Wednesday morning headlines

Strike vote looms: What happened to the cautious optimism by negotiators for the major grocery chains and the unions? Apparently, the contract talks are moving slowly - so much so that union workers at Albertsons will vote Sunday on whether to give their leaders authorization to call a strike. No walkout would happen before April 9, when the current contract extension runs out, but strike authorization votes suggest growing unhappiness among the rank and file. Todd Conger, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324 in Buena Park - considered the most aggressive of the grocery unions - told the OC Register that "employers have stalled this thing because they believe our members don't have the stomach for (a strike)."

Zell update: The Chicago real estate magnate might be upping his offer for Tribune Co., at least according to the WSJ. No details were given. Speculation centers on Zell trying to raise the equity portion of the deal, which would require taking on debt. And debt is what the Tribune boys seem to be concerned about. In Zell's AP interview, he downplayed the debt issue, which is what you might expect from someone in real estate, an industry that's fueled by debt.

Fashion Week, L.A. style: Most of the big-time fashion folks in NY and Europe pretty much ignore our little fashion week, largely because it's more about the partying and less about the clothes. Witness this week, where most of the attention is focused on porn star Jenna Jameson, who along with Paris Hilton and Tara Reid, are bopping from one event to another. From the Daily News:

For her show on Sunday, lingerie designer Dina Bar-El kicked off with a three-piece jazz band and a burlesque dancer from the popular Hollywood club Forty Deuce. Extraordinarily limber and deliciously vampy, the dancer sashayed across the runway, executing somersaults while stripping down to a garter and pasties. The audience's male contingent, which included *NSYNC's JC Chasez, never enjoyed a fashion show so much. Collection Bebe's runway show, held immediately after Bar-El's, used a more traditional tactic to garner buzz: celebrity endorsers. "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria, and actresses Rebecca Romijn and Virginia Madsen set off a paparazzi frenzy. On Monday, underwear line 2(X)IST brought the Laker girls out for a pre-show performance, a ploy that was plenty of fun but didn't make much sense considering that the entire show consisted of chiseled, half-naked male models.

Venture role outlined: U.S. companies that received venture capital from 1970 to 2005 accounted for 10 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue in 2005. That's 16.6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Those and many other factoids are laid out in a new study on the VC economy. California is where venture money is concentrated, accounting for 42 percent of total U.S. venture capital investment (that's 7,885 companies). Of course, most of the action is still in Silicon Valley. SF Chronicle

CD sales nosedive: We're talking 20 percent in the first three months of this year, a huge drop. Some of the fall is due to the closure of so many retail outlets (including 89 Tower stores late last year). Brick-and-mortar retail (now that's an ancient phrase) can't make it anymore because it's so easy to buy music online - and as we've seen with the success of Apple's iPod, folks are starting to buy songs, not albums. Even so, CDs still account for more than 85 percent of music sold. From the WSJ:

Today, popular songs and albums -- and countless lesser-known works -- can be easily found online, in either legal or pirated forms. While the music industry hopes that those songs will be purchased through legal services like Apple's iTunes Store, consumers can often listen to them on MySpace pages or download them free from other sources, such as so-called MP3 blogs. Jeff Rabhan, who manages artists and music producers including Jermaine Dupri, Kelis and Elliott Yamin, says CDs have become little more than advertisements for more-lucrative goods like concert tickets and T-shirts. "Sales are so down and so off that, as a manager, I look at a CD as part of the marketing of an artist, more than as an income stream," says Mr. Rabhan. "It's the vehicle that drives the tour, the merchandise, building the brand, and that's it. There's no money."

Maguire unzipped: A WSJ piece about real estate honcho Rob Maguire talks about all the bad luck he's been having. Most recently, the Maguire-run real estate investment trust spent $3 billion to buy 24 buildings that Blackstone Group acquired in its deal for Equity Office Properties Trust. But about 10 percent of the tenants in the EOP OC properties are subprimers - and many of those tenants are drastically paring back.

The non-commercial commercial: ABC will meet today with ad agency types to present ways to hold onto audiences during commercial breaks. The Disney-owned network isn't providing details, but if it's anything like the approach being used by CW it could revolutionize TV advertising. CW, you see, sells commercials that resemble programs, with the sponsors’ products incorporated into the plots. Another approach being taken by the VH1 network has program snippets and spots commingled. Somebody told the NYT that "It's not about labeling a ‘good’ commercial or a ‘bad’ commercial, it's about engagement."

Playa profile: The NYT takes a look at the Playa Vista phenomenon, focusing on the recently cut deal by Tishman Speyer and Walton Street Capital for commercial property on the east side of the complex. That involves working around the old Howard Hughes buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and must be preserved. Story covers lots of familiar plot points, but at the end Ruth Galanter, the project's one-time nemesis, was almost singing its praises (a new fresh-water marsh, a water management system and housing discounts for police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers). Playa Vista, she told the paper, is "a lot better than any other development of the same size that I know of, certainly in Southern California."

More mall expansion: The owners of Westfield Valencia Town Center want to tack on 30 shops and five restaurants - an addition of 1.3 million square feet. As part of the plan, Macy's would be increasee by one-third. Sears and J.C. Penney would remain as is, but two multilevel parking garages would be built on the periphery. Last year, Westfield completed a 600,000-square-foot enlargement of its Topanga mall. Daily News

James Beard correction: In Monday's post, I inadvertently left out one other local name to the list of nominees: Brad Johnson of Angeleno magazine for his restaurant reviews. That makes six Socal nominees. My apologies to Brad and Angeleno.

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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