Business ethics and telemarketing

InfoUSA is a list broker, a company that aggregates personal data and sells it to telemarketers and catalog sales companies. The New York Times reports:

InfoUSA advertised lists of “Elderly Opportunity Seekers,” 3.3 million older people “looking for ways to make money,” and “Suffering Seniors,” 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. “Oldies but Goodies” contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: “These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change.”

So InfoUSA actually sells lists of suckers deliberately selected for their gullibility. You might be wondering who buys these lists. Well, the NYT investigated.

InfoUSA sold [one list] dozens of times, to companies including HMS Direct, which Canadian authorities had sued the previous year for deceptive mailings; Westport Enterprises, the subject of consumer complaints in Kansas, Connecticut and Missouri; and Arlimbow, a European company that Swiss authorities were prosecuting at the time for a lottery scam.

[...]

Records also indicate that infoUSA sold thousands of other elderly Americans’ names to Windfall Investments after the F.B.I. had accused the company in 2002 of stealing $600,000 from a California woman.

Between 2001 and 2004, infoUSA also sold lists to World Marketing Service, a company that a judge shut down in 2003 for running a lottery scam; to Atlas Marketing, which a court closed in 2006 for selling $86 million of bogus business opportunities; and to Emerald Marketing Enterprises, a Canadian firm that was investigated multiple times but never charged with wrongdoing.

The story goes on to reveal that according to internal e-mails, InfoUSA knew some of their customers were scammy, but continued to sell them lists of sick and/or gullible elderly people to exploit.

Update: InfoUSA have put out a press release giving us their side of the story. My summary: “We’re not selling lists of suckers any more, we sold that part of the business. Plus, the authorities didn’t find us criminally liable, and anyway it was a long time ago.”

CD pricing

After a day of working from home, I had to get out of the computer room. I went to Harvard Square in search of a 2x mono 3.5mm jack to 1x stereo 3.5mm plug converter. I found one at Radio Shack, but it’s a blocky thing that won’t plug directly into the camcorder, so I need to either find a really short 3.5mm stereo headphone extension cable, or wire up my own converter.

Then I saw that HMV had reached the “40% off everything” stage of their “going out of business” sale. That took their overpriced $18.99 CDs to under my $12 limit, so I cleared out what was left of the Plaid, Komputer and Boards of Canada sections. The place was packed full of people, and the shelves are pretty empty of anything desirable at this point. (Off the top of my head: there’s no Pink Floyd, three Zappa CDs, no Autechre, most of the good Squarepusher has gone, no mu-Ziq, and now no Plaid or Boards of Canada either. Every Stanley Kubrick DVD is gone, ditto Terry Gilliam. Most of the Criterion Collection discs are gone.)

You know, every time a store has an actual sale with reasonable prices, I end up spending a ton of money. The rest of the time I buy nothing. I keep hoping that one day someone at the big media corporations will take a look at the sales figures and work out what’s going on. “Gee, if we cut the price of the CDs to $10-12, we sell five times as many, and if we cut the price to $8 we sell ten times as many.”

This HMV closedown is a pretty clear indication that it’s not just me, either. The Classical section was almost empty; 80% or more of the stock was gone. All they had to do was cut it to a reasonable price and it flew off the shelves. Cut the profit margin in half and sell ten times as many, and you make five times as much money. What is it with the record industry that they can’t see this? It makes me want to bang my head against a wall in frustration. Or even better, bang Hilary Rosen’s head against a wall…

I’ve bought a handful of tracks from the Apple Music Store. I’ve concluded that it does make sense, for a very limited purpose: buying one-off tracks where I would never buy anything else from the artist in question. For instance, I bought “Journey of the Sorcerer” by Eagles, because a quick audition told me there was nothing else I’d ever want to listen to on that album. (Or any of their others, as far as I could tell.)

Generally, though, I listen to entire albums, and the iTunes store just doesn’t make sense for albums. The quality’s too low, the restrictions are too annoying, and the price is too high. But spending 99 cents to get “Journey of the Sorcerer” instead of $12, that makes sense. Now, if only they’ll add the one interesting Andrew Lloyd Webber track (it’s about 3 minutes long), the one good track on Peter Baumann’s “Romance ’76”, and so on…

HMV coda

They still have shitloads of Yanni, however. Nothing’ll make that stuff shift.

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Investment advice

Found on Slashdot:

If you had bought $1000.00 worth of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49.00.

With Enron, you would have $16.50 of the original $1,000.00.

With Worldcom, you would have less than $5.00 left.

If you had bought $1,000.00 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the cans for the 10 cent deposit, you would have $214.00.

Based on the above, my current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.