retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday's coverage and commentary about five bills introduced in the US House of Representatives that are designed to rein in the ambitions and force the breaking up of some of the world's biggest technology businesses prompted me to write:

I have three concerns about this.

One is that tech companies may be held to a different standard than n on-tech companies.

Two, I worry that legislators don't really understand how retailing works - the whole private label emphasis reflects a lack of nuance in the proposals, best I can tell.

And three, I still think that it will be hard to prove that much of what the lawmakers s object to is actually bad for consumers.

Expect that even if these bills get passed - which is far from assured - there will be legal challenges for years.

One MNB reader responded:

Politicians without any inkling about retailing should not attempt to legislate in ways that undermine free market competition and the ability to compete on the basis of delivering superior customer choice, value and service.

How does competition conducted on electronic platforms differ from competition in retail stores? Don’t bricks and mortar retailers control distribution, shelf position and pricing on every item sold in their store? Don’t they create arbitrary barriers to entry with slotting allowances? Don’t they intentionally give preference to their own brands?

There are clearly important issues regarding personal data privacy and potential censorship and restriction of free speech by social media companies which warrant investigation and potential regulatory action.

However, when a company wins by out- innovating it’s traditional competition, delivering superior value, convenience and satisfaction that earns the loyalty of its customers—that is the ultimate free market system at work.

If we punish the innovators to protect inferior legacy business models, we are heading down a very counterproductive path!

And from another reader, with a seemingly different attitude about one of the nation's great trustbusters (though he actually was more anti-monopolies):

Theodore Roosevelt just sat up in his grave.

Better that than rolling over in it.  I think.


In my obit yesterday for actor Ned Beatty, I took note of his role in Network, and linked to a clip of an iconic. three minute monologue.  Prompting one MNB reader to write:

Interesting clip you selected.  After it ran YouTube selected a few more suggestions.  I clicked the “Howard Beale: Turn off you TVs” video.

It starts off with a show, a counterculture show, with the opening announcer asking a live audience “How do you feel?” and their response “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!”

The speech from Mr. Beale in this clip is probably more relevant today than ever.  For a film produced in 1976, I was 5 when it came out, what an indictment of society then and now.

I’m adding Network to my watch list!

Everyone should watch Network, even if you did see it back when the film originally was in theatres.

I was the film critic for the Loyola Marymount University school paper when Network came out, and because LMU is in Los Angeles, we tended to get really cool screening invitations.  I remember on a Saturday driving to the MGM backlot in Culver City for an advance showing of the film for college-level film critics, followed by a Q&A with director Sidney Lumet, writer Paddy Chayefsky, and stars Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway.  (It had to be the fall of 1976 … the movie came out in late November of that year, and Finch passed away at age 60 in January 1977.  Finch won the Best Actor Oscar posthumously a couple of months later.). Believe me, Network played very differently then, when it seemed like an impossibly bitter satire of a possible media future, than it does now, when it seems amazingly prescient.

Still an amazing film, and one of my all-time favorites.  I've seen it numerous times over the years, and it always grabs me.  (The older I get, the more I find myself relating to William Holden's character.  It always amazes me that he was only in his late fifties when he made Network, and died just a few years later at age 63.)