Anachostic

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Tag Archives: corporations

Farewell Half.com / Dream On

Yesterday, I learned half.com is closing.  I had one day of notice, essentially.  I had just purchased two things the previous day.  How did I not know this beforehand?

Today, I’m searching for news stories about the closure.  There aren’t any stories of significance.  Maybe 2 or 3 in second-tier tech news sites.  Then there’s a few stories about 6 months ago when the announcement was first made.  Included in those stories is a posting about someone who only found news of the closing in the help section of half.com, and no contacts at half or eBay would confirm the closing.  How weird.  Supposedly, the sellers were notified of the closing, but for whatever reason, the users and buyers were not.

So, the expected plan is for everyone to move their listings to eBay.  But as far as I can tell, eBay is not designed for the sale of media.  The whole design of half.com was that you searched for media, then you see who is selling it.  On Ebay, you would search for media and you get a bunch of listings selling that media.  Every listing would be created by each person, so there would be little to no consistency between them.  Amazon is better suited for sales of that nature, since they have a product, then they have sellers of that product.  It’s the same way that Amazon is not well suited to sell things that eBay excels at, like collectables and one-off unique items.

At some point in the future (not near or far future, somewhere in-between), I was planning on opening an online presence to sell my excess CDs.  Half.com was the frontrunner.  Now I have to choose between eBay and Amazon.  Or maybe Discogs, but I think the buyers would be more discerning there, which would require more effort.

Well, in the meantime, I have plenty enough going on to not worry so much about it, but it is sad to see one of the few physical media marketplaces close down.  You know what would be cool?  What if… Barnes and Noble, who isn’t doing all that well themselves, resurrected the Borders brand (which they bought in bankruptcy court) and re-launched it as a used media outlet. (I hate the word outlet in this instance, but juggernaut is a word that has to be earned).  I’m going to call this idea “Boarders” to prevent any confusion or lawsuits.

So here’s how I would see it operating.  We have to recognize that used media, whether it be books, CDs, DVDs, VHS, or cassette, has a low value – except to collectors.  So, understanding this, margins will be low across the board, no one is going to make a real killing at this.

So you’d start with an online store, structured mostly like half.com.  That’s the cheapest way to get things started.  People make their listings, sell their products and life goes on.  Admittedly, getting the momentum started so it looks like you have lots of items will be difficult.  To help in this, the tools to create listings will have to be top-notch.  Something like having a pre-populated database of UPC codes with product descriptions and stock photos.  Maybe have automated imports of structured files to batch add items.

That’s all well and good, but it’s just another vanilla ecommerce platform.  How’s that going to be an Amazon?  So let’s go to phase two.  Amazon is already at phase two, so nothing earth-shattering here.  Phase two is having Boarders warehouse the inventory.  The sellers use the site’s control panel to create a shipment of product to the Boarders warehouse.  This submision includes the item and the price at which they want to sell the product.  Then they box everything up with a printed submission sheet and send it.

When the shipment arrives, the warehouse worker scans the code on the submission sheet, then begins scanning barcodes on the incoming products.  The items get added to the sellers listings immediately.  I’m no logistics expert, but I’d assume the warehouse manages the inventory in the most efficient way.  The warehouse also gets notified when items sell and would ship them out efficiently as well.

I’m not going to downplay the expense of shipping and processing hundreds of books or CDs or DVDs for both the seller and Boarders.  That’s something that would need to be overcome by the beancounters.

Since we’re still having fun with this, let’s move on to phase three.  Phase three is physical storefront.  These could be built into existing B&N stores or could be standalone.  Stuff that was sent to the warehouses is bundled up and sent to various locations.  Why would the seller care where the product actually is?  All brick and mortar stores become warehouses.

Since these are low-margin sales, you need low-margin maintenance.  You also need to know your potential customers.  So for CDs and DVDs, what is needed is a clamshell container that holds the CD/DVD case and the disc separate, so they can both be inspected for condition without needing an associate to assist.  I would have to think about how books would be handled because buyers would want to see inside the book.  But anyway, back to disc-based media.  You also don’t want to have cashiers deal with opening clamshells and ringing customers up, so you would have a self-checkout machine that accepts the clamshell in a slot, scans the barcode, completes the sale, then releases the unlocked clamshells for the customer to remove and bag up their purchases.  The money goes off to the original seller and life goes on.

It’s just kind of a pipe dream.  Realistically, there isn’t enough potential profit to engineer a checkout machine like that, plus manufacture tens of thousands of cases to hold media that is selling for $1.00 or so.  Not to mention the cost of processing other people’s inventory and shipping it to storefronts.

Or maybe there is, somewhere.  Or maybe, there can exists a company that makes enough money to survive, and doesn’t have to make its owner a multi-billionaire.

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New Frontiers

As an old customer of Verizon FIOS, I was transferred with many others to Frontier.  I never had any significant issue with the transition.  Yeah, their web portal sucked for a while, but my service was uninterrupted and my rates didn’t change.  I had renewed my contract just a couple of months before the changeover.

A lesson I’ve learned, but will probably never be able to apply again is, don’t make any changes to your grandfathered account.  Recently, I decided to change my home phone number.  I never used it, but my ex-wife used it everywhere and all the phone line did was fill up the voicemail with her collection agency calls.  So I wanted a fresh start.  I called Frontier and over a couple of calls, I had a new number.

The next month, I got a bill in the mail from Frontier.  That was odd, because I didn’t think I had any real service done.  The bill was my monthly statement.  That is odd, because I had paperless billing activated.  Further the bill was not for my usual amount of $106, but for $165.  That’s no good.  As I was scanning the papers, I noticed my new phone number was now my account number.  I was suddenly a new customer to them, one with no promo pricing.  That’s no good at all.

I logged in to the web portal and saw that all my past bills were inaccessible (since they were under an old account number) and my autopay was deactivated.  So I got on the phone with billing support.  The guy was pretty confused about the whole situation and eventually gave up, saying the department that needed to handle problems like that was gone for the night.  They would call me the next day.  Unsurprisingly, they didn’t.

I called back during normal business hours and got someone more experienced.  She understood that all that was needed was to restore the discounts on my account.  So after a bit of work she said she couldn’t get it back the way it was.  The reason is that my cable package was migrated from Verizon and there was no Frontier equal.  My bill would go up by about $10/mo.  I kept my mouth shut and the rep said she would transfer me to “retentions”, who would have more power to change the billing.  Ok, then.

The retentions rep also understood the problem and worked to put the discounts back in.  Unfortunately, she still didn’t have any access to restore my cable package.  However, she explained that my cable package was going to change from about 20 channels to 75 channels.  And that’s not so bad.  I rarely watch TV, but the one time I checked it all out, the online channel guide was useless because I couldn’t filter it to only my subscribed channels.  So I always got “this channel is unavailable”.

So, for the privilege of changing my phone number, I had to upgrade to their lowest cable package, which was more than my existing package.  To be fair, that change was inevitable.  I would have to bite that bullet when my renewal came about.  In the end, I got a $25 credit, 75 channels, and the ability to stream cable through my Roku devices.  All for an extra $120/yr.  Oh, and a new phone number, which is really all I wanted.

May The Odds Be Forever In Your Favor

I ran across a letter recently that was addressed to the participants of a company’s retirement plan.  From what I gathered, it seemed like a pension plan.  You know, those old-fashioned things where you work X number of years and they will pay you Y dollars for the rest of your life?  Well, if you haven’t paid attention to that, (and if you haven’t, that’s excusable, because pensions are pretty rare anymore) you would find that companies are doing anything they can to avoid having to pay out those Y dollars.

I read a book a while ago that explained the multiple schemes that were being performed to avoid any sort of pension plan funding.  That book is Retirement Heist.  It’s a good book and you should read it.  This letter to pensioners was just an illustration of those exact cons, and the letter was selling it like it was the greatest thing ever.

Here’s the gist of the letter.  Because of two laws, and I need to write these laws out because they are totally insane, the Moving Ahead For Progress In The 21st Century Act and the Highway And Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (blahhhh), pension plans are allowed to calculate their numbers differently.  Differently in that they can make the badness go away.

So, in this example, before the laws, in 2016, the pension plan was short $8.3M dollars to cover the costs of the members’ retirement.  After the laws?  $0.  Percent funded before the law?  86%  After the law? 104%  The law completely fixed the problem of not having enough money!  Amazing!!!

How was this done?  The projection of how much money would be needed was based on interest rates for the last two years.  Why are they looking at interest rates?  Because that’s how the fund stays solvent while money is being withdrawn, through investments with interest.  If the plan doesn’t make enough money in interest, the corporation has to pitch in extra money to keep it going.  Hmmmmmm.

If you have a savings account in the last couple of years, you know that you’re not making any money off of it.  And a pension fund wouldn’t be making any money either.  So because the fund is not sustaining itself from its investments, that means the corporation would have to supplement it with additional money.  Corporations everywhere collectively said, “Fuck that” and instead spent the money on lobbyists to change the laws. 

They succeeded.  Now, instead of considering that interest rates in the future will be the average of two years, now it’s going to be the average of 25 years.  25 fucking years.  Fortunately that range includes the late 90’s and early 00’s, where interest rates were around 5%, instead of 0.1%

So, do you get it?  They refuse to accommodate current market conditions and instead want to pretend the future is going to be as great as the past.  But here’s the thing, if these corporations would just fucking suck it up and pay into their pension funds now, like they are supposed to, when things get awesome in the future like they CHANGED THE LAW to reflect, they wouldn’t have to pay anything then, because the funds would be fully funded or even overfunded.

Now the infuriating part.  This letter says all of this.  It doesn’t hide anything.  They can tell the truth because a) lots of people won’t understand what just happened, and b) it’s the law; it’s all perfectly legal now.

Much Fun With Finance Institutions

A Libertarian view of the world is that government interferes with life too much.  Also, that government regulation costs businesses so much money to remain legal that the business can’t make any money. On one hand, I agree.  On the other hand, I say, you made this bed, now look at the fucking mess it is.

Here’s the thing.  New laws and new regulations don’t just appear out of thin air.  They are created in response to a case of abuse to prevent the abuse from happening in the future.  That’s it.  You look at every law and regulation and tell yourself, “That law exists to prevent someone from doing it.”

So now I’m in the process of refinancing my mortgage.  The last time I dealt with a mortgage was when I bought my home, 11 years ago.  You have heard the stories from that era, where you only needed a pulse to qualify for a mortgage.  That’s not the case any more.  So here’s what I have experienced with the new, modern, regulated mortgage industry. 

I initially spoke to a “mortgage consultant” who took my information, ran my credit and locked me in on a mortgage term and interest rate.  Then, I was handed off to a “mortgage processor”.  This person was unable to do the tasks of the consultant, and isn’t actually involved with the mortgage approval process.  They collect the documentation for the “mortgage underwriter”.  One of the documents is the house appraisal.  But the processor can’t call an appraiser directly.  They place an order with a company who will dispatch an appraiser.  After the documents are collected, they are submitted to someone in “pre-underwriting review” before they are submitted to the underwriter.  The pre-underwriting team can request additional documents for the processor to collect.

So, after you get through the mortgage consultant stage, you are charged a pretty significant application fee, which also includes the appraisal fee.  Then you have to fight your way through three boss levels to succeed in your goal of a mortgage.  And each one is going to be pickier than the rest.  I thought I was being proactive in providing a scan of the cleared check proving that I bought out my ex’s share of the property.  Nope.  That just raised red flags.  “Where did you get that money from?”  Are you fucking serious?  That’s pretty much none of your business.

But you know what?  It is their business.  And you know why?  Scammers.  God damn scammers.  Why would they ask that?  Well, what if I cashed out equity in another property to cut that check?  What if I cashed out my 401k for that money?  To you and me, that doesn’t matter.  It’s my money and I’ll use it however I want.  It doesn’t matter if that money came from equity (it’s my money), a 401k (it’s my money), or from saving from my paycheck (it’s my goddamn money).  But to them, the source of the money can be a liability.  And actually, the money is nothing more than a reduction in my net worth, which is something that is very important to them.  No bank wants an over-extended client struggling to pay his mortgage.

How did this come about?  Because scammers.  Because people scammed the system and got away with it.  And now everyone has to suffer and prove that they are not a scammer, too.  Because their actions resulted in a lot of regulation forcing a separation of concerns.  There is absolutely no way for collusion in this structure.  No one talks to the underwriter.  No one talks to the appraiser.  It’s like offering sacrifices to some pagan god and hoping for acceptance.

SpamBastard–1aauto.com

I had an application idea at one time and actually finished writing it, but ended up never doing anything with it once it was live.  It was spambastard.com and its purpose was to catch companies that would sell, lose, or otherwise mishandle your email address info.  The concept was simple.  You sign up for their site using their domain name @spambastard.com and if any email comes in with a mismatch between the FROM domain name and the TO domain name (as the username, before the @), the email address would be considered compromised.

That domain and application is long dead, but I’ve been able to replicate the same concept with my personal email domain.  That eliminates the hassle of creating a second account for every site I sign up for (one with my real email and one with a spambastard email).  To date, I’ve only had a few cases where I’ve had to take action.  Those cases are:

  • albumartexchange.com – There are many people including myself who posted on their forum and complained that they received PayPal phishing emails to their unique email address.  The website did not respond.
  • lakelandlelectric.com – That debacle was chronicled already.  The utility company did follow up with an explanation of how it happened and how the process was unfortunately legal.  They said they would push for tougher laws on keeping customer information private.  This prompted a follow-up email from the spammer who was incredulous that government would try to reduce transparency.  See, transparency is only good when it works in your favor.
  • paypal.com – This got compromised after only nine people knew of its existence.  Whether it was sold or stolen, I don’t know for sure, but I am pretty confident that some eBay seller has a compromised account and a spammer is looting their customer list.

Now we can add to the list – 1aauto.com.  I placed an order with their site in January (remember when the punks broke the mirror off my car?).  Today, I get a political email from John Kasich’s New Day For America to that email.  So I immediately send a message to 1aauto.com saying they’ve either sold or given away my info or their customer database has been hacked.  So which is it?  I got a pretty quick response.

Hello and thank you for your email.

I do apologize that you received a spam email to your account. I can assure you that your information is secure and we have not experienced any kind of hacking. We do keep our customer information confidential and secure and have several measures put in place to prevent against fraud and stolen identity.

Thank you for notifying us. We will keep tabs on this and look into what we can do to prevent this from happening in the future.

So, I guess the answer is the owner sold out his customers to promote his choice of political candidate.  The fact that this happened at all negates the statement “We do keep our customer information confidential“.  As far as what they can do to prevent it from happening in the future, that’s simple.  Don’t do what you did again.

Thanks to spam law requirements, the spam email footer confirms the email address that it was sent to.  It tells me that I was added to the list on 2/24/16 via opt-in (gee, I don’t remember that), and gives me ways to unsubscribe.

There’s no sense in unsubscribing.  The email address is out in the wild and is now worthless.  Do I want to spend my life unsubscribing from every email campaign that gets that email or do I want to kill off the email?  The choice is pretty simple.

This scenario makes me pity people who only have a single email address, like @gmail.com or @outlook.com or @yahoo.com.  They don’t have the option of closing their account or changing their address.  Consider how easy it is for me, every email (except my personal email) is known to exactly one company.  Email gets compromised, only one place to change it.

The Way Things Used To Be

Today at work, I was CC’d on an email for an upcoming project involving some work with some company or other.  Someone on their side had a bunch of “technical” questions that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I don’t doubt that they were relevant questions, but they seemed to be in another language.  It reminded me of a time long ago at an old job when I sometimes had to work with pharmaceutical companies who were in regulated environments.  They used words and phrases in a way that meant something very specific.  If you weren’t in the industry, you wouldn’t understand, and they would use that against you.  You wouldn’t get to work with them unless you spoke their language.

So that I could try and understand this company, I visited their website.  They are a multi-national finance company, and as such, you can imagine they are the least Internet-savvy company ever.  They may actually be the least marketing-savvy company ever.  But, I remember these days.  I remember when sites like this were normal.

Back in those days, the metric for a good site was how much information you could get online.  Well, that is still the metric, sort of, but today, that information is the customer-useful type, like inventory, pricing, technical manuals, warranty status, you know, exposing your internal data to the world.  But, when you don’t have that type of data, like if you’re a bank and not a retailer or manufacturer, you still want your site to look huge.  What do you do?  You fill it with bullshit – lots and lots of bullshit.  And this site delivered.

I was amazed at the volume of verbiage on the site and how vapid it all was.  It was more than I could enumerate myself, with links going all over the place and a navigation menu so large, it had its own close button.  I downloaded a website copier and set it to work on their site.  It found 95 pages!  And that was just on their home domain.  They had a couple of other subdomains, too.  One was 65 pages and the other was a WordPress site, so the site downloader downloaded author pages, archive pages, individual pages, etc, so the pagecount was unusable.  Still, being a webmaster for 150 pages of content has to be a nightmare.

And all of these pages said nothing.  And some pages said even less than that because they were grammatically incorrect.  Maybe I can give a pass on that because the site is multi-lingual.  Anyway, my original reason for going to the website was to find out what they do.  On one of the four (FOUR!) pages of the About Us section, one of the paragraphs reads:

The goal we have proposed is that in each of the many contacts we have with our stakeholders a differential experience to provide sustainable value is conveyed. So we have established our vision as a company and some guiding principles defining our commitment towards those stakeholders.

That is what the entire site is like.  What kind of zombie composes page after page of meaningless, worthless garbage?  Well, a long time ago in another job, that might have been me.  Not likely, though.  That old company got some decent contracts, but not big enough to write hundreds of pages of dreck.

I also remember when I could think and write in that nebulous language.  My early websites for my own consulting work may have been like that, trying to make my one-man shop sound like a large company (it didn’t work).  But everyone’s grown up now.  Being a lone consultant doesn’t have a stigma and businesses can be proud to be whatever size they are.  But some companies still seem to be stuck in the past.

The Simple Life

Today, I got thinking about a business model that just doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.  At my workplace, once a week, we have a food truck come by.  It’s not really a food truck, it’s a hot dog stand.  You can get a couple of hot dogs, chips, and drink for $5.  Not a bad deal, but I didn’t like the flavor of their hot dogs, so I go elsewhere.

Anyway, my mind is trying to figure out how these guys survive.  My office isn’t huge; it can’t have more than 100 people in it.  And I can’t imagine that many people eat hot dogs every week.  So assuming 30 people getting food, that’s $150 a day.  That’s gross income.  Take out daily expenses like: vehicle gas, cooking gas, cooler ice, food cost, taxes, and cleaning supplies; and less frequent expenses like: insurance (doubtful), advertising/marketing, and cooking equipment, and what would you be left with?  And there’s two guys running it, so divide whatever profit is left in half.

Now assuming that maybe they can get by on whatever they are bringing in.  What’s the end game?  They can only be at place at one time, so they can’t increase sales.  The only way to do that is to go to a place that has more customers.  There’s no decent economies of scale because a second location requires double of just about everything.  Bulk purchases of supplies wouldn’t help all that much.

As far as entrepreneurial businesses go, this one is definitely in the “I love what I do” category.

A Comparison Of Credit Card Sites

Recently, I got a call from Capital One’s Fraud Department, which I always take immediately.  They told me my card was compromised and they would be sending me a new one right away.  Then they asked a bunch of questions, and that was that.

First off, I stayed on guard the entire call.  You need to always be aware that someone could be spoofing your bank to get information from you.  However, the call was legit and the operator asked me for nothing suspicious and only asked me to confirm recent purchases.  So, I had to start using other credit cards while my primary card was being replaced.  Right now, I don’t think it was a fraud issue on my card.  I think it was an excuse for them to issue me a new card with the new embedded chip.

But anyway, the point of this post is that after using Capital One exclusively for so long, I had a chance to see how my other cards compared.  There’s nothing to the actual use of the card – they’re all the same.  The difference I was interested in was the web sites.  And there was a big difference.

I used three other cards in this time period.  The branding of the card is probably as significant as who it was issued by, since the web site contains that branding and could be completely different code bases.  So the cards I used were: Bank of America’s Elite Rewards VISA, Barclays’ Choice Privileges VISA, and Citibank’s Sears MasterCard.

The Sears MasterCard is my oldest card (from 2001) and actually was converted from my former Sears store card, which was actually my very first credit card.  It doesn’t get a whole lot of use, and they know it.  My credit line on that card has been chopped down to a pretty low limit. 

The site itself is managed by AccountOnline.com, and I have no idea how it is operated.  The transactions must be processed in batches because I checked yesterday and there was nothing.  I checked today and I have activity between 7/31/15 and 8/3/15.  There doesn’t appear to be a way to see pending transactions, which would make sense if the transactions were refreshed on a schedule.  They do provide a way to download transactions to common financial applications, but you can only download a full statement or the current activity – no date ranges.

The Sears card is a rewards card, and the site does allow you to view your rewards balance and provides a link to searschoicerewards.com where you can spend your points.  I had all of 150 points and the cheapest gift card I could get was $20 for 2,500 points.  I guess I won’t.

A good sign of a website’s age is their minimum system requirements.  In this case, you need at least IE 4.0, Firefox 1.0, Safari, the IE browser in AOL, and Chrome must fall under “Other”.  They use security questions and the password complexity is 6 chars min, including 2 numbers and 1 letter.  You can use spaces, but only one consecutively.  You can set alerts on balances and payments, but not on transactions.

The Elite Rewards VISA (since 2009) is a newer card, so it would make sense that it has a newer website.  It also has the same style of transaction downloading as Sears, where you can download current activity or a past statement’s worth.  BoA doesn’t support downloading in Money OFX format, so you have to use Quicken.  I don’t see any obvious display of pending transactions, but I think they do display them.  BoA has a nice clear link to notify them if you will be travelling with the card, to prevent declined transactions from suspected fraud.  Capital One has that as well, but it is tucked away off the main screen.

The site uses SiteKey, an image that supposedly ensures you are on the correct website.  They’re getting rid of that feature soon, they say.  I was never a believer in whatever security it provided; pretty sure it was just a cookie.  BoA has a two-factor authorization called SafePass for transfer transactions.  They also use security questions.  The site’s password (which they term “passcode”) has a complexity of 8-20 characters, 1 letter and 1 number, and allows some special characters.  You can set alerts on balances, payments, and transactions.  I set mine up to email me on any charges over $1.  That’s something I have set up on Capital One and one of the reasons I doubt there was fraud on my card, because I got no unexpected notifications.

Choice Privileges VISA (from 2013) is my newest card, so you’d expect it to have the newest website.  Well, as these cards get newer, the websites have more flashy features, and the Choice VISA is right there with them.  They allow downloads for Quicken and CSV only and download by date range.  Pending transactions are easily accessible on another tab in the list.

The site uses a SiteImage and security phrase like BoA.  Password complexity is 8-30 characters, must have 3 of: uppercase, lowercase, numbers, or special characters.  The last 5 passwords can’t be reused.  Security questions are also used.  BoA and Choice won’t show you what the current security questions are, which I guess is a good thing.  You can set alerts on balances, payments, and transactions.  Again, I set my transaction notifications here as well.

So in summary, my newer cards are just as good as my Capital One services.  But to Capital One’s credit, their card is my second-oldest card (2003) and yet they have continued updating their website to be just as secure and functional as my newest card, unlike my Sears Citibank card.  After the big meltdown in 2008 where card companies were closing accounts left and right, I lost a few accounts.  One was another Citi card and I seem to remember the website was more fully featured than my Sears card is.

Band Changes, Brand Changes

To expand a bit on a former post where I was noticing that when a musician or band changes recording labels, their sound changes, sometimes dramatically.  I wanted to make up a list of cases where I find this to be true.

Band Album>Album Label>Label
Asia Astra>Aqua Geffen>IRS
Belinda Carlisle Live Your Life Be Free>Real MCA>Virgin
Boston Don’t Look Back>Third Stage Epic>MCA
Boston Walk On>Corporate America MCA>Artemis
Bruce Dickenson Pretty much Any>Any Mercury>Castle>CMC>Sanctuary
Emerson/Lake/Palmer Love Beach>Black Moon Atlantic>Victory
Kansas Monolith>Audio-Visions Kirshner>Epic
Kansas Drastic Measures>Power Epic>MCA
Kansas Spirit of Things>Freaks of Nature MCA>Intersound
Rancid Life Won’t Wait>Rancid (2000) Epitaph>Hellcat
Rush Hold Your Fire>Presto Mercury>Atlantic
They Might Be Giants Factory Showroom>Mink Car Elektra>Restless
XTC Nonsuch>Apple Venus V1 Geffen/Virgin>TVT
Steve Morse Coast to Coast>Structural Damage MCA>High Street
Genesis Selling England>Trick of the Tail Virgin>ATCO/Atlantic
Dream Theater Most Any>Any ATCO>EastWest>Elektra>Atlantic>Roadrunner

Contrast that with some other artists that never changed labels and their sound/quality remained consistent:

Billy Joel: CBS/Columbia
David Lee Roth: Warner Bros (although his sound changed between Skyscraper and A Little Ain’t Enough)
Heart: Capitol
Ozzy Osborne: Jet/Epic
Queen: Hollywood Records

Sometimes the changes coincided with personnel changes, which could make sense.  Sometimes, it was a turning point in the band’s popularity.

The Music Biz

The last few days, I’ve been adding additional metadata from my CDs into my ripped files so I can identify them better when logging them in Discogs.  As I was going through each of my CDs, I was logging the record label, the barcode and the catalog number.  As I was doing this, I had a few thoughts.

The first thought I had was noticing that when an artist or band would change record labels, their defining sound would usually radically change, and usually for the worse.  Most cases where this happened would be leaving a major label like Geffen and going to a tiny label like Ray’s Music Records.  There are some cases where an artist would change from a megalabel to a boutique label, like from EMI to Relativity or Magna Carta and although their sound would change, it would still be recognizable.

This got me thinking about how much influence a label has over an album.  Maybe it’s because the larger labels have a stable of high-quality producers that mold the artist’s sound with a heavier hand?  When the band leaves, they either self-produce or are provided a producer from their new label that has a different concept, so maybe that is the reason for the drastic change?

So maybe there is a distinct advantage to being signed on a big label, despite the massive disadvantages that go along with it.  And that was my second thought.  When I look up an album on Discogs and I see there are over 100 different releases of it, I get angry.  I can understand that there may be reasons for an album to be released on different labels in different countries.  I also can understand if a label gets bought out by a different one.  But when I see the album sold by multiple companies, that irks me.  That comes down to who owns the rights to the music.

One time, I picked up a book written by a musician about her story and experiences as an artist.  I didn’t read much of it, but I happened on a passage saying that if a contract ever uses the phrase “in perpetuity” to run away and don’t look back.  The meaning of that term is that the record label owns your work forever.  They can do whatever they want with it: sell it off, license it (whore it out to multiple people), or keep it locked away in spite of huge demand.  Whatever they want.  And that’s what really angers me about the music industry – the idea that the artists and their work belong to them.

It’s not an arrangement like, “You make your music, we’ll help sell it and we’ll take a percentage of the sales for doing that for you.”  It’s more like, “You make music for us, we’ll sell it and give you a percentage of the sales for your efforts.”  And for some long-running acts, you see this terrible situation where they’ve been released from their contract on one label, moved on to another, and the original label starts rehashing all their old songs into different compilations and collector’s editions.  That ends up cheapening the artist’s  image.  I’ve seen artists that have 10 albums and 40 compilations.  How fair is that to the artist?