Music price comparison site

6 08 2009

comparedownloadscreenshotThe internet is filled with dozens of sites that let you compare prices of things like car insurance, utilities, credit cards and even meerkats. Such sites are popular since they allow the consumer to get the best possible deal without the hassle of going to each individual store and comparing prices. Well, there is a new comparison site, imaginatively named Comparedownload.com, that allows you to compare the prices of music downloads from different stores like 7digital, Amazon, Tesco Digital, We7 and iTunes.

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Comparedownload.com is the first website in the UK that allows music fans to compare the price of music downloads and seems to have stumbled upon a gap in the market that seems so simple and obvious now that its mentioned. The website’s founder, James Bott, says that it was the frustration of having to search through different sites for the cheapest price for music downloads that lead him to develop this website.

 

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), only 5% of total music downloads are done so legally. This means that there is a huge market for legal downloads if the other 95% are tapped into. If the market potential for online downloads is indeed so huge, why has it taken so long for a site that allows the consumer to compare prices of downloads to be launched? And that too this isn’t a venture by some business seeking to exploit a gap in the market, but the result of someone’s frustration and need.

 

Maybe its because there aren’t enough sites selling music legitimately that have huge catalogues that can be compared. The reason for that is perhaps that its too hard for sites trying to sell music legitimately to bring all the record companies together and convince them to allow a website to sell their songs. And if the website doesn’t have a wide collection of songs, customers will obviously not come. The other quick and simple alternative is file sharing, which of course is illegal.

 

There is of course another alternative, buying a CD. But what if you only want one single, and not the whole album? Also, it’s a lot less convenient than downloading music. CD sales, according to the IFPI, dropped by about 15% last year. Of course, the music industry will be quick to put the blame for the drop on illegal file sharers who want to listen to music, but pay nothing for it. But I don’t think that all those who share music do so because they are heartless or get some sort of pleasure by “stealing” someone’s work, as they are often portrayed. I think it’s a bit hasty to attribute the drop in sales of CD’s to online file sharing. Maybe its because the way people view music and the way they want to obtain their favourite music is changing.

 

Recent surveys suggest that an increasing number of people who previously got their music from file sharing are switching to legitimate music streaming sites like Last.fm, We7 and Spotify. But the business models of such music streaming is completely different from those of the music companies. Music companies want to charge the consumer for each individual download and control how many times the music is moved around whereas music streaming sites view the delivery of music as a service that would allow revenue to be generated by displaying relevant ads and through sales of complementary products like merchandise, tickets to gigs, etc. The biggest hurdle again for such streaming services I think are record labels that may need a lot of convincing to let the sites stream their music. Many are sceptical about streaming sites generating significant revenue that would compensate for the drop in CD sales.

 

To a certain extent, I think that it’s fair to say that the music companies are victims of their own greed and their inability to view the internet as a means of diversifying rather than viewing it as a threat to their business. There are a huge number of online retailers selling all kinds of things from books to computers and they have been operating for quite some time now. Yet, the number of online music sites are still quite low and only now beginning to increase. No wonder then that although you can buy pretty much anything on the web, it’s still relatively hard to buy music legally. It must be so hard to get them all on board and agree on particular business model that it takes somebody with utter determination and nerves of steel with financial backing to achieve a deal. Imagine the kind of problems that Steve Jobs must have faced of convincing each and every record company to make their catalogue available for sale when Apple was planning to launch the iTunes store.

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RIP FSA?

22 07 2009

FSA LogoGeorge Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said that the Conservatives planned to get rid of the Financial Services Authority if they were to win the next general election. Under their plan, the FSA would be renamed to the Consumer Protection Agency and would be responsible for consumer issues while the Bank of England would have overall power and would also be responsible for monitoring and regulating the banking sector. This move would abolish the tripartitie system consisting of the FSA, the Bank of England and the Treasury which was set up in 1997 by the then chancellor and now Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Leaving the pros and cons of such a policy on one side, I don’t think it’s right to announce definite plans of what would happen to the FSA if the Tories were to win power. That is because it diminishes FSA’s authority now when it is trying to regulate the banking sector as nobody will then take them seriously because everybody knows that the FSA’s days are numbered.

Think of a CEO that announces that he is to step down after a year and names his successor. Who do you think will hold the real power now, the CEO or the person who will succeed him? A leader with a sword over his head doesn’t have any significant power as everybody in the organisation will listen to the new guy who will eventually be in power.

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Rather than really bring about a change in the banking regulation, it seems that by announcing their plans, the Tories are trying to earn some political brownie points by taking advantage of Gordon Brown’s unpopularity.

Even though it may be obvious from the numerous polls and the general sentiment amongst the public that the Conservatives are going to win the next election, it does not mean that they have won the election and are in power. The mainstream media are increasingly interpreting the phrase “if the Tories win the next general election” as “when the Tories win the election”.

The thing is, whether we like it or not, Gordon Brown is still the Prime Minister and the problems plaguing the financial sector have to be dealt with now, by those who are in power now. By announcing that the FSA is doomed and the media hanging on to George Osborne’s every word, it affects the authority that the people in power have when they try to be though with those running the financial institutions.

So when you read the headline “FSA warns banks over long-term bonuses” in the Financial Times, you don’t picture a strict headteacher warning a student, but instead picture a lion without any claws or teeth in a zoo letting out an inaudible whimper rather than a ferocious roar. If the regulators and policy makers have no authority, how is the change to be brought about. It’s no wonder then that some of the financial institutions, which not less than a year back, were on the brink of collapse and some even went to the government cap-in-hand asking for financial help are now announcing record profits and are still trying to pay bonuses even when the so called “bonus culture” has been criticized by the regulators, the prime minister and the chancellor for hastening the speed of the financial mess.

Sure, its necessary for the public to know the policies of each party to enable them to make an informed decision about whom they will cast their vote. But for a political party that is desperately trying to distance itself from the negative publicity from the MPs expenses scandal and hoping to win the next general election, it doesn’t seem right when it tries to capitalise from its opponent’s unpopularity and kicking him while he is down.

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50% Income Tax

24 04 2009

alistair-darling-budget-2009The increase in the rate of income tax for the high earners seems to be the most talked about topic of this year’s budget. The tax applies to all those who earn £150,000 or more. Add to that the National Insurance contribution and it equates to more than half of one’s salary. The aim of this rise, according to the chancellor Alistair Darling, is to contribute to the Treasury coffers to make up for the huge amounts of public sector borrowings, £175 billion this year itself.

But it looks like the aim of this move is to gather support from the majority of the public who seem to hold all those who earn huge amounts of money responsible for all the mess that the economy is in. A poll by the Times newspaper shows that 57% of the respondents back this increase in tax. The accountancy and tax experts will definitely see a rise in business since they will have many clients asking them to look for loop holes allowing them to dodge the tax. And who will then pick up the bill? The hard working majority of course.

A lot of measures have been introduced in the budget to help people, like the scheme for the 18-25 year olds, £2000 car scrappage scheme, ISA allowance, etc. But its one thing to announce something and another thing to actually implement it.

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But, its not whats in the budget that’s important, but what wasn’t included in the budget. If the money coming in is less than the money going out, it may be OK to borrow money in the short term to cover that deficit. But somewhere along the line, cuts in spending will have to be made. There is no clear indication where those cuts will be made.

To make a start, how about the MPs themselves cutting back on the expenses that they claim from the tax payer. I mean claiming back 88p for a bath plug, how ridiculous is that. Its like almost mocking the tax payers. It is understandable that an MP from, say Newcastle, should be able to stay in London when performing his duties and expect the tax payer to pay for that. But that doesn’t mean buying a second home and pocketing the profit made from it. Its means lodging in a hotel during the stay. And if the MPs really care for the taxpayers, why not take a pay cut? Its not a lot to ask. Many workers have taken a pay cut in companies so that their colleagues can keep their jobs.

The Treasury estimates that it will spend £119 billion of the £671 billion on Health services this year. How about asking those who drink excessively and then take up the resources of the NHS when their bodies cant take it to pay for the service. How about allocating resources to curb rising obesity so that money doesn’t have to be spent on treating illnesses arising from it. Distributing garden tools and seeds across the schools would provide physical exercise and free produce as well.

People who currently receive help paying their fuel bills could be provided with subsidies allowing them to purchase energy efficient appliances such as electric kettles. This would reduce the energy used which would reduce the bills which would reduce the amount payed by the Government. Subsidies over 50% could also be provided to buy solar panels which would make homes thatreceive fuel allowance self sufficient which means that they wouldn’t be requiring the help from the Government.

There are many other ways that the money can be spent efficiently by the Government. Asking a group of over-paid Government consultants isn’t going to help, ask the public for ideas. I am sure that a lot of constructive ideas will emerge.

In hindsight, if the Government had spent their money wisely when it was coming in and saved for a rainy day, there might have been a bit of buffer that the Chancellor could have used. We instead ended up with no savings and a massive hurricane instead of a rainy day. The budget doesn’t seem to be based on sound economics, but on hope and a prayer. If the Chancellors own figures are to be believed from last year, we should be in a recovery sometime soon. But instead, we are still in a deep recession. Yet, he hopes the economy will grow by 3.5% in two years time. How? Manufacturing is affected despite the weak pound and the financial sector is not as big as it used to be. Who will then lead the recovery?

Even if the figures are somehow achieved, it is still better to plan for a slow growth and be pleasantly surprised by the massive growth than to plan/hope for massive growth and then get it spectacularly wrong.

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Market Research

9 04 2009

the-apprentice-home-gymWatching the candidates of The Apprentice talk about themselves misleads one into feeling that not only are they the best, but that they are the best of the best of the best when it comes to running a business and that Sir Alan Sugar should feel lucky that they are willing to work for him. Yet, when it comes to doing a task, they forget the most basic of business concepts.

As seems to be the norm these days, the task involved designing a portable piece of fitness equipment for, surprise surprise, the cash strapped consumer. It was clear from the beginning that the whole task was about the product. It is no surprise then that team Empire, which came up with a Gym-in-a-box idea failed to sell even one unit to two of the three retailers they pitched to. The candidates failed to realise that the perfect product isn’t one that tickles their own fancy, or one which their family would like to buy, but one which addresses the needs of the consumer, hence filling a possible gap in the market.

Both teams failed to conduct even basic market research to help them develop their product. Team Empire should have realised that creativity wasn’t their strongest bit and rather than sit around the table bouncing useless ideas of each other, they should have sent two people to the local gym to talk to the members there about the kinds of products they would like to buy and what price they were willing to pay for it. Another team of around two people could have scoured the internet looking at the products that their competitors were selling at that price level. After all, the task was about designing a product for consumers who were finding the gym membership too expensive and were looking for low cost alternatives. Who better to ask about the product than those who are going to buy it in the end.

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Their lack of research was also evident in their pricing strategy. It felt as if they had just closed their eyes and picked the figure of £29.99 randomly for their product. At that price, there are numerous alternatives in the market which are certainly better looking if not better value for money. Even the promotional material, including the pictures, looked like something that came out of a secondary school student’s Media Studies project.

Although team Ingnite failed to do any market research either, they still won the task and were offered a deal of exclusivity by John Lewis. One of the reasons why their product succeeded was perhaps because it was simple. Their opponents product was a case of “Jack of all Trades, Master of None”, like a new mobile phone which offers to make you a cup of tea and take your dog for a walk. Ignite’s product was also more pleasing to look at and truly portable.

Two days to come up with a concept, build a prototype and pitch a product is indeed a tall order and both the teams did that with a lot of patience and commitment. Was firing Majid the right decision? Its not for us to decide. After all, this isn’t a talent show, its a long job interview and Sir Alan should keep those whom he feels would be right for his organisation.

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Throwaway Fashion

21 02 2009

primarkThe Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched a “Sustainable Clothing Action Plan” co-inciding with the London Fashion Week to highlight the increasing problem of “fast fashion”. Apparently, UK consumers buy around two tonnes of clothes every year, and throw away a massive 1.2 million tonnes of them every year.

Rapidly changing fashion trends means that many consumers have to keep on buying new clothes to keep their wardrobe up-to-date and to compete with their friends and peers. This means that new clothes are worn only a few times and as trends change, are then consigned to the bin.

Of the two million tonnes of clothing bought every year, only 300,000 are recycled. If the majority of the clothes are worn only a couple of times, surely more of them can be recycled. Due to the current economic crisis, donations to charities has dropped. Consumers are cutting back on their spending. If more clothes that are in a good condition are donated to the charity shops, they can then sell them on to consumers looking for a bargain which results in a win-win situation. The charity shops get their revenue, consumers can bag a bargain and there are less clothes ending up in the landfill site.

One of the reasons why consumers can afford to keep on buying new clothes and then throw them away is partly due to ready availability of cheap fashionable clothes on the high street. However, many fail to see the real story behind the cheap price tag. An investigation by BBC’s Panorama last year revealed how Primark’s suppliers used factories with unfair standards and also child labour to provide the consumers on the high street with cheap fashionable clothing.

Jane Milne, who is the business environment director of the British Retail Consortium, said that retailers should be “applauded, not criticised, for providing customers with affordable clothing, particularly during these tough economic times”. Sure, if the low prices are due to a better, more efficient production technique. But not if someone less unfortunate than us halfway across the world is subsidising the cost for us by being exploited and made to work in unfair conditions.

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Hidden Costs of Redundancies

6 01 2009

jobcentre-plusThe number of people unemployed is rising everyday due to firms going bankrupt or businesses making some of their staff redundant as part of a “cost-cutting measure”. However, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) warned yesterday that redundancies could in fact prove to be a false economy for businesses.

It estimates that the actual cost of redundancy could reach up to £16,000 for each employee made redundant. This figure takes into account the redundancy payment and the costs involved in recruiting and training replacement staff. But, redundancies can also lead to lower staff morale because when employees see some of their colleagues being made redundant, they fear about the security of their own jobs. This leads to a drop in their productivity which in some cases would lead to the business losing its competitive edge over a period of time. The CIPD’s figures doesn’t take these factors into account.

For most businesses redundancies are the most straight forward ways of cutting down costs in the short term. Less staff means less wages to be paid each month. Although analysts and bankers and politicians cannot agree on how long it will take for the economic condition to improve, they all agree that it will improve in the near future.

When the situation does improve, a business should be in a position to meet the upsurge in demand if it wants a share of the increasing market. This does not only mean having enough number of staff, but staff that are properly trained and equipped with necessary skills to help them do their jobs to the best of their abilities and be efficient. So, when employees are made redundant, they take the skills that they have acquired at the firm’s expense with them and this is another indirect cost to the business.

When the economy is booming, there is demand for staff from businesses who want to grow. For those businesses that require staff with special skills, this could prove to be a costly affair because people with those specific skills might be hard to find. Also, if people with a particular skill are in high demand, the business would have to be prepared to pay a higher salary or offer lucrative perks or else the prospective employee might end up working for the competitor.

Most businesses have a Human Resources Department which looks at the company’s long term objectives and then works out the staffing needs like the kind of staff required, the kind of skills required, etc., to achieve these objectives. Rather than just making staff redundant, businesses looking to grow in the near future should perhaps evaluate their long term goals and view the currently unemployed people as a pool of highly skilled employees and recruit them cheaply to make the best of the up turn. To help realise the true cost of redundancy, the CIPD has created a formula for employers.

Real cost of redundancy = (n ×R) + (x ×H) + (x ×T) + ny(H + T) + Wz(P – n)

Where:
• n = number of people made redundant
• R = redundancy payments
• x = number of people subsequently hired
• H = hiring costs
• T = induction/training cost
• y = percentage quitting post redundancy
• W= average monthly staff salary
• z = percentage reduction in output per worker caused by lower morale
• P = number of people employed prior to redundancies

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High Street Blues

23 12 2008

BRITAIN-BUSINESS-RETAIL-SALESThe trading that occurs in the run up to Christmas is very crucial to retailers even in the “normal” years. It allows them to make up for the losses they might have incurred over the year and helps them prepare financially for the coming year. 2008 has been, by any standards, anything but a normal year. Huge banks have become small banks, some have been swallowed up by bigger banks, some have merged with other banks while some have disappeared altogether.

Little surprise then that the past few weeks have been really tense for the retailers. The number of shoppers visiting the shops have decreased. As a result, retailers have been forced to cut their prices to attract shoppers. According to Experian, the number of shoppers during the weekend, the last weekend before Christmas, was down by 8.7% as compared to last year. However, the number of shoppers yesterday were up 13.6% as compared to the same Monday last year.

It’s a bit unfair to compare the two corresponding Mondays because last year the Monday was Christmas Eve. The kind of shoppers who go shopping on Christmas Eve are generally those looking for food items or ingredients for their Christmas dinner, last minute shoppers or those looking for last minute bargains.

Even though the number of shoppers increased, it still remains to be seen how much revenue that translates into. The main reason why more consumers went out to shop perhaps has a lot to do with a last minute heavy discounts by retailers in desperate attempt to attract shoppers. According to the accountants Ernst & Young, the average discounts were 40%, up from 38% last year. It means that even though people had more shopping bags in their hands, the retailers wouldn’t have made a lot of money from that.

Although the high street is seeing a decline in the number of shoppers, according to Hitwise, the number of people visiting the websites of high street retailers has increased. Between Dec 18 and Dec 21, traffic to online retailers(including internet-only and high street) increased by 2.2% on average as compared to last year. Websites of high street retailers saw their traffic increase by 2.7% on Saturday and 5.9% on Sunday as compared to last year.

When it comes to prices, mostly the online retailers clearly have an advantage over their high street rivals. But their biggest drawback is that the items have to ordered before a certain date to ensure that they are delivered in time for Christmas. On the other hand, the websites of high retailers allow the shoppers to book their products online and pick them up instore. It may not be cheaper than the internet-only retailers, but it certainly is more convenient. One of the put-offs of shopping on the high street before Christmas is clearly having to navigate through crowded streets and aisles holding your shopping bags. It is also very hard to compare prices across different retailers and browse the items leisurely.

The rise in the number of shoppers will definately be of some relief to retailers. But it will by no means make up for the dismal sales and revenues they have generated over the past few weeks. Woolworths and MFI have gone bankrupt and Whittard of Chelsea is said to be on the brink of administration. And it is clear that more will have the same fate in the new year, what remains to be seen is who they will be.

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