Last week saw the launch of Apple’s new music streaming service. This will clearly provide serious competition for the existing music streaming providers such as Spotify and Tidal. One important difference is that whilst Spotify offers a free version to listeners funded by advertising revenue, all Apple Music users will be required to pay a monthly subscription charge. However, Apple will allow listeners a free three-month trial of its service.
Initially Apple intended not to pay artists royalties during this trial period. However, it soon reversed this plan when the pop-star Taylor Swift wrote a blog post criticising Apple for this and threatening to withhold her most recent album.
The negotiations between Apple and the record labels are also facing considerable scrutiny from the competition authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. They seem particularly concerned that Apple may have conspired with or pressured labels to withdraw their support for rival streaming services such as Spotify that offer free versions to consumers. Although not clear, it has been suggested that the European Commission’s initial probe into this may have been initiated by a complaint from a company offering such a free version of its service.
On the other hand, there has also been considerable criticism of free music services such as Spotify. One of the cofounders of the Beats music streaming service, which was subsequently acquired by Apple, has argued that the free business model does not properly value recorded music. Likewise, Taylor Swift removed her entire back catalogue from Spotify, and the leading record label, Universal, is applying pressure on Spotify to change its business model. It is currently unclear whether Apple has been directly responsible for Universal’s standpoint. What is clear is that Apple’s entry will shake-up this market and the identity and business model of the future market leader is at stake.
Streaming sets off a painful debate in the music industry Financial Times, Jonathan Ford (22/03/15)
Apple’s new music service will push paid subscriptions, with free samples re/code, Dawn Chmielewski and Peter Kafka (08/05/15)
Taylor Swift is fighting the wrong part of the music industry Financial Times, Jonathan Ford (05/07/15)
Here’s what happens to your $10 after you pay for a month of Apple music re/code, Peter Kafka (15/06/15)
- What are the key features of the music streaming service market?
- What are the pros and cons of Spotify’s business model?
- Why might the views on free streaming services differ between small and large artists and labels?
- How do you think the music streaming market might develop in the future?
Apple was last week found guilty in the US for its role in the fixing of e-book prices. A subsequent hearing will now be held to determine the damages that Apple will be forced to pay. However, Apple vehemently denies the allegations and looks set to appeal the decision.
To understand what the US Department of Justice (the European Commission has also brought a case) is objecting to, we need to look back to how pricing in this rapidly growing market has evolved over time.
Until the end of 2009 e-books were sold under a wholesale pricing model. Here, publishers charge retailers a wholesale price per book and retailers are then free to charge final consumers whatever price they choose. This all changed in the US (there were also similar developments in Europe) during an eventful period of a few days in January 2010 when Apple unveiled its iPad for April release.
The publisher Macmillian proposed that Amazon switch to an agency pricing model under which the publisher sets the retail price. This is typically referred to by economists as Resale Price Maintenance (RPM). Interestingly, RPM has a long history in the book industry. In the UK for example, throughout most of the last century publishers set prices under the Net Book Agreement, until this broke down in the mid 1990s. In addition, in some countries, for example Germany, books continue to be sold under RPM.
Macmillan also threatened Amazon that if it preferred to keep wholesale pricing it would delay the supply of e-book releases to them. Amazon initially responded by refusing to stock Macmillan titles. However, soon after Amazon ceded to Macmillan’s proposal. Despite this, Amazon made clear its dissatisfaction to its customers:
We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.
It turned out that 5 of the 6 major publishers (including Macmillan) had already agreed the same agency terms to sell e-books for Apple devices. Like Macmillan, the other publishers all then also imposed agency pricing on Amazon. Furthermore, crucial to the contracts agreed with Apple was a so called ‘most-favoured customer’ clause which guaranteed that e-books would not be sold elsewhere at prices below those charged to Apple customers. Effectively, therefore, this clause made it necessary for the publishers to impose agency terms on Amazon. The Department of Justice objected to this and believed consumers would be harmed due to higher prices. All of the publishers involved eventually decided to settle the case, leaving Apple alone to fight the case in court.
In the decision Judge Cote concluded that:
the publisher defendants conspired with each other to eliminate retail price competition in order to raise e-book prices, and that Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing that conspiracy. Without Apple’s orchestration of this conspiracy, it would not have succeeded as it did in the Spring of 2010.
It is interesting to consider the reasons why the publishers would be keen to take control of the prices Amazon charges for e-books. Evidence suggests that Amazon was frequently retailing e-books at substantial discounts and even below wholesale costs. One explanation for this is that Amazon was keen to increase demand for Kindle devices. The publishers, on the other hand, might well be concerned about the implications of Amazon dominating the e-book market. Potentially, this would give Amazon significant bargaining power over them.
Of course, such dominance might also have knock-on effects on consumer prices in the long-run. Whether the publishers will be permitted to use agency pricing to mitigate such concerns in the future remains unclear and depends on whether the competition authorities object to agency pricing per se or just the coordinated way in which it was achieved.
As the articles below demonstrate, opinion is strongly divided for and against the judgement against Apple.
EU raids ebook publishers in price fixing investigation The Guardian, Benedicte Page and Leigh Phillips (4/3/11)
Apple Faces Damages Trial Over E-Book Antitrust Violation Bloomberg Businessweek, Bob Van Voris, Adam Satariano and David McLaughlin (10/7/13)
Apple played ‘central role’ in ebook price-fixing conspiracy, says federal judge The Guardian, Amanda Holpuch (11/7/13)
US: Apple found guilty, but what happens next? Competition Policy International (11/7/13)
Why It’s Insane That No One Cares About Apple’s Price-Fixing Conspiracy (AAPL) Seattle pi, Jim Edwards (13/7/13)
Apple Learns The Hazards Of Innovation With E-Book Antitrust Ruling Forbes, Daniel Fisher (10/7/13)
- What are the important features of the e-book market?
- What are the key differences between the traditional and e-book markets?
- To what extent do Amazon and Apple have different incentives in the e-book market?
- Do you think Resale Price Maintenance is more likely to harm competition in the market for traditional or e-books?
- What do you think might be the short and long-run implications of this decision?
If you ask most people whether they like paying tax, the answer would surely be a resounding ‘no’. If asked would you like to pay less tax, most would probably say ‘yes’. Evidence of this can be seen in the behaviour of individuals and of companies, as they aim to reduce their tax bill, through both legal and illegal methods.
Our tax revenues are used for many different things, ranging from the provision of merit goods to the redistribution of income, so for most people they don’t object to paying their way. However, maintaining profitability and increasing disposable income is a key objective for companies and individuals, especially in weak economic times. Some high profile names have received media coverage due to accusations of both tax avoidance and tax evasion. Starbucks, Amazon, Googe and Apple are just some of the big names that have been accused of paying millions of pounds/dollars less in taxation than they should, due to clever (and often legal) methods of avoiding tax.
The problem of tax avoidance has become a bigger issue in recent years with the growth of globalisation. Multinationals have developed to dominate the business world and business/corporation tax rates across the global remain very different. Thus, it is actually relatively easy for companies to reduce their tax burden by locating their headquarters in low tax countries or ensuring that business contracts etc. are signed in these countries. By doing this, any profits are subject to the lower tax rate and are thus such companies are accused of depriving the government of tax revenue. Apple is currently answering questions posed by a US Senate Committee, having been accused of structuring its business to create ‘the holy grail of tax avoidance’.
Many may consider the above and decide that these companies have done little wrong. After all, many schemes aimed at tax avoidance are legal and are often just a clever way of using the system. However, in a business environment dominated by the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon, the impact of tax avoidance may not just be on the government’s coffers. Indeed John McCain, one of the Committee members asked:
…Couldn’t one draw the conclusion that you and Apple have an unfair advantage over domestic based corporations and companies, in other words, smaller companies in this country that don’t have the same ability that you do to locate in Ireland or other countries overseas?
The concern is that with such ability to avoid huge amounts of taxation, large companies will inevitably compete smaller ones out of the market. Local businesses, without the ability to re-locate to other parts of the world, pay their full tax bills, but multinationals legally (in most cases) manage to avoid paying their own share. With a harsh economic climate continuing globally, these large companies that aim to further increase their profitability through such means as tax avoidance will naturally bear the wrath of smaller businesses and individuals that are struggling to get by. It’s likely that this topic will remain in the media for some time. The following articles consider some of the companies accused of participating in tax avoidance schemes and the consequences of doing so.
Is Apple’s tax avoidance rational? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook defends tax strategy in Senate BBC News (21/5/13)
Senator accuses Apple of ‘highly questionable’ billion-dollar tax avoidance scheme The Guardian, Dominic Rushe (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook faces tax avoidance questions Sky News (21/5/13)
EU leaders look to end Apple-style tax avoidance schemes Reuters, Luke Baker and Mark John (21/5/13)
Apple Chief Tim Cook defends tax practices and denies avoidance Financial Times, James Politi (21/5/13)
Apple CEO Tim Cook tells Senate: tiny tax bill isn’t our fault, it’s yours Independent, Nikhil Kumar (21/5/13)
Miliband promises action on Google tax avoidance The Telegraph (19/5/13)
Google is cheating British tax payers out of millions…what they are doing is just immoral’: Web giant accused of running ‘scandalous’ tax avoidance scheme by whistleblower Mail Online, Becky Evans (19/5/13)
Multinational CEOs tell David Cameron to rein in tax avoidance rhetoric The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Lawrie Holmes and Rajeev Syal (20/5/13)
Fury at corporate tax avoidance leads to call for a global response The Guardian, Tracy McVeigh (18/5/13)
- What is the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance? Is it rational to engage in such schemes?
- What are tax revenues used for?
- Why are multinationals more able to engage in tax avoidance schemes?
- Is the problem of tax avoidance a negative consequence of globalisation?
- How might the actions of large multinationals who are avoiding paying large amounts of tax affect the competitiveness of the global market place?
- Is there justification for a global policy response to combat the issue of tax avoidance?
- What are the costs and benefits to a country of having a low rate of corporation tax?
- How would a more ‘reasonable’ tax on foreign earnings allow the ‘free movement of capital back to the US’?
The technology sector is highly complex and is led by Apple. However, as the tablet market is continuing to grow, it is becoming increasingly competitive with other firms such as Samsung gaining market share. Although both firms sell many products, it is the growing tablet market which is one of the keys to their continued growth.
Tablet PCs have seen a growth in the final quarter of 2012 to a high of 52.5 million units, according to IDC. Although Apple, leading the market, has seen a growth in its sales, its market share has declined to 43.6%. Over the same period, Samsung has increased its market share from 7.3% to 15.1%. While it is still a huge margin behind Apple in the tablet PC market, Samsung’s increase in sales from 2.2 million to 7.9 million is impressive and if such a trend were to continue, it would certainly cause Apple to take note.
It’s not just these two firms trying to take advantage of this growing industry. Microsoft has recently launched a new tablet PC and although its reception was less than spectacular, it is expected that Microsoft will become a key competitor in the long run. There are many factors driving the growth in this market and the war over market share is surely only just beginning. The chart shows the 75.3% growth in sales in just one year. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
A Research Director at IDC said:
We expected a very strong fourth quarter, and the market didn’t disappoint…New product launches from the category’s top vendors, as well as new entrant Microsoft, led to a surge in consumer interest and very robust shipments totals during the holiday season’
Apple has been so dominant in this sector that other companies until recently have had little success in gaining market share. However, with companies such as Samsung and ASUS now making in-roads, competition is likely to become fierce. There are already concerns that Apple’s best days are behind it and its share price reflects this. People are now less willing to pay a premium price for an Apple product, as the innovations of its competitors have now caught up with those of the leading brand name. The following articles consider this growing market.
Samsung gain tablet market share as Apple lead narrows BBC News (1/2/13)
Apple snatches US lead from Samsung Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw (1/2/13)
Apple revenues miss expectations despite high sales figures BBC News (24/1/13)
Samsung eats into Apple sales in the tablet market Mirror, Ruki Sayid (1/2/13)
MacWorld’s Apple celebration opens amid fears of tech giant’s decline Guardian, Rory Carroll (31/1/13)
Samsung’s tablet sales soar as Apple’s grip on market loosens Daily News and Analysis, Richard Blagden (2/2/13)
Samsung takes a nibble out of Apple’s tablet lead InfoWorld, Ted Samson(31/1/13)
Tablet Sales up 75% as Samsung and Asus Gain on Apple Interational Business Times, Edward Smith (31/1/13)
- Which factors are behind this exceptional growth in the tablet PC market?
- Using the Boston matrix, where do you think tablet PCs fit in terms of market size and market growth?
- Where would you place this market in terms of the product life cycle?
- What does the product life cycle say about the degree of competition, the impact on pricing on profits etc. in the phase that you placed the tablet PC market in your answer to question 3?
- Why have Apple’s shares fallen recently? Do you think this will be the new trend?
- Microsoft’s new tablet didn’t attract huge sales. What explanation was given for this? Use a diagram to help answer this question.
- Tablet PCs are relatively expensive, yet sales of them have increased significantly over the past few years. What explanation is there for this, given that we have been (and still are) in tough financial times?
For those looking to buy larger electrical appliances at cheaper prices, things might be looking up, as Comet have begun heavy discounting after entering administration. Deloitte, as the administrator, will now begin the search for a buyer for this retailer, while Comet aims to raise the funds to rescue the company.
Comet was bought by OpCapita last year, but with poor performance continuing across the 200+ stores, we could be about to see the demise of this retailer. Over 6,000 jobs are now at risk, although Deloitte has maintained that stores will continue to trade and that redundancies will not be made. One of the administrators said:
‘Our immediate priorities are to stabilise the business, fully assess its financial position, and begin an urgent process to seek a suitable buyer which would also preserve jobs.’
The retail environment has inevitably suffered over the past few years, with well-known companies such as Woolworths, Optical Express and JJB Sports (to name a few) entering administration. Comet, therefore seems to be the latest in a long line of sad trading stories. So, which factors have contributed towards the collapse of this giant retailer?
Over the past few years, online retailers have gained a larger and larger market share. These internet retailers do not have the same overhead costs that Comet and other high street retailers face. To open a store in an area where customers are in high supply, premium rents must be paid and this adds to the cost of running any given store. In order to cover these higher costs, higher prices can result and this, together with consumers facing tight budgets, has led many customers to look at the cheaper alternatives online. Deloitte has also said that Comet has been suffering from a lack of credit, which has meant that it has not been able to purchase stock in the run-up to Christmas. Deloitte commented that:
‘The inability to obtain supplier credit for the peak Christmas trading period means that the company had no realistic prospect of raising further capital to build up sufficient stock to allow it to continue trading.’
Concerned customers are naturally emerging, wondering whether items they have ordered and paid for will actually turn up. However, Deloitte’s reassurance that trading will continue may go some way to relieving their concern. The following articles consider how Comet has fallen from the sky.
Comet officially enters administration, stores re-open for expected firesale The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick and Helia Ebrahimi (2/11/12)
Comet calls in Deloitte as administrators BBC News (2/11/12)
Apple sky-high as Comet falls to earth The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/11/12)
Comet enters administration, Deloitte seeks buyer Reuters (2/11/12)
Comet electricals administrators formally begin search for saviour The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/11/12)
Comet goes into administration Financial Times, Andrea Felsted (3/11/12)
Comet collapse: Deloitte blames internet and lack of first-time home buyers The Telegraph(2/11/12)
Collapse of Comet puts 7000 jobs in danger Independent, James Thompson (2/11/12)
- Why does the retail environment remain very weak?
- Explain why Deloitte suggest that a lack of first time home buyers has played a part in the demise of Comet.
- Why has a lack of credit contributed towards Comet’s downfall?
- Should customers be concerned about how Comet’s demise (if indeed a buyer is not found) might affect prices in other retailers such as Currys, given that they will now have a larger share of the market?
- Why has online trading contributed towards the harsher retail environment for the high street stores? You should think about fixed and variable costs in your answer.
- Why are companies such as Apple doing so well relative to other companies, such as Comet and JJB Sports? Is there a secret to their success?
- What impact might this collapse have on local labour markets, given Comet employs so many people? Think about the effect on wages, unemployment and on claimants of benefits.