Small-business owners are fighting to preserve the old-fashioned phone book. Plus, Groupon gets sued, and the rest of the day's news.
Each day, Inc.'s reporters scour the Web for the most important and interesting news to entrepreneurs. Here's what we found today.
We still need phone books! That's the rallying cry of some small-business owners in San Francisco, who are campaigning against the city's proposal to limit the distribution of those thick tomes that land with a thud on doorsteps each year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the city proposed a ban last month on unsolicited deliveries of Yellow Pages, and suggested that residents, instead, sign up if they want to receive the directories. The city says the measure would reduce waste and honor "customers' preferences." However, Steve Falk of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce says, 'While the Internet has grown, the Yellow Pages still serve an important role in keeping small businesses growing.'
Groupon in hot water. Yesterday a Minnesota man sued Groupon, alleging that expiration dates on the company's discounts are "deceptive and illegal." As Chicago Breaking Business reports, "The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis said federal and state laws prohibit companies from selling or issuing gift certificates with expiration dates." Groupon had no comment. Meanwhile, a new ad campaign for Groupon—a short, mild TV commercial—is running. After Groupon yanked its poorly-received Super Bowl commercials, Crispin Porter & Bogusky stepped back in to work on the striped-down spot.
Credit unions push for small-business lending. Non-profits offering basic banking services want to double the amount they lend to small businesses—and they may get some help from the federal government. The Wall Street Journal reports that Sen. Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, will revive a bill that would boost the amount of assets credit unions can lend to entrepreneurs. Under current law, they can only lend 12.25 percent of their assets. The new law would up that lending cap to 25 percent. The Credit Union National Association, which supports the measure, said the bill could create 125,000 new small-business jobs. "It's one of the few easy ways that we have to support credit unions, small businesses and help create jobs all at once," Udall told the Journal.
Does tax-free e-commerce give Web businesses an unfair advantage? Well, that's the argument put forward by veteran journalist Howard Gleckman in a blog post on Forbes. This issue has been tossed around Washington for the last 20 years as mail-order catalog companies complained that tracking taxes in each state would be too difficult for them. Congress has yet to enforce online sales taxes, since many retailers don't have a physical presence in states where they sell. But Gleckman says it's time for a change. "It is no wonder the issue is taking on a new urgency," Gleckman wrote. "States face a 2012 budget deficit of $125 billion and are under heavy pressure to find revenue wherever they can...online retailers have an unfair competitive advantage over local brick-and-mortar stores. Buyers get what looks like a 5 or 6 percent "discount" because of those uncollected sales taxes. Worse, their local competitors may end up paying higher taxes to make up for the lost revenues."
Film renting on Facebook? Warner Brothers became the first major media company to offer a film for rent on Facebook, according to The New York Times.The studio announced yesterday that users can rent the 2008 Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight" by simply plunking down their Facebook Credits. The rental costs 30 Credits, or $3. Thomas Gewecke, president of Warner Brothers Digital Distribution, says the company is just dipping its toe in the water and may make more films available on Facebook over time. Analysts say Warner's best hope for a solution to piracy and plummeting DVD sales is to make more content available for purchase on digital platforms. If other studios follow suit, Facebook could tap a significant revenue stream, bolstering its Credits currency as it seeks to compete with PayPal and other online payment systems.
Shining a spotlight on women entrepreneurs. Speaking at the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. State Department and Goldman Sachs Foundation will offer scholarships to 100 women entrepreneurs from developing countries over the next two years. RTT News reports the world class business and management training program, formally called the Department of State Women's Entrepreneurship Partnership, will supplement Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women program, which has helped educated more than 3,500 women in over 20 countries. The first scholarship winners will be from Haiti and Indonesia. Ceremony attendees included First Lady Michelle Obama and Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
When is a coupon too big? The IT consulting firm Ajilitee offered a whopping $12,500 discount for its services on Groupon, according to Fast Company. It's a sweet deal if you're a B2B firm in need of an audit. The coupon shaves 50 percent off a "BI Best Practices Audit" or a "Cloud Opportunity Map," a five-day workshop on adopting cloud-computing. The deal was first offered via Groupon Stores, but is now available via the Ajilitee website through March 21. There are no takers yet, but the firm told Fast Company that "even without a single 'buy' via Groupon, we would feel successful if one or more organizations called to vet our offerings."