Archive for July, 2005

Tweet Lifestyle entrepreneur Martha Stewart is showing that when it comes to time in prison, the market place can be much more forgiving if it involves celebrities. Stewart, who earlier this year finished a 5-month prison term and will complete her home confinement sentence in August, plans to launch a reality show entitled “The Apprentice: […]

Goodwill is a powerful thing. In finance it is the difference in value between the assets of a company and the price it is sold for, representing the momentum built up in its cashflows.

Momentum then is a powerful force whether in sport, music or business. The Live 8 concert carried the goodwill of its audience of 3 billion, in both an altruistic and artistic sense. This would be the largest audience any artist on the bill is ever likely to play to. Although nerves will play a part, on the whole it would be reasonble to expect performances as polished and clipped as that which brought Roger Federer his third Wimbledon title. All these artists are in theory at the top of their game.

It is however a function of the “winner takes all” phenomenon, that this kind of artistic success need not necessarily reflect relative skill, either in composition or performance. Nor does it depend, as Federer’s has, on a continuous effort to improve. For example, REM’s performance of their angst-ballad “Everybody Hurts” was remarkably lacklustre from an objective fan’s perspective. But this does not matter, because all that the audience needs is a representation of what they love to evoke their memory of the song and their emotional attachment. They do not need the thing itself. Knowing this, the artist indulges in what Herbert Simon famously characterised as “satisficing.” The irony is this was coined as a critique of the performance of the firm.

By contrast, anyone attending a small-scale concert by a classical musician on the same night will expect technical precision of the highest order. So such a musician must play better to an audience of 35 than a rock god to 3 billion.

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One of the peculiar features of bias is a tendency to want to have it both ways. Take for example the criticism of Bob Dylan’s agreement with Starbucks for the coffee chain to exclusively sell his Live at the Gaslight 1962 CD, which contains the earliest known recordings of his classics “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Dylan, who has long been an icon of the 1960s despite repeated attempts to disassociate himself from the era, is accused of “selling out” to a multinational. Yet, there’s no criticism, rejection or even mention of Starbucks’ social programs, such as its practice of matching partner and customer volunteer hours with cash contributions to nonprofit organizations and support for ecological coffee growing. It’s a case of ignoring the inconvenient.

At another level, Dylan’s decision along with those by others, such as Ray Charles’ estate, is indicative of the rising power of artists. Dylan doesn’t have to depend any longer on old established outlets to sell his music. He can bypass them. The deal with Starbucks gives him more leverage in deciding how his music should be distributed. This is subversion 21st-century style. The tension between the creative and the commercial frequently goes wrong and the creative often does not win out. However, just this year, Starbucks was credited with helping the New York folk-rock group Antigone Rising achieve a nationwide audience in the US. In 3 weeks, it sold 35,000 of its debut album, “From the Ground Up.”

Similarly, consumers find themselves with a widening range of choice in where they can buy their goods. They can choose the most comfortable environment, whether it is the internet or a cafe. The shopping experience has become as decisive as the purchase itself. A total of 775,000 albums, or some 25% of the sales of Ray Charles’ last album Genius Loves Company were sold at Starbucks.

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