Fighting Against Evil Supermarket Bread

I love bread! I love making it, baking it, the smell of it, eating it and spreading it with jam! It is the most wondrous stuff and the staple of European food. To an outside observer it would seem that the British in general have ended their love affair with bread. The story is a rather middle-class first world problem, but also illustrative of creeping value loss.

I was lucky to grown up in a small rural town, isolated from the early wave of the supermarket takeover of the British high street. The town had a bakers shop, mainly baking bread for the townsfolk and local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. We had several butchers shops, a fishmonger at the weekly market and several greengrocers. We also had a local independent supermarket , which sold one of everything, basically all dry goods, it even had a cheese counter. Shopping meant walking from shop to shop to purchase your provisions.

Nowadays the town has a rather poor chain baker, is very fortunate to have retained a butcher and convenience shops (which are basically only good for alcohol and snacks). There is a huge supermarket, 7 miles away in the next town, a drive or a bus journey. Time wise, weekly shopping now actually takes much longer. How did this happen? How is the only way of getting a decent loaf of bread to travel 7 miles to buy flour and bake it yourself, indicative of a more modern efficient society?

Supermarkets came about as they offered a more efficient distribution network, offering lower prices, more choice and exotic goods. There were supermarkets in the big cities first. My family used to drive to the city (a three hour round trip) once a month or so, for shopping: books, LPs, clothing and anything else we desired. On the way back we would visit the supermarket to stock up for the month on dry goods, such as rice, as this was much cheaper and to be able to buy foods we couldn’t get at home.

Most people in the town did this kind of shopping (in those pre-internet times). This did impact on the local shops. However the bakers survived as, fresh still warm bread is something very special, to be picked up from the local shop and delivered to the breakfast table. As time passed, local bakers declined. The supermarkets sold the soggy crappy ‘Chorleywood’ sliced, plastic bag bread, only good for toast, at rock bottom prices. So people bought this cheap crap and didn’t eat as much of it, instead people ate more and more of the other things the supermarket provided to replace bread (which they made more profits on),  bread declined. Occasionally people missed fresh bread, the supermarkets provided ‘in-store bakerys’, producing bread any real baker would be ashamed of. However, this made those who only used a supermarket to think that this was what real bread tasted like, it was no longer seen as something very special.

The supermarkets won and killed off real bread as an everyday staple. Bread is now seen as an artisan, luxury product, and often priced accordingly. This is very sad. Many place the blame on the ‘evil’ supermarkets, exploiting the British consumer. This is a rather reactionary view and is indicative of how extremist views can arise, whether they be on bread, meat-eating, political creed or religion. A blame culture, blaming others for a failure to act responsibly. Are the supermarket bosses really that evil, do they drink the tears of virgins with glee?

No. The supermarkets have simply followed the path of maximizing their own profits, without regard for their impact on society. The town planning system failed in holding back their growth.  They are not evil in the sense that they set out to destroy peoples enjoyment of bread,  A consequence of this is loss of bread and a loss of appreciation of the value of various foodstuffs. People are not evil, they simply follow convention and seek cheap food. This explains why bread demised, why the disgusting factory farming of animals proliferated, why people vote for political parties that superficially make the right noises.

Those of us who have invested the time to research, investigate and think have understood this. but the majority don’t. So, for those who understand, can see the situation as one where people just need to be told the truth, to be educated and they will form the same conclusions as these early seers. However, the majority appear not to listen to this vocal minority. They don’t listen because surely a minority of wierdos can’t be right, they must be extremists. So, all these dedicated minorities become tarred with the extremist label, whether they be religious converts, animal rights activists or political activists. The minorities respond by becoming exasperated, so shout louder and sometimes start acting immorally themselves ‘for the greater good’. Moral principle is lost, as well as access to a decent loaf of bread.

Corporate culture has killed off many things precious to ordinary folk. Not because pursuing a profit or greater efficiency is evil, but by taking the idea too far, without control, trying to be all encompassing. It is often heard that people don’t have the time to enjoy kneading there own loaf of bread, yet people have the time to sit for hours everyday in a traffic jam on the way to work and queue in the supermarket. It is very curious indeed how people don’t seem to take responsibility for there own lifestyles anymore in this ‘need’ to comply with contemporary economic theory.

Tidal Streaming

This week a new music streaming service has been promoted. does this offer a solution to music distribution? I have discussed before, the problems of distributing music and adequate renumeration for the musicians in the digital age.

To me it should be very simple. Internet streaming allows a shopfront enabling people to access and listen to a wide range of music, this is akin to radio, indeed services often market themselves as internet radio, more tailored to individual tastes. With radio plays come royalty payments to the artists, on the internet, this comes through subscriptions and advertising, again akin to radio. such promotion services don’t yield much income to artists. It is possible for streaming to provide a larger portion of income though subscription.

Beyond this radio model, it should then be easy to have a system whereby recordings can be downloaded in both low quality (LQ) and high quality(HQ) with related pricing structures. The big fundamental change is that with music available both art home and on the move via streaming services, so there is less need to purchase a recording for personal use.

The tidal service has to compete with existing players, such as Spotify, which are established and built up a substantial repertoire of music and subscribers. The availability of streaming does dent actual sales, due to the continuing availability of the music through subscription. The artists complain that Spotifty doesn’t pay enough.

Furthermore streaming services are much like traditional retail models, that pay a fixed amount per play. This means that income is directly related to popularity. for popular music this has always been a problem. A problem because it poorly fits careers of musicians. World artists, like Jay-Z make lots of money, more than they perhaps need. To achieve that status they may make decisions to produce music that whilst popular lacks interest. On the other hand good artists, that don’t have such a wide appeal don’t make enough money to have a career in music.

I would argue that artist generated promotion, for example such services as Bandcamp, offer a better model that is career related. Imagine a new artist, or even the complete amateur, still in education or working, with an interest in making music, can relatively easily do so with home recording equipment available on a standard PC. They can then upload their music to Bandcamp or a similar service, and provide their music for free. This free music is great, as the artist or potential artist isn’t basing their career on music yet. The material is provided for promotion. The music is provided to see if they are popular or of sufficient quality to generate a following. Many musicians will stop ot this stage as they are doing it as their hobby.

The next stage is that an artist has an established following and knows that there is music is high enough quality that people are prepared to pay for it. So they release a new batch of music, at a low price. If this is successful, they can then charge more, a full market rate, and will perhaps be courted by record companies and become a professional musician. Once global stardom is created, the unit price for their music can be decreased as they then are making money through volume sales, whilst achieving fabulous wealth. Why can’t such a model be the system for music distribution?

The Tidal service doesn’t provide a new solution. It claims to offer more money directly to the artists, great. However competing directly with Spotify, they would have to persuade people to pay more for the same thing appealing to the music lovers desire to support musicians, I can’t see this happening in the numbers they would require. Especially, as they still have to pay the same royalties to record companies that Spotify do. Tidal offer a new service, at double the subscription rate, by providing HQ streaming content (now possible with higher domestic bandwidths). This has appeal, but will harm HQ sales and HQ punters are a minority/specialist music consumers and probably not enough to allow Tidal to succeed over other competing streaming services (we have now got used to quantity over quality). The other offer of exclusive content is actually a bad idea, every service could offer exclusive content, but people are not going to subscribe to many more than one service.

I also read this week that streaming services offer the artist 0.5p per play, whilst paying the record company 3.5p per play (I’ll review this if these figures are wrong). 0.5p per play of not enough for the artist, without substantial sales. The record company getting 7x that of the artist is a throw-back to the retail model, unfair because the streaming provider is shouldering the distribution costs, not the label. It seems the industry, will never learn? I can’t see a streaming service being able to pay >4p per track, as Spotify is fairly established and should be able to pay out more to artists by now, if it were a viable model.

Okay, lets assume, the artist gets 2p per play and everyone listens to music in a similar way to me. This is perhaps viable. Remember, the streaming is a shopfront and promotion. If i like a song, I will flag the artist and remember them, so listen to there tracks 4 or 5 times (earning 10p) I will then want to listen to them properly and listen to a whole album (10 tracks = 20p), if I still like it i will then listen to that album another 4 or 5 times (£1). The artist has now banked £1.30 from the streaming service (which is more than they used to get from a single album sale). I then decide to by an album (HQ) by the artist (£10 and the artist make £1, here the label will make £5). That’s, £2.30 for the artist, enough to make a living on for a year if another 10,00 people feel the same way. of course having liked this artist, i will likely listen to their new material and buy subsequent albums.

Music lovers, often don’t feel the need to support major artists, they are played on the radio etc enough for us to get what we want from their music. I would buy an album only if i was a especial fan of there music. So there is a natural brake on very popular artists, taking more than there share of the music listeners pie.

Of course, I’m a music lover, rather than a casual listener. Record labels have always made more money out of casual listeners than such as myself. My point is that streaming services can be much more innovative than they are currently and cater for both music fans and a more mainstream market. Again, an example of how the producer and the consumer don’t control the market, the middle man/distributor makes the rules. The industry is still more concerned about exploiting the music rather than providing what the producer and consumer want. however in the music industry there are at least elements of the market where this direct relationship of producer and consumer are more prevalent than other industries.

Personality Spectra

Throughout this blog I have often touched upon my pet theory of personality spectra. The theory that peoples personalities and opinions exist on a multitude of various spectra. Sometimes I imagine that these spectra have distributions, that there may be a common or indeed universal distribution; whether flat, normal or exhibiting extreme bias.

I have a waryness of extremes. Because extreme views or positions are perhaps unhealthy and stem from taking an idea to ludicrous conclusions. However adopting extreme positions are often easier and logically easier to defend. I generally advocate balance and not being focussing too much on one thing, being a generalist and open to ideas form all over the place.

Two spectra, that I have discussed are animal welfare and sexuality. I have argued that there is a clustering of views on animal welfare at the extremes. For example, no rearing of animals, the vegan position. I have also argued that this clustering is easier. To believe, as i do that rearing animals for food is acceptable if certain animal welfare conditions are met. This is often hard to define and apply consistently in a world that doesn’t readily provide information on welfare criteria. You do feel, neither one thing or another and find few fellow advocates of your own personal stance.

If, the same logic is applied to sexuality, a similar pattern emerges. People generally cluster as either homo or heterosexuals. I have often thought that there should be more bisexuals than there seem to be. Perhaps bisexuals are those really close to the centre of this distribution. Perhaps we are all bisexuals, but during our individual exploration and development of our sexualities,we simply find it easier to adopt a one or the other approach.

I identify as heterosexual. Nonetheless i do experience the odd occasional ‘man-crush’. What is a ‘man crush’? I admire and respect various men and women without any sexual attraction, that isn’t it, though it is often associated with it. It’s not that I desire a relationship of any kind with my crushes. I think it is simply a mild form of attraction. Maybe, if I let myself loose of my personal rules and regulations, lived a completely free existence, I would have the odd rare relationship with a man. I don’t though, probably because, socially, it would be awkward and the chances of reciprocation slim indeed. Maybe such things are not worth the effort of pursuing. The decision to be rigidly heterosexual stems from a  simple cost-benefit analysis.

So, do these spectra have a three hump distribution? the two extreme ends and a bump in the middle? Obviously to test this fully, a large data set would; be required, for now I’ll explore a ‘random’ spectra. Abnegation to Selfishness. On such a spectra I would be a centrist, i believe it is important to help other people and society in general, however I need my own space and my own ideas (I am an introvert after all), so a balance is what I seek. There would be some extreme clustering, there are entirely selfless and entirely selfish people, perhaps more than I imagine. Again, there is the suggestion that the extremes are unhealthy? So, yes a three humped distribution again. This idea does require further analysis.