business news in context, analysis with attitude

In response to our story about getting into the used car business, and our caustic remark about its misguided entry into the supermarket business, we got the following email from MNB user Dan Low:

“OK, I am a little new to the Content Guy, so I unfortunately do not recall when you ‘made a living criticizing Priceline in its old WebHouseClub days.’

“I received my WebHouseClub card about the same time that they closed up shop. It seemed like a very good concept to me. Name your own price
groceries. At least it could have prevented me from going to every store in Central Ohio just to get the best deal on pasta sauce and laundry detergent. Why used cars, but not groceries? And if used cars are OK, why not furniture, basketball hoops, lawnmowers, etc…?”

Fair enough. Our remarks probably do need further explanation, if only because they illuminate some of the problems with Priceline-type schemes when applied to the food business.

Our objections to the WebHouseClub concept were several…and specific to the retailer and manufacturer sides of the equation. We never questioned that it might make sense to consumers.

1. Unlike airline seats and hotel rooms, consumer packaged goods are largely non-perishable. If a plane takes off and a seat is empty, that’s it. There’s no selling it. But if a can of soup doesn’t sell today, there’s always tomorrow…

2. The whole concept of the Priceline model would have you, as a consumer, paying for your products via credit card over the Internet. Then, you took your list to a local supermarket that participated in the program. If that supermarket didn’t have the items you’d already paid for, you were encouraged to go to another chain store in the same market that was participating. In other words, retailers that spend enormous sums of money trying to make the playing field uneven were suddenly participating in a program that encouraged shopping in other stores. Which just struck us as colossally dumb.

3. The same problem existed for manufacturers. You didn’t get your specific choice of brand, just one of several…meaning that all those commercials and ads and FSIs were getting flushed down the proverbial toilet. Again, not smart.

We hope this makes sense, and that rehashing these objections doesn’t seem too much like beating a dead horse.

Speaking of dead horses, the reason you hadn’t read about this before on MorningNewsBeat is that it didn’t exist when all this was transpiring. We were writing then for a website called, which went out of business for still-mysterious reasons just about a year ago.

But that’s okay…because the heart and soul of IdeaBeat lives…right here on (Tell your friends…)

Onto other subjects…

MNB user K.A. Tobkin wrote in about our story detailing the possibility of a trade war between the EU and the US over the labeling of products containing genetically modified organisms:

“Since it is axiomatic that the only non engineered portions of our diets are harvested sea food and North American (also some European) wild game, the whole thing stinks to high heavens of protectionism.”

Responding to our story about Hannaford last week, we got the following email from MNB user Kathleen Born:

“All of us at Arrowstreet Architects in Somerville, MA, who eagerly open MNB every morning were thrilled to see you describe the Hannaford store in Portland, Maine in such glowing terms. We developed Hannaford's brand new prototype on which the Portland store was based. Working with natural light, some innovative finishes, and clean, bright graphics, we hoped to create a fresh and cheerful spin on the food shopping experience. Glad you think it works so well.”

We do. And you’re welcome. We’re always happy to put the spotlight on terrific stores and thought-leading companies.

On the subject of sanitized movies, we got several emails. MNB user Bob Gleeson wrote:

“I'm already on record regarding my feelings on "sanitized movies." Let them work out the copyright issue and then let the consumer decide if they will pay for someone to edit "offensive" materials. If this can be worked out, I'd say Good For The Retailer who offers such a choice.”

If the copyright issues are worked out and the studios, writers and directors have no objection, then fine. But until that happens – and we doubt that it will - we still consider what these sanitizing companies are doing to be an artistic and ethical affront.

If you don’t want to watch an R-rated movie, don’t watch it. Cutting out parts of it so that people aren’t offended is like tearing out pages of “Tom Sawyer,” or “Catcher In The Rye,” or plenty of other literary classics, just because they offend. Would anyone ever stand for that?

(Actually, some people would rather just ban or burn them…but we all know who they are.)

Of course, not everyone agrees with us on the movie sanitizing. MNB user Todd Toombs writes:

“While I agree that copyright laws should be enforced, I think the DGA (Directors Guild of America, which is suing over the issue) and Hollywood, in general, are missing the point. The growing popularity of these sanitized versions says to me that there is a decent-sized market out there thirsting for movies that they won't be embarrassed to show their families. They obviously are not meeting that demand. Remember the great classic Disney movies like "Old Yeller", Swiss Family Robinson, etc. that were not animated but were really good family movies. Today, even the Disney "kid" movies are full of sexual innuendo and off-color jokes intended possibly to entertain the adults that take their kids to see the movie. Even some very good, relatively clean movies today have scenes inserted in them that are completely unnecessary and are intended only to spice up the movie and achieve a certain rating (see Jerry Maguire, for example). Parents can't even depend on the rating system anymore to tell them what content is in a movie. Most everyone has seen an "R" movie that leaves them wondering what exactly earned it an R-rating. At the same time, I have seen plenty of PG or PG-13 movies that should definitely have been tabbed as R, but weren't because it would have limited the audience and therefore the dollars. It's easy to casually say, ‘If you don't like that sort of thing, then just don't go see the movie,’ but even people who are trying to live by a certain standard of morality and pass on those beliefs to their children enjoy seeing a good movie. It shouldn't be this hard. With the ridiculous amounts of money Hollywood is spending to turn out some really awful movies, it seems like a decent profit could be made making movies for this market - even if it were limited release or straight-to-video fare that was advertised only to this market segment.”

We think that if we let our kid see a movie that is tasteless and inappropriate, that’s our fault. We read the reviews, check the websites, and do everything we can to confirm that the movies our kids see are age-appropriate. If we have any doubts, we either say no…or we go ourselves, first, to be sure. That’s our job…we’re the parents.

And if we screw up, it isn’t Hollywood’s fault. It is ours.

(Lousy movies, on the other hand, are Hollywood’s fault. But until someone buys our original screenplay, “Adventures of the Content Guy,” we just can’t do anything about it.)
KC's View: