Successful German Discounters

Wal-Mart gave up trying to compete in Germany in 2006, unable to compete effectively against Aldi and Lidl.

Nonetheless, I was surprised to read in the latest Harvard Business Review (link to a summary of the article), that six German “hard discounters” (their term for discounters like Aldi and Lidl) are in the top ten global players. Between them, these six make $178,6 billion annual revenue out of the $220,2 billion that the top ten make between them. That is pretty impressive.

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Do as I say, not as I do!

Given the effort the music industry puts into chasing file downloaders for lost revenue, you would think that they would be punctilious about setting a good example to their customers. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The Canadian Recording Industry Association is currently being sued for not paying copyright on some 300 000 songs, which is expected to represent to total short-payment of around $6 billion.

It appears that the music industry believes that devoting effort to making these payments would be “an unproductive use of their time”:

David Basskin, the President and CEO of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd., notes in his affidavit that “the record labels have devoted insufficient resources to identifying and paying the owners of musical works on the Pending Lists.” Basskin adds that some labels believe addressing the issue would be “an unproductive use of their time.”

I must admit that I find their logic impeccable – why invest your money keeping track of who you owe it to, if you can avoid paying them?

I imagine internet music file-sharers might feel that paying for downloads or going to the shops is equally an unproductive use of their time.

Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation

The Copenhagen Climate Summit starts tommorow. One editorial, with a stark message, will appear in 56 newspapers in 45 countries tomorrow:

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone…

Read the full text here.

Apple Packaging

Apple-FRAThe Apple Store yesterday in Frankfurt’s Fressgass’
If you have ever bought an Apple product, you know their packaging is usually exquisite. Well, the same applies to their stores before they open. The Frankfurt store pictured above opens at the beginning of January, and work is still going on inside. However, the logo is already installed, and the whole shop front is covered in black foil to keep our prying eyes from seeing the preparations.

German price controls

The following probably seems quite normal to any German reading this, after all we had price controls on practically everything here until July 2001 (Shops couldn’t offer products more than 3% under list price without breaking the law.). Even today there are still price controls for books, maps, and sheet music in Germany.

Quite frankly if you are not German, forcing companies to increase their prices in the middle of a financial crisis seems strange:

The German government has forced Dubai’s Emirates airline to charge more for business class tickets on flights out of Germany to destinations in Asia and South Africa.

Emirates said the “imminent threat of significant fines” had forced it to raise the price of business fares on routes including Frankfurt to Johannesburg, and Hamburg to Singapore by as much as 20 per cent.

Emirates have said the “anti-consumer” and “commercially nonsensical” policy is unfair and they plan to raise the matter with the European Commission. Good luck to them!

Flu Trends on Google

bl-Screen shot 2009-11-12 at 21.14.52
You can check on the spread of flu in several countries on Google – they have discovered a correlation between the spread of flu and the use of their search engine for things to do with flu! One strange thing, however – most western European countries are represented, but there’s no information for the UK.

The Spanish Land Registry online

We have received the results of the land registry checks that our abogado (lawyer) in Spain has made on the plot we want to buy. I am impressed. The time to get the information was less than a week, and the land registry for the whole of Spain is on-line, with basic information available free of charge and without any formalities being completed first. The above screen-shot is part of the free information about the plot we intend to buy.

We still need confirmation that the plot is building land with no major restrictions on what we put on it, this has to come from the local authorities in Xàtiva, so we haven’t completed the initial enquiries yet.

There is a free mash-up which the Catastro Español (Spanish National Land Registry) provides, which allows you to see exactly where the plot is, superimposed on a satellite image of the area.

For 30 Euro (for 3 month’s access) you can also get much more information about the plot, but that is what the lawyer has already sent us, so we have decided not to pay for the privilege of duplicating his work.

Normally, the Spanish are not big internet users – we noticed that some quite large businesses don’t yet have a home page; a local builder we spoke to when we there a couple of weeks ago didn’t even have an e-mail address. But as far as I am aware, the Catastro Español is quite a way ahead of their German equivalent. Here you can get information on-line in Bayern (Bavaria) and Nordrhein-Westfalen (maybe in other regions, but I haven’t found them if that is the case), but it costs 8 Euro a time, you have to fill in a multi-page form to apply for access first (application fee: 50 Euro), and it does not include the possibility to make mash-ups combining the land registry plans with satellite images.

A place in Spain

At the beginning of this year, the company I work for took over a smaller competitor. Some months later (surprise, surprise) cost cutting measures were announced, which included an offer allowing early retirement. After some thought Ruth and I decided it was an offer too good to pass up, and I signed up. So I finish work in the middle of next year.

We have been thinking for some time, that when we retire, we’d like to spend quite a lot of time in Spain – we have spent the last 4-5 years doing Spanish courses and looking around the different regions of Spain to decide where we might like to spend time when we retire. We settled last year on the region around Valencia. Valencia is a nice size – not too big, but plenty going on. There are also a number of nice towns nearby. So having signed on the dotted line at work, we went down to Spain to start doing some serious research – what property can you really get for your money?

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