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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Finding the sweet spot in the argument about the Universal-EMI merger

I'm sure Martin Mills, the chairman of Beggars Group, has reasons for not wanting the merger of Universal and EMI to go ahead (and they may be good ones) but I'm not sure that it's because it stands to squeeze out "edgy, left field artists". According to an interview in the Telegraph he says:
"When one party has the ability to be so dominant, it's going to be difficult for anything outside the mainstream to come through. It [puts pressure] on the space on shop shelves and magazine front covers for less mainstream artists."
To which we might say, which shop shelves is he talking about and, while we're about it, what magazine covers? If you've got a record that people want, Tesco will find room for it and the valve that really controls access to public exposure is operated by BBC radio, not by any magazine. But record execs never go on the record about the BBC. Off the record they rarely talk about anything else.

The "edgy, left field" argument is a classic example of the kind of argument businesses and pressure groups employ on public forums like the Today programme, not because they really believe it but because they know it will play into the larger narrative of the uninformed. The uninformed are always looking for a baddie and a goodie. This kind of argument rarely says "we would like things to stay as they are because we're doing fine, thanks". Instead it says, "if this change takes place then an entire culture will be brought down and this cute puppy will be drowned". That's the kind of argument that plays to the sweet spot. It's surprising how often it prevails.