Monday, 31 May 2010

Happenings this week

I'm still working on updating prices - completed the saxophone section this week, which contains a number of fairly hefty price rises for imported music, mostly around £2. I've added a collection which I had unaccountably missed off - Leonard Bernstein for Alto Sax.

This week I finally got around to completing the compliance requirements for the PCI DSS regime which I mentioned a couple of months ago. This is supposed to be about improving security for payments, but as far as I can see it is a paper exercise which will improve revenue for a few companies, to the detriment of retailers.

I use third parties to handle payments - Sagepay and Paypal, two of the really big boys in the arena who have the highest levels of encryption and compliance with the regulations. So I don't keep or process any card details myself - they handle all the security. This is good for me and good for my customers. My payment gateway, Streamline (aka Royal Bank of Scotland) , knows who I use as they handle it, so why do I find myself filling in forms telling them what they already know? Moreover, the forms they sent are written in American English and the instructions in the glossy booklet which tell you how to access and work through the website are inaccurate. The only good thing is that I am allowed to self-assess and avoid paying someone to come and have a look at my computer.

So I've spent several hours complying with this pointless regime, when I could have been doing other things. Are my systems more secure as a result? No, they were already secure to the highest levels in the industry. What difference has all this made to my customers? None. This has to be the very epitome of "red tape"!

Friday, 21 May 2010

New This Week

This week I have added Goldman's Daily Embouchure Studies for both trumpet and trombone, published by Carl Fischer.

Keeping with the brass theme, also new to the website is Fink's Studies in legato for bass trombone and tuba.

For harp I have added Grandjany's 3 Petites Pieces Tres Faciles.

And finally I have added a new keyboard method; Keyquest 1, 2 , 3 , and 4. This is a recent publication and a welcome addition to the keyboard method market.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Back to Normal

After the events of the last week, it's nice to get back into the normal routine.

I have added a few books to the website this week, after customer requests:

Triligence by Mike Mower for flute

Easy Blue Clarinet Duets

Blue Clarinet and Saxophone Duets by James Rae

The customer who asked for the last book told me he couldn't find it anywhere, but he knew it existed. I'd never come across it either; for some reason a lot of the publishers make little effort to let retailers know about new publications. In the summer, when business is slow, I tend to sit with catalogues and add things to the website, but if the publisher never produces a catalogue, I simply don't know about new music, or even the range of music they cover. Similarly, some of the smaller publishers are very poor at telling you which distributors handle their music; I recently opened an account with a distributor and this week got a catalogue from them for a publisher I find difficult to obtain. I had no idea they handled their music, so that publisher will now get more airtime on the website.

Chatting with my customer I mentioned that the music he wanted comes from Germany, and he asked just before I placed an order, which was good timing. He seemed surprised at the Germany thing; but some of the large distributors now have large hubs abroad. Boosey & Hawkes, Universal Edition, Schott, Carl Fischer, IMC, Amadeus, and many more all come from Germany. The problem for retailers is that the carriage charges are not only higher than UK distribution, but they are subject to the vagaries of currency exchange. Two years ago the delivery charge from Germany was £8.40, at its height recently it was £11.51; it's now £10.97 following the fall of the Euro recently.

On top of that, the currency problem has eroded the profit margin over the last couple of years, resulting in a loss of 50p profit per book, on average. As I've mentioned before, the fall of sterling against the dollar has also resulted in price increases for imported goods of 25-30%. Lets hope things start to stabilise a bit now.

A number of smaller publishers or suppliers seem to be entering distribution arrangements with larger concerns too. As profits get squeezed, it can be tempting to utilise the systems of a larger business in order to maximise income. I think there is more of this to come in the music business, so we may see some big changes in the next year or so.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Election Week

A lot of talk out there is now about politics. I thought the campaign would be dull, but it has turned out to be full of surprising twists and turns. This week I tuned into Sky News just in time to see "bigotgate" unfold right before my eyes. Poor Mrs Duffy, mugged by a politician for using the "I" word, the issue that dare not speak its name.

We vote according to what we experience in life and how the Government of the day touches our lives. For the last 13 years under Labour, I worked in HR so my perception of Government was formed by what I saw: rise in National Insurance costs (which cost me personally and also raised costs in my business), the decimation of final salary pension schemes due to the changes in tax and regulation - I actually had to close one scheme myself as we could no longer afford the risk and costs, a massive increase in legislation and regulation which meant my job changed from enabling my business to succeed into preventing it getting sued. I could go on.

Add to that my experience since becoming self-employed; the fall of sterling against both the Euro and the Dollar making many products 25% more expensive, the removal of the 10% tax rate, the crashing of the economy reducing turnover in my business and you can see I really don't want more of the same.

The expenses scandal has made many people even more cynical (if that's possible) than before. My local MP managed to spend £60 of my money on window cleaning for her office each month. That's enough to clean the windows of my house for almost a whole year. I'm leaving aside the fact she managed to get through £250 of "petty cash" every month too and do enough mileage to have driven to London and back three times every 10 days. Funnily it was the window cleaning that really took the biscuit! ( by the way, if I recall correctly, the excuse for the petty cash claims was tea, coffee and biscuits for the staff - that's a lot of tea and coffee!)

With the swings in the opinion polls, the Labour car crashes on TV (literally!) it has been the most exciting election I remember. So I am tempted to stay up on Thursday night to watch the drama unfold. I want to see my MP lose her seat, and I'm hoping to see a few more of the politicians I most despise lose the income and job security they have cost others over recent years.

What I want from the incoming Government, whoever it is, is recognition of the place small businesses have in our economy, that we and the general working public are not a cash cow simply to service the Government, and that we start to live within our means, not mortgaging the future of our children with massive amounts of debt.