Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What do the Eagles, Journey, AC/DC and Springsteen have in common?

I went to see the Eagles in concert last night. They aged well, these icons of California country-rock. The harmonies created by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh were flawless, and even the sound in the usually cavernous, acoustically- not-suited-for-concerts-Bank Atlantic Center, was crystal clear.

So, why was I so cynical and critical of this band whose music I’ve enjoyed for the past three decades? One word… Walmart.

Yes, Walmart, the store that refuses to pay its employees a living wage, has so-called benefits that put quality health care out of the reach of most of its workers, engages in discriminatory practices that have resulted in the largest workplace-bias lawsuit in U.S. history for widespread discrimination against women employees; a class action lawsuit filed by African-American truck drivers; and numerous other cases involving discrimination against workers with disabilities. I could go on about the evils of Walmart, and the list is long, but you get the idea.

In October of 2007, 13 years after the Eagles reunited for the live “Hell Freezes Over” and 27 years after their last studio album, “The Long Run,” the Eagles finally released a new album. The problem is that “Long Road out of Eden” was only available at Walmart!

Don Henley, Mr. Social Consciousness chose to be the businessman capitalist by making a deal with the devil.

Ok, to be fair, I know it wasn’t Don Henley who made the exclusive distribution deal with Walmart, but the Eagles’ manager Irving Azoff, who turned around and cut a similar deal with the mega-retailer for the new Journey album, and then AC/DC’s new record after that.

Businesswise I get it. You cut out the middleman, in this case the record company. Walmart sells the CD at a lower price than the typical record store, and both the artist and the store make a bigger profit.

But Walmart!? Really? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as the Eagles famously admitted that the “Hell Freezes Over” reunion was all about money in the long run, so to speak.

I honestly hadn’t heard most of the songs from “Long Road out of Eden” before last night’s concert, which featured many of them. My disdain for their business practices must have influenced my lack of enjoyment of those new songs.

But the bottom line is that I think the Eagles would have made more than enough money supporting the few brick and mortar record stores that are still standing, and embracing the digital world of iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, Amazon and the other online retailers. Instead, they chose to for as much money as they can possibly make, even if it means supporting the evil empire. So, their standing in my world has dropped a few notches from superstars to sell-outs.

So, I’ve been a bit cynical when it comes to the Eagles. I didn’t really care about AC/DC or Journey also going for the money, as I’m not a fan of either band. And many may say Guns n Roses should have done their exclusive deal with Walmart, rather than Best Buy. Again, no problem for me there either.

But today, as I took the shrink wrap off the brand-spanking new Bruce Springsteen album, “Working on a Dream,” I did cringe a little.

This CD is available everywhere that sells CDs. But just two weeks ago, a new Greatest Hits collection of Bruce’s material quietly debuted on Walmart’s shelves… and nowhere else. There was no fanfare, and no requests for comment from Springsteen’s management, publicist or label were answered. I’m not sure what that means, other than they know there’s a problem there.

It does trouble me, though, that the working man’s hero allowed a collection of his greatest hits to be sold by exclusively by a company that has so little regard for their workers rights.

2 comments:

Kevin C. said...

Do most "brick and mortar" record stores pay their employees a living wage?

It seems that you have bought into the anti-Walmart hype created by the big unions who are frustrated by their inability to unionize America's largest retailer.

RadioOrNot said...

Kevin,

It's not hype. It's a fact... actually a lot of facts. To see more of Walmarts anti-employee practices, check out www.walmartwatch.com.

Even putting aside the way they treat their employees (though we shouldn't), their business practices are putting mom & pop stores of all varieties out of business everywhere.

As far as brick & mortar stores paying employees a living wage, I'm sure some do and some don't... But they're also not the LARGEST employer in the US!

And to your question about unionizing workers, I hope the Employee Free Choice Act is the next big bill to be signed into law. Then Walmart employees will be allowed to unionize without fear of retribution, as it should be.

Nicole