Friday, October 05, 2007

Doing business

So I want to go to London at some point, but I don't want to pay the Earth for my flight. From time to time I check a website or the paper to see whether there are any juicy fares.

I see this.

$1250! Now that's too good to be true. You don't need to know anything about Flight Centre to know that there is no way you will actually get this fare (the going rate for flights is about $2100 at the moment). I don't think Australia has a law about telling the truth in ads, and if it does, Flight Centre has never felt encumbered by it.

So I make an email enquiry, using Dr Zen as my name, giving a fake phone number and so on. I ask specifically whether they actually have this fare.

This was the response I had from their consultant, whose name I have redacted:

Dear Dr Zen,

thank you for your email. We can certainly have a look for some good and reasonably priced flights for you. Could you please forward your full name as it appears on the passport and your contact details. Also if you could confirm your dates of departure and arrival, and I will look for some options for you.

Looking forward to your response.

Kind Regards,

Coco the Clown

What teh fuxxorz?! Could I please forward my full name as it appears on my passport? No, I could not. Why the fuck would I want to? Does the fare exist if she likes my name, and not if it doesn't?

I am guessing that she will check on her database to see whether they've ever fucked me over for a fare before, or some such nefarious bullshit.


I am listening to the Fiery Furnaces. It's like they learned how to make music but no one told them that their songs were rubbish. So I've binned the lot.

Instead, I'm going to listen to the Field, From here we go sublime. It's very nice, laidback techno.


So I say to Coco, no, I'm not giving you my name, but does the fare actually exist?

To which Coco replies:

All advertised airfare do exist, all of them are subject to availability at the time of travelling.

and I say, yeah, they exist on your website but just aren't available when the traveller actually wants them.

Because that's the scam, isn't it? There is one morning in March when you could theoretically get the cheap flight. If your name is Theodora Zzczyzzyzzl.


I think the Field are German or something. You'd expect Germans to do techno well. After all, they're all robotic and stuff, aren't they?

Seriously though, they're pretty good, after years of not being good at music at all. I have also been listening to Arovane, who is also German. He's very good. A bit like Autechre-lite, which is no bad thing, because the echt Autechre, if not actually unlistenable, can be a bit of a trial.

Do you like the way I dropped that bit of German in there? It's Germanglish really, because you can use it in English, if you are showing off.

My favourite thing Autechre did was to make a song in which the beats didn't repeat. This was at the time of the Criminal Justice Bill, which outlawed gatherings of youngsters at which repetitive beats were played. Autechre advised DJs to have a musicologist and a lawyer in attendance. Who says technoheads don't have an SOH?


John Harris in teh Graun has an article in which he defends record companies. This is a bit like writing a story called "Lucifer's not all bad", but he gives it a spirited go. Unfortunately, Harris is intellectually underpowered, fuelled by a rubber band and matchsticks, rather than a motor.

My comment seems to have been moderated, but the gist of it was that record companies are pretty much on the way out. They relied on our not being able to get hold of music without them. Now we can. I can download an artist's entire back catalogue in a couple of hours -- less if they're fairly popular. Now I do like to buy CDs, because I recognise that some of the money (a pitifully small amount) makes its way to the artist, but if they all took the Radiohead route, and made their music available for whatever the user could pay, they'd probably make more.

Harris's argument seems to be that record companies are shit filters for the consumer, which implies to me that he hasn't been listening to music for some time. His view that the record company didn't expect to make money from the Klaxons is badly misguided too. Of course they did. They do not use profits from big-selling tripe to subsidise poor-selling genius at all. That's nonsense. Record companies will sign up, say, 20 up-and-comers on shithouse contracts in the hopes that one will make a ton of money for them. The record company can recoup its outlay easily because a/ the band pays for everything, not the company and b/ one band that hits will make them obscene profits.

We've all bought blank CDs. I get mine from Crazy Clark's and they cost something like 20c each. One imagines EMI can get a job lot of decently made CDs for the same price. They basically cost very little to burn, and as I say, EMI does not actually pay the costs of recording. And record companies have welcomed the digital age by trying to sell us digital recordings without all the pretty packaging. At roughly the same price!

I don't think culture should be commercialised in any case. Obviously, it's going to continue to be, because we have transited to a world in which everything has a dollar value, and if money cannot buy you love, it can buy you everything else. It's a horrible world, but it's what it is right now. But I would welcome a world in which artists have their interface with consumers on their websites, and are paid by donation. They'd still make money -- people can be incredibly generous when they feel they have reason to give.

And maybe, just maybe, music would become about what's great, not about what Sony thinks can turn a buck.


I miss living in a place with bucket shops and competition, where there is a bit too much capacity. I guess planes from here to there are mostly full, so there's no pressure on airlines to sell flights cheaply. It's curious that in London, if you can fly tomorrow, you can get a very low price, but here, if you want to fly tomorrow, you will pay through the nose to do it.

Coco did not get back to me. Businesses do not exist to serve us. They once did; or at least they once had the notion that that was part of why they existed.

Harris would have been right about record companies once upon a time. Book publishers were the same. They were willing to subsidise good things that didn't make money. Now they aren't. They just pump out more and more of the same shit that is already making it.

Read business publications (which I sometimes have to do, because I edit them) and you'll read all about how change is essential, but you'll never read that you should do something well and just keep doing it.

Meanwhile, petrol is $1.20 a litre at the pump (our American friends gasp at how dear that is; our British ones are like, what you complaining about?) and there'll be change soon enough. I was thinking about house prices. They've risen so much it would now be impossible for someone like me, even were I young enough to think about it, to get on the ladder. Ten years ago, I could have. Now, no way. I simply could not borrow enough money, even at today's low interest rates.

And I was thinking, everything is going that way. I read in the paper that inflation is this low but man, everything is costing more than it did in a big way. Everything that is transported has shot up; and everything that is made of oil too. That, of course, is nearly everything. And our real wages do not rise. At best they are stagnant; but for many they have fallen. If headline inflation does not actually match real inflation (if the people who are producing inflation figures use unrealistic baskets to calculate the CPI, for instance), then the fall in real wages becomes even bigger.

We are rich. I am rich. I have far more, materially, than any of my ancestors. I live like a mediaeval king. I want for nothing materially, if I am realistic about it.

But we are living in the summer of our culture. Autumn is not far off, and we can feel the first signs of it, the mist in the morning, things falling apart. There'll be a winter. Maybe I won't live to see it, but it's coming.


At 4:53 pm, Anonymous theminotaur said...

A few years ago, when the whole "oh my god, downloading music will be the death of the industry and economy will collapse" bullshit first became a matter of national debate, I read a good article on the subject. The author (I forget the name) had said, basically, this: "I recently got into downloading music. First thing I realized is that I need faster Internet, so now I gladly pay for that every month. Then I decided I need better speakers, and a new sound card wouldn't hurt, so I went out and bought those. And then there were all these artists I liked but couldn't get this or that album in full, so my CD collection grew exponentially." Downloading music makes people spend less money? What the fuck ever. Before kazaa I had maybe 5 artists I liked, because everything on the radio was this shit on a stick record companies call music. The discovery that there is so much more out there, so much absolutely wonderful stuff that doesn't get sold at Walmart, was one of the most amazing discoveries ever. And certainly, if I like the artist I will most likely buy the album, because the quality is generally better, plus I'm a sucker for album art.

Oh well. This one poor Native American woman is apparently singlehandedly responsible for the shitty state of the recording industry. And the evil people of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Read and weep

At 6:04 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

You know, I can't help thinking "evil cunt" when I read someone describing music as their "property", particularly when they didn't make it.

As ever, the law favours the rich. But it's one of those laws that I think really lacks popular support. I doubt a majority would think it should be illegal to download music.

The thing is, I reckon most downloaders will be people like me: I buy CDs -- lots of them, as many as I can afford. If I download an album, I'm not robbing anyone of revenue, because I would not have bought it instead. As it happens, I have downloaded several albums that I've gone on to buy. Like you, mino, I'm a sucker for packaging (and as I said, I recognise that a small amount of the money actually does go to the artist, whom I want to encourage).

I have real difficulty with agreeing that downloading an album is theft, because I cannot see who loses anything. The only "property" I have taken is the music company's "right" to prevent me from listening to music without paying. I don't think they ever should have been allowed that right, or anything like it, in the first place, and any law that supports that right is unjust in my view.

At 6:14 pm, Anonymous Theodora Zzczyzzyzzl. said...

Hello you darlink man you! You are not kvite right about ze flight, it is only in a month zat doesn't have an arse in it. And ze plane, it is so cute? Like a big sail with a tiny little engine underneath like ze thing the garden-man uses to get rid of ze leaves in autumn. You vouldn't like ze seats either, zere aren't any. You have to go all the way in zis sleeping bag, and the draught it is terrible.

At 6:14 pm, Blogger Don said...

Businesses do not exist to serve us. They once did; or at least they once had the notion that that was part of why they existed.

You are caught up in some sort of sentimentalism to say this. Businesses exist to make money. They will serve you, and nicely, and enjoy doing it, if it works out that way. But don't think for a minute there used to be better days.

At 6:16 pm, Blogger Don said...

we are living in the summer of our culture

Unfortunately I can't disagree with this part. Feels like autumn to me already too.

At 6:22 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Don, I suppose I am somewhat sentimental, but I think you are wrong. Right and wrong, in equal parts. Of course, businesses have always been about making money. No doubt about it. But they haven't always worshipped profit to the exclusion of everything else. That has been not true even in my lifetime. Are you certain that it has always been true in yours?

At 8:26 pm, Blogger Don said...

they haven't always worshipped profit to the exclusion of everything else

Right, I agree with this, but it's my opinion that if you could look over all the globe, you would find this is true and isn't true to the same extent as always. Our own exposure to these attitudes changes, because everything is dynamic, from our lives to individual businesses to entire markets. The airline people have evolved to not give a shit because thanks to the internet they have millions of people to sell to and don't have to care about your opinion anymore. Yet. This could change too. Suppose they get a rep for rarely delivering on advertised fares? That creates an opportunity for someone else, and so it goes.

At 9:17 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

Businesses do not exist to serve us. They once did; or at least they once had the notion that that was part of why they existed.

Business never existed to serve customers, they've only ever existed to make a profit. The organizations that are chartered to serve the public are called "non-profit organizations" and usually their corporate officers draw huge salaries which is actually why those were formed by those who miraculously turned out to be the corporate officers.

Businesses used to realize that if they didn't at least appear to serve, they wouldn't survive. But now there are so many customers it matters fuckall how many of them they screw, there are others queued up waiting to bend over.

At 1:03 am, Blogger said...

food still grows on trees, Dude.

At 10:34 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I can't help thinking "evil cunt" when I read someone describing music as their "property"

So if you get a book published you will be happy if it is freely available on the internet? and you receive no royalty's?

At 10:39 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking about house prices. They've risen so much it would now be impossible for someone like me, even were I young enough to think about it, to get on the ladder.

You can still pick up houses on deserted sink estates in the north East for a few thousand LOL.

Looks like you are stuck in AU and misery for the rest of your life!

At 1:46 pm, Blogger Father Luke said...

Theodora Zzczyzzyzzl. said...Hello you darlink man you!

I want that Bitch.
She's HOT!

- -
Haw Chaw Cha!,
Father Luke

At 2:59 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Don, Flight Centre bought all the competition.

boots, you are simply wrong. The two are not exclusive. You can make money honourably. I think that the people who don't have honour have flourished because of enablers like you and Don. It's a pity, because I don't think you want this world any more than I do, but cunts like you built it. Thanks for that, guys.

At 7:42 am, Anonymous Thomas said...

Yesterday I saw that Radiohead is making their latest album available directly to their listeners on their website, possibly only until early December, at which time a company might begin selling and distributing it.

At the moment, they have no contract with a label.

Nine Inch Nails also have no label, and are considering similar steps as Radiohead.


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