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Greed is Greed

The Rolling Stones new DVD box set "Four Flicks" is now on sale exclusively at Best Buy stores from Nov. 11 into February. Details of how much Best Buy paid were not released, but you can guess it was a pretty penny. No doubt the corporation believes it will garner an impressive return as Stone fans purchase other items while "captured" in the stores. While I doubt many Stones fans will buy a refrigerator while picking up the new DVD (I suppose some will) - I could certainly see consumers buying other DVDs, CDs, games, and audio/video equipment - and this is bad news for the small music retailers who are already reeling in the current down state of the music industry.

Nor are the Stones the first to ink such a deal: Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake allied with Target on a joint CD release, and Best Buy has had exclusive agreements with Sting and *NSYNC. Ironically, even usually politically correct band, U2 entered into a deal with the devil - exclusively releasing their live DVD through the Best Buy chain.Stones logo However, it is the Stones recent agreement that has taken the exclusive rights issue to an unprecedented level. The popularity of the Rolling Stones is such that industry analysts are predicting revenues of anywhere between 30 to 300 million dollars for Best Buy.

Major competitors like Virgin Superstores are crying foul and threatening retaliation, and independent music retailers are fighting back by pulling Stones products from racks and refusing to sell their music, but it may be a losing battle. The incorporation of music into the corporate world is an ongoing and apparently unstoppable process.

I once had a friend who owned a record store in the downtown. It was a pleasant place where you could browse the record bins for hours. One day they announced they would build a mall in our small town. We had a meeting to discuss the plan. The developer brought out his models and slides and got everyone worked up into a frenzy of excitement (can anyone say Monorail?). I was the only one who asked why we needed a mall. When the threats and shouts of "Communist!" died down - the developer explained (with a smirk on his face) that if we didn't let him do it - somebody else surely would. I replied that I didn't think that was necessarily a good reason, but my objections were overruled and an ugly and monstrous building - where Joe and Jane could slurp Orange Julius and buy penny loafers was erected on the outskirts of town. Of course my friend's store went belly up almost immediately (along with half the downtown).

Nor was the mall the only reason - another music store opened nearby that allowed their customers to "rent" records. After recording the record - the customer could return the album with no part of the payment paid to the artists that actually wrote and recorded the songs. Clever the ways weasels find to work the system to their advantage. Hard to believe they can sleep at night.

I'm not going to whine and complain about the demise of the neighborhood music store - though they do seem to be headed for extinction - along with their cousins the video rental stores. We will still have millions of titles conveniently available at our fingertips in this new computerland. And there will still be specialty shops on the fringes that will traffic in oddities like vinyl albums (although Ebay may make the storefront completely obsolete someday). Yes - I will miss the record stores - where one could hear something new or be tempted by an unusual cover or interesting track listing, but progress must go on.

This unholy marriage of art and commerce does; however, tend to make me feel a tad sickened (though not surprised). The Stones have shown themselves to be vampires before. In 1997 a band called The Verve used a sample of strings from a lounge version of a Stones song in their "Bittersweet Symphony" - which surprisingly became a hit. Although they had a previously negotiated license agreement in place - the Stones sued - and won 100% of the royalties. They then turned around and licensed the song to Nike. When the song was nominated for a Grammy - it was Jaggar and Richards who were listed as songwriters. It is clear that the music business is a cesspool filled with sharks that will do anything to ensure their decadent lifestyle (as is the American way).

Lenin stated that, "Greedy capitalists will sell us the rope by which we will hang them." The music industry is killing itself with its greedy moves, and it doesn't help when the artists sell out. Nor are we, the public, innocent. We continue to shop at Walmart to save a penny or two, while their workers get no health benefits. We buy pretty songs from pretty people (well not Keith) without a thought or a care. We will no doubt flock into Best Buy and buy DVD players and Gameboys from the company store like good employees. But, in the end, this ceaseless undercutting and feeding frenzy has its costs. We may be sleeping in our hot tubs with the headphones on, but like Fred C. Dobbs - we have one eye open. And there is blood in the water.

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