week the federal Department of Justice’s anti-trust division
filed what it termed restrictions on the proposed merger between
music industry giants Ticketmaster and Live Nation. These
two companies already dominate primary ticket selling, the
management of many superstar artists, and own or have exclusive
rights to present concerts at many major concert venues. And
now they want to merge, arguing that by combining forces,
they’ll be more efficient in delivering entertainment to the
The DoJ and a bunch of states sued to stop the merger going
ahead as-is and quickly moved to reach some kind of ground
to allow it to go forward. These “restrictions” are apparently
part of that process. To bless the merger, DoJ wants Ticketmaster
to license its main ticketing program to AEG, another behemoth
multi-headed music and sports company, to spin off some of
its operations to Comcast, and to promise not to retaliate
against any venues that decide to use a competitor’s services.
There’s plenty of head-scratching going on about this, and
it’s fair to say that nobody has any idea what these measures,
if accepted by Ticketmaster and the court, will really mean
to the consumer.
But I have a hard time believing that things will be better.
Over the last several years, the “service charges” we have
to pay for increasingly expensive concert tickets have skyrocketed
to levels that are multiples of what we used to pay for the
tickets alone. And, in this age of automated point-and-click
buying, the reason for this is . . . could it be lack of competition?
So, allowing the two biggest players in the game to merge
will make it better? When these two companies have both been
busily snapping up other assets, like superstar management
contracts, partnerships with record companies, and concert
venues, that position them to be what economists call vertically
integrated companies? So we can buy tickets from Ticketmaster
to go see Ticketmaster acts on Ticketmaster labels at Ticketmaster
I’m no anti-trust lawyer, but it seems to me that allowing
this merger of giants to go through, even with the DoJ’s “conditions,”
isn’t good for anybody but the stockholders of the companies.
I’d rather see Ticketmaster and Live Nation dismantled and
disbursed, so we can have a real marketplace with real competition.
Of course, Wall Street and the neocons call this forced break-up
of companies “government intervention” and even “socialism”
(a term that has lost all meaning recently), but this whole
laissez-faire approach to big businesses has given us things
like a predatory Walmart, three and a half major record companies
that collude on keeping prices high, and banks and insurance
companies that are too big to fail. Along with a ticket-selling
concert-presenting near-duopsony that’s about to get worse.
OK. So Apple’s announcing the release of the Tablet, basically
a simple interactive screen. Steve Jobs reportedly said that
this is the most important product he’s ever introduced, and
folks are saying the Tablet will revolutionize, well, like,
I dunno. Maybe it will come clear to me down the road. I mean,
I love my iPhone but I sure don’t use it up to its capability.
The only app I have is “Flashlight,” probably the stupidest
and most useless app out of the gazillion they’re selling
at the app store.
But one thing lots of pundits are saying is that the Apple
Tablet is going to save the newspaper industry. Somehow, people
are going to buy their Apple Tablets, and morph into mindless
zombies who will automatically subscribe to online versions
of newspapers. Woot woot! This comes hot on the heels of the
New York Times’ announcement that it was going to stop
putting the newspaper online for free sometime, maybe by the
end of the year.
As Mike Masnick at Techdirt points out, there’s not
a lot of logic behind the “newspapers will be saved” argument,
and plenty of reasons why online newspaper subscriptions shouldn’t
happen. Putting the news up for free online isn’t killing
newspapers so much as other things like Craigslist, competing
media, and imprudent parent company consolidations, which
have left most newspaper companies wallowing in debt. Recently,
the Times Union started to withhold selected news stories
from its Sunday online edition. No, that’s not going to incent
me to get in my car and go out and buy the paper, unless the
article’s about me. Rather, it’s going to incent me to find
the news somewhere else. Several months ago, the Long Island
paper Newsday put its content behind a firewall. It
was just announced that, so far, Newsday has sold 56
online subscriptions. 56.