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by Rob Horning

10 Feb 2010

In the world of economic abstraction, prices are believed to find their “true” level, a real-time approximation of a good’s actual value (if there is such a thing), by balancing supply and demand. This process of price discovery is a central pillar of free-market ideology; drawing on Hayek, free marketeers read into prices the decentralized distribution of information vital to the development of the economy. Prices let the people on the ground, knowingly or not, translate local conditions into incentives that can be communicated far and wide.

But lots of things jam up the signal, as when prices are “sticky” and can’t quickly adjust to shifts in the sovereign consumer’s whims. Then, the discussion shifts to price elasticity of demand—what sort of range of prices are possible for a good. Demand is “inelastic” if it’s not much affected by price. 

That brings us closer to what retailers’ practical experience with prices seems to be: Their primary concern is to figure out how to charge as much as they can from a given customer for a given good. That is, they need to divide their customers into segments that see different menus of prices—as when Americans in Prague get one menu from restaurateurs, Czechs another. Customers don’t like this. It immediately seems unfair once we realize such discrimination is happening. Everybody wants to have the illusion that they are getting the best deal, or if not that, at least the same deal everyone else is getting.

Online retail—as this CNN piece and this WashPost article by Joseph Turow, both from 2005, detail—seems like it would be the perfect place to perfect techniques of price discrimination. We create a concrete demographic profile through our trackable online behavior (the sites we visit, the sort of goods we click through to have a closer look at, who we know on Facebook, that sort of thing), which can be used to make assumptions about the prices we can afford to pay. And in the absence of printed price tags or other customers at the scene of exchange (the point of sale), the discriminatory price can be generated on the spot. Think of it as automated haggling that has taken place without your having to go through all the awkward trouble and conflict. You are adequately sized up and the appropriate line in the sand (for retailers, at any rate) is drawn.

Amazon famously and clumsily tried this back in 2000, but users quickly discovered it and protested. Paul Krugman wondered if it might be illegal under the Robinson-Patman Act. Still, there was little reason to expect the issue to disappear. It’s too potent a weapon in the retail arsenal, and it seems such a ideal application for all the data now being gathered in our new Web 2.0-powered knowledge economy.

But apparently there is some intramural strife among businesses: This recent NYT article looks at the battle between online retailers and manufacturers over who gets to set prices. The conflict, the article reports, stems from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that gave manufacturers more power to dictate how prices can be advertised—in sheer defiance of Hayek. Manufacturers want to stop online retailers from using their goods as loss leaders, tarnishing the brand with cheapness and presumably undermining their ability to price discriminate elsewhere.

[Manufacturers] say the competitiveness of the Internet has unlocked a race to the bottom—with everyone from large corporations to garage-based sellers ravenously discounting products, and even selling them at a loss, in an effort to capture market share and attention from search engines and comparison shopping sites. They also worry that their largest retail partners may be unwilling to match the online price cuts and could stop carrying their products altogether.
“If there isn’t that back-and-forth between manufacturer and retailer, it’s just a natural tendency to drive the price down to nothing,” said Wes Shepherd, chief of Channel Velocity, which sells software that allows companies to scour the Web looking for violations of pricing agreements.

I’ve been thinking about that less quote all day, and I still can’t make any sense of it. The online retailers don’t exist to give products away to thwart manufacturers. What I am missing here?

by AJ Ramirez

10 Feb 2010

With the heroic phase of Dookie completed, we now enter the home stretch of the album’s tracklist.  To be frank, there aren’t any hidden gems of sonic awesomeness lurking amongst the album’s concluding numbers.  While none of the remaining tracks are duds, they’re all very workmanlike Green Day songs that don’t rise to the pop pinnacles of the album’s best material.  Still, there are a few points of note worth highlighting in the tail end of the record’s runtime.

The most noteworthy aspect of “Emenius Sleepus” is that it’s the only song on Dookie featuring lyrics written by bassist Mike Dirnt.  As opposed to chief lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong’s witty, brat-savant character studies, Dirnt’s words are less distinctive and more restrained.  Essentially a lament about two friends who have grown apart, Dirnt’s words are light on details, leaving it to the listener fill in the particulars of what exactly went down on his or her own.  Dirnt does express disgust at what has become of his former friend (“And now I think you’re sick / I wanna go home”), but his words are tinged with regret, particularly in the second verse lines “What have you done with all your time / And what went wrong”. 

Unlike Armstrong’s material, “Emenius Sleepus” doesn’t contain any spite (either internally or externally directed).  Instead, it’s the lyrical equivalent of shaking one’s head in disbelief at how an old acquaintance has changed.  Dirnt’s muted, reflective approach to Green Day lyrics can also be found in his words for the band’s first post-Dookie hit “J.A.R.”, a song so good it’s baffling that it never appeared on a proper album release.

by Andrew Martin

10 Feb 2010

Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s orchestra teamed-up with frequent J Dilla collaborators to craft what will become the concert DVD Timeless: Suite For Ma Dukes. And “Angel”, the above track featuring Dwele on vocals, is a sampling of what the DVD will offer when it drops March 30.

by PopMatters Staff

10 Feb 2010

We love the new Sade album, as today’s review illustrates. Sade is making the rounds promoting her first album in 10 years with all manner of TV appearances…

On Letterman…

On the Today Show…

And the official video…

by Sarah Zupko

10 Feb 2010

Google now wants to take on Facebook and Twitter with Google Buzz, which tacks social media applications onto Gmail. When is their tablet coming out? Have they got a replacement for a Toyota Prius?

//Mixed media

Trevor Noah on the Biracial Divide

// Re:Print

"The indelible experiences of Trevor Noah's past have been parlayed into his memoir, Born a Crime, a history of a life living under racial divide.

READ the article