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Category Archives: Money

Radiohead and the Labels – A New Vision?

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Yep, I’ll admit I’m a bit late on this one. But that’s only because I thought everything that could possibly be said about this latest (marketing?) stunt had already be said. It appears I was wrong.

In his “What is Radiohead’s album worth?” article for the BBC, Ian Youngs makes some interesting points arguing against Radiohead’s latest stunt (and completely trips over his own logic during his album review):

I may have been a bit foolish thinking that [£9.82] was a fair price in the first place because Radiohead, of course, don’t have all the record company people to pay, nor do they have to press up and send out any CDs.

They don’t have a record company at all after their deal with EMI ran out – so will take much more of my money than they would have done under a traditional deal.

The record company signed the band in the first place, developed them and brought them to our attention.

So maybe I should have paid £4.91 to Radiohead and sent a cheque for the other half to EMI for its part in Radiohead’s career, and to pay for finding the next Radiohead.

It’s an interesting point, but not one I’m particularly falling for. With the big labels not really finding great talent anymore and instead manufacturing an array of bands or run-of-the-mill acoustic-singer-songwriters straight from a modeling agency’s brochure, I’m more inclined to buy the album and then send EMI a rather sternly worded letter. However, I digress.

With this move it’s the acceleration of the inevitable demise of small record shops that I’m worried about – maybe I should send £0.50 to each of my local record shops that won’t be stocking the latest Radiohead album? (I feel relatively strongly about this as I live in the city containing the world’s oldest record shop.)

However, we can’t hold back technological advancement and especially the evolution of music and its distribution and so, in conclusion, I would like to state for all present that I’m all for this method of music dissemination. Bravo Radiohead!

“What about the independent labels?” I hear you scream. Let’s not go there… that’s a whole ‘nother blog post!

Apply Pareto’s Principle (80/20) to Everyday Life – The 4-Hour Workweek

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In 1906 the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by a mere 20% of the population, and as such showed in lucid terms the ‘wealth condensation’ – or ‘rich-poor divide’ – of developed countries around the world… and the world as a whole. The term Pareto’s principle was then coined years later when this framework was shown to apply to an almost limitless number of applications; 80% of the effects come from 20% of the cause.

As you can imagine, this principle has far reaching implications when it is applied to such disciplines as marketing (20% of ads produce 80% of enquiries/sales), IT (80% of resources are used up by 20% of the code) and even business streamlining (80% of income is drawn from 20% of the customers; 80% of an employee’s time is taken up with 20% of the results)… but how many people have applied this principle to their personal lives?

When you realise that in your personal life you use only 20% of your belongings 80% of the time (clothes, music, etc.), and that when it comes to your own work (as a self-employed entrepreneur, an employee, or even as a student) you spend 20% of your time producing 80% of your output, you can start to take dramatic steps to alter your lifestyle.

And thus starts Tim Ferriss’ epiphany in his new book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” – the newest book to storm the tech and geek communities since David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD).

After realising that Pareto’s principle applied to almost every aspect of his life, he went from an over-worked, 16-hour day, start-up founder in Silicon Valley to an ‘ultravagabond’ – working 4 hours a week from any destination as he travelled the world on ‘mini-retirements’. As a Guinness world record-holder in Tango and a national kickboxing champion earning $40,000+ a month, Tim is living the good life – and in his book he promises to show us the secret to his success. The only question is, does he succeed?

Like many other books in the ‘personal/lifestyle development’ genre, The 4-Hour Workweek is crammed with tips and strategies on how you can – in this book’s case – be more efficient in order to free up more time and make more money so that you can do what you really want. The only problem is, I don’t want pages upon pages of tips or a set of rigid rules that I need to follow; I need an adaptable and expandable framework or principle that I can apply to my situation… I don’t want to be told exactly what to do, because the chances are it won’t apply directly to my circumstances, and as such is useless. Luckily, the book has a few of these too.

From helping you realise that the 80/20 principle can be used in you daily life, giving you a base structure on how to create a more efficient company and giving a useful structure on how to avoid work-day interruptions, the book is (on the whole) a useful read. Read with scepticism and with an analytic eye, you can garner some useful information from this book, but I would hesitate to take anything from it at face value. I’m still left pondering: ‘What can I do with this information, and what else in my life can be made more efficient with Pareto’s principle?

Ramit Sethi’s review is worthy of note, along with a few from Amazon.co.uk. John Chow is also giving away a signed copy!

Tesco: Friend or Foe?

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By spending a few pennies more in Tesco when I last went food shopping there I picked up this pack of Cherry Tomatoes:

Tesco's Cherry Tomatoes

Why am I telling you this? For 8 pence less I could have bought the regular pack that had, maybe, 5 more tomatoes in. These cheaper tomatoes were a less vibrant red and were obviously not as juicy. That wasn’t why.

The reason was a simple one: this packet was produced from completely biodegradable and compostable organic materials. The paper label with the barcode and nutritional information, the biodegradable polymer wrap and the container itself all would degrade on your household compost heap. As they are made from organic materials too, that means that there would be no net gain in emissions when the gases created during decomposition are released.

I then read the following; an excerpt from the front page of the Financial Times:

Tesco will become the world’s first supermarket chain to assign a “carbon label” to every product on its shelves. The UK’s biggest chain said it would make the labels by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the production, transportation and consumption of the 70,000 products it sells. “The market is ready… We have to make sustainability a significant, mainstream driver of consumption,” Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive, said last night.

Coming from a company that takes £1 of every £8 spent in the whole UK retail sector, this is promising news. Or so you would think. As the Guardian puts it:

The company sells more DVDs than HMV, more shampoo than Boots, and its £4 jeans outsell Levis, Wrangler and Gap put together.

These are the figures Tesco wants us to remember, but there are other, less palatable statistics. For every £1 spent on bananas at Tesco, for instance, only 1p goes back to the plantation growers in developing countries – far less than they need to feed their families. Indeed, the company makes a profit of £1m per week purely from the sale of bananas – enough to employ 30,000 plantation workers full-time and pay them a proper wage.

Indeed, the globalisation of food production – buying it from the cheapest source rather than the closest – has been taken to ridiculous extremes. In a typical year, 126m litres of milk are imported into Britain while 270m are exported.

It continues this furore into the classic ‘food miles’ argument quoting statistics from the lobbying group Sustain. They estimate that the average UK Sunday lunch travels 26,234 miles.

It also states the statistic that an average of one sixth of the money spent in Tesco goes on packaging. In fact, “only 26 per cent of the cost is accounted for by food; the rest is packaging, processing, transport, store overheads, advertising and the mark-up”.

It’s a good start Tesco, but there’s still a hell of a lot more that you need to do.

FT: Tesco to ‘carbon label’ its products | Guardian: Why supermarkets are getting bigger and bigger

New Day’s Resolutions

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New Year’s resolutions and plans are always a talking point throughout January and this year is no exception. Come June (and sometimes even February) however, and these resolutions are a long forgotten idealistic inspiration. 2007 will be different!

After my post detailing some of my goals, Carl commented, writing that one of his goals for 2007 is “to give the same renewing energy to each month, week, or day rather than just once a year.”

In reply to this I was wondering how to go about this – to keep this ‘New Year’ dynamism you must first instigate change or create a system to keep these changes at the forefront of your mind, right? What’s the best method? A reward system?

Carl directed me to the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NASteve Jobs’ Commencement Speech at Stanford, 2005

Then today I read Steve Pavlina’s most recent blog entry: 10 Business Lessons from a Snarky Entrepreneur. At first they seemed totally unrelated but in fact they are not. To quote the 10th business lesson:

Do what you love, but be damned sure it’s profitable.
If you do work you love, but it doesn’t generate income, your business will fail. If you do work you hate, but it generates income, your health will fail… and your business along with it. If you can’t do what you love and make it profitable, you’ve either got a hobby or a headache, not a sustainable business. Don’t settle for anything less than passion and profit.

This, paraphrased and put bluntly, was one of Steve Jobs’ three points in his speech: find what you love and make it a career; passion breeds success and success takes time; don’t settle.

My opinion is slightly different to Steve Pavlina’s though – if you do work you love, but it doesn’t generate income, your business will fail unless you work harder and find a more successful business model. If it truly is work you love, work at it and you will eventually find a way to make it profitable. Don’t settle for an ineffective business model.Have I found my passion? Am I doing work I love? Is my answer to one of the most important questions ‘Yes’: Would you continue your work on a daily basis for free? No I haven’t, and my answer is ‘no’. But I’m young and have plenty of time to find out what this passion is and work towards it.

Wealth, happiness and health may come in time, but if you’ve found your passion you won’t care. Have you found yours?

Losing the Will to Cancel

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Leaving an online service. Easy right? Well, that’s what you would imagine from a company based wholly on the Internet and that’s how it should be. In fact, I think leaving any service should be a painless experience as surely that’s what will bring back past customers. Online or not.

With a tip of my cap to Carl‘s great article and after reading PC World‘s critique in the same vein I feel compelled to write a small piece on cancelling services. Oh how I weep.

Saving £40 a month on car insurance is a nice prospect, and that’s what I found out I could do after getting a new quote a few days ago. Calling up my future insurer and passing on all my details in order to start the process I was told (in the verbal small-print) that if I cancel before 12 months is up I will be charged a cancellation fee of one month’s service.

I paused thinking about whether or not my current provider would do this and asked them to hold. After finding the offending piece of paper I realised that this fine would be imposed but after a quick calculation I continued. I would still save money even with the fee.

Cancelling my old insurance and paying the fine was all that was left for me to do. If only it was that easy. After calling the insurer and speaking to a representative I was forwarded to the ‘Cancellations Department’. 21 questions and 10 minutes later I was free of the old insurance – but not after getting very frustrated with the service.

This wasn’t online though, so have another example.

LoveFilm – an online DVD rental service – have a just as complicated cancellation service. After going through a number of cancellation pages and ‘Continue’ button presses I am informed to call a representative. Doing so results in a similar experience which I decide to forgo. I am determined to find an easier way.

Still a member of LoveFilm, I discover that you can cancel online – but only between the hours of 10pm and 8am when their cancellation webpage changes. Why do companies do this? Backwards logic is the simple answer. Read the above references for some good spiel on the practice. Using these companies again is something I won’t be doing, that’s for sure. Admittedly I wasn’t going to go back to my old insurer but my online DVD rental service – I was planning on coming back for another year once I’ve bought myself a new DVD player after my current one broke.

The bottom line: make it easy and we’ll be back. Make it difficult or expensive to leave and we won’t be back.

Your loss. My £13.99 a month. Hasta la vista, amigo.