin.
There's unrest within the eBay
In a move that eBay is framing as a way for sellers to offer free or dirt cheap shipping, the marketplace operator will begin charging its fee on successful auctions on the total value of the transaction. In other words, eBay will now get a cut out of the shipping charges that are tacked on by the seller.
How will this encourage free shipping exactly? If anything, sellers are more likely to jack up their shipping charges to offset the new subsidized royalties.
It wasn't all dumb. The site will now let casual sellers list up to 50 items for free every month at any starting price. It's a move to smoke out newbies that aren't aware of the unwelcome fee shift.
2. M-I-C ... See you in 10 days
Shares of Disney
Really? Disney doesn't even own the two parks. It does receive generous royalties through a licensing agreement, but it's obviously not on the hook for any of the damages. Missing out on royalties that amount to less than 3% of the operating year for a pair of popular parks it doesn't own doesn't seem like that big of a deal.
The disparity didn't get any better as the market got more wobbly. Through the first three trading days of the week, the Dow's 3.6% descent was trumped by Disney's 5.4% drop.
3. Gottfried or got fired?
One of the hardest hit stateside companies in light of the devastation in Japan was Aflac
However, the reason that Aflac earns a spot in this week's list is that the supplemental insurance giant had to can Gilbert Gottfried -- the voice of the Aflac duck -- after the comedian posted some tasteless comments on Twitter about the Japanese tsunami.
What did Aflac think when it hired Gottfried in the first place? Did it think it was taking on the cute parrot from the Aladdin films?
Gottfried is an edgy comedian that's not afraid to take off-color chances. "Too soon" doesn't exist in his vocabulary. Just hours after his friend Greg Giraldo died back in September, he tweeted: "If Greg Giraldo is cremated, will that be the Greg Giraldo Roast?"
This isn't the Tiger Woods case, where a handful of companies leaning on the golfer were blindsided by the scandalous infidelities. Gottfried -- aka the Aflac duck -- has always been irreverent in public.
4. Baidu has a way with words
Chinese authors are banding together to take on Baidu
No, the writers aren't going to launch a rival search engine. They're fed up with having their works exploited on Baidu's free literature-sharing website. Maliciously or not, users are uploading copyrighted works by Chinese authors without their consent for free digital distribution.
Baidu usually takes down infringing works within 48 hours of author complaints, but why should the burden be on the victimized wordsmith?
This is a problem similar to what happened with Google's
5. All the news that's fit to click
The paywall is coming.
New York Times Co.
It could have been worse. Thankfully, the publisher realizes that casual consumers aren't going to shell out money for news that they can probably find elsewhere for free. New York Times has been discussing these digital tollbooths for months, so it's not as if the announcement itself is a surprise.
However, I know that I'm not the only one who sees this failing. It's going to be hard for readers to track 20 clicks, especially in this era of URL-shortening sites where folks are following mysterious links. This is going to be viral suicide. Folks will no longer share NYT article links, fearing that they'll push their friends over the free limit.
It's going to be too much work -- creating too much confusion -- for too few incremental digital subscribers.
Which of these five moves do you think is the dumbest? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Baidu and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Aflac, Walt Disney, and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. The Fool owns shares of Aflac and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of dumb and smart business moves. Investors can learn plenty from both. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for Disney. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.