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There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere: The AOL Time Warner Debacle and the Quest for a Digital Futureby Kara Swisher and Lisa Dickey
Synopses & Reviews
“AOL had found itself at the edge of disaster so frequently that one of its first executives, a brassy Vietnam veteran and restaurateur named Jim Kimsey, had taken the punch line of an old joke popularized by Ronald Reagan and made it into an unlikely mantra for the company. It concerned a very optimistic young boy who happened upon a huge pile of horse manure and began digging excitedly. When someone asked him what he was doing covered in muck, the foolish boy answered brightly, ‘There must be a pony in here somewhere!’” —From the Prologue
If you’re wondering what happened after “a company without assets acquired a company without a clue,” as Kara Swisher wryly writes, it’s time to crack open this trenchant book about the doomed merger of America Online and Time Warner. On a quest to discover how the deal of the century became the messiest merger in history, Swisher delivers a rollicking narrative and a keen analysis of this debacle that is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what it all means for the digital future. Packed with new revelations and on-the-record interviews with key players, it is the first detailed examination of the merger’s aftermath and also looks forward to what is coming next.
It certainly has not been a pretty picture so far—with $100 billion in losses, a sinking stock price, employees in revolt, and lawsuits galore. As Swisher writes, “It is hard not to feel a bit queasy about the whole sorry mess. . . . It felt a bit like I was watching someone fall down a flight of stairs in slow motion, and every bump and thump made me wince. It made me reassess old ideas and wonder what I had gotten wrong. And it left me deeply confused as to what had happened and, more important, what was coming next.”
For Swisher, finding the answers to what went awry is important because she remains a staunch believer in the digital future—maybe not in the AOL Time Warner merger, but in the essential idea at the heart of it that someday the distinction of old and new media will no longer exist. Borrowing from Winston Churchill, Swisher calls it “the end of the beginning” of the digital revolution. “By that, I mean that it is from the ashes of this bust that the really important companies of the next era will emerge. And that evolution will, I believe, be shaped by what happened—and what is happening now—at AOL Time Warner.”
To figure it all out, Swisher takes her reader on a journey that begins with a portrait of two wildly different corporate cultures and businesses that somehow came to believe, in the crucible of the red-hot Internet era, that they could successfully join forces and achieve unprecedented growth and success. When the merger was announced in early 2000, the irresistible combination was hailed as the new paradigm and its executives—Steve Case, Jerry Levin, Bob Pittman—as popular icons of the future. But after the boom so spectacularly turned to bust and the visions of New Media Supremacy lay in ruins, Swisher searches for clues about where the merger went wrong and who is to blame.
More important, she looks to the future of both AOL Time Warner and the Internet as she seeks to answer the key question that the noise of the disaster has all but drowned out. Will the demise of the AOL Time Warner merger be the final and inevitable chapter of the dot-com debacle or will it herald a new paradigm altogether? This book, then, is a primer for the time to come, using the story of the AOL Time Warner merger as the vehicle to show the troubled journey into the future.
"[A]lways lively, sometimes glib....Swisher uses her access to most top AOL executives and Levin to deliver a story that races along in Internet time about one of the seminal events in media history." Publishers Weekly
"[A]n authoritative account of the AOL and Time Warner corporate merger....Swisher was there reporting on all of it, and her deft, often probing narrative is highly entertaining and instructive, as it sheds light on this corporate train wreck." Library Journal
If the AOL Time Warner mega-merger in January 2000 signaled a new world order of business, what did the spectacular collapse of the new company's fortunes portend? In There Must be a Pony in Here Somewhere, Wall Street Journal columnist Kara Swisher offers a provocative and insightful answer. In the widely praised AOL.com ("fascinating and instructive" — New York Times; "gripping" — The Economist), Swisher chronicled the rise of an unlikely group of entrepreneurs as they repeatedly averted disaster on their way to building one of the most successful enterprises of the digital age. Now, in this book, the reporter who has covered the AOL story from the very beginning has tapped her high-level sources on both sides of the merger to explain how this group used the limitless potential of AOL to acquire the world's largest and most important media company — only to watch the deal suck billions of dollars from stunned investors. Swisher's book paints a fascinating portrait of larger-than-life characters engaged in a high-stakes financial soap opera as she explains the heady climate that led to the mammoth deal and pinpoints the problems that threaten to tear the combined company apart. In the process. Swisher sheds new light on the phenomenon of the Internet boom and bust and reveals why — whatever its ultimate fate — the AOL Time Warner deal has set the stage for a new era of business practice that will signal the "end of the beginning" of the digital revolution.
About the Author
KARA SWISHER is a technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the author of the acclaimed 1998 book on the rise of America Online, AOL.com. In 1999, she was named the “Internet economy’s most influential journalist” by The Industry Standard. She lives in San Francisco.
LISA DICKEY is a freelance writer and editor who most recently worked on The Woman Who Wouldn’t Talk with Susan McDougal and Pat Harris. She lives in Washington, D.C.
Table of Contents
Prologue: What is the Sound of One Door Slamming? 1
Ch. 1 The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (or something like it) 9
Ch. 2 The Perils of Pauline 17
Ch. 3 Nothing Left to Lose Except Everything 63
Ch. 4 The $10 Million Napkin 97
Ch. 5 Pursuing the Putz 149
Ch. 6 Way, Way, After the Gold Rush 199
Ch. 7 The End of the Beginning 239
Epilogue: A Portfolio of Perspective 271
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