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I got unsolicited bulk commercial email (otherwise known as spam) from “Flix Premiere” at an email alias I don’t actually use for anything these days. I unsubscribed without really reading it because it’s spam so as far as I’m concerned they can go get fucked with a rake, but as I waited for the unsubscribe page to load over my blazing fast connection, I glanced at the email once again to see what they were trying to do to gently separate me from my money without wining and dining me first.

flix_premiere_spam

Behold our sales pitch…now with 93% less lube and 78% more anus crowbar!

I have to admit that for sketchy spammy email this looks more convincing than usual…so I checked to see if they’re a real company with real products and no apparent malicious intent. They are indeed real, though that’s not going to save them.

Strike 1: Send me random opt-out spam like this and I’m already not interested.

Strike 2: I’ll let them tell you themselves.

flix_premiere_header

Half the price of Netflix! Right Guys? …..guys?

Netflix has seen a nasty subscriber churn hit since they decided it’d be brilliant to jack up the cost for existing customers by yet another dollar per month. Netflix (as of today) now costs everyone $9.99 a month for a typical subscription. We’ll round up everything from here by one cent because that missing one cent is a single penny that represents a long-time pet peeve of mine with such deceptive pricing; yes, you weasely marketer assholes, $9.99 actually IS $10 in our minds, but thanks for insulting our intelligence right out of the gate!

So, in actual sane person dollars, Netflix is $10 a month. The header for Spamalot Films…er, *cough* I mean Flix Premiere…is (in sane person dollars) “just $5.” FLIX PREMIERE LETS ME WATCH ALL THE HIGH QUALITY INDIE FILMS THEY CAN CONTRACTUALLY CHOKE OUT EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS TO FOR $5 A MONTH?!

Flixy Downer replieth sternly: “Hold your horses, kid. It ain’t Netflix. It’s Flix Premiere, where we think we’re a cable television provider in 2001! It’s $5 to watch one film.”

Holy shit, Flix Premiere is expensive.

What the fuck were these people thinking? Netflix already has tons of indie films and they let you watch as much as you can cram into your face for $10 a month, be it one film or 100 films. Some brilliant idiot actually thought “we can ‘curate’ films no one has heard of from production companies no one has heard of and charge the same amount per two films that Netflix charges for a la carte viewing of both no-name and big-name films and television shows and make plenty of money doing so!

No. No no no. The genie is out of the bottle, guys. A la carte streaming for single-digit monthly subscription prices is here to stay. You’re not going to convince the cord cutting revolution to go all the way back to five-dollar on-demand movies, especially when they’re not big-name films in the first place! Redbox rents physical Blu-Ray discs to people and still does it at 40% lower cost than your no-name streaming movies. What are you venture capital hemorrhaging execs smoking, and can you please keep it very far away from me?

On a positive note, it’s nice to see an interest in independent film. If it were $10 a month a la carte with a one-month free trial just like Netflix, I’d seriously consider joining up and sticking around if I liked it, despite the fact that they came to me under the seedy cloak of being cunty filthy spammers. At $5 a pop, you’re fucked in the head, out of your mind, and there’s no way in hell that I’ll even give them that one little sanity cent I’ve generously added to their prices this whole time.

Flix Premiere also runs around the Internet replying to comments to do damage control as any remotely functional company does, but they suck at it. I’m such a generous lord that I shall paste one of their comments here as a response so they don’t have to. I’ll even respond to that!

Flix Premiere squawked: “the great thing about Flix Premiere is that we’re building a carefully screened and curated selection of good films that might never have been seen anywhere else. All the content is also exclusive to Flix Premiere for at least a year! So if you are hoping to catch these films on Netflix you’ll have to wait somewhat longer.”

First off, I have no way of knowing if your “carefully screened and curated selection” or your definition of “good films” match up with my own subjective tastes, so that statement is meaningless. If you mean “we don’t offer up first year film school student films for $5 apiece” then congratulations, you’ve set the bar very near the ground! Anything beyond that is so subjective that you can’t make objective statements about your collection like that. Exclusive for at least a year? Sounds like you could be screwing over indie filmmakers to me; I want to know how much of that exorbitant $5 you’re really giving them. Yes, I know that my grubby a la carte demands may mean less money available in the pool to pass along, but that would require your members to rent more than two movies a month on average every single month and you’d have far more members on a subscription plan in the first place.

That last jab of yours is your only direct stab at getting customers from Netflix, so let’s address it as clearly as possible right now. I’ll have to wait to see it on Netflix?

Guess what?

I can wait.

Sorry, indie folks. You really shouldn’t have signed away the rights to your own films to a grossly overpriced platform if you wanted me to see it. Having made some short films myself, I can sympathize with your plight, but this is the path you chose. As for Flix Premiere, feel free to leave a comment or two. I am a tough god, but I am a fair god.

tl;dr: Flix Premiere is a nice idea that costs way too much and they sent me spam, so fuck them with a rake.

I often find myself in a position where I must locate software to perform a niche task of some sort, and that inevitably means running lots of searches to discover available programs and research the merits of each. Unfortunately, I find that about 70% of my total “software hunting” time is spent constructing elaborate searches to try to weed out deceptive, bait-and-switch, scammy sounding website sentences that attempt to lure people seeking a free software program into installing a program that is not free at all and therefore isn’t within the criteria that the user is looking for.

Let’s say we need to extract email from an Outlook OST file (basically a PST-like file format used only for Exchange servers, and not readable as a PST file). The user wants to get email from the OST file, but Outlook only allows opening PST files, so naturally we look for something like “OST to PST free” online. Lo and behold, we have this program pop up from Softpedia:

Recover Data for OST to PST Free Download – Softpedia

Is this what we’re looking for? It says “free” in the title, and it says it recovers OST files to PST format. Sounds perfect! Well, perfect except for the line underneath it in the search results which tips us off on the truth behind the “free download” scam:

Rating: 4 – ‎12 votes – ‎$99.00 – ‎Windows – ‎Utilities/Tools

Oh.

So it’s a “free” program that costs nearly $100 to purchase. Apparently we have different definitions of what constitutes “free.”

But wait! It’s not a “free program,” it’s a “FREE DOWNLOAD.” As in, you pay nothing for the ability to download it…because it’s so obvious that anyone looking for the word “free” is worried about whether or not they have to pay to download it, right?

Look, you scummy marketing douche rockets, we see what you’re doing there, and we really don’t like it. The real purpose of the phrase “FREE DOWNLOAD” is not to emphasize the fact that the download itself doesn’t cost anything. The goons that use this phrase are attempting to do two equally deceptive things by tacking it onto their not-free software download pages:

  1. Lure in people seeking free stuff (using the search term “FREE”) to trick them into looking at their paid stuff, convincing them to download it (see next point) and then preying on the effort they’ve invested already to get them to shell out their credit card; and
  2. Playing a psychological trick in the process where the downloading person sees the word “FREE” and is convinced that they’re acquiring a solution that won’t cost any money.

Abuse of the term “free” will never end, so it pays to be vigilant and cautious when looking for anything which is truly free. I still say that the people who use this type of trickery are lousy people, and I for one will not ever download (and especially not pay for) any such software. A “free trial” is one thing, but they knew what they were doing with that “free download” garbage, and we shouldn’t allow it to work on us. Vote with your dollars: if you’re going to end up paying for something, make sure it’s not marketed deceptively first.

(Coincidentally, I was looking for WMV file editing software right after typing this, and Wondershare Video Editor came up with both “FREE DOWNLOAD” and “[checkmark-shield icon] SECURE DOWNLOAD” in a blog post of theirs with obviously planted comments at the bottom; visiting their normal site reveals that the software is a free trial and actually costs $40. For obvious reasons, WonderShare will never see a dime of my money.)

It’s looking like I can’t tap into the kind of funds I’d like to get without taking those disgusting credit cards after all.  Before I give in to the whole CC thing, I’d like to share some more information on why I don’t want to take credit cards and what I’ll have to do as a very small business owner to deal with the increased cost of business that card-taking entails.

First of all, credit cards take a cut starting at about as low as 1.7% but typically higher, depending on the conditions of the sale and type of card.  “Rewards cards” that give extras such as, say, 1% of the purchase price back to the purchaser work by taking that 1% away from the company that makes the sale.  If I take a normal card for a $100 item, I may lose 1.8% plus a flat $0.20 transaction fee, giving me $98.00 instead; with a 1% back rewards card, I would instead lose an additional 1%, meaning I get only $97 instead of $100 for the $100 item.  Because of these kinds of oddities, it’s almost impossible to determine how much each kind of card costs to process, and therefore how much higher prices must go to compensate (we’ll get into that in a minute.)

One of the newer trends in the banking industry is to give you a phenomenally high-interest account in exchange for swiping your card as credit a certain number of minimum times a month.  You could get an extra 2% interest or so if you swipe your VISA debit card as a credit card at least seven times a month!  Every swipe takes money from me, the business owner, and gives part of it to you via the higher interest rate, and part of it to the bank to make such a program profitable.  You are being actively encouraged to pay as credit, and therefore actively encouraged to rip off the businesses for a few percent of every transaction!  This kind of thing is absolutely dirty, and does not actually benefit anyone but the bank, because the net result is a price inflation at retailers to compensate for the additional loss to the CC companies.  That 2% interest is more than gobbled back up in the form of additional inflation across the board.

It helps to look at any typical for-profit business as some kind of a machine.  It exists solely to make money for its creators or shareholders.  If the business incurs an expense of some sort, it has to repackage that expense into the price it charges to you in order to continue making money at the same rate it was before that expense showed up.  If credit card fees take $300 per month out of monthly profits, the $300 per month has to be rolled into the cost of each product.  How does this work?  The formula is easily found with some simple algebra:

Final cost with CC compensation included =

(Total billed to customer + flat transaction fee) / (100% – average per-transaction % fee)

Plug in values as desired.  For a $3,000 (would-be retail price to you) high-definition television with 7% retail sales tax charged to a rewards card at 4% + a flat $0.30 transaction fee, the business has to compensate for your credit card transaction costs by jacking up the price as follows:

($3000 + $0.30) / (1.00 – 0.04) = 3000.30 / 0.96 = $3,125.3125 =

$3,125.32.

How card fees affect you.

But if you don’t use a credit card, who cares? You do, because credit card companies have a clause in their contracts with merchants that explicitly prohibit charging any kind of additional fee to take credit cards.

That means that, even as a cash-paying customer, a merchant has to spread the credit card “cost of doing business” across all of their products and services. They can’t show card users that card users directly hurt the business every time they swipe a credit card, because that would discourage the use of credit cards and the contract says that’s not allowed. You, the cash-paying customer, are punished for the credit card users’ costs to the business you’re buying from. Isn’t that wonderful? (end sarcasm)

Ultimately, what this means to my business and my customers is that I will have no choice but to increase prices in anticipation of approximately 40%-50% of my sales becoming credit cards.  I’ve actually taken the time to produce a chart of actual prices of some of my store items, from cheap stuff like USB flash drives to entire computers, and how much I will have to boost my prices to compensate, per the above formula.  I assume a 5% rate because with a rewards card and/or large purchase amounts, the rates increase significantly and 5% is not unheard of by any means.

cc-price-increase

It doesn’t look like much at all when you’re dealing with a $13 2GB USB flash drive (the formula I used tacks on $0.89 in my spreadsheet), but the story starts to change when you reach larger orders and higher prices. Our display-model computer system, a brand new and complete unit designed to demonstrate what we can build for a customer, sells for $750. The formula spits out $789.68 as the new retail price I’d have to charge if I start taking cards. That’s basically $40 extra for whoever buys the system! If the person is getting an extra 2% interest for swiping their card seven times a month, and they have $20,000 in savings, I just charged them an entire month’s additional 2% interest on their savings account for that one purchase!  The problem is that I’d have to charge a cash-paying customer the exact same amount because the credit card companies won’t let me take cards at all if I discriminate against their credit cards versus other payment methods.  Granted, there’s the “cash discount” method, where you offer a discount for cash purchases, but that puts you in a grey zone where the CC company COULD say that the cash discount is simply a surcharge by another name, and therefore violates your agreement anyway.  It’s not like you can stop them from terminating your contract with them if you don’t do what they want, after all!

I don’t understand why an average person can be so oblivious–sometimes perhaps even downright ignorant–of “reality as marketed” versus true reality!  If it’s enumerated on a receipt: sales tax, food tax, bottle recycling tax, core charge for an auto part, battery disposal surcharge, government usage surcharge, 911 surcharge, property tax, vehicle tax–people soil their underpants over it, but if the same costs to them are hidden from them–payroll tax, unemployment tax, business liability insurance, “business-class Internet access” (often lower quality than the same residential access, yet for three times the price), income tax matching, and credit card fees–people will happily go along being ripped off.  This is why the government can get away with “we’ll tax the very rich to pay for everything we want to do!” as their excuse for any new government program or expansion of an existing one–no one considers the fact that the ultimate burden to pay those taxes falls on the consumers of a business’s products or services, because the “very rich guy” who runs the company rolls that $125,000-per-year tax on his income into the cost of the products the company sells…but you never know that this has happened and you go on, happily thinking that Joe C.E.O. is paying for your “free clinic” or your “basketball museum” or “free visit to the emergency room” or whatever other “freebie” you’re getting.  Pay no attention to the embedded costs hiding behind the curtain!  Never mind the fact that you’re still paying for the “free” stuff, but the payment you’re making is now hidden and not explicitly stated on a receipt!

Unbelievable.

The next time you swipe a credit card (or vote for a politician that claims an intent to “tax the rich and give back to the middle class” as both recent major Presidential candidates chose to position themselves), remember that you’re the reason that $3,125 television you just bought didn’t cost $125 less.  What can you do with $125?  Maybe buy a Blu-Ray player to hook to said new television?  Perhaps buy some movies or speakers?

Too bad.

You swiped those away.  But it was so convenient, wasn’t it?  And you get a “free” *cough*cough* flight to Hawaii in a year off your rewards points, too!  Yay!

Please educate yourself on what you’re really paying for when you buy something.  Ask any small business owner: “do you have to charge extra on all your products because of the fact that you accept cards?”  You’ll probably get some very consistent responses…or find a business owner that isn’t going to be in business much longer.

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