Cooper’s Column – It’s too damned quiet out there, Carruthers….

It's too damned quiet out there, Carruthers....

My apologies for such a protracted silence over the past few months. The fact is that after many years in this industry I finally hit a spell when I ran out of things to say about it. Well, to be a little more accurate, things that I could say that wouldn’t get me into serious trouble.

So what changed? That’s the point – very little. It has gone deadly quiet out there. I cannot remember a time when so little was happening. As MIN’s regular readers will know, we only send out eshots when we believe we have something interesting to say. It’s sometimes a difficult choice. Don’t email for a few days and there’s the worry that people will forget you are there. Send too many eshots filled with trivia and you would run the risk of losing readers through sheer tedium. For a few months now it’s sometimes been a close call. The number of new products, lines changing hands, people moving jobs or having it away on their toes with the petty cash has greatly diminished . There’s an old joke that ends: ‘drums play drums good.. drums stop means big trouble – here comes the bass solo’.  I wonder if we’re in for a spot of the Stanley Clarkes?

Fishing around in the hope of finding a positive angle to this apparent lack of activity in the trade, it occurs to me that finally we might be reaching a point when companies realise just how over-supplied the MI business has become. Too much cheap product is chasing too few customers, which depresses prices and profitability. Just how many more effects pedals, ukuleles and Chinese acoustic guitars, in particular, do we really need?  How many times can the same guitars be reincarnated? Who designed them, the Dalai Lama?

It doesn’t help when some of the big suppliers don’t so much launch new products as circle overhead carpet bombing the trade with seemingly endless new goodies. NAMM, of course, is the favourite venue for this sort of behaviour so it’s to be hoped that in a couple of months time the big boys curb their enthusiasm a little and give everyone a welcome break. If fewer products were chasing our shrinking customer base, prices could at least make a little more sense.

Meanwhile, speaking of prices…

It’s for your own good…

One body that certainly isn’t short of testosterone or crystal meth, or whatever it takes to reach stratospheric levels of hyperactivity, appears to be the Government’s Competition and Markets Authority – the CMA for short. We recently reported that this body’s much discussed investigation into the musical instrument industry was unlikely to bear fruit until the spring of next year. Small wonder! MIN has signed-up to receive all the press releases issued by this government department and I would bet good money (not something I say lightly!) that very few realise just how many investigations this outfit has currently on the go. Is there an industry that isn’t being ‘investigated’?

It is scratching away at like a demented chicken into a vast array businesses and barely a day passes without a handful of press releases telling the press how it is getting on with its invetigations into… well, you name it. But is it actually doing any good, or is it, as I am starting to suspect, really a way for the government to virtue signal that it is ‘looking after our interests’; when what it is really doing is fishing for money from fines?

If some companies in the MI trade have really been up to no good then I would be among the first to congratulate whoever puts a stop to it. Likewise, if monopolies are being broken up and prevented, then hurrah! If, on the other hand, what is really going on is that politicians have found a crafty wheeze like nothing that has gone before, let me disillusion them. Around 1487 Archbishop John Morton devised what became known as Morton’s Fork. It was a device used to raise money for his patron, Henry VII and it worked thus. The rich were told they had money so they had better cough-up because they could afford it, while the poor were accused of concealing their money so they had better pay-up, too. The penalties were, shall we say, suitably late mediaeval. There are few tricks so low that a politician won’t resort to them.

Far be it from me to suggest that the CMA or any other government body is indulging in a bit of dodgy sophistry just to squeeze extra funds out of the populace but I do wonder what it is that is actually being achieved here, other than an angry swarm of investigations, endless business disruption and some well paid jobs in a government department. And while I wonder that, the wise words of Ronald Reagan keep echoing in my head: ‘The most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”‘.