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Hi, Longbow,

I think the best place to start is with the annual reports and SEC filings of the big, publicly traded media companies.

Most of the big media companies do so many different things that you need the annual reports to see how each part of their business is doing, and then you can put that in comparative context with other subsidiary businesses or stand-alone companies that you can get information about.

For example, Simon & Schuster/Macmillan which is the publishing arm of Viacom looks just OK in the context of Viacom's other businesses which include revenues from MTV, Nickelodeon, etc. But in the context of book pubishing, S & S's margins and growth rate are quite solid.

Other huge media companies are Pearson which owns the Financial Times, several TV stations, as well as Penguin/Putnman books in both the UK and the US/NYC. Their overall business model is going to be quite different from Viacom's.

Another huge media company is Advance Publications, Inc. which owns Random House (based in NY),Conde Nast magazines, cable TV stuff, The New Yorker, and a few daily newspapers. It's also privately held.

Perhaps the largest, and certainly among the most sprawling, media companies is Bertlesmann, AG. They run the vertically integrated BMG music production/distribution outfit along with a large piece of AOL, Bantam DoubleDay Dell books (based in NYC), TV stations and production companies in Germany, and have announced plans to start an online book-selling unit to compete with Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Bertlesmann, though, is privately held, so it won't be easy to get a good look at their business models with hard numbers.

I don't mean to digress, sum up, or be comprehensive, but each of these companies is a thing unto itself and the best place to start making sense of them, in my opinion, is at the sources in question when they're available -- sure to be a fascinating exploration.

--Gabrielle Loperfido
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