Dear American CEOs

I’m willing to pay more for a product that is built with the kind of quality we used to be famous for here in America. Things that were well-designed and built to be used. And if they broke they could be repaired and keep on working. This is the legacy of American manufacturing. There were jobs in making things, using those things and repairing those things to keep said things working.

Today everything is disposable – built to a low spec, with minimal manufacturing standards and poor quality control. Things are designed to function to some degree of effectiveness – maybe – for a little while, then break and need to be tossed in the landfill and replaced. Half the stuff doesn’t even work or fit right out of the box. I recently bought a John Deere tractor mower that wouldn’t start. While phone troubleshooting with their technician it was found to have disconnected parts in the engine. How did that even make it out the factory door?? Of course there are exceptions but it’s frustrating that almost every item we buy these days is inferior quality even if you pay a premium price.

Companies no longer serve their customers, they serve their shareholders or the next quarter’s numbers.

Sure, bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US would be good for some things. There’s no reason we can’t build things here again. It would be good for us and the world economy. But even if we build stuff in China or sew it in Bangladesh or assembled in Mexico, if our companies – names we’ve known for decades – insisted on high quality materials and workmanship our brands could once again be the standard that other industries aspire to. No matter whether it’s built in Des Moines or Guandong. It’s not that hard. If it costs 10% more to make something good then do it – I’ll pay 20% more to have something that’s well made and lasts. Do that and I promise Americans, and the world, will buy American again.

John Mellencamp says you’re stealing from him, so Google should give him money

John Mellencamp wrote an article for Huffington Post. I wouldn’t have noticed either except that Bob Lefsetz happened to mention it in a recent newsletter. Mr. Mellencamp says, essentially, that you’re stealing from him and that ISPs and Google should pony up and give him some money.

I posted this as a comment to the article:

The real problem is not illegal downloads. That ship has sailed, sorry Mr. Mellencamp. People turned to free downloads because the industry refused to evolve.

The real problem is the system of tracking, collecting and distributing royalties in the US is fundamentally broken – not necessarily by design but in practice. The system, as implemented, benefits the top 10% of artists at the expense of the bottom 90% and massive amounts of money is donated to politicians to keep the system broken. Sound familiar?

Every other country in the the world has a single Performing Rights Organization (PRO). Music sales, plays and performances are properly tracked and the artists get paid. It’s not rocket science. The US is the only country in the world with more than one PRO. The PROs shake down small clubs and coffeehouses for thousands of dollars per year yet there’s almost a 100% chance that the artists who perform in those clubs will never see a dime of that money. Lady Gaga will. Probably John Mellencamp will. Or used to.

The solution: 1) a single PRO entity; 2) proper tracking of radio airplay and other performances, not “sampling”; 3) a fair method of establishing and enforcing royalty collections; 4) pro-rata distribution of royalties to all rights-holders. Other countries do this. We can too.

If you really want to help the artists – all of them – insist we have a single PRO in the US.

Are you telling your customers (or fans) to go away?

When the phone rings at your store do you just let it ring? When a customer walks through your door do you ignore them? Probably not. But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you don’t reply to business (or fan!) emails. It’s mind-boggling how many companies simply ignore their emails. Over the last week I’ve sent email inquiries to two companies I would like to hand some cash to and neither have replied. Both of these email inquiries were from their “Contact Us” page.  Sadly this response, or lack thereof actually, is more the norm than the exception.

Customers, or potential customers, don’t necessarily expect super-quick responses to emails (although doing so demonstrates your respect for your customers and a high level of customer service), but they *do* expect a response. When you let email inquiries go into the black hole you are telling people, “Go Away!” – a) I’m too busy for you; b) I don’t care about your business; or c) Somebody told me I need a web page but I have no idea how to use it. None of these are great for your business or building your fanbase.

Either use your business email or get rid of it. It’s that simple.