1. A Penny for Your Audio CD Antitrust Settlement
We at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab know what went through your mind when you read about the music industry price-fixing settlement announced Monday. You thought, "Finally! After paying out the wazoo for audio CDs over the past few years, I -- the little guy -- have finally won!"
As we read all the David-beats-Goliath stories about the $143 million settlement this week, all we at the lab could think about was, "Doesn't anyone know how to do long division anymore?"
See, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, for one, proclaimed that this "landmark settlement" to address years of price-fixing will provide consumers with "substantial refunds." But after working out the math, we're not so sure.
Let's start with the years covered in the settlement, 1995 through 2000. During that time, record companies shipped a total of 4.98 billion CDs into the U.S. market,
according to the Recording Industry Association of America. That doesn't even include CD singles.
Now let's look at the $143 million settlement to be paid by the defendants in the case, which include
AOL Time Warner
Trans World Entertainment
subsidiary Musicland Stores.
It turns out that only $67.4 million out of the $143 million settlement will be in the form of cash. The rest will come in the form of 5.5 million CDs distributed for free to "public entities and nonprofit organizations," at an implied value of about $13.75 apiece.
So there you go. Assuming the 43 states involved in the suit don't get a cut of the cash settlement for expenses -- again, fat chance -- you've got a $67.4 million cash refund to be divided among nearly 5 billion CDs. Do the math and you've got 1.35 cents per CD.
Wow. Think about it. If you bought 100 CDs over the years in question, you'd get a whopping $1.35 refund. If you'd bought 1,019 CDs, you'd get enough money back to go out and treat yourself to one of those $13.75 specials.
Forgive us if we're not impressed.
Spitzer's office, for what it's worth, says the settlement -- of which Eliot is so proud -- is not, in fact, final. There was no further comment.
2. When They Start Laying People Off, We Assume They'll Just Say They're 'Trimming Staff'
On Monday, Morgan Stanley analyst Catherine Lewis initiated coverage on
. As reader Mike Berezewski pointed out to us, Lewis assigned the company a rating of "overweight."
3. Meanwhile, at the Research Lab, We Have a Vice President of Research
We were a little baffled to learn from a
press release Wednesday that Starbucks Coffee has a vice president of ... coffee.
Vice president of coffee? At a coffee chain, aren't all the vice presidents vice presidents of coffee? Isn't the CEO the CEO of coffee? Aren't the janitors janitors of coffee?
It sounded a little strange to us. So we called up Starbucks, only to be reminded once again of how little we know.
"We are all experts on the subject," allows a Starbucks spokesman of coffee. But, he says, the VP of coffee is the person specifically in charge of -- you may have guessed -- the coffee department. That's the group responsible for sourcing and roasting all of the coffee Starbucks sells.
What other vice presidents are there? Why, there's the vice president of Starbucks' Tazo tea label, a.k.a. the vice president of tea. There's the vice president of music and entertainment, the vice president of food, and the vice president of beverage -- the person in charge of coffee and tea "as it's served in retail locations," explains the spokesman.
We wondered if Starbucks has a Vice President in Charge of Getting Rid of All the People Who Camp Out in Comfortable Chairs All Day Sipping a Single Decaf Latte Grande. But we forgot to ask.
4. I Still Don't Like Monday
What is it about former consulting arms of major accounting firms and their inexplicable urge to adopt Dumb names? What is it, we ask you?
That's how we reacted to the announcement that the company formerly known as KPMG Consulting changed its name Wednesday to
First Andersen became
. Then PriceWaterhouseCoopers' consulting arm
said it would change its name to Monday. Now KPMG becomes BearingPoint, a name the company says "underscores BearingPoint's global commitment to set a clear direction for clients so they achieve desired results with their business systems."
We're not the only people shaking our heads at this. "I thought companies like KPMG Consulting were supposed to be stacked stem to stern with bright, creative people who could help other companies fashion a solution to troubles," writes Research Lab correspondent H. Scott Elder. "And then they name themselves so stupidly?"
Continues Elder, "It's like giving 4-year-olds the chance to change their own name; you'd have thousands of kids named Grass, Sunflowers, Square Pants and Rumpelstiltskin. ... It's just depressing that this is the best they can do."
Cheer up, H. Scott. As we learned on Wednesday,
has bought PwC Consulting. Rather than being Monday, PwC Consulting will become part of IBM Business Consulting Services.
We asked an IBM spokesman if the company had considered naming its consulting group Big Blue Monday. "I don't think so," he said.
5. AOL: You've Got Options! Lots of Options!
Here's a novel way to get around that little problem you have of near-worthless stock options: Steal someone else's!
That's the brilliant idea that an employee of America Online apparently made, according to a story we read on CNet's News.com.
You've Got Jail
AOL Time Warner employee Christopher O. Wright, according to prosecutors, was mistakenly given access to a brokerage account of another AOL Time Warner employee with a similar name. Rather than point out the mistake, Wright simply cashed in the options, clearing $86,000. He was arrested in July, and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud on Monday.
Let's hope Wright didn't do anything irresponsible with his allegedly ill-gotten gains. Like invest them in the stock market.