Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Fun With Music Magpie

Following on from this postthis post and finally this attempt to understand the business model of Music Magpie and their imitators, I thought I'd try to have a bit of fun with them (I chose Music Magpie for this experiment as they are - by a country mile - the biggest reseller out there and they don't attempt to hide their identity when selling on Amazon, unlike some of their rivals).  I wanted to see how low they would go on a particular album.  Their normal policy - if they had the album in stock - seemed to be to set their price at £0.01 lower than any rival (with certain caveats, as previously discussed).  So, if another Amazon seller priced at (say) £7.99, they would price at £7.98; if another offer was £2.50, they'd go £2.49, and so on, all the way down to £0.01.  Bearing this in mind, my original intention was to find an album that they - and I admit there was some guesswork here - only had one copy of, then beat them down to a penny, then buy their copy for £0.01 plus the mandatory £1.26 postage.  Then I'd sell it back to them, as their buying price would automatically - I assumed - revert to the higher value.

But this didn't quite work out.

The album I chose for this experiment was this one:

When I first looked into it, Music Magpie did not have a copy available on Amazon and so were willing to pay £2.30 for a copy (this has later significance), just to get into the market.  Obviously I didn't take them up on the offer; the cheapest copy on Amazon at the time was about £14 or so.

However, at some point in between me writing the original pieces and today, they must have managed to get hold of a copy. As per their normal arrangement, they then set their price at a penny less than the other cheapest seller.  I think at the time it was £13.14, or similar.  (Incidentally, the buying price on their site fell to £0.68 at the same time, which is actually quite high for them - their average buying price - considering all albums across the board  - is about 33p).

Now, I didn't take proper notes to begin with, I just listed my copy at about ten quid.  Music Magpie had adjusted their offer to £9.99 within the hour.

So then I went straight down to £7.00.  Again, within the hour they were at £6.99.

Next I went to £4.00.  They went £3.99.  I went £3.96, they went £3.95.

At this point I started making notes, and this is how it all played out:

26/09/16, 4.53pm, I reduce to £3.88.  I was lowest for precisely half an hour, at which point Music Magpie reduced their price to £3.87.

26/09/16, 5.27pm, I go straight down to £2.77.  By 5.58pm Music Magpie were listing at £2.76.  It was becoming obvious that they - or their automated system - checked prices every half hour and adjusted accordingly.

26/09/16, 5.59pm, down I go again, but this time to £1.73.  Naturally I was expecting them to go to £1.72 by 6.30pm.  But they didn't.  They had however reduced their price to - guess what? - £2.30.

By 6.47pm it became clear that they weren't going to budge.  Had I found their limit?  To try to find out, I increased my price to £1.99 to see if they would go down any more.  But they resolutely stuck to their £2.30.

So at 7.02pm I increased again to be one penny lower than their offer, i.e. £2.29, to see if this would tempt them into moving down from £2.30.  It didn't.  They were still on £2.30 at 7.56pm and again when I checked at 9.16pm.  And at 10.33pm.

Just to check my theory, I increased to £4.44 at 27/09/16, 12.04am, to see if they would maintain their low price, or adjust accordingly.  And as expected, they increased their price to £4.43 within half an hour.

So, I reckon I've found their formula and plan to have a lot more fun with it in the future.  It's not that I have anything against them, but I think it pretty much proves their sharp practice.

[Edit @ 27/09/16, 1.14am:  I put my copy up to £6.44 once I'd discovered their price floor for this album, as I don't particularly want to sell it.  But Music Magpie only increased their price to £4.98, which seemed odd.  Aha!  Someone else had a copy available for £4.99.  Mystery solved].

[Edit @ 27/09/16, 12.30pm:  Out of interest, I checked the listing again and Music Magpie had increased their price to £6.43 (a penny below my price, as previously mentioned).  So whoever had the £4.99 copy either removed it or sold it, thus allowing Music Magpie to potentially squeeze a couple more quid out of the deal if possible].

Sunday, 25 September 2016

"Unelectable" Jeremy Corbyn Elected Yet Again

Now is surely the time to put this "unelectable" myth to bed.  Yesterday - despite the best efforts of certain members of the PLP, the media and other naysayers - Jeremy Corbyn was once again elected leader of the Labour Party.  Despite 150,000+ of his supporters being barred from voting, he was elected once again with an increased mandate (62% against 59% last time).  And once again, he won easily in every category (members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters, which surely puts paid to the constant cries from the media and PLP that he is "unelectable".

As it was, 506,438 votes were cast; 313,209 for Corbyn, 193,229 for Smith.  Had the party bigwigs not barred more recent converts to Labour (and expelled a further 10,000 or so), most of whom I assume would have voted Corbyn, the result would have been (rough calculation only) an even more emphatic victory, 71% against 29%.

The NEC of the Labour Party tried their best:

- First they tried to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the first place, which was obviously a no-goer;

- Then they purged 10,000 members or so for such behaviour as once saying that they had previously voted for an alternative party to Labour in previous elections (surely such people should be welcomed, rather than discarded?);

- Then they set an arbitrary cut-off date for members to have a vote; anyone joining since January 2016 was barred from voting (which was transparently dishonest, as it was never declared; rather, members joining the party since January were specifically promised a vote in future leadership elections);

- Then they made it difficult for some members eligible to vote, simply by not sending them a ballot and blaming it on "IT issues";

- Then - despite having barred more recent members from voting - they introduced a "sign up for £25 now to get a vote", which just seemed bizarre.  You could vote if you joined before January 2016, or as a £25 member who joined during/after August 2016, but not if you joined in between those dates;

- And not to forget that Corbyn was being constantly undermined by his own party, through mass resignations and votes of "no confidence".

In addition to all that, they had virtually all the mainstream media - the BBC, ITV, Sky (well, obviously) and all the major newspapers and online news sources vilifying Corbyn and bigging up Smith.  If ever a pro-Corbyn article appeared anywhere, it would be immediately dismissed by the rest of the media as either "Trotskyite propaganda" or "loony left propaganda".  Polls constantly appeared, apparently showing that the vote was going to be close.  I'm not sure who they asked, but if they prove so spectacularly inaccurate then they are surely worthless.  Either that, or the pollsters were deliberately skewing the results.

Despite all the above, they failed dismally.  Corbyn won easily against all those odds.

Of course, there is a counter-argument in that the current Labour membership/affiliates are not representative of the electorate as a whole, and there's undoubtedly some truth in that.  "The wider electorate will never vote for Labour under his leadership!" the media cry.  But it's a bit of a weak argument, given that Labour under Corbyn's leadership haven't actually lost any elections yet.  In the couple of by-elections their candidates have actually increased their majorities from the 2015 General Election.

Ah, but they lost (I think) six seats in the last round of local council elections, which is apparently bad for this stage of the electoral process.  That they would have needed something like 88% of all votes (rather than the 73% that they got) to gain any seats is rarely mentioned, oddly.

Jeremy Corbyn's position is now practically bulletproof and he will lead Labour into the next General Election, whenever that may be.  I would implore the rest of the PLP to get behind him now and get on with the serious business of taking the Conservatives to task, but they won't be reading this so my view will go unnoticed.  And in the main - going from their past behaviour - I don't think they will anyway; they will continue attempting to undermine him, no matter what he does or says.

Sorry for blathering on so long!  Rant over.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Odd Songs #005: Moviestar

Another in a "series" about "odd" songs - ones that stand out for one reason or other, usually because they were little-loved or even ignored at the time, but still get regular play on oldies stations (and yes Radio 2, you're included).  I probably should have done a numbered sequence of them, but didn't think to do so at the time.  I should really get around to doing that.

[Edit @ 22/09/2016:  This is now rectified...I think.]

Anyway, this one's about "Moviestar" (oh yeah, all one word for this one) by the Swedish artist Harpo.  It's incredibly cheesy, but I see that as a good thing:

It only made #24 in the UK charts in April 1976 (although the track itself was recorded the previous year), but I'd be amazingly surprised if you - assuming you live in the UK and listen to radio and all that - hadn't heard it before.  And once heard, never forgotten (that can be taken as either complimentary or not, depending on your tastes).  However, it was his only UK hit.

Harpo (born Jan Harpo Torsten Svensson, on the 5th April 1950 in a suburb of Stockholm) was, however, a big pop star not only in his native Sweden for a brief period; this success also translated to much of the rest of Europe as well as - strangely - Australasia. The song was a number one hit in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and (naturally) Sweden.  It was actually a number one in Sweden twice, first the English version, then again in a Swedish version.  It also made #3 in Australia, #9 in New Zealand and #13 in Ireland.

It's the song I'm interested in though, rather than Harpo himself (although his alarmingly short chart career is quite interesting, spanning only 1973-1976, is in itself quite fascinating).  He's got quite a good Wikipedia page that goes into all that stuff, if you want more background (and who wouldn't!?) then that's the place to go.

Obviously he performed the song, but he also wrote it (from the songwriting credits, this suggests both music and lyrics), although the production and arrangement is credited to one Bengt Palmers. As far as I can tell, Bengt Palmers was (and still is) a big cheese in the Swedish music industry.  I like to think of him as the Simon Cowell of the Swedish version of X-Factor, "Reach For The Stars".

As for "Moviestar", it's got a number of interesting things going for it, not least the lyrics:

You feel like Steve McQueen
When you're driving in your car
And you think you look like James Bond
When you're smoking your cigar
It's so bizarre
You think you are a new kind of James Dean
But the only thing I've ever seen of you
Was a commercial spot on the screen
Movie Star oh Movie Star
You think you are a Movie
Movie Star oh Movie Star
You think you are a Movie
You should belong to the jet-set
Fly your own private Lear jet
But you worked in the grocery store every day
Until you could afford to get away
So you went to Sweden to meet Igmar Bergman
He wasn't there or he just didn't care
I think it's time for you my friend
Just stop pretending that you are a...
(Movie Star oh Movie star) etc.

It's obviously written about a particular person, but I can't work out who.  Then again, my Swedish cultural knowledge is sadly lacking.

Another interesting fact about the track is that one of the backing singers was Anna-Frid Lyngstad (yes, that one out of ABBA). She did the "Moviestar, oh moviestar, oh-oh-oh" bits in the backing.  But considering that ABBA had already won Eurovision in 1974, it does make you wonder what she was doing singing backing vocals (uncredited too) on a track the following year?  Admittedly Harpo was big in Sweden at the time, but even so?  A favour returned maybe?

Anyway, here's some cover versions, which are always interesting (except when they're shite):

Here's a version by Stereo Total from 1995.  It's pretty faithful to the original:

A more electronically-based version by the Scandinavian outfit "And One" from 1996:

And why not this - a Spanish version from Miguel Gallardo:

Interestingly, Miguel didn't do a completely straight version; he retained the melody but seemingly completely rewrote the lyrics and called it "Tu amante o tu enemigo".  My Spanish isn't very good (in fact my understanding of the language is pretty much non-existent) but I don't think he's singing about the same subject as Harpo.

And of course, Sacha Distel had a go at it (retitling it "Baby Star"):

Personally, I think Sacha would give anything a go back then.  Not to imply that he was a hack or anything, he was just into singing, I reckon.

This, though, is my favourite cover (I can't even make a reasonable attempt at the artist name, something like Elakelaiset but with accents all over the shop) but I have figured out what they retitled it for their version - "Humppastara" (whatever that means):

I think it's the shoehorning in of an oompah rhythm that elevates it to a new level.

Bet there's loads more versions out there but - as ever - I can't be bothered to track them all down.  I am, after all, lazy.

However, I've a few more like this up my metaphorical musical sleeve.  Don't say you weren't warned!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Tony Burrows - The Man, The Legend

"Who?", you might ask?  Unless you're some sort of pop music freak, you almost certainly haven't heard of the fella and I wouldn't have expected you to have done.  But you'll certainly have heard his golden tones over the airwaves at some point in your life, simply because he's been involved in so much stuff.  So much stuff that even he - by his own admission - has forgotten exactly which tracks he has featured on.  There was a time in early 1970s that he was virtually inescapable (although I'm pretty sure some people that were frantic to escape at the time).

My interest in Tony Burrows all stems from what turned out to be an apocryphal story; that is, that he appeared as lead singer for three different bands on a single edition of Top of the Pops in February 1970, pausing only for costume changes.  The records in question were "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) by Edison Lighthouse (the number one single at the time), plus "United We Stand" by Brotherhood of Man and "My Baby Loves Lovin'" by White Plains.  It's a great story - one that I planned to write some sort of backstage farce about but never got around to (it would've been great to evoke that era and it goes without saying that Jimmy Savile would have put in an appearance) - but it isn't quite true.

What actually happened was pretty close, though and might even be better.  The 29th January 1970 edition did indeed feature Tony on "Love Grows..." and "United We Stand".

Edison Lighthouse - Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)

Brotherhood of Man - United We Stand

Then the 12th February edition included "Love Grows..." and "My Baby Loves Lovin'".

White Plains - My Baby Loves Lovin'

The following week repeated Tony's appearances with Edison Lighthouse and Brotherhood of Man and finally, the 26th February edition had the Edison Lighthouse (yeah, that record was number one seemingly forever (although it was only actually five weeks) and White Plains numbers.  It's an impressive enough feat as it is (and one that I'm pretty sure has never even be approached, but If only he'd had another one featured on TOTP on the 5th February edition (he was only on with Edison Lighthouse on that one), he'd have been on four consecutive editions as part of three separate "bands".

Of course, that sort of mad month was a bit of a one-off, even for someone as prolific as Tony.  But it was far from his first appearance as part of a chart act, nor the last.

He was born on 14th April 1942 in Exeter (this is just background info, there's no particular significance) and evidently took to music early; his earliest appearances were with a group called The Kestrels, a Bristol vocal harmony band that existed  - in recording terms at least - from 1959 until 1964.  Despite releasing ten or eleven singles, they failed to dent the UK singles chart, but crucially were the vehicle by which the songwriting partnership of Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway was consolidated (Greenaway, along with Burrows, was an original member of the band, with Cook joining in 1964).  Anyway, here's an example of one of their singles from 1961:

The Kestrels - All These Things

Despite their lack of hits, the Kestrels were very much in demand in the early 1960s as back-up vocalists for (amongst others) Billy Fury, Joe Brown and Eden Kane and - as a group in their own right - supported The Beatles a couple of times early on in the latter band's career.

Following the Kestrels, Tony (along with Neil Landon) went on to join The Ivy League in 1966, replacing original members John Carter (not the one of Mars) and Ken Lewis (and it's not the last we'll hear from either of them in this - even for the times - convoluted story).

Unfortunately, the new line-up produced no new real hits (prior to 1966, The Ivy League had three top twenty hits in the UK, the best-known of which is probably this, a number 3 hit in the summer of 1965:

The Ivy League - Tossing And Turning

The only UK hit (and given that at the time there only was a top 50 singles chart, it only just scraped in) featuring Tony's mellifluous sounds was this, from July 1966:

The Ivy League's massive #50 hit from 1966, "Willow Tree"

So what next?  Re-enter John Carter and Ken Lewis, who were putting together a studio band specifically to record their new psychedelia-inspired song, "Let's Go To San Francisco".  But they had a bit of a problem in that they had no interest in touring to promote the record, so assembled a band to do it for them.  And who would be the natural choice for the lead vocal?  Why, Tony Burrows, of course!

The Flower Pot Men - Let's Go To San Francisco

And it was a major hit, number four in the UK in September 1967 and a major hit throughout Europe.

Things get a little murky hereon in, as there are a couple of differing accounts of what happened next.  As far as I can tell, Deram (their record label at the time) got tired of them failing to follow up their real cash-cow of a song, so got Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook (yes, them again) to pen the touring band a new single, "In A Moment Of Madness", which eventually saw the light of day in 1969:

The Flower Pet Men with their final single, "In A Moment Of Madness"

It wasn't a hit.

The uncertainty continues for a few months, as there followed a bewilderingly fast number of personnel and name changes (that I confess that I can't untangle), which makes it seem as though The Flower Pot Men were effectively disbanded and the major players re-emerged as White Plains, which would make Tony's next appearance "My Baby Loves Lovin'". But Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" and the Brotherhood of Man song (all above) were all pretty much contemporaneous. However - due to the vagaries of record companies releasing things out of sequence in order to capitalise maximally on what they have, it actually might have been his appearance on "Gimme Dat Ding" by the Pipkins (essentially just Roger Greenaway and Tony Burrows) which, although it obviously trades heavily on its novelty value, is a bit of a classic if you ask me) which charted in March 1970:

The Pipkins, "Dat Ding" and all that

As "Gimme Dat Ding" was an obvious one-off, so it would seem logical to return to White Plains.   They went on to have a few more hit singles up until 1973, but again, the line-up changes are bewildering.  And in a funny mirroring of The Flower Pot Men situation (in which Tony Burrows was a member of the touring line-up only), Burrows would do their TV performances and so on, but didn't have time to tour (I think this was the usual arrangement for Edison Lighthouse too, but don't quote me on that).

Of course, during this time, Tony was further confusing things.  Not only was he - apparently - featuring on backing vocals for another mega-hit single ("I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" - the New Seekers version, presumably), he was also doing backing vocals for seemingly everyone (Elton John - he's on "Tiny Dancer" amongst others, for instance), Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, even bloody Cliff Richard and almost certainly many others; and not only that, he was releasing records under his own name.  One day, I'll track everything down that he's ever featured on, but that day is not today.

So the next big single that I can FOR DEFINITE say that he sang lead vocal on was yet another new band - another John Carter project in fact - but one put together with Tony (and his co-vocalist Chas Mills) particularly in mind.  This was of course, The First Class, whose main hit was a deliberate Beach Boys pastiche, "Beach Baby":

"Beach Baby" by The First Class.  The best emulation of a Beach Boys not done by the Beach Boys

Tony was deliberately attempting to emulate an American singing voice for this one and - for me - he doesn't quite succeed, but that makes the song even better for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on.

You may have noted a similarity between much of Tony's output, in that a lot of it would be filed under - by pretty much anyone's definition of the term - cheesy.  "Bubblegum music".  I can't argue with that.  Cheesy, bubblegummy music is some of the best music.

I don't know whether he still performs - he certainly was in 2010 - but I'd really like to hope so.

Tony (not that you'll be reading), all I can do is say that you are a legend - to me anyway - and long may you continue.

Oh and as a postscript, why wasn't this a hit:

Tony doing his solo thang with "Melanie Makes Me Smile" in 1970

I mean, it's during the Golden Age Of Tony, it's got a soaring chorus, it's got sassy backing vocals, it's got the lot!

And why not this, from 1976?:

More solo Burrows action - "Girl You've Got Me Going" - but steadfastly refusing to go disco

I salute you sir.

And for even more Tony action, go to this site which frankly I wish I'd discovered before embarking on my epic Burrows quest...would've saved some time.  But it wouldn't have been so much fun!

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Second Hand CDs (Afterword)

Further to this and its second bit, this, I've been asked about how the CD reseller market works.  I'm no expert - for that you'll have to go to the source(s), I think - but I think I've got a pretty good idea about the market and how it operates (for now).

To get this, you have to assume the role of a major seller on Amazon, as covered in the previous posts.  You can't do it if you're just selling the odd CD here and there.  You need to maintain a presence of sorts, which means covering all the bases that you can with the stock you have.  You'll be beaten down to a penny by the other big boys, but that isn't really a problem.

You will get sales at the price you set, so long as it is the lowest price.  This can't really be stressed enough.  It is the business model and it works as long as you have what you say you have in stock, actually in stock (if you haven't, you're in for a whole world of hurt).

As I've mentioned before (repeatedly) the cost of sending a standard CD, packaged in a way to get it there in one piece will cost you £1.20 (second class) or £1.27 (first class), which - and I think I might have commented on this before, y'know - fits conveniently closely with Amazon's default postage rate of £1.26 per CD.  NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING GOING ON THERE.  OH NO.

But that's largely irrelevant, as the large resellers are sending out hundreds - or thousands - of such packages a day, which means that - unless they're very stupid - they will have negotiated a postage discount (almost certainly with the Royal Mail; they have the infrastructure in place to do it whereas the others would struggle, I think) based on volume.  Depending on the quantity that they send out each day, they'll get something between a 25% and 40% discount on their postage if they can demonstrate that they're sending more than about 750 - 1000 packages a day.  A postage sticker has to be applied, sure, but it's not a conventional stamp, it's really just a barcode that confirms valid postage (with the requisite discount).  Plus the Royal Mail will come round to their place of business to pick up the packages, as an added bonus.

It's the world in which we live.  It makes sense on both sides; the Mail get to control the flow of post and the reseller doesn't have to piss about with individual postage and all that stuff.  But it does skew heavily towards the big players and it certainly sheds light on the overall business model of the big resellers.  They can make something like £0.50 a CD by selling at £0.01, simply through maintaining a volume send-out each day.  That's why what looks as though it's mad - a CD for one pence! (plus postage) - makes sense.

And that's why they'll always beat the little sellers; minor sellers just can't negotiate similar postage discounts to make the model work.

At the moment, there's probably about six or seven UK-based vendors making money from this, but the situation won't last forever.  Fewer and fewer physical CDs are being sold and - give it a few years, five at the maximum - the market will be all but dead.  There'll always be a market for weird collector types, but it'll be very much on a one to one basis.  And that's an entirely different market altogether.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Eton Boys

No doubt some of you read about the Eton boys who went to see Vladimir Putin earlier this month.

There's an account of the meeting here, anyway (and in numerous other places on the internet, should you choose to search for it).

Without intending to make a political (or any other) point about it, I just want to park a couple of pictures here for future reference:

and of course

It might be interesting to look back at these in maybe a decade or so's time and see if there's anyone immediately recognisable.

The Business Of Second Hand CDs (2/2)

So (1/2) was broadly about what the CD resellers are prepared to pay, in general, for a CD.  And as I mentioned, all these companies have different strategies for selling, so aren't completely comparable.  Interestingly, some items (i.e. those that none of the major resellers have) seem to be traded on a name-your-price basis, but some, curiously, aren't (of which more later).

Going back to the original 100 albums I got a price for (in 1/2), I then had a look at what they were selling at on Amazon (which is where most of the big resellers reside; ebay does come into to the picture, but not on the same scale; although some of the big players use both, it seems that Amazon takes most of the volume).

Music Magpie

As aforementioned, MM were willing to pay a price for each of the 100 CDs; of these, their offer was £0.05 (their minimum offer) for 19 of them, £0.12 - £0.30 for a further 67 and £0.35 up to a £1.00 for the next nine.  Of the final nine, they were willing to offer between £1 and £2 and for the final three, £2.30, £2.50 and £2.50.

Unsurprisingly - as the major player - they have, as a rule, the lowest price on any item that they have in stock.  For (I would estimate) about 40% of these items, this price is £0.01 (plus the £1.26 postage and packing).  For about another 40% of their stuff, they trade at a slightly higher level - usually from £0.15 to about £0.45) - but always ensure that they match the best price if someone else has a copy.  For about 10% of their stuff, they and someone else have a copy, and these items go for curious prices - £2.13, £3.45, £6.95, whatever.  Again, it seems algorithmically-based, as they always match the best price.  Occasionally they go a few pence more, but only if their copy is in better condition than the cheapest offer, and even then it's only ever by a such an insignificant amount as to make no difference.

What was notable about their selling pricing model at the lower end of the market is that it doesn't necessarily correlate with their buying model.  They don't sell all the CDs they buy at £0.05 at a penny, which would be the expected model.  Granted, they sell at a penny on most of them, but it's equally likely to be an another smallish amount - mainly up to about a quid, but I have seen as high as £3.05.  And (yet again) this must be based on some sort of algorithm, as their penny-plus price "just happens" to match - or beat by a penny - the price of the next best vendor.   However, for a lot of their penny CDs, they don't just pay you £0.05.  It could be as much as - and hold onto your hats now - as much as £0.20 each!  I feel sure that this must just be related to the number of copies they have in stock at that time rather than anything more sinister.

On the higher-value items, look out if they're ever willing to offer a price greater than £0.30, as they will be selling it on Amazon for more than £2.00 (often a lot more).  And if they ever offer more than £1.00, it almost certainly means that they don't have it, in which case the Amazon price is likely to be quite high.

Sometimes they haven't got a used copy, but list a "New" copy, generally at a premium price (£7.99 plus).  This only happens when the generally-available price for a new copy of the album is in the price range of a new, physical album (like you'd buy off he shelf at HMV or whatever), so that's pretty much £7.99 - £9.99.

The only times they don't seem to compete is when the only copies available are from other resellers at (generally) absurd prices (£30.00 plus and almost always from Japan).  Hell, Music Magpie sell millions of used CDs a year, I guess they can afford to ignore these weird outliers.  Their model is one of bulk, but (I'm sure) has other aspects, which I shall wildly speculate about later.


This lot, I'm including, as they also opening sell on Amazon, but seem to be a different kettle of fish entirely.  I'm not entirely sure what their model is; it seems as though it's designed to not lose money, rather than aggressively pursue it.  Almost without exception, if they have a used CD in stock to list, irrespective of condition, they'll list it at £1.49 (plus £1.26 P & P).  Doesn't matter if there's one seller cheaper, or fifty sellers cheaper, they hold steady at £1.49 (plus P&P yada yada yada).

Again, they have their own outliers, where the competition is minimal, in which case they tend to go £7.99 or £10.79, whichever is closer to the other sellers).  Possibly interestingly, the only time that they seem to break with these rules is when they and Music Magpie have the same product, in which case they tend to either go a penny above Music Magpie, or undercut them by a quid or more.  There isn't much more of a pattern to it, so far as I can tell.

As for their buying strategy, it's an interesting one.  £0.12 is their minimum (and their default for 66 of the 88 that they accepted). They'll go up to £1.00 or so for things that they're selling for £3.00 or more on Amazon (or simply don't have).  That accounts for all but five, which they'll give you between £1.77 to £4.39 (it's worth saying that this was the highest offer for any CD from any of the four companies I checked).  And, as with Media Magpie, check out anything for which they are prepared to part with more than £0.30, as it'll almost always be sellable on Amazon for ten times that or more.


Ziffit and Zapper - although I can't explicitly identify their reseller identities on Amazon - fall into the - actually quite big - chasm between these two models and I'm pretty sure they're operating there somewhere under some name or other (OnlineMusicFilmsGames and Revival Books, for instance, are quite apposite-looking vendors, but there are numerous others).  Most listings have tens of sellers with the same names cropping up again and again; I would find it almost impossible to believe that these companies don't have selling identities on there somewhere.

For info, of the 74 CDs Ziffit were prepared to take, their prices varied from £0.13 to £2.50 (although it should be said that 68 of them were a quid or less, the beyond-a-quid stuff was very rare.

And Zapper (which accepted 91 - see 1/2) did give the best overall price for the 100 CD lot.  But to be honest, it's pennies.  Their offers go down to £0.03 (maybe lower but I've not seen any yet) and mainly stay below £1.00 (81 of the 91).  The reason their offer looks better is that they generally outdo the other reseller sites by a few pence here and there and it all mounts up, but as I mentioned, it's just pennies really.


Was there meant to be a conclusion?  I forget.  I know, I'll reproduce that table from the last page for the 100 representative CDs:

- Music Magpie would accept 100/100, minumum £0.05/CD, maximum £2.50/CD, total £32.67
- Ziffit would take 74/100, minumum £0.13/CD, maximum £2.50/CD, total £28.00
- Momox would accept 88/100, minumum £0.12/CD, maximum £4.39/CD, total 31.34
- Zapper would take 91/100, minumum £0.03/CD, maximum £3.57/CD, total £41.57

I've no intention - as I might have mentioned before - of selling any CDs, but if you are, there's a few things that stand out from the figures:

(1)  Make sure you know what you've got.  It's a pain in the arse comparing the sites, but it does expose interesting differences, most notably that there isn't a single site that gives a "best price".  As they will accept everything, it's worth using Music Magpie for this; they have a decent input system and will provide you with a ballpark figure for comparisons;

(2)  Once you've identified something vaguely worth something don't even consider selling to any of these resellers (or any other company that I've found).  If you can put in a few minutes effort, you can generally list it yourself on Amazon and get a far better price (see (4) and (5) below);

(3)  Inevitably, you'll be left a load of albums that are Amazon penny albums (generally with a large number of sellers, all selling at a penny).  These frankly aren't worth listing yourself (minimum £1.20 postage, minimum £0.07-ish for a padded envelope so - given a £0.01 selling price and mandatory £1.26 P&P - there's any potential profit wiped out, not to mention Amazon fees).  You could try dividing them into job lots and selling them that way, but watch the postage costs;

(4)  If the album's on sale (from Music Magpie or one of its alternatives) for more than about £0.50, it's probably worth listing it yourself, if you've the time.  Don't forget though, that Music Magpie will always undercut you by a penny, unless your copy is listed in better condition than theirs, in which case they'll probably go a few pennies more.  It all depends on your time and inclination, but assuming you get the price, you'll be making about 40-odd pence on each album doing it this way (and obviously more if you can get a higher price);

(5)  If all four companies are prepared to pay more than £1.00 for a CD, it almost certainly means that it's not in stock at any of the main players (I've only found a couple of minor exceptions so far), but you can generally sell them for well over a fiver each by listing yourself;

(6)  Shop around, these sites are in competition with one another.  For instance, Zapper was prepared to pay £1.25 for a CD that Music Magpie would only give £0.05 for.  For a different CD, Zapper would give £2.57, whereas the other three wouldn't go anywhere near a quid.  It does tend to be that Zapper will give the best price on the stuff that they'll actually take, but not always; there's no secret formula here that I can identify;

(7)  Almost certainly amongst the above group, you'll find yourself with something that is either listed as "out of stock" with all sellers, or is priced obscenely (£33.36, £47.34, etc.).  This seems to be a "name your price"-type situation, but unless you do genuinely have something rare to offer, it's price-gouging really.  For instance, I've got the album selling second-hand at £47.34 and could come swooping in as a new seller priced at £45.00, but I doubt anyone would buy it!  Sometimes I think that these must just be test listings and if the items were ever to sell, the vendor would have a bit of a problem...

If you really are short on time and simply want to clear out all your CD albums, I'd advise giving them to charity.  But if you really must realise some money for them Music Magpie is the one to go for, for the simple reason that they'll take the lot in one go with minimal hassle.  You will, however, get the overall worst price.  So if you are indeed hell-bent on getting shot of those CDs without having to list them yourself, at least shop around a bit.

Meanwhile, I've not finished with these companies yet, as I think there might be a chink in their armour that will allow the little guys to compete.  I'm pretty sure that - for the "high value" CDs at least - there's a potential method of playing the major sellers off against one another.  As the majority of their pricing is algorithmically-based, it should be a simple matter to undercut them all with a penny CD and watch them go from - to pluck a figure from the air - £5.50 straight down to £0.01 in order to price-match.  I would then withdraw my copy - providing it hadn't sold - and snap up all the penny copies for myself, then re-list them at a more sensible price.  It's a highly risky strategy - and borderline immoral - but I reckon I could pull it off.

Will let you know.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Business Of Second Hand CDs (1/2)

I'm unsure an exact date can be defined - as I suppose it varied from person to person - but there came a point somewhere in between 2005 and 2010 that a lot of people wanted to get rid of their old CDs (presumably having ripped them first, but let's not go near the technical legalities of that whole issue) and, as a result, a whole bunch of companies sprang up, all offering to pay you for the privilege of taking them off your hands.

I don't really want to sell any CDs to be honest - I quite like having the physical things and it's not as though they take up too much space.  They can actually look quite pretty, with their colourful spines and all that, if you're into that sort of haphazard decoration type of thing:

But that's not important right now.

There's loads of these "we'll buy your CDs" companies out there, the biggest of which by far is Music Magpie.  They're certainly the only ones with a lot of TV advertising - which doesn't come cheap - and I'd be willing to bet they're the first one that pops into anyone's heads when thinking of offloading old CDs.  As far as I'm aware, they're also the only outfit that will guarantee you a price for any CD album - they don't do singles - but plenty of other places will buy from you, too.  They're generally slightly more selective, but may well offer a better price.

Generally these companies then re-sell what they buy on Amazon; Music Magpie are well-known for selling most of their second-hand stuff - irrespective of condition - at a penny each (plus the £1.26 that Amazon automatically applies as postage and packing for a CD).  Now interestingly - at the time of writing, 15th September 2016 - for sending a single CD, in a jewel case (and let's add a padded envelope to ensure that the thing is less likely to be damaged) the Royal Mail charge £1.20 for second-class post, or £1.27 for first class.

So what's the business model here?  As far as I know, all the major UK resellers send CDs out like this - i.e. complete with jewel case and all inlays, and in a proper padded envelope - and usually first class post.  There are of course methods of cutting the postage down to Letter rate - £0.55 second class, £0.64 first class - but that would either mean dispensing with the jewel case and/or inlays - and the big resellers don't do this.  They send out the whole thing, properly packaged, first class.  So how do they do it for a penny a CD?

(The short answer is:  they don't always charge a penny, and they get a substantial postage discount for volume postings.  But that's boring.  That's just to cover their run-of-the-mill stuff.  It's when they don't charge a penny that things start to get interesting).

Anyway, I thought I'd have a look, just to see what's out there, you understand; I've no intention of selling any CDs (unless some mad person wants to offer me a ridiculous price for something of course; I'm not daft).  But the more I got into it, the more interesting the various business models of these companies became and before I knew it, I had to do some sort of more rigorous exercise (to be honest I was hoping to be able to play one off against another, but this is only possible in very rare cases, so far as I can tell).

I chose 100 CD albums, pretty much at random, all in full size (i.e. full thickness) jewel cases and all in at least "Very Good" condition (going by Amazon's guidelines), to see if I could find some sort of correlation between the prices that various companies will give you and what they're trying to sell them at on Amazon.  I tried to choose some massive sellers and some stuff that I thought might be obscure, but I must stress that the choices weren't exactly scientific.

I started off checking out about eight or nine companies, but some quickly fell by the wayside, as they would accept so little stuff.  It ended up that just four were prepared to accept a reasonable number of the albums:  Music Magpie, Ziffit, Momox and Zapper.

Music Magpie would accept 100/100 at a combined £32.67 (let's call it 33p each)

Ziffit would only accept 74/100,  at a combined £28.00 (about 38p each)

Momox would accept 88/100, at a combined £31.34 (about 36p each)

Zapper would accept 91/100, at a combined £41.57 (about 45p each)

Taking the best offer from each company would get £56.57, incidentally (although this is doubtful anyway, Music Magpie in particular are notorious for making "deductions" based on their subjective appraisal of some items, and I'd be amazed if the others don't do similar).  But for the purposes of and all that, let's assume they'll pay up as promised.

(As an aside, I suspect had I chosen a different 100 albums, the general results might well have been different; from that, it looks as though Zapper is winning by a country mile, but with a different selection, who knows?).

But the thing considered as a whole is pretty meaningless, as it turns out that the real devil - and how these companies turn a better profit than I would initially think, even given their sending-in-bulk advantage - is in the detail.   It's a very strange market indeed.  A lot is obviously based on algorithms, but it does seem as though some of it isn't and is obviously being monitored by actual humans, some of whom react like lightning and some of whom don't seem to react at all.

To be continued etc....

Monday, 12 September 2016

Unintentional Plagiarism #1

In the first in an occasional series (that might not turn into a series, because it's highly probable that I'll forget about it, but that doesn't matter right now), I'm going to attempt to identify some examples of songs that sound like other songs.  Of course, loads of songs sound like other songs in one respect or other - after all, there's only so many ways of putting chords/notes/sounds/rhythms together - but some songs are so extraordinarily similar to others that it's not possible to think that they must be linked in some way.

I already wrote about the Fox version of "Captain Of Your Ship" and how it contains a section that is remarkably similar to 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready For This" here.  Actually, that should really have been the first in this occasional series.  Ah well, never mind.

Recently there was the whole "Blurred Lines" farrago, which went to court and ended up succeeding in Marvin Gaye being added to the existing writing credits (and the payment of back royalties to the Gaye estate).  Basically - as I understand it - the Marvin Gaye estate alleged that Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" plagiarised Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" and the courts agreed).  That one, I think, was justified:

Essentially, it seemed to boil down to whether the "sound" and "feel" of "Blurred Lines" had been copied from "Got To Give It Up":

And I think it is pretty undeniable, listening to the two songs side-by-side, that "Blurred Lines" does bear a remarkable similarity to "Got To Give It Up", especially when you listen to the way bass is used in the two songs.  Personally I think the right decision was made (i.e. the addition of the co-writer credit; previous cases, I'm sure, have led to a complete overturning of songwriting credits), Anyway, there's a lot more interesting stuff on that case to be found here.

The one I'm blathering on about today isn't new.  In fact it's fifteen years old and I can't believe I've never noticed it before now.  Here is "New Slang", a track from The Shins's debut album, "Oh, Inverted World" (released in 2001):

It's a lovely song and - if I remember correctly (although bear in mind my memory's a bit hit-and-miss at the best of times) also a single, one which helped them break through into the public consciousness at the time.  Listen especially for the vocal melody at 0:05, 0:13, 0:20, etc., that essentially forms the song's intro, then recurs at 3:27 to form the song's outro.

Now here's Paul Mauriat's classic easy listening version of "Love Is Blue" (released in the UK in 1968, although the original French version - "L'amour est bleu" - came the year before; it was in fact the Luxembourg (thanks to Martin Bishop for the correction!) entry in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967, coming fourth):

The main melody at 0:14 (and repeated throughout - it's the main melody of the track after all) is surely exactly the same as that vocal melody from "New Slang"?

I don't think any conscious skullduggery went on here, in that I doubt very much that the Shins deliberately copied from "Love Is Blue".  And I certainly don't think it's the basis for any kind of legal action, even in today's hyper-litigious world.  But the two melodies are so very, very similar.  So very, very, very similar that it makes you wonder how it came about.

My theory (for what it's worth; not much, generally) that it's one of those melodies that has been used so often that it has probably insinuated its way into everyone's brain by now.

The thing that I don't understand is why have I only just noticed it?  I've known the Paul Mauriat track seemingly forever and I've had that Shins album for well over ten years now.

All very odd.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Odd Songs #004: You're Moving Out Today

Carole Bayer Sager's only real solo hit single:

"You're moving out today" - number six in the UK charts in 1977.  Got to number one in Australia (and number 30 in New Zealand, although given the population of NZ, that probably didn't take many sales), but curiously didn't dent the US charts.

It's another of those sort-of one-off songs that I find fascinating.  Whilst Carole Bayer Sager was a prolific songwriter for others and produced loads of hits (mainly US-based, but many worldwide (most notably she was co-writer of "Nobody Does It Better" from "The Spy Who Loved Me" and won the Academy Award for "Arthur's Theme" in 1981).  She's played a part in writing successful songs for artists like Lesley Gore, The Monkees, Shirley Bassey, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Dusty Springfield, Leo Sayer, Carly Simon, The Corrs, etc. etc. (actually it would probably be quicker to list the artists she hasn't written for).

Given all that, I always thought it strange that this was her only real solo hit single.  Plenty of albums, but she barely released any singles.  Maybe she didn't like performing?  Odd if so, because I think her performance of this is brilliant; as much acting as singing, perfect timing and all that.

Specifically this one was a co-write with Bruce Roberts and - possibly crucially - Bette Midler.

Musically, I think the song itself is great - a very unusual arrangement, with seemingly random and abrupt changes in tempo and character, all that sort of thing. Even the backing vocals are perfectly pitched; there's question-and-answer stuff, there's conventional harmonies, there's abrupt switches from lead to backing and back and the interpolation of a bit of Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It" towards the end is genius; something for everyone!

Although Bayer-Sager typically did the lyrics in her co-written stuff (well you would if your collaborators were people like Marvin Hamlisch and Burt Bacharach, I guess), I've a strong feeling that it might be the Bette Midler connection here that makes things start to fall into place.  It's a very funny lyric.  There's some vaguely risque stuff in there - e.g. "your nasty habits ain't confined to bed/the grocer told me what you do with bread" (surely a barely-concealed reference to the unusual sexual practise of men fucking inanimate objects?) and I wonder whether that was the reason it didn't do much in America?

I could go on and on about this song.   But I'll spare you that for now.

Although if anyone can tell me another song that references "Mozambique" in its lyric (that isn't the Bob Dylan song), I'll be well impressed.