Get Over Brit! Or, Why I Quit Blogging

Time was when I would leap to the keyboard every time something in the news or in the mass media irritated me, and vent to the world through one blog outlet or another. Nowadays, not so much. In fact, my blog’s been pretty low on new content recently, and I’ve been concerned that this, in turn, is likely to impact on my overall profile, inasmuch as kicking out content is key to the art of self-promotion, which is vital when it comes to things like selling books (because yes, I write books. Music reviewing is, believe it or not, just a sideline).

So what’s changed? Has everything in the world turned a lovely rosey hue, whereby all is good and everything’s fine and I’m content with my lot? Far from it. In fact, the opposite is true, and that’s precisely why my blogging has tailed off. There simply isn’t the time to blog about everything that gets my goat, that grinds my gears. Moreover, while I love to rant, and it seems people enjoy reading rants more than the occasional positive piece I’ve posted (who wants a good news story? Put simply, many people are only happy when they’re unhappy), I simply found it was wearing me down.

The majority of my most ire-fuelled articles have focused on the vapidness of mainstream celebrity culture, corporate crap and advertising – which often go hand in hand when it comes to where the movements of money are concerned: they’re all integral parts of the capitalist equation in the 21st Century. It was while watching a few minutes of the BBC News Channel that crystallised precisely why I stopped blogging. The newscaster briefly mentioned the Brit Awards and reeled off a handful of winners announced at that point, with the promise that there would be more on the Brits later.

 

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The Brits: Corporate-sponsored self-congratulatory bollocks

 

The Brit Awards aren’t news and I couldn’t have cared less about who’d won one. I found myself wondering just how many people outside the mainstream music industry give a shit about the Brits. Reading a headline in The Metro over someone’s shoulder a few days later about the TV viewing figures for the awards, it would appear the answer is very few. Or, more to the point, people are more interested in exchanging opinion about such events on-line than in the actual events themselves.

 

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Who? More to the point, who gives a fuck? Critics’ Choice nominees, apparently. No, I didn’t get to nominate or vote.

 

I should perhaps also mention at this juncture that I used to skim The Metro on the way to work: not having the time to immerse myself in in-depth news reportage but wanting to keep abreast of current affairs, it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. But having concluded that the majority of the ‘news’ in the paper was out of date, sensationalist, or otherwise fluff and outright drivel, I prefer to read a novel while in transit these days. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in current affairs: I’m simply of the opinion that most mainstream news media aren’t covering much of what’s important, and there has to be more happening than political bickering, the continued rumblings of the phone hacking ‘scandal’, allegations about DJs and soap stars with wandering hands and floods. Equally, flippant, punny headlines and tabloid trash about ‘celebrity’ nonentities say nothing to me about my life and convey nothing of real importance.

 

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Pundemoneum, sensationalism and advertising. Keeping the masses indignant, ill-informed and buying stuff they don’t need with money they haven’t got. 

This isn’t to say that the novels I read, the novels I write, the music I review are more important: in the grand scheme of things, I realise all too well that nothing I do amounts to anything. And this is precisely why blogging seems like a waste of time and energy. My real work is the novels, the reviews, the spoken word performances, and reading the fiction of others is enriching and makes for vital research. Meanwhile, keeping my mouth shut and my virtual pen lowered when it comes to everything else means I can maintain focus, because it’s all just pissing in the wind. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up and surrendered to the world, or that my dissenting voice has been silenced: it just means there are other ways of rebelling.

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at christophernosnibor.co.uk

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Kate Middleton’s Breasts

In the wake of the Olympics and the Paralympics, it was inevitable the news agencies would be looking for items to easily fill the gaping chasm in their columns and programming. It would have been all too easy to have returned to the previous staple of war, global economic meltdown and devious political manoeuvring exposed, but to have pursued that direction would have called a rapid halt to the jubilant mood that still hangs in the air as Olympic fervour dissipates.

Boom! Kate Middleton – or Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge as she’s formally known – with her jugs out! Of course, no British publication would run the pap snaps, and in many ways, that only added to the essential cocktail of ingredients that rendered this the perfect story for the time. The British public love a good scandal and an excuse to puff up with righteous indignation (as evidenced by the Daily Mail reading masses) and have a thing about topless birds, especially celebrities (as the Sun ‘reading’ masses prove) and as the popularity of publications like Heat etc., show, celebrity gossip is what everyone who doesn’t want to deal with the horrors of everyday existence wants.

As this non-story and the frothing furore and debate surrounding it unfolds, I’m reminded – as I often am, in truth – of J G Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition. In particular, the geometry of the media landscape Ballard portrays so vividly, marked out by enormous blow-ups of disembodied parts of celebrities’ anatomies. I’m also reminded of the titles in the appendix sections, ‘Mae West’s Reduction Mammoplasty’ and ‘Princess Margaret’s Face Lift.’ The vapid culture built around a prurient obsession with celebrity Ballard depicted may have been the emerging landscape of the time it was written, but it’s unquestionably more relevant now, in an era when fervent adulation of Pippa Middleton’s posterior has filtered through into even the broadsheet press. And so it comes as no surprise that there’s a veritable media spasm over Kate Middleton’s breasts.

Because I’ve already written extensively on media overload on countless occasions already, and no doubt will again in the future, there seems little point in doing so again here. Similarly, the ethical questions concerning privacy and the press that are proving to be the central focus of this so-called ‘scandal’ have received so much attention, there’s absolutely no point in rehashing it, and even if I felt able to bring something new to the table, it would be lost in the endless currents of hot air already circulating. If I’m going to expend energy pissing in the wind, it’s going to be on a subject I at least feel truly passionate about.

The real question, as I see it, isn’t about whether or not a royal should be able to sunbathe topless without being snapped, but what’s the fuss about? Just as the nation went nuts when Prince William began courting ‘Kate’, as much because she was a ‘commoner’ as anything, so it seems that the idea of ‘young people’ in the monarchy seems to have changed the tide of opinion and enabled the monarchy to shed its stuffy imperialist image, and the only real explanation for this is because people are stupid and gullible – and of course, celebrity fixated.

But celebrity is always about mystique, and all the more so when the celebrity in question is largely inaccessible. The intrigue of what’s under her (high street fashion / designer) clothes therefore becomes heightened proportionally against the likelihood of ever finding out.

In Kate, they were always looking for a new Diana, and in this episode, they’ve got it, and a whole lot more. Woman of the people, hounded by the press… check. But in Kate we have a rather different scenario based on paradox: Kate Middleton is a celebrity, and one who is less accessible than most because she’s royalty. At the same time, because Kate’s a ‘commoner’, she’s more accessible, which gives people a (false) sense of hope. If she gets ousted by her future monarch husband after siring the next generation, then perhaps someone of her own class might be in with a shout… of course it’s all an illusion, the ‘commoner’ image simply a tag that’s been fostered to broaden her appeal. Anyone who thinks they’re going to stumble into Kate Middleton (even if she does eventually find herself out of monarchical favour and free to date dynastic billionaire film producers) in their local Asda is clearly deluded.

But here’s the clincher paradox: Kate Middleton may be the ‘princess of the people’ and more accessible than any of her predecessors, while also being royalty and a celebrity on an almost untouchable level, but the bottom line is that she’s really pretty average. By which I mean that if she wasn’t royalty and a celebrity on an almost untouchable level, she might still be a rich girl, but no-one would pay her any attention whatsoever. What is there that truly distinguishes her from the crowd? She doesn’t even appear to be ageing especially well, with her features often appearing drawn and haggard beyond her 30 years in photographs on-line and in the press. The cult of Kate is purely a reaction to her social status and celebrity. Consequently the intrigue of what’s under her (high street fashion / designer) clothes becomes heightened proportionally against the likelihood of ever finding out. But, against the odds, we now know. The pictures are blurry, the quality disappointing, and the same is true of Kate’s boobs, which are average and unremarkable in every way.

And there you have it. You’ve seen the goods, they’re not much to write home about, and besides, you haven’t got a hope. Now please, move on, get a life and find something / someone else to wank over.

 

 

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Kate Middleton: Ordinary?

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Concern Grows as Christopher Nosnibor’s Blog Falls Quiet

While the world was in a frenzy over the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic games last night, and many breathed a sigh of relief over the postponement of global wars and financial crises, as well as a temporary suspension of all criminal activity, in particular rape, murder, child molestation and car crime, a small number of observers began to grow agitated by the lack of spouting on Christopher Nosnibor’s blog.

Nosnibor, a music reviewer, novelist and self-appointed commentator with a tendency to fire salvoes of bile into the blogosphere in response to events and phenomena linked to popular culture, has been suspiciously quiet in recent weeks, and following a succession of posts promoting his latest ‘novel’, the mass-market friendly This Book is Fucking Stupid, and a series of outbursts over E. L. James’ bonkbusting mummy porn 50 Shades trilogy and the Olympic torch relay, his blog, hosted by WordPress has lain dormant.

Speculation began to build concerning Nosnibor’s activity before one fellow blogger decided to email him to get the lowdown.

‘Fuck off,’ was the terse reply. ‘I’m working’.

Nosnibor did, however, follow this up with a statement confirming that he was suspending blogging activity for the duration of the Olympics, on the premise that his lack of comment was comment in itself.

‘It’s my equivalent of a boycott’, he explained. ‘Plus, I need to crack on with some reviews and a piece of fiction I’m currently working on. Going to ground while everyone else is immersed in the games seems like a a sound strategy to me.’

Although some observers suggested that this was in itself a form of negative self-promotion and typical of Nosnibor’s recent antics connected with This Book is Fucking Stupid, most simply ignored the whole non-event in much the same way as usual.

Torch-ure – Aflame with Ire and Cynicism as the Olympics Come to Town

It’s fair to say that I’m not really big on sport, either as a participant or a spectator. While I used to be good at cross-country running in school, and do enjoy watching a spot of snooker and test cricket, even keeping an eye on England’s international football matches, other sports I frankly couldn’t care less about (and my running days are well behind me: now, I’m as unlikely to run a marathon as watch one on television). I also happen to find athletics particularly tedious, and as such, have always avoided the Olympics. There aren’t that many people I know who seem all that fussed either. However, bringing the Olympics to Britain – by which of course I mean London – seems to have turned half the nation into rabid fans.

And so it ,was that today, at certain points of the afternoon, half the streets in York were closed while the 8,000-mile national Olympic torch relay traversed the city. The day’s section of the relay concluded at the racecourse, where 20,000 people were expected to attend a (free) ticket-only event. As I made my way through the city centre around 4:30, sections of many streets were lined with metal barriers, with people clinging to them in eager anticipation, sometimes three rows deep. They still had another hour to wait, and as I made my way away from the city centre toward my home, the experience was akin to swimming against the tide as people flooded in the opposite direction from the one I was walking in.

 

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A crowd of rabid Olympics fans clamour round a torch-bearer, somewhere in Britain recently

A friend of mine, who I’d chatted with on the bus into town, had looked slightly surprised by my lack of enthusiasm for the event. He was heading for the racecourse. He pointed out that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Olympic torch in his home city. On disembarking, we headed in opposite directions and I began to wonder, as I passed the TV and radio outside broadcast vans, the police cones, the police constables, the stewards and and PCSO and the gathering crowds, if by heading home and shunning the whole event I wasn’t perhaps missing out. Perhaps it wasn’t that they were all pathetic sheep, but genuinely enthusiastic and interested in the symbolism of the torch, the idea of a community and a nation united by sport. What if they were right, and I was wrong?

 

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Another crowd of hardcore torch fanatics brave inclement conditions to flap flags in Durham

I arrived home and didn’t turn on the television, didn’t immediately flick to Sky News, BBC News or the BBC website for the streaming live torch action and scrolling real-time blog commentary, and didn’t immediately sign into Facebook. I didn’t need to: Mrs N’s Facebook feed was already beginning to fill with images of crowds taken from various angles, and reaffirmed my original belief. I had been right all along: what this ‘once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Olympic torch’ actually represented was just one of infinite opportunities to mill about and crush in with countless strangers all clamouring for a glimpse of something fleeting and ultimately inconsequential – in this instance, one of 8,000 gas-lit ‘torches’ that make up a seemingly endless build-up to a sporting event that takes place every four years that’s cost billions. And will be happening in London.

As with the jubilee celebrations, the idea that the whole nation is aflame with enthusiasm and national pride and is backing ‘Team GB’ and the Olympic build-up, as portrayed by the media is a myth. There may have been hundreds lining the streets in every town and city to see ‘the’ torch (which didn’t really happen for the Jubilee) and thousands heading to the racecourse for the evening event, but if anyone truly believes it was for any reason other than the chance to duck off work early, to say you were ‘there’ and prove it by posting photos on Facebook, or to appease the panic that they might have been missing out on something, then they’re even dafter than the other painted-faced flag-wearing bozos and I’ll happily eat the torch I’ve got tucked behind the sofa ready to flog on eBay at the weekend…

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‘The’ Olympic torch. Hand-crafted in ancient Greece and made of real Olympian metal. Yours for just £100,000.

 

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at christophernosnibor.co.uk

How Was It For You? Jubilee Reflections or, a Public Party Postmortem

As I begin writing this piece, it’s raining heavily outside. The corner of the living room is damp, and even above the whirr of the dehumidifier and the fan of my laptop, I can hear the rain lashing against the windows, dripping and bouncing off objects in my back yard. It’s the second weekend in June. It’s supposed to be summer. It was pretty much the same last week, too. Not that people were going to let a bit of rain deter them from celebrating, and so in true British spirit, they took to the streets in their thousands, millions, even, to join in the four day long nation-wide party to commemorate the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

The media reporting in the run-up had been immense, and the previews that had initially been trickle earlier in the year had increased in their intensity to reach the level of blanket coverage several days before the monarch began her tour of the streets to nod, wave and smile at her loyal and loving subjects. I almost felt a tingle of anticipation, a warmth spreading in my heart: this was going to be a once in a lifetime event, a truly historical occasion. It was a time to reflect and to celebrate not only our monarch, but what it means to be a part of the great British nation. There would be events in every village, town and city across the British Isles and every other corner of the Commonwealth, with street parties and countless other activities organised to show our appreciation and community spirit. The momentum was impossible to sustain, of course, and even had I been the most ardent royalist, I expect I’d have found myself experiencing Jubilee jubilation burnout before the first of four long days of national celebrations. Not being an ardent royalist, I grew weary of the hype a full week and a half before the 4-day bank holiday weekend.

In the event, I stayed in for four days straight and avoided the television and radio as much as possible. And the Internet, for that matter. Ordinarily, I’d have taken to the various social networking channels and unleashed my bile, but, well, frankly, I discovered I had neither the energy nor the motivation. What’s more, I couldn’t see the point.

The media hype had already beaten me, and what’s more, it had already beaten many others – into submission. Over the course of the extended weekend, the news channels devoted considerable airtime to voxpops from talking heads who proclaimed themselves ‘republicans’ but found themselves forced to concede that all the pomp and the orderly conduct of the spectators beamed around the globe did indeed make for a good advertisement for Britain. People who would only have described themselves as monarchists in the same way most people who hold no religious beliefs and who only frequent churches for weddings, funerals and christenings would declare themselves ‘CofE’ were jumping on board and heading to wherever they thought they might find the most thriving, vibrant, flag-waving action, or otherwise participating in events that most strongly reflected their notions of what it means to be British.

When I did go on-line, I found the voices of dissent were strangely quiet, and while a few – notably Charlie Brooker – managed to sustain an acerbic commentary throughout, most of the jubilee detractors simply sounded embittered or as though they were struggling for an angle. And yet there was no shortage of material: the boat flotilla might have been fleetingly interesting (pun intended) if you were present, but a slow-moving procession of floating vessels, however ancient sand spectacularly historical, drifting at a crawl down a murky sewage-saturated river in a prolonged downpour is not good television and unlikely to instil a sense of joyous pride on the small screen. In case people hadn’t noticed, we’re no longer in the 1950s: we’re not rebuilding our lives and our country in the wake of the war and no longer clamour round the one 4” black and white television in the street.

Rowing boats begin to gather on the River Thames, London, during the Diamond Jubilee river pageant

Boats. Lots of boats. Whoopee.

Sixty years is a long time. Consider this: postmodernism hadn’t even been conceived at the coronation. Popular culture, youth culture, capitalism as we know it didn’t exist. The Beatles didn’t form until 1960. Elvis Presley didn’t release his first single until 1954. The coronation took place in a different world. So too did the silver jubilee in 1977. The breaking of punk in the UK was not – contrary to so much recent retrospective coverage – I repeat, not, precipitated by the jubilee. Opportunistic pub rockers with manufactured sneers, operating under Malcolm McLaren’s guidance, were nothing more than puppets who happened to make a swell-timed appearance. If punk captured the zeitgeist of the mid-late 70s, and the monarchy found themselves the targets of so much vitriol, it was still only a part of a more widespread dissatisfaction with what we now hear referred to as a ‘broken society’. Times change, but some things don’t change. The question is, if there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that expressed itself in the blank nihilism of ‘no future’ back in 77, why was there so little sense of uprising or protest 35 years on? Is everybody really happy nowadays? Yeah right. And yet the thousands who had turned out remained rooted to the banks of the Thames, waving their flags like they’d never known fun like it.

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Thousands of no-life crets, waving flags like they were really excited just because everyone else was doing it

I blame social networking, the media. I particularly blame Facebook. It seems to me that much Facebook activity is devoted to showing your ‘friends’ how much fun you have: how often you get out, how active and vibrant your social life is, how incredibly popular, vivacious and happy you are, how fucking brilliant your life is. If you’re not in this photo, you weren’t there, and if you weren’t there, you missed out on the event of the century that people will be talking about for years to come.

There is, of course, another major consideration. While the news media and social networking sites may have portrayed so much rejoining and unity and a nation united under a flag, the simple truth is that most of the activity took place in key areas in central London and was attended by the kind of bozos who’s turn up for the opening of an envelope if they thought they might be missing out. The world at large may not know this, but London does not represent Britain, or even England, and a few thousand people do not represent the entire population. As such, the streets of London may have been as packed as they were precipitous, but that doesn’t mean ‘the nation’ was celebrating. And why they hell would they be? Is anyone under 75 really going to believe Grace Jones and Jessie J represent the best of British music from the last 60 years? What’s more, the waxwork Macca’s decision to perform ‘Obla-di-bla-da’ was little short of senile. I’m no fan of The Beatles by any stretch, but do strongly appreciate their importance in terms of music history, their enormous influence, and their undeniable status as the biggest band of all time. So with this, the enormity of their catalogue and the wealth of definitive, ‘iconic’ pop gems it contains in mind… why?

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Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole: who gives a fuck?

Obviously, having Kylie represent the Commonwealth is all well and good, but were the Australians out in the same kind of force waving flags with the same kind of zeal? Of course not,and the point is, neither were most people in Britain. And there’s the problem: Britain – by which I really mean England – is so London-centric that it’s broadly perceived that London actually represent the country as a whole. So, when events in London are beamed out around the globe as representing ‘Britain’, it’s generally taken as fact. Riots in London equate to the country ablaze and falling to anarchy. The Olympics in London translates as excitement the length and breadth of the country (and why not, when the Olympic torch is on a preliminary lap of honour?). A bunch of people waving flags in London equals a nation united in their support for their long-serving Queen. Take it from me, it doesn’t. Some people in one place in one city does not represent the nation as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s good PR on the international stage, then fair play, but for overseas viewers / readers, please understand that this is not a true picture of life in Britain.

Indeed, so much of the coverage I did see (and I missed Fearne Cotton’s controversial ‘sick bag’ segment. The contention that this was ‘inane’ and ‘disrespectful seems to have missed the point that the ‘sick bags’ were big news – about 3 months before the jubilee, and if the BBC is to adhere to its remit of ‘unbiased’ reporting, then it should present something other than pro-monarchy propaganda, and besides, watching people in the rain waving flags is fucking boring and anything that provided a distraction was a good thing) seemed to focus on how the celebrations brought the nation closer.

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Fearne Cotton and Paloma Faith discuss what the jubilee means to people who aren’t royalist sycophants

There might have been a lot of positive noise to this effect, but I very much doubt this corresponds with the experience of the average citizen. There was no party in my street, or any of the streets in my vicinity, to the best of my knowledge. The Polish couple across the road had a blazing row in the street on the bank holiday Monday. Some curtains twitched. People went about their business, or otherwise used the extra days off work to go and visit family. Had it not been slinging it down, and had it not been northern England, a tumbleweed would have probably passed down the street. It was like four Sundays in succession, and I would have dug out Morrissey’s ‘Every day is Like Sunday’ if hadn’t been in such an all-consuming torpor. So, come Wednesday, I got on my usual bus to work at the usual time, surrounded by the usual faces I never make any kind of contact with, buried my face in my book while they immersed themselves in their books, Kindles, editions of the Metro or whatever shit they’ve got going on their Smart Phones and in short, nothing had changed.

I’m not ungrateful for the extra time off work, of course, but ultimately, the whole jubilee seems to have been a huge non-event for the majority. It’s extremely difficult to muster any enthusiasm, or ire for that matter, for something that doesn’t touch my own life in any way, and while the jubilee celebrations were frivolous, exclusive – despite supposedly being all-inclusive- the monarchy simply don’t impinge on my day-to-day existence nearly as much as, well, so many other things. The power they wield is limited in real terms, and while I may be paying for them through my taxes, it’s infinitesimal in comparison to the sums being sapped from my income by the politicians, bankers and the Eurozone. Besides, I’ve bills to pay, I have to sustain myself and my family by putting food on the table. This is the reality for the everyman. Keeping things going in the everyday is as much as anyone has the energy for. Railing against something a world away and for the most part irrelevant simply doesn’t justify the squanderance of vital time, of vital energy, or essential breath. So fuck the jubilee and the petty bickering between the few who haven’t anything better to do. And fuck the Olympics, Euro 2012 and frankly, fuck it all. Back to life, back to work, back to the things that matter and back to merely surviving.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Changing Face of Consumerism XI: Back Down on the Street, or, Going for Bust

So a mere matter of days after my last piece on the struggling high street, I woke up this morning to more news of high street stores experiencing a drop in like-for-like sales in comparison to the same time last year, with HMV delivering particularly disappointing figures marked by sales being down 8.2% in December 2010. It is disappointing, too. Of the bigger chain music stores, I always preferred HMV (although Andy’s records had the edge for a while both in terms of pricing and range). First and foremost, they carried a broader selection with less mainstream releases sitting alongside the chart material. And, while a tad pricey, their range of back-catalogue titles was far superior to Overprice / Virgin.

But rather than work to their strengths and make a virtue of their difference, HMV followed the template of its competitors and having killed off the (albeit limited) vinyl section in favour of calendars and games, continued over a lengthy period of time to reduce the music stock – to make room for more games, DVDs and gadgetry. When the music occupies the smallest portion of a music retailer’s floor space, you have to ask questions. HMV’s struggling is an example of how diversification can be counterproductive, and rather than appealing to a broader customer base, can serve to alienate the one already established. How can a music retailer seriously expect to compete in other markets already dominated by specialists. More often than not, gamers will head to somewhere like Game for games, just as you’d probably go to a clothes shop for clothes, a bookstore for books, an electrical store for electrical goods – unless, of course, they go to the supermarket for the whole lot. After a while, I stopped asking questions and also stopped going in, because each time I did I found myself leaving empty-handed and frustrated because they never had the title I was after in stock. I’d invariably end up purchasing my music on-line because I couldn’t source it anywhere else.

I don’t for a second mean to suggest that I’m responsible for HMV’s declining sales (and I certainly played no part La Senza, the purveyors of slinky lingerie, being called into administration with a loss of 1,300 jobs, prompting headlines such as ‘Lingerie firm goes bust’ etc.), but while my musical tastes may be ‘minority’, there are many other minorities just like me, and collectively, they represent a substantial market.

As mentioned in passing in my previous piece, it’s not just music that I have problems tracking down, and it’s not always obscure items I struggle to find in shops either. As if to prove the point, only this week I decided I wanted to get a desk lamp. As my desk also happens to be the dining table and space is of a premium, I figured a desk lamp that clamps onto the shelves to the side of the table would be the best bet. But could I find one anywhere? Working out of time, my choices on a lunchtime were limited, but there is an Argos superstore and BHS Home Store (yes, British Home Stores Home Store) which specialises in goods for the, er, home, rather than home and clothing. A quarter of the store is given to a lighting department, but unless I wanted a lime-green desk-lamp with a regular base I was out of luck. That is, unless I wanted a ludicrously glitzy lamp shade with dangling glass bits all over it, which I most certainly didn’t. Argos carry a much more substantial range of desk lights, from bendy to angle-poise, but the only clamping ones are LED lamps, which just don’t give off enough light. I’d still need to put on the main ceiling light to see my screen, which defeats the purpose of a desk light I can angle in my corner without illuminating the whole room. Really, how hard can it be to find a simple item like a clamp-fitting desk lamp that takes a proper, regular bulb?

The answer is that it’s not hard at all. Five minutes on-line and I found I was spoiled for choice. Even so, on-line shopping is no substitute for real shopping as it’s often hard to get a sense of the precise dimensions or appearance of an item – you can’t ‘feel the quality’ from a description and photo, however detailed. Thankfully, it transpired that a local independent store I pass on my way through town after work had the best selection of all. Once again, hooray for the independents!

 

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A clip-on desk lamp, earlier today

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Changing Face of Consumerism X: Down on the Street

Only just a few days into January and already the sales reports from the high street are beginning to filter through for the run-up to Christmas. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone will be surprised by the fact that broadly, sales have been rather poor and substantially weaker than hoped, and that as a percentage of retail sales, online transactions account for a larger proportion than ever before.

Sky News report, ‘There is one factor common to the trading statements from Next and John Lewis – an increase in online sales that has propped up the overall results.’

The on-line article continues, ‘In the case of Next, it’s [sic] Directory service recorded a 16% increase between 2010 and 2011 for like-for-like sales. Sky News has been told that online sales account for roughly 90% of this figure. With regards to John Lewis, online sales for the five weeks to December 31, 2011, were 27.9% up on last year.’

Apart from exemplifying the kind of statistically-dense reporting that’s likely to bamboozle the average reader and providing a practical demonstration in the kind of journalism that uses a proliferation of numbers in lieu of meaningful analysis, what we are supposed to extrapolate from this is that the figures speak for themselves. Of course, this is patently untrue, because the figures, bald and devoid of context are in themselves virtually meaningless. The scant analysis offered by the unnamed reporter does little to shed any real light on the implications of the figures when they ask ‘What can we learn from this? Well essentially that we, as shoppers, are inherently lazy and becoming increasingly more so,’ adding ‘There is nothing wrong with that. If we can shop without leaving our desk or home then we are choosing to do so.’ Really? There’s a lot wrong with being inherently lazy, on so many levels, but of more importance here is the fact that shopping from one’s desk (something many employers would surely disapprove of, and which could constitute misuse / abuse of company systems) or home does not necessarily equate to being lazy. I would contend that lethargy has nothing to do with it, and that the laziness of consumers is nothing in comparison to the laziness of the journalists proffering such poorly-considered evaluations of the ‘facts’.

For starters, the article fails to take into account the fundamental fact that high-street (or out of town) shopping – real-life shopping – is hell. Never mind, as was mentioned in the BBC’s TV report, that the opening hours of high-street retail outlets are both limited and limiting, and that on-line shopping affords the convenience of 24/7 open hours, which are handy for those who work sociable hours (I say this because those work work anti-social hours aren’t stuck in an office or other place of work between the hours 9am and 5pm, when shops are open, and if you’ve ever tried to do any serious shopping within the confines of a lunch hour Monday to Friday, you’ll appreciate that it’s not only nigh on impossible, but more hellish than Beelzebub’s oven).

Discounting the Sartrean hell that is other people momentarily, there’s the fact that comparing the prices different retailers charge for the same item is considerably more straightforward and less time-consuming on-line than on foot. And of course, time is money, supposedly. Undoubtedly, that time is the most precious commodity an individual can have is part and parcel of the hectic technology-driven lifestyles that facilitate both on-line shopping and global commerce. If workers do spent time at their desks shopping on-line, it could be that they’re time-wasting skivers, but could just as readily be because they’re too busy to take a proper lunch break in which to hit the shops, which have probably relocated to an out-of-town shopping precinct.

According to the Sky article, ‘The trick for retailers is how best to facilitate that and how they combine an online store with their high street shops whilst keeping both profitable.’ No kidding. By making your presence as a business prominent via the most channels available, with particular emphasis on those where the most customers are, then you’ll fare better than if you don’t. The adage ‘Location, Location, Location’ still has merit, and applies to the virtual world too. As for keeping outlets profitable, that’s surely how business works, period.

Sky’s report concludes with the observation that ‘Both Next and John Lewis know their customer base well and play to it with success’ (fine, except according to the figures, Next’s overall sales are only fractionally up, and its high street sales have dropped dramatically, a point that provided the focus of The Guardian’s reporting of the same information, with Zoe Wood writing, ‘Analysts estimated that like-for-like sales in Next stores fell more than 5% in the last two months of the year, resulting in a worse than expected 2.7% decline for the six months to 24 December. That weakness was offset by a strong performance at home shopping arm Directory, where sales jumped nearly 17%. Together the divisions delivered growth of 3.1% which was in line with guidance given to analysts in November’).

The reporter ends their piece by opining that ‘Retail is Darwinian, the survival of the fittest. Success and survival comes to those who change and adapt. The old adage is the true: the customer is always right.’ This is blatantly untrue, and blindly propagates the myth that markets are consumer driven. As I have bemoaned variously, I feel largely uncatered for as a consumer. It’s not even the obscure items, that I would expect having difficulty with, that present the biggest problems. If I want something unusual, there are niche stores – granted, usually on-line – that stock them. I’m talking about specific books, records, storage solutions, brand footwear at prices I’m willing to afford (£95 for a pair of DM Chelsea boots is obscene however you look at it) homebrewing equipment and other such items. But try finding something simple, like decent oven mitts, a ceiling-mounting light for the bathroom designed to work with a fitting that runs in conjunction with the wiring for an extractor fan, jam jars, etc., and you’ll probably struggle. I can’t be the only one seeking these items, and can therefore only conclude that others make do with whatever alternatives and close matches are readily available. How does this indicate a market tailored to the consumer?

Moreover, if I find myself making an increasing number of purchases on-line because I frequently return from town empty-handed, having been unable to find the specific item I was searching for, how is that an example of consumer lethargy? Again, by failing to cater for my needs, the high-street stores have failed their (potential) customers and driven them on-line. If retail is Darwinian, surely the survivors are the ones that stock the items that consumers actually want. After all, it’s only possible to convince people that they want what they get and that they don’t know what they want until they see it up to a point. If I need a new stylus for my turntable, it won’t do to tell me that vinyl’s outmoded and that I should get myself an iPod and docking station instead, and similarly, if the styli in stock aren’t compatible with my turntable, I won’t be buying one – or a new turntable for that matter, at least for as long as there are other stockists who carry compatible styli. It’s really not that hard.

High-street shopping is tiring and laborious. Some people love it and will spend days trailing round shops trying on shoes and clothes and all the rest. Yet even those than enjoy such shopping expeditions will often make their purchases on-line, not through lethargy but because of the price. No-one with half a brain is going to buy an item in one place they can purchase for a third less elsewhere, especially when they know it’s the item they want having already tried it on or out. On-line stores don’t have the overheads of physical stores: fact. They don’t have to pay out-front assistants, cleaners, heating, lighting, or, most significantly, rent on the floorspace. This is precisely why Amazon can undercut Waterstone’s and HMV so dramatically (and why HMV, with their Channel Islands based tax-loophole savvy on-line arm can undercut its own physical stores, a retail model also known as shooting oneself in the foot). Of course people are going to go and buy their goods on line for less. It’s simple economics.

Another piece of simple economics is that anything that isn’t growth is considered recession, but to expect endless growth is unrealistic. Sure, the world’s population may be continually expanding, but that doesn’t mean they all want to buy the same products. Certain markets have limited potential for expansion, even mainstream mass markets. Therefore, to declare ‘flat’ sales or lower than projected growth a complete disaster seems unreasonable. Yet many companies will lay off large numbers of their workforce in light of such ‘disappointing’ results, and blame the recession while contributing to it and exacerbating the problem further.

But perhaps the biggest major omission in these reports is that people aren’t spending because they simply don’t have the money. There’s a global financial crisis going on. The fact that the figures for Christmas 2011 correspond with those for 2008, only with the decreases in overall sales and the erring toward on-line sales more dramatic, reminds us that we’re still in a slump. The words ‘recession’ and ‘depression’ still hang over financial reports like a black cloud. Look at the most recent unemployment figures: they’re still on the up, not just in Britain, but in the US – and the US economy is the global economy.

Context counts, then, and against a backdrop of financial uncertainty, rising inflation, etc., etc., people are spending less money because they have less money. It’s interesting to note that these reports appear on the same day that homelessness charity Shelter made public the findings of a survey they had recently conducted, which revealed that one in seven Britons has turned to credit such as a payday loan or unauthorised overdraft to help cover their rent or mortgage in the last year. Surely this is all the evidence required to establish the reason behind reduced spending. I’ll say it again: people simply haven’t got the money. But then, perhaps they never did have the money. The difference now is that neither do the banks, and so they’re not lending it out. And if people can’t get credit, then they can’t spend the money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Better to spend the money they don’t have on the things they do need, like accommodation. It’s a slippery slope, of course, and where it ends is anyone’s guess. But then, that’s what economists do….

 

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