Opinion: Doug Thompson and Daddy Warbucks

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“By the way, which one’s Pink?”
By Doug Thompson

Universal Music Group, the largest recording company in the U.S., is annoyed again with iPod/iTunes magnate Steve Jobs.
Jobs is inflexible with iTunes pricing: 99 cents per song. There is one exception. If the company gives up the right to restrict the file copying on the song, then the price is $1.29.
Universal, which accounts for 15 percent of iPod downloads, is threatening to hold back on some of its more popular upcoming releases.
There they go again.


I download more music than either member of my family who own an iPod. I use iTunes on my Microsoft personal computer specifically because I respect and appreciate Jobs’ tough stance.
I’ve never bought the Steve Jobs myth. I don’t think he’s as much of a visionary as he is a showman. However, he’s holding down costs for his customers on this issue. I’m going to support him with my business.
Jobs understands that 99 cents is the market maximum you can charge for a song without fostering rampant piracy. In fact, the 99-cent price hasn’t done away with piracy. It just toned it down a bit.
Universal’s grumbling about iTunes “monopoly” practices is really grumbling about disruption of the music industry’s monopolistic practices. Four record companies control 80 percent of the market in the United States. They have obviously colluded on pricing. There is no other explanation for why CDs still cost so much.
Don’t talk about artists needing money for their work. Give the artists the some of the overhead taken by the music business and they’ll be no worse off.
Let’s just sidestep the question of whether somebody who plays music or plays baseball exceptionally well should be a millionaire anyway.
Speaking of millionaire musicians, Prince is raising a stink in Great Britain by providing his latest CD free to anybody who buys a ticket to one of his concerts in his current tour. Then he agreed to a packaging deal with a British newspaper: Buy a copy of their latest Sunday edition, and you got a CD free.
You’d have thought Price had thrown tea into the harbor, judging by the British recording industry’s reaction. Record stores are threatening to boycott his music.
Which means their customers who like Prince will get it elsewhere. Accessibility doesn’t appear to be a problem.
All this hasn’t hurt Prince’s ticket sales, which is where he makes his money anyway.
The British music industry in particular is a little nervous these days. Fopp, a popular record store chain of with more than 80 locations, went into what we’d call receivership on June 29. According to news accounts, this left many of their 700 employees short a month’s pay.
Those employees are among the people actually paying the cost for this transition from buying a physical record of some kind to digital downloading. However, the invention of trucks was a hard blow to muleskinners, too.
The bottom line here is that there is simply no way for the music industry to keep demanding the prices they are used to when you can order the two songs you want for a reasonable price instead of having to buy a CD with 10 songs of filler that still has a good 30 minutes of unused capacity on the disc.
They can gripe all they want about the 99 cents. Jobs has created a market perception that you’re a sucker if you pay more than 99 cents for a song, and it will stick.
Stereophile.com has an article on the iTunes/UMG flap that puts things in good perspective. It says 800 record stores closed in 2006. It also mentions that recent hikes by the U.S. Postal Service for packages don’t help CDs either, many of which are sold through mail-order businesses like Amazon.
Unless the American listening public suddenly develops a bigger taste for symphonies, there’s no good reason to buy an 80-minute piece of music, which is what the CD holds. The dominant music format is still the three-minute hit, and there’s no easier, cheaper, faster and more appropriate way to distribute three-minute songs than digital downloading.

Daddy Warbucks

Ozark Natural Foods wins national honor

It’s great to have a national champion among us. Just a few scant years ago, rumors were rife that Ozark Natural Foods was about to go belly up—that’s right, belly up. Kaput. Finis. Out of business. But boy, oh, boy, has there been a “natural” turnaround for the local food cooperative. The Consumer Cooperative Management Association recently named Ozark Natural Foods the nation’s top cooperative. The store, located in the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center in Fayetteville, won the 2007 Cooperative Excellence Awards for its management, solid-financial operation and its innovative membership and community involvement. The national association noted that the co-op has one of the strongest balance sheets in the nation. Woo Wee. It needs to be noted that Ozark Natural Foods has done this while Wal-Mart, Kroger and other food giants say they are turning “green” to lure customers.

TOP RETAILER
It was no surprise that Wal-Mart emerged as the top retailer in the U.S. with $348 billion in sales. Other top five retailers in order are: Home Depot, $90.8 billion; Kroger, $66.1 billion; Costo, $60.2 billion; and Target, $59.5
billion. Spots six through 10 went to Sears, Walgreens, Lowe’s, CVS and Safeway. The Arkansas based Dillard’s was ranked number 41 with $7.8 billion in sales.

UAG, NOW PAG
Remember when local car dealerships rarely changed names? Well them days are over. The Landers companies, turned into United Auto Group
and now they are Penske Auto Group. Known as PAG on Wall Street. The conglomerate operates some 311 auto stores. The Fayetteville assemblage counts as one store.

52 WEEK HIGH
J.B. Hunt Transportation stock soared to over 30 bucks a share last week. A 52-week high, a high that is expected to go higher.

THORNCROWN ANNIVERSARY
It was 27 years ago this week that the most visited chapel in the state. Thorncrown Chapel opened near Eurkea Springs. The late E. Fay Jones masterpiece has withstood the test of time.

HOUSING SLUMP OR SLOWDOWN?
Although studies say there’s a housing slump nationwide, local homebuilders still tell Daddy W.that it’s just a slow down here in NWA.

OIL ON THE RISE
Rising gas prices are already coming back. We have all started to really love $2.80 cent a gallon gasoline, haven’t we? How long before the U.S. starts follow the lead of Canada and Europe by posting not the price per gallon, but the price per liter to make it more salvable?

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