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EU fines Asus, Denon-Marantz, Philips and Pioneer $130M for online price fixing (techcrunch.com)
401 points by Ours90 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 219 comments



It's funny how almost one hundred years after the Phoebus cartel[0], Philips is still participating in anti-competitive behavior. Apparently the invisible hand of the market is not so well suited after all.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebus_cartel


This is not a cartel, it's resale price maintenance. And RPM is controversially anti-competitive; for example it is legal in the US by Supreme Court ruling.


And the reason why it's not "obviously" anti-competitive. A (non-monpolist) in manufacture could sell direct-to-consumer its own product at whatever price it likes. It could sell its products via consignment in many stores. So it's not obvious why negotiating a more complex agreement with its reselling parters is anti-competitive. As long as there are competing products in the store or at other local stores, there is competitive pricing. If stores also refuse to stock competing products, then you have a (local) monopoly, and that is when the price controls run afoul.


It's clearly anti-competitive. The reason RPM exists is to prevent resellers from competing with eachother on price.

What is controversial is whether this is something that should be allowed, not whether it is anti-competitive.


It also helps To reduce price descrepency between small and large resellers in both client base and market share which helps to prevent relative price hikes in lesser served areas.

The question should be if the outcome of this is or is not beneficial to the end consumer.

Manufacturers have an incentive to keep their prices as close to their MSRP as possible and there aren’t many ways of doing that that are not anti-competitive on paper.

However I don’t think that a reseller in London should be able to offer a bette deal than a reseller in say New Castle or Leeds because they are bigger.


> However I don’t think that a reseller in London should be able to offer a better deal than a reseller in say New Castle or Leeds because they are bigger.

While I agree a suburban / rural / remote customer shouldn't necessarily have to pay more, how do we reconcile this with the idea of economies of scale?

If a larger retailer moves more units and can negotiate a better price from the supplier shouldn't they be able to pass (some of) that saving on to the retail customer?

I thought this is, at least one reason, why franchises existed, so retailers can take advantage of bulk purchasing power?


>I thought this is, at least one reason, why franchises existed

Franchises are a licensing arrangement. You mean chain stores.


Actually many franchises do work in this model. They are licensing deals and buying clubs wrapped up together.


As a manufacturer it's really difficult to organize distribution. Especially with governments intruding in contracts between commercial parties. A company should be able to dictate or negotiate the margins in their distribution chain.


>A company should be able to dictate or negotiate the margins in their distribution chain.

No they shouldn't. A competitive market would continuously drive those margins lower. To the extent that a company is able to maintain or freeze margins it means they have too much market power. I'd prefer to break them up but in lieu of that we might as well just pass a law that mandates what a competitive market would do anyways: remove any negotiating power the company had.


> Both organisations co-ordinated the trading of patents [...]

Looking back at the history of the electrical / electronic / computer markets it seems that they have been encumbered by patents, trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property, going right back to Edison.

It wasn’t markets that writ these monopolies into law, it was governments. Is it surprising that these legally granted powers would be exploited and abused?



Wat. Looks like the mean time-between-fines for Philips is three years...


Just another cost of carrying on a business.


who claimed the invisible hand prevents monopolies?


"Invisible hand" refers to the idea that each individual pursuing unencumbered their own best interest results in the best for society in general, as if there were an invisible intelligent force acting in society's interests. [1]

In a free economy, a monopoly can be contrary to this idea, as it can result in a suboptimal state for society, as if there were no overall-optimizing invisible hand.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_hand


Question for any lawyers/legal observers out there:

What exactly did these companies do wrong?

From the article, 'If those retailers did not follow the prices requested by manufacturers, they faced threats or sanctions such as blocking of supplies.'

Does this imply that any retailer in the EU has a legal right to sell goods at any price? If I'm a retailer reselling Asus or Phillips products at cost in order to gain market share, how is that not anti-competitive behavior as well? I don't understand why suppliers cutting off supplies to retailers is anti-competitive in this case.

As anyone who has done business with Amazon through Vendor Central can attest to, Amazon gives you no ability to control the sale price of your goods. Their pricing algorithms automatically adjust the price on most items "Sold and fulfilled by Amazon.com" to be the lowest on the internet.

To me, there is a very troubling extension of the EU's logic here. Quite famously, the high end cookware manufacturer Wusthof tried to prevent Amazon from selling its products, since Amazon was undercutting the value of its brand by offering massive discounts over prices on Wusthof's own site, and its brick and mortar distribution channels.

Does this mean that under this EU ruling, that Amazon could sue Wusthof for attempting to "block" its supply of Wusthof goods?

To take it a step further, Amazon lost money on each early-model Kindle sold. If Amazon attempted to rapidly gain market share in say the chocolate market by reselling Lindt or Godiva chocolate slightly below cost, how does the anti-trust law work out here? Amazon would arguably be engaging in anti-competitive behavior, while the chocolate maker could be fined for telling Amazon it planned to withhold future supplies?

I'm generally a big supporter of consumer rights legislation and enforcement, but this makes me wonder if the EU is going too far. Their ruling seems to have the potential to open up a huge can of worms, and may actually entrench the monopoly power of larger ecommerce sellers.


> Does this imply that any retailer in the EU has a legal right to sell goods at any price?

Generally speaking? Yes.

But there are a whole lot of exceptions to that. Books in most EU countries have a price fixed by the publisher. Predatory pricing is illegal.

> If I'm a retailer reselling Asus or Phillips products at cost in order to gain market share, how is that not anti-competitive behavior as well?

It can be considered predatory pricing if competitors can't sustain equal prices without going out of business and you can raise prices later.

> Does this mean that under this EU ruling, that Amazon could sue Wusthof for attempting to "block" its supply of Wusthof goods?

The anticompetitive nature and legality of vertical restraints (single supplier to retailer) aren't quite as clear-cut as horizontal ones (multiple suppliers or distributors or retailers between themselves).

Manufacturers have been allowed a certain amount of control over their distribution agreements like requiring enforcement of Minimum Advertised Pricing or quality standards for retailers, but each situation is analyzed on a case-by-case basis to the effects of the ban and if there is legitimate justification.


> It can be considered predatory pricing if competitors can't sustain equal prices without going out of business and you can raise prices later.

Isn't this the tech-VC model? Create a "new" product (same as the old product but ignore regulation), burn venture capital till the traditional players fold, profit.

Okay, I'm thinking specifically of Uber. But stil...


Basically yes. That kind of stuff, atleast in Germany, is frowned upon. Competing on the market on pure merit is preferred. However, it doesn't mean that if you can do it cheaper that's disallowed, quite the opposite.

If you can do it cheaper it's explicitly encouraged and that's what these policies try to encourage. What they discourage, is as you say, burn money to drive out other players, then run at the same price as the previous players.

It's also somewhat why the EU fined google, at least in part, because Google's behavior did not allow phone vendors to compete on their merit in the market by being unable to offer alternative Android variants if they want Google's variant.

It's a different free market philosophy than the US free market similarly to how other philosophies (like Freedom of Speech) work different in the EU.


> > Does this imply that any retailer in the EU has a legal right to sell goods at any price?

> Generally speaking? Yes.

In France, you're not allowed to re-sell goods at a loss if you're a business, outside of the "Sales" (Summer, Winter, and now more). So Fnac, Boulanger, etc. can't fix prices any lower than they actually bought it from their supplier. See https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vente_%C3%A0_perte


Well yeah. If company A improves their margins and can sell for a lower price, then company B has to either improve their margins, differentiate somehow or stop selling the product. That's how the market is supposed to work, which ends up in a better consumer price.

If companies A and B agree to sell at X price, the consumer loses since there is market stagnation.

If company A sells under cost, then they are effectively losing money. I believe this is also penalized, but it's still not sustainable long-term, very risky and with no direct (but indirect) negative effect on the consumer.

Note: IMHO the Amazon Kindle main point is not about being sold under cost, it is about being sold as a loss leader, which is quite different.


I agree that if companies A and B both AGREED to sell at X price, that is collusion, and leads to the formation of an oligopoly. That kind of cartel behavior should be stamped out.

However, unless I'm missing it in the article, I don't think that's what happened here? Asus wasn't colluding with other laptop makers to inflate what you buy for a laptop.

Regarding below cost selling not being sustainable long-term, I think that's debatable. Amazon lost money on every "super saver" free shipping item it sold a decade ago. But, eventually it was able to negotiate better and better rates with UPS and FedEx.

In the book market, their free shipping and low prices have led to them being the overwhelming big fish for books in the US. And, after they've gained market share, they're able to raise prices on books (https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-accused-of-raising-pr...).


Asus was colluding with other resellers to inflate their selling price of their stores. Not of laptops in general, but of Asus laptops themselves:

> The Commission found the manufacturers put pressure on ecommerce outlets who offered their products at low prices

So it is literally company A telling/forcing company B to sell at X price.


Respectfully, I'm a little confused here.

Your previous comment said:

> If company A improves their margins and can sell for a lower price, then company B has to either improve their margins, differentiate somehow or stop selling the product.

This comment implies that companies A and B are in direct competition.

The case you're now describing is a supplier/customer relationship. What we're talking about here is a Company C (Asus) having stores A and B as retail distribution customers.

Store A decides to undercut Store B's price. Store B says to Asus, I can't compete with those prices. So Asus has two options now.

-It can allow Store A to continue selling at whatever price it wants. Long term, this likely removes Store B as an Asus customer. Store A becomes a more and more important customer to Asus, and is able to demand additional wholesale price decreases in the future.

-Company C tells Store A, you need to maintain X price, so that both Store A and Store B can continue to sell our products.

Now imagine that Store A is a giant retailer like Amazon. If your interest is in protecting consumers and ensuring the long term competitiveness of the market, how do you achieve that by allowing the better funded player to sell at a cost that Store B can't match?

Further, Store A is notorious for low wages, and the health costs its workers incur in the physical nature of the job are socialized losses borne by the broader state. Store B may be "inefficient", but it pays its workers a better wage, spends in its local economy etc.

Lastly, we're talking about pretty commoditized markets here. If Asus's "price fixing" leads to higher priced mediocre laptops, consumers have hundreds of other options.

I appreciate you engaging in this discussion with me.

EDIT: Not to mention, unless Asus has some kind of wild brand loyalty in Europe that I'm unaware of, Store B is free to find a different laptop supplier if it finds Asus's terms unacceptable.

This doesn't change the fact however, that the antitrust considerations remain because Store A can likely beat Store B's prices on EVERY product.


I agree, I see I was wrong since store vs manufacturer is quite a different relationship than manufacturer vs manufacturer. I haven't thought that well so please ignore those confusing bits.

> Further, Store A is notorious for low wages, and the health costs its workers incur in the physical nature of the job are socialized losses borne by the broader state. Store B may be "inefficient", but it pays its workers a better wage, spends in its local economy etc.

This is a larger issue that IMHO should be solved independently, and I think the EU is doing quite well there compared to other parts of the world (I'm from Spain working in Japan now and I've heard way too many horror stories around here).

> How do you achieve that by allowing the better funded player to sell at a cost that Store B can't match?

Even if Amazon is better funded, they still need to make money per-sale (with few exceptions) so the prices won't be disproportionately different. And you can achieve that with differentiation in many ways, from the sales channels to the support, localization, etc. And that is the whole point, if Amazon innovates and everyone else is protected so they can stay behind then there would be no progress at all. They should be allowed to offer better prices if their processes allow for it and not be forced to sell more expensive because another company is very wasteful.


> I agree that if companies A and B both AGREED to sell at X price, that is collusion

Now look at it this way: if the manufacturer says to all resellers “you have to collude and use this price” then it’s way to see that price cartels and resale price maintenance aren’t so different. Whether the resellers actively collude to use the same price, or are forced by the manufacturer to do so is practically indistinguishable from the consumer end. Which is why in general neither is accepted.


In the US at least, MAP (minimum advertised price) policies are not an illegal practice, and speaking from my personal experience, the big box chains will give you no trouble if you ask for a MAP price.

Apple does it (https://www.macworld.com/article/2024257/how-apple-sets-its-...), high end brands like Tiffany or Coach do it, beverage makers like Bai do it.

In American physical retail/distribution negotiations, any vendor agreement is going to specify very clearly what kind of markdowns are allowed, whether or not the vendor has to take back unsold inventory ("consignment basis"), and whether the vendor has to provide allowances to dispose of unsold inventory.

As I've mentioned in the adjacent comments, the most troubling implication of the EU ruling is that if something like it was adopted in the US, Amazon would have an even greater competitive advantage. If I'm now no longer allowed to set policies that allow my various distribution channels to compete on roughly equal footing, it leads to the party that is willing to accept the least profit taking virtually all market share for a given product.


> it leads to the party that is willing to accept the least profit taking virtually all market share for a given product.

Apart from fears of oligopoly/monopoly, isn’t that the market working as it should? EU Regulation usually doesn’t allow for predatory pricing to take market share either


I would say that the monopoly fear is a pretty significant one?

Walmart and Amazon are the largest US retailers in the physical and online retail spaces, respectively. Yes, they have helped reduce prices on goods for the average American consumer.

The question is, at what cost? The US taxpayer also picks up the welfare tab for Walmart and Amazon employees, as well as the costs associated with un- or under-insured people getting sick from physically demanding work. The American taxpayer directly subsidizes these companies [1][2].

If you create a system where the lowest cost retailer now has government-backed authority to lower prices to whatever it wants, this means that stores that pay their workers a fair wage are naturally at a disadvantage. Over time, the consumer may benefit from lower prices, but on the supply side (retailer + manufacturer), an increasing share of the profits accrue to the retailer as they are able to negotiate lower and lower prices from the manufacturer due to their increased scale.

The kicker is that the enforcement of predatory pricing laws is difficult. Short of selling the goods at a cost below the invoice price paid to the manufacturer, on what basis can the government intervene? Physical retailers generally need to markup goods 50-100% depending on the industry. If Amazon is willing to sell the goods at a 0.5% markup to gain market share, can the government intervene? What's the brightline for markups below which the state can intervene?

---

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/04/15/report-...

[2] https://newfoodeconomy.org/amazon-snap-employees-five-states...


I agree there is a risk of monopoly, especially in the US. Also in the US, the fact that employees can be laid off very easily and tax payers pick up the tab adds to the problem. But again, that’s more a problem in the US than in Europe. So perhaps it all hangs together (narrator: it does). Having consumer- rather than business friendly regulation might be intrinsically linked to social safety nets, and so on. It’s possible that just flipping one type of regulation in the US would be disastrous without changing a lot of other things. For example, I’m a big believer in single payer, but I don’t think the US can easily adopt it without also changing a lot of other related things in healthcare production, education and so on. Merely adopting single payer might just mean getting the drawbacks but not the benefits such as smaller overheads. So I think the EU regulations are actually pretty consistent and it’s possible the US framework is too.

Re: predatory pricing: I’m no expert but I think “how low can you go” is basically no lower than what any other retailer can go at your scale, without making a loss. Others explained it better elsewhwre in this discussion.


> The question is, at what cost? The US taxpayer also picks up the welfare tab for Walmart and Amazon employees

They'd pick up the welfare tab if Walmart or Amazon didn't employ them, too; the only area where that might increase with their employment is EITC, since EITC goes up with earned income to a point.

While Walmart and Amazon should be cashed out for our labor practices, the idea that welfare that their employees qualify for is a subsidy to them is odd. The subsidy is favorable tax treatment of the capital income of their shareholders compared to the labor income of their workers, but that's not something particular to low-paying employers.


I can try fleshing out my line of thinking a little more.

Amazon, Walmart, et al. have put several industries out of business. The effect of the big box stores and ecommerce sites on traditional retail is visible anywhere malls are failing.

Their distortionary effect on the number of people who need welfare occurs through 1) putting traditional businesses out of work and 2) placing its warehouses in areas where wages are depressed (sometimes due to their own competitive behavior). In the second case, wages are anchored at a lower level, and factors like hysteresis further depress potential earning potential.

I would agree that strictly speaking, you're correct that the burden on the social safety net is maybe reduced when workers take a low wage job at Amazon vs. being completely unemployed. But, Amazon and Walmart have collectively displaced hundreds of thousands, if not millions of jobs in industries like corner stores, grocery stores, bookstores, appliance shops, etc.

Regardless of whether you believe that Amazon type companies are responsible for displacing people from jobs, my argument is that someone who works at a legacy retail outlet is likely making a better wage. Amazon can swoop into areas where the labor market is depressed, and then offer a lower wage than is offered in legacy retail. They can offer a wage that might be considered not-livable, because the social safety net will make up the difference.

It seems pretty uncontroversial that Amazon's cost per unit of labor is lower than that of a legacy retailer. Do you see any reason why this isn't the case?


> The question is, at what cost? The US taxpayer also picks up the welfare tab for Walmart and Amazon employees, as well as the costs associated with un- or under-insured people getting sick from physically demanding work. The American taxpayer directly subsidizes these companies [1][2].

But would the American taxpayer subsidize the entire retail market any less if it were the same size but split up among several smaller and less efficient (meaning consumer prices were higher)? I could see that being possible, but I see no reason to assume it would be likely.

Yes, one way that Amazon and Walmart reduce their costs (and thus their prices) is by paying certain employees as little as possible, but it seems to me that smaller firms can and probably often do the exact same thing, but are still less efficient than Amazon and Walmart due to economies of scale that are unrelated to labor costs.


I think there's a pretty simple microeconomics framework through which someone could make an argument about how one huge player depresses wages. Just think of Amazon as a monopsony, a single buyer of a good, for labor. The Roosevelt Institute, which is left-leaning, did a project on this recently: http://rooseveltinstitute.org/how-widespread-labor-monopsony....

Noah Smith summarized the findings of another recent economics research paper, which found that there's a significant difference in wages offered in areas with multiple employers hiring for a similar position (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-12-29/monopolie...).


> I don't understand why suppliers cutting off supplies to retailers is anti-competitive in this case.

It's about intent and effect. Resale price maintenance isn't illegal per se, but it can become illegal if it is intended to stifle competition to an unreasonable extent.

Manufacturers are within their rights to choose distribution and retail partners, but those rights aren't unconditional. They can't coerce retailers in ways that are detrimental to competition and the proper functioning of the market. I can refuse to supply a retailer because they provide inadequate customer support or they don't order enough product for it to be worth my while, but I can't refuse to supply a retailer with the specific intention of stifling competition.

For the corollary in US law, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_reason


> Does this imply that any retailer in the EU has a legal right to sell goods at any price? If I'm a retailer reselling Asus or Phillips products at cost in order to gain market share, how is that not anti-competitive behavior as well?

There are other laws for price dumping https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predatory_pricing#European_Uni...


Right. Selling below marginal cost can trigger these laws.

But how do these two concepts interact?

If someone is price dumping, and I cut off supply to them, are we both in violation of the law?


> If someone is price dumping, and I cut off supply to them, are we both in violation of the law?

Probably, yes. Price dumping laws are there to protect other resellers, not the brand image or whatever they were going for here, so the OEM doesn't have any stake in a price dumping case.


I think it's an interesting question whether an OEM has a vested interest in a price dumping case.

If you are a multi-channel retailer, like ASUS is, where you're selling through physical and online channels, if a large retailer like Amazon decides to cut the final sale price of your goods, this definitely has a cascading effect on your other business relationships.

In particular, your physical distribution customers are going to wonder how Amazon is able to sell for such a low price, and may pressure you to offer them a better wholesale price.

We may hope that the threat of EU enforcement dissuades an Amazon-type retailer from this type of price dumping/cutting, however by the time the law is actually enforced, you (the manufacturer) may have already suffered irreparable damage to your business relationships with your other customers, and may have suffered a permanent hit to the margins you can make.

In a situation like that, I'm having trouble seeing why it would be unreasonable to stop selling to that price-cutting retailer, particularly if they are a player with entrenched market power.


>In a situation like that, I'm having trouble seeing why it would be unreasonable to stop selling to that price-cutting retailer, particularly if they are a player with entrenched market power.

If they're acting illegally you should apply for an injunction, but you would have a reasonable defence if you decided to cut off their supply. Your intent in cutting off supply wasn't to make the market less competitive, but to prevent an abuse of the market.


In the EU you can't force someone to sell at a specific price, you can only recommend a price. Also you can't dump price and those are two separate things.


> Does this imply that any retailer in the EU has a legal right to sell goods at any price?

Below-cost selling would also be illegal in many cases: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predatory_pricing#European_Uni...

> Does this mean that under this EU ruling, that Amazon could sue Wusthof for attempting to "block" its supply of Wusthof goods?

No, Amazon doesn't have a right to carry any particular brand of goods.


Adding to this: no law would keep Amazon from sending employees to stores to buy Wusthof stuff (whatever that is...) to put up for resale on Amazon, but they would get in trouble of they resold at a lower price. It gets slightly more interesting when trademarks are involved, I think Birkenstock is currently trying to block out Amazon (particularly marketplace) on that basis.


This doesn't surprise me. Having been in the market for a AV Receiver recently, I was amazed at how little fluctuation in price there was between all the online stores for the likes of Denon and Marantz equipment.


Am sad to see glorious brands like these in this kind of news. I guess the AV era is mostly gone and they tried the obvious first trick in the hat to keep going.


I guess the AV era is mostly gone

I'm not sure. I mean, I hope it never will be. At least I think there are actually a lot of people like me: once I heard (as a kid already) the huge difference between what even a moderately proper hi-fi system makes music sound like in comparision with e.g. some portable radio or (god forbid) laptop speakers or even highly rated headphones, I cannot imagine not wanting that. Though I admit for video I care way less. But that's just because I watch things mainly for the plot and not for the visual effects.


My daughter had some friends over to watch a movie, and we had just moved. I had not yet unpacked my speakers, but I had some el-cheapo bookshelf speakers scavenged from a circa 2000 HTIB. I set up just the RLCs and subwoofer, and did some basic equalization.

Nearly every single kid commented on how good the sound was. Several insisted it must be a surround-sound system. As far as I could tell, none of them had ever watched a movie with anything but the speakers built-in to their television.


I don't think the vast majority of households has ever had any external speakers connected to their TV.


As far as I could tell, none of them had ever watched a movie with anything but the speakers built-in to their television.

I think it's all about the sound bars these days. I don't have one, but there seem to be dozens of them for sale every place you can buy TVs.


>or even highly rated headphones

Won't that highly depend on the location you put your AV system in? You basically need a dedicated area with decent acoustics if you want to beat good quality headphones. For non-audiophiles like me a good pair of headphones seem like a much more rational investment.

Of course if it's about watching movies or TV then headphones are not always practical, but then for that I admit that I don't care much about audio fidelity beyond using cheap-o dedicated speakers instead of the TV's builtin set.


Thing is even the best quality headphones don't produce a similar soundstage/stereo image becasue with speakers both ears always get sound from both speakers (though I assume there's software systems mimicjing that effect for headphones, not sure) also because most music is mixed while listening to speakers not headphones, and last but not least with speakers you also feel the sound with your body.

But yes if you really don't have the space for speakers it's not ideal. But still i prefer it over headphones even though they usually can yield more detail.


The thing is you don't need an "AV system" for it to be better than shitty laptop speakers. AV receiver systems are generally a pain for most people, with the need to run audio cables, buy separate speakers, etc. Soundbars are popular because they are easy and still check the "way better than the built-in speaker" box.

I do have a dedicated receiver, but I wouldn't recommend it for most people because it's not worth the hassle.


There is a large enough quality divide between TV speakers and an AV system with wired speakers to allow for a soundbar to be both an order of magnitude better than TV speakers and also an order of magnitude worse than the AV system.


Given that audio is so subjective, I'm not sure it's meaningful to discuss orders of magnitude. There are people who think even the best sound bars are terrible compared to a set of bookshelf speakers. But there are also people who think they can tell the difference between 44.1k and 48k, and it's just not a fight I care to involve myself with.


Although audio is subjective to our own qualia, it is silly to suggest that you can't quantify the difference in quality of various audio setups. Even though I used the term "orders of magnitude" colloquially rather than literally, it is well within reason to use the term literally as well.

It is not difficult to imagine a machine with multiple sensitive recording and analytics devices that could measure the reproduction of audio in a room and generate a score based on how well it matches the original recording itself. This device, in fact, is not even imaginary but actually exists, and can legitimately give scores to audio configurations that differ on "orders of magnitude".

Certainly there is a point where this device would rate sensitivities far beyond human ability to distinguish, but I would argue that the difference between sound bars and AV+speaker setups is well within the range of standard human perception. We're not even close to the controversial $5-10k+ setups.


I did not suggest that audio cannot be measured quantitatively. However, it generally is not. I've never read a sound bar review that used any kind of objective measures except maybe SPL. It's always about whether the sound is crisp or muddy and the sound stage is wide or tall or compressed or whatever.

I also did not say that the difference between sound bars and receiver setups is too close for human hearing to detect. This is clearly not the case, since it's entirely possible for humans to detect sound differences even between two sound bars or the same receiver with different speakers. However, sounding different doesn't mean one is actually better. When two setups differ in volume slightly, human listeners will consistently choose the louder one as "better" unless the sound is clearly low quality (i.e. no bass, laptop speakers), disregarding the supposed intrinsic superiority of the "better" system.


I stand corrected - I misread your earlier comment much too quickly. After re-reading this thread again, I realized my comment was written in prejudice.

> human listeners will consistently choose the louder one as "better" unless the sound is clearly low quality

This is news to me, and very interesting. Thank you for sharing.


> There are people who think even the best sound bars are terrible

That should be easy to test with a blindfold. If they can clearly figure out the difference between the two.


possibly but I mean that in the 90s AV was a bit pinnacle of tech and sound, now tech == google home. A receiver without a even touchscreen .. not mass market anymore.


As much as I hate to admit it as a dedicated AV fanatic: this is very much true.

The simple fact is that most people don't really care about sound quality and the 'good enough' sound they get out of TV speakers or a soundbar is plenty.

'Proper' Surround speakers - as in ceiling mounted speakers in a dedicated home theater room with acoustic treatment, as opposed to a soundbar with an atmos badge attached - have always been expensive and cumbersome and have only grown even more so with the proliferation of fancy new formats like ATMOS and DTS:X. Of course, part of the reason they are so expensive is because of price fixing by AVR companies like Denon, making an already niche market even smaller by erecting a taller barrier of entry. When companies have to resort to underhanded tactics to prop up their margins rather than creating compelling products that people want to buy it is a pretty good sign that the industry is in dire straights.


Do you find good movies that justify a good grade home theater ?

when I was young I would have killed to experience Jurassic Park in such a way. But nowadays movies are so meh to my mind.. as said above, nowadays I'd kill to have a good plot and good editing.

ps: bonus dire straights.


Blade Runner 2049's sound quality was amazing and I was very pleased to watch it with my vintage Marantz. I was, however, worried about my downstairs neighbors complaining as there are plenty of sudden bass notes.


This is why I don't have anything beefier than bookshelf speakers. I have neighbors, and my walls were built in the 70's


oh yeah, neighbor is a whole another topic, and home theater in a flat .. = pain


"dire straits"


The hifi and AV markets have seemed suspicious in pricing for years. Only way to get a discount is if you bump into an old model somewhere.


On the upside, AV ages pretty well so second-hand models are quite attractive unless you need 4K video or something.


>> 4K video or something

Which is the great scam of 2018 and beyond so far, convincing people that they need 4K video when they absolutely don't.


2018? Netflix has been streaming 4K since 2014. I don't disagree that it's generally unneeded[1] but it didn't show up in 2018.

[1] 4K does matter for large projection screens, and is a generally good thing because denser screens spill over to monitors, too.


The bottleneck there is ISPs. 4K streaming requires 25 Mbps minimum which is uncommon in most households and even provided by many ISPs+region combinations. The national average is 18.7 Mbps [1].

As a tech savvy rural resident that pays extra for faster internet, I just barely got fast enough internet last year for a single 4K video stream (assuming nobody else in the house is browsing Facebook or something).

Although anecdotally that is changing quickly. My ISP (Comcast) has consistently for the last 24 months been increasing my internet speeds roughly bi-annually by about 30% each time. It's hard to tell if this is due to pressure from nearby Google Fiber, which is not available in my area, or something else entirely.

[1] http://fortune.com/2017/06/02/internet-speed-akamai-survey/


I don't know how to get even 1080p out of Netflix. If you check the video stream properties, it's usually in the range of 560 pixels or something equally low.


I wonder if you have poor connectivity to Netflix. I'm consistently getting HD, as are many (most?) of their subscribers.

https://ispspeedindex.netflix.com/


It's probably your browser. I don't think it's possible to get HD if you use Chrome or Firefox[1]. I think 4k is only supported on Windows using Microsoft's browsers.

[1]: there are workarounds that exist


Would you include 4k gaming in this statement? Because in that case I strongly disagree.

Sure maybe I don't need it, but I can afford it and it brings me delight...


I would... to some degree. The issue with 4k is that the display folks are waaaay ahead of the content producers here. Film and media should be reluctant to adopt 4K for several reasons:

* Many folks have not yet migrated from DVDs to Blu-Rays

* Maintaining production lines for DVD, Blu-Ray, and 4K probably would not be offset by customers willing to spend even more above the Blu-Ray pricing for a 4K disc.

* The mainstay product sold by media is a combo package - DVD + Blu-Ray + Digital. Adding a 4th offering to these combos is very difficult.

* Monopolistic ISPs have little incentive to upgrade bandwidth to support 4K streaming, despite Netflix's apparent willingness to provide that content.

Most of the above fortunately does not apply to video games. There is no need to package or sell the "4K" version of a game. (Or is there? OH GOD THE HORROR. Please don't tell EA about that idea.)

However, the late 2010's saw the conjunction of budget 4K displays and the cryptocurrency boom. Although graphics card prices are just starting to normalize, the crypto boom seems to have forced graphics card pricing to be 1-2 years behind the display market.


don't competitive folks use smaller screens with higher and higher framerates?


Yes, I do. I have a CRT for Smash Bros: Melee, a 144hz monitor for FPSs (at 1080p), and then my comically big 4k TV at 60hz for stuff like Witcher or other casual AAA titles. The TV is coming over Steam Link anyway, performance is dropped in favor of sheer visual beauty.


4K isn't particularly beneficial for most users, but properly implemented HDR makes a massive difference.


4K might be useful for a projector if you are using software trapezoid correction. I have a 1080p projector, but mounted it above the vertical centre of the screen, so I have to use the in-built trapezoid correction to make the picture rectangular. This means that only one line in the display had 1920 pixels, and the remaining 1079 lines each have some interpolation.

If I had a 4k projector, even with a 1080p source, the quality of the projection would presumably be higher.


You don't need 4k for that, just lens-shift. Most mid-range 1080p projectors have at least vertical lens-shift these days, and even low end 4k projectors are still >$1000


Hmm... I just looked up my projector model online, and apparently it does have lens shift. I never noticed the lever, and I guess I didn't read the instructions well enough. Will try it when I get home!


Hey man, way better than the 3D scam!


My TV has 3D, and every once in a while I put the glasses on just for giggles.

Watching the news in 3D is... well... something else.


HDR is probably of a lot more benefit to most consumers than 4K, in practice, but they're nearly always bundled together (1080p HDR TVs _exist_, but they're rare).


Same with convincing people they need surround sound when you know 95% of people can't or won't set it up properly.


Marantz is regularly 50% off in Switzerland in major online stores.


Sort of a tangent, but more for personal curiosity what are the major online stores for electronics in Switzerland?


brack.ch fust.ch mediamarkt.ch

…and more. Switzerland has a vibrant market from what I've seen living here the past few months with pretty competitive in-country shipping (I once got a package via normal post the next day after ordering at 16:00 local time).


Thanks! I'm planning on moving to Zürich in a few months so I figured this would come in handy. It wasn't very obvious which online merchants were popular and reputable after some quick searching.


Thanks! I'm planning on moving to Zürich in a few months so I figured this would come in handy. It wasn't very obvious which online merchants were popular and reputable after some quick searching.


I ended up getting a Denon that had a shockingly low price which turned out to be a mistake price at Fry's, but I definitely noticed this while shopping as well.


Oh you want 5.1.4 Atmos? That starts at $859... select your brand later.


I wonder what the patent license fees are in there.


> I was amazed at how little fluctuation in price there was between all the online stores for the likes of Denon and Marantz equipment.

Good thing too. Audio brands like these rely on smaller shops to get in front of customers. People showrooming then buying online will close out the small stores, which will likely kill off those brands.


> which will likely kill off those brands.

Why cant the brands setup their own showrooms?


The same for speakers; Looking at bowers & wilkins here


Drivers themselves are pretty cheap and crossover designs are well understood. I wonder why we're not seeing small companies pumping out hifi speakers at reasonable prices. Maybe it has to do with cabinet production at low volume.


There are many internet only speaker manufacturers that do a great job(Salk Sound) as well as diy. With many large manufactures you're paying for a pretty finish and name brand. https://www.audioholics.com/how-to-shop/internet-direct-comp...


What are reasonable prices?

$500 each for SVS Prime towers seems reasonable when the flagships are $1000 each.

I dropped about $2000 into my setup between speakers, amp, dac, and sub; doubt I'll ever need to buy anything in the future.


that was kind of the Polk mo

guess who owns them now..


Now they should go over Dolby and HDCP 2.2 requirements that render good equipment obsolete and forces you to "upgrade" so that you can watch content you already paid for.


that's nothing to do with price fixing.


It's planned obsolescence which is arguably worse. Price fixing doesn't create a steady demand. With planned obsolescence you can reliably predict demand. Combine that with price fixing and you've got yourself a pretty reliable revenue stream.


I don’t understand why did Asus, Philips and others do that? Why do they care about retail prices? They’re not earning retail price, they offer their products to retailers for wholesale prices. They’re manufacturers, can’t they always adjust that wholesale price however they see fit?


Retail price maintenance protects the manufacturer's margin. If your retailers get into a price war, their margin will get squeezed down to almost nothing. At that point, they'll either drop your product, nudge customers towards an alternative product that they can make a profit on, or demand bigger discounts from the manufacturer. If your retailers can't make a healthy profit from selling your product, they're not particularly inclined to sell it.

Excessively tight retail margins also degrade the customer experience. As a manufacturer, you generally want retailers who can provide good pre- and post-sales support. If a retailer makes almost nothing from selling a product, they aren't particularly inclined to help customers. They'll spend more time upselling accessories or additional warranties than actually advising the customer and will just deflect all problems to the manufacturer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resale_price_maintenance


The incentive for retailers is to provide as little post-sales support as they can get away with, margin has nothing to do with it. Also, online stores don't tend to "advise" customers.


Hence RPM. If everyone is selling my product for the same price and making a healthy margin doing so, they have to compete on other factors, customer service being the most obvious.

Online stores often indirectly benefit from brick & mortar retailers - customers browse in store, then buy online. Again, hence RPM.


How does competition between resellers change the wholesale price, from which (AIUI) the manufacturer's margins are derived?


I offer a product with a wholesale price of €149 and a recommended retail price of €249. Competition between retailers pushes down the actual retail price to €169. Online retailers can make a sliver of profit at that price, but for brick and mortar retailers it's pretty much a break-even proposition. Those retailers will come to me saying "We can't make any money selling your product. Unless we can get a bigger discount, we'll have to discontinue stocking it". I either lose my presence in retail stores and the sales volume that goes with it, or I have to eat into my margins to keep those retailers on board.

If I do eat into my margins, there's a good possibility that the online retailers will figure it out and demand a discount too. Big online retailers have good market intelligence resources and considerable negotiating power, so they can demand as good or better wholesale prices than anyone else despite having very low overheads.

Left unchecked, everything converges to the margin. I'm making just enough money that it's worth keeping production running, most retailers are making just enough money to justify the shelf space, but we're just barely scraping by. I can't afford to invest in R&D, so I just churn out cheap me-too products. Retailers with high overheads will be driven out of business, leaving only the most efficient of box-shifters. Customers get low prices, but very little more. Sound familiar?


The clear inference from OP's remarks is that if the resellers literally stop selling your product, then the manufacturer would be forced to lower the wholesale price to compete for "shelf" space.


To protect their customers (the distributors/retailers), who have different cost structures (e.g., BestBuy, with physical real estate and employees, has higher margin requirements than a no-name website dropshipper). A physical retailer will get annoyed with a manufacturer, and will not want to carry their products, if their products are easily available via other sales channel for much less. And many manufacturers will want to utilize multiple sales channels to maximize overall sales.


Just to add to this, you also want to prevent one customer from becoming too large a slice of your sales.

If we use the Amazon and Best Buy example, if I'm selling to both Amazon and Best Buy, and Amazon cuts its sale price to the end customer, in the short term this doesn't affect me. Amazon is still paying me wholesale.

Long-term however, if Best Buy is unable to compete with Amazon's price to customers, it may stop being a customer altogether. Amazon may now be my biggest, or even only, customer. At that point, they WILL ask for further discounts on the wholesale price.

Jeff Bezos has openly and repeatedly said that he read a lot of Sam Walton's writings to help shape the vision for Amazon. CNBC did a 2-part documentary on Walmart a few years back (a "CNBC Original"). The two parts were shot years apart. In part 1, they showed a couple of entrepreneurs who had triumphantly become Walmart vendors, and were delighted that they now had such a huge retail distribution channel. In part 2, many of those vendors had soured, since Walmart had put pressure on them to offer increasingly lower wholesale prices etc.

For these vendors, Walmart was often their ONLY large customer, so they had little power in negotiations.


Manufacturers usually see this as a boon. In the premium cigar industry, for example, there were three gigantic mail order companies that ate up most of the action in the 90s: Thompson, Mike's, and JR. JR would DEEPLY discount a lot of their merchandise, squeezing both local shops and other online retailers in the process. Some manufacturers proudly proclaimed that they were not in the business of discounting their product, and there were even entire lines created to sell solely to offline realtors aka the local shops.

When the USSC ruled that manufacturers had a right to set the prices for their products, suddenly there was a lot more competition in the online market. The big discounters still got a lion's share of business, but it wasn't impenetrable like it used to be. The flip side is that some of the smaller guys came up with the idea of password protected member's only sites with discounted prices which were impossible for the bigger guys to duplicate because of their volume.


this is fascinating. did you experience this first hand, or have you read this somewhere? I'm interested in reading more.


The margin that a reseller/distributor/retailer has on a product goes mostly to sales and marketing of those products in one form or another (ads, placement in a store, training of staff on the product, etc). If an OEM lets that margin get squeezed by low cost resellers (like a crappy ecommerce only company), their other resellers will also get their margins squeezed and therefore can't spend much to sell that product.

One common response to this is to charge different wholesale prices to different channels, but this can also be difficult to control or subject to price-fixing regulations.

Keeping the margins high for resellers = spending more on sales and marketing for your product.

I don't think non-commodity products in competitive markets should be subject to price-fixing rules in terms of setting the market price, but that's how it is in many jurisdictions today.


Its important that a large outlet who negotiated/forced a lower price point does not set their retail price lower than their competitor's wholesale price, or the competitors get upset and quite possibly sue.

Even if the price discrepancy isn't quite that bad, if an outlet does not feel it is worth their while price matching they just drop the product to make room for more profitable brands. The brand then suffers due to the lower visibility.


If retailers sell their devices as loss leaders, it may tarnish their brand image.


My guess: perceived brand value ?


So should ASUS start selling their stuff in their own "ASUS Stores" only to bypass this? They obviously want to avoid imminent race to the bottom and commodification of their high-margin models (if there are any).

How does this differ from US-wide enforcements of MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) where even e.g. Amazon is fully complicit?


Manufacturers generally don't want to be big in retail because that would require them to hold a lot of working capital as inventory. Apple is fairly unique in this regard because of the hefty price premium they command. eCom still works out because you can aggregate orders to the factory supply chain and that smoothes out some of the demand variability.


You can also buy from HP, Lenovo and Dell. Apple is not fairly unique.


I think parent meant retail as brick&mortar. The ones you mention do direct sales, which is a bit of a different game.


Oh, you are right. HP products can be bought in stores though but indeed I can't think of any brick and mortars computer shops like Apple.


Don't forget Microsoft! They have indicated a total interest in brick and mortar skin in the game with all their surface stuff.


Online though, they don’t have their own stores.


Ok, what is the address of the HP or Lenovo stores?



And even Apple does sell through retailers.


They could limit the sales to their own online stores, of course. That would severely limit their market share though, hard to see anyone purchasing for higher-than-market prices directly from a manufacturer. It's a clear case of wanting to have the cake and eat it, too.


ASUS has a store in Akasaka, Tokyo.

Source: https://www.asus.com/jp/Static_WebPage/ASUS-Store-Akasaka/


Stores can, and do, sell things below the minimum advertised price, so it really can't be considered price fixing (or really, retail price maintenance).

Whether that should be legal or not is another matter though.


So where do the proceeds of this fine go? Do they do back to the purchasers of said products like in a class action? Similar question for the anti-trust fines...


from another case but should be the same principle http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-09-235_en.htm?loca...

Where does the money go?

Once final judgment has been delivered in any appeals before the Court of First Instance (CFI) and the Court of Justice, the money goes into the EU’s central budget, thus reducing the contributions that Member States pay to the EU.


So it basically goes to every EU member country.


In theory, yes, or more directly, it's a discount for contributions. But in practice, it's more complicated.

I don't even know where all the EU money goes to. Bailing out Greece and co? Subsidies?


Germany, the country that "bailed out" Greece the hardest, made big returns from it: 2.9 billion Euro since 2010 alone, with more profits on the horizon [1]. German defense contractors also sold some submarines even though Greece was effectively not able to buy them [2] and some regional Greek airports were bought by a large German airport company [3].

You can't deny that at least Germany made hefty profits from "bailing out" Greece.

Sources in German (maybe DeepL can help translate):

1: http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/griechenland-hilfe...

2: https://www.heise.de/tp/features/Griechische-Milliarden-fuer...

3: https://www.tagesspiegel.de/wirtschaft/griechenland-fraport-...


So far and iff Greece does pay back the remaining debt. It’s not entirely uncommon for a lender to make some money from interest before the other party defaults and the lender loses its investment. Could you explain why this is controversial? Should Germany have donated funds to make up for the mismanagement of the Greek government?


It isn't controversial for me. I think it's correct to make a bit of money off of it, especially after Greece lied their way into the EU with fraudulent accounting. However, GGP said that the EU more or less donated money to Greece and that is just not factually correct.

In fact, GGP is also wrong in indirectly claiming that subsidies are bad. Every country on earth gives out subsidies to its economy and as the EU acts like a country in many ways (esp. wrt trade), it should give out subsidies to its economy.

GGP just tried to bash the EU with baseless arguments, as it almost always happens in such threads.


Mainly subsidies of projects, they have an awesome website to explain this stuff: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/external/html/budgetataglance/... https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/money/expenditure_...

About 6% is administration.


Any “bailout” you read in the papers is administered directly by member states and/or the ECB through additional mechanisms, outside of the regular EU budget.

EU budget goes mostly to funding long-running development and cooperation programs (Erasmus, Euratom, infrastructure in poorer areas, etc etc).



Mostly subsidies and keeping things running. The EU budget is only about 140bn/year (or, 280 euro per person per year).


Goes into the EU budget as is the principle with fines (vs damages). And when you think of it, it would cost a lot to identify and distribute $130M on the millions of customers harmed during many years and their combined losses are likely much higher than $130M.


Are these fines in any way based on the projection of the revenue coming from applying the illegal practices? So what I'm asking is did anyone try to calculate how much money they might have made from this and apply a fine that nullifies all those profits, to which they add a penalty for doing it in the first place?


Here's the algorithm used to set the fines: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CEL...


All mature markets become cartels. The illusion of a free market is maintained to ensure monopoly are not formed but almost all mature markets are some form cartel.


I remember as a kid reading The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I didn't forget the part where all the buyers in the town were part of a cartel. It's a given that eventually established businesses will start to collude with each other.


Now to get someone to investigate the RAM market for its blatant price fixing


I can almost taste the inevitable wordplay.

Cash eviction: EU writes-back to most recently-used RAM manufacturers


careful, The Register may steal that one.


Think it would end up spilling from The Register file?


'no more static access to value, we need a more dynamic system'

-- E.U


China is but perhaps the reasons behind it are questionable. It happens right when China decided to come barging into the RAM market so the timing is suspicious.


That can start at the national level if you're in the EU...


Huh, so if prices are high then blame them on fixing and collusion? What blatant proof do you have?

They aren't setting any minimum floors or requiring retailers to set any floor. Heck, they don't even sell to retail directly anymore.


The price for dram chips has remained suspiciously high for a few years now (right around the time DDR4 came about). There's no smoking gun, but there have been lawsuits [1] and given the amount of consolidation that's happened in the dram business, it wouldn't be a surprise if there's more to the story. A lot of water cooler talk is happening right now that something is going on. Given that there is only 3 major players in the market these days with Samsung doing most of the heavy lifting, it wouldn't take much.

[1] https://www.techrepublic.com/article/samsung-hynix-micron-su...


> The price for dram chips has remained suspiciously high for a few years now (right around the time DDR4 came about).

There is no law about an upper ceiling on pricing. Would you say Nvidia is price fixing because their volta products are priced "suspiciously high"?

> There's no smoking gun, but there have been lawsuits [1]

There are lawsuits like these left and right, read any company's 10-Q about how random law firms file suits in the name of investor losses or consumer rights. Doesn't mean those suit hold any ground.

> A lot of water cooler talk is happening right now that something is going on.

Seriously?

> Given that there is only 3 major players in the market these days with Samsung doing most of the heavy lifting, it wouldn't take much.

Still more diverse than Google Search, Microsoft Windows, Intel/AMD CPU, Nvidia/AMD GPU.

Monopoly (or Tripoly?) does not equate to price fixing and collusion.


>Would you say Nvidia is price fixing because their volta products are priced "suspiciously high"?

No, but AMD would (I have no clue if they do) release a cheaper product and therefore get the biggest market share.

The problem is not about Samsung setting a high price. It's about all three companies setting that high price, seemingly together.


> No, but AMD would (I have no clue if they do) release a cheaper product and therefore get the biggest market share.

And how many AMD cards have you seen being used for DL? Hint: 0

> The problem is not about Samsung setting a high price. It's about all three companies setting that high price, seemingly together.

Parent is implying collusion and fixing on the sole basis of prices being above historical means, that's not price fixing.

Also, you're describing price fixing, not providing an evidence that it is possibly taking place. I work in Azure, so I know quite a bit about the current pricing environment around semis. It isn't as much as fixing as is the sudden explosive demand for their products.

* Take a look at the historical earnings for these companies, they were barely scraping by a couple years ago (Micron was under >$10B debt which was more than 50% of their market cap at the time). You can't justify capex on growing supply when you don't even have money to cover debt.

* Look at the trend of DRAM attach rates and software requirements for memory, nowdays everyone is happy running an entire instance of chrome for their communication, editor and what not; Deep Learning and data economy have taken off in the past few years which is requiring records amount of both logic and memory chips.

The current prices are a function of demand and supply. I do see them heading slightly lower on better margins due to lower debt and better yields on more mature processes (possibly even 1Y nm process node this year) but we'll be here for a while without any price fixing.


While there isn't any positive proof for recent price changes, the prices are suspect given the history of price fixing DRAM producers have engaged in[0].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DRAM_price_fixing


Aren't colleges or textbook publishers price fixing too, then?

Price fixing is a serious allegation, you can't just come up with price history and throw allegations around.


In most EU countries, price fixing of books are not only legal, but mandated by law.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed_book_price_agreement


Of course he can. This is not a court room.


Also the smartphone one..EU should investigate on the higher prices, sometimes unjustified, of producers..see Apple, Samsung or LG. This race to and over the €1000 barrier is really nonsense, considering that the companies are profiting


I paid 165€ (incl. VAT) for a last-year - but new - Nokia 6. This isn't a top of the line phone but considering that I keep my phones 3 years or longer (unless they randomly stop working, thanks LG) and use them a lot through the day, this is an absolute bargain. You can get low-end phones for under 100€.

If you want a high-end phone, you have to pay proportionally more. But that's normal and applies to nearly everything else, too.


That one is IMO different. Manufacturers are running out of things to improve so they're adding premium gimmicks to their phones. If you're looking for a flagship level phone without useless features, you should consider the likes of OP6, Honor 10 and Xiaomi's Mi series.


Define “unjustified.” What does it cost to write iOS? Because in the case of Apple, you have the cost of the parts and assembly, but you also have the engineering costs to even create the product. A product price isn’t just the sum of parts + assembly + profit.

Regarding €1000 — if a country like France wouldn’t have a 20% VAT, prices would be lower obviously. So perhaps we should “investigate” the 20% VAT? Maybe we should “investigate” the French labor laws that contribute to the cost of goods sold? There are a lot of things we “could” investigate — or we can just accept that companies will price their good appropriately based on the market demand. This isn’t like it’s an essential item required for basic life. Maybe we could investigate why France has strict milk quotas that necessarily increase the price of milk? Investigating milk prices has a lot more relevance to people than the pricing of a luxury item like a high end smartphone.

To be clear, I am not suggesting we investigate anything, only pointing out the absurdity of complaining about smartphone pricing when the EU has plenty of other products that are subject to price manipulation based on political interests. The EU has had tariffs for decades on imports, making everything more expensive. But sure, let’s complain about Apple and Samsung while ignoring textiles, food, cars and machine parts all of which are subject to tariffs that raise prices.


I can't quite follow your thoughts there. You are wildly mixing together taxes, tariffs, production quotas, etc.

Of course iPhones are ridiculously overpriced, and Apple has huge margins. But that's absolutely fine. There is plenty of competition in the smartphone space and people willing to bite the Apple are welcome to do so.

PS, yes, the agriculture rules in the EU are sometimes crazy, but to a certain extent they do actually serve the purpose of guaranteeing local production capabilities, which is important.


This must be legal in the USA?

So many companies do it and it's not even hidden.


Yes, “resale price maintenance” is legal in the US (by a Supreme Court ruling).

I find it pretty hard to see why price fixing is better when dictated by a manufacturer than by collusion between resellers.


Whether because our antitrust framework was successful, or just because things change over time... This sort of "anti-competitive" behaviour is not the real problem anymore.

These days, we have a handful of companies racing to be "the first traded trillion dollar company," with a business model built around >50% market share.

We have platforms, with their digital versions of the infrastructure-monopoly problem, just without the capital cost part. We have social networks, with their telephone-like network effects. The value (to users) is in everyone else using it. We have ads-and-data businesses like Google, where the value to ad-buyers grows exponentially with network size.

We have investors betting on monopolies. Peter Thiel's definition of monopoly (the only worthwhile strategy) is basically a spectrum. On one end you sell commodities, at cost. On the other end you have a perfect monopoly. Invest in ideas closer to the 2nd type.

All sorts of powerful reasons for companies to cut themselves an island of monopoly. All reasons that are not economies of scale. If monopolies really do come with stagnation, higher prices and such... We are headed for trouble. Our current antitrust frameworks don't touch on most of the problem. The likes of fb just don't fit into it.

Price fixing, pricing power, dumping and such are the symptoms of last year's flu, not this year's.


When companies charge too much, EU fines them for monopoly abuse, when they charge too low, EU fines them for dumping prices, when they charge the same, EU fines them for price fixing. It's almost as if laws were designed to fill EU's pockets.


These fines are rare and the amounts are comparatively small. €120MM is peanuts to the EU. The intention of the fines is not to make money but to discourage illegal behavior.

Specifically, EU fines represent about 3% of EU revenue. The funds from the fines may not be used until the fine has passed all chances of being overturned by courts, which can take up to 8 years.

Finally: the fines reduce EU funding from member countries by the same amount. Even if the member nations decided to subsequently give more money back to the EU, there is a cap on how much money the EU can take.


> The intention of the fines is not to make money but to discourage illegal behavior.

Of course fines are a revenue source, the EU operates on multiyear fixed budged which they supplement with fines and tariffs.

The bulk of that wealth transfer is reliant on the coffers of US companies.


Since this is basically all you post about, you're breaking this guideline:

> Please don't use Hacker News primarily for political or ideological battle. This destroys intellectual curiosity, so we ban accounts that do it.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


It's not a battle it's a legitimate point of view. It's also backed by evidence.

Also I balance it with the variety in my submissions.


> The bulk of that wealth transfer is reliant on the coffers of US companies.

Please share your sources.

And, just assuming you are right, those coffers are full of untaxed revenue from EU markets.


The record fines were levied on US firms.

Are you suggesting that it's legitimate to fine US companies on antitrust grounds to supplement tax revenue?


It's legitimate to fine US companies breaking antitrust laws. If that happens to supplement tax revenue that's an extra benefit.


> EU fines represent about 3% of EU revenue

wow. Really?

You make that sounds like its insignificant, but it really isn't.

Fines that go in to the 'consolidated budget' for a country or region doesn't seem right; it's blatantly in their own interest to lay out fines, regardless of if the behaviour warranted it or not.

This seems very familiar to the US property seizure laws; the line between 'justice' and 'flat out corrupt' is fine, and there's significant financial gain to walking the corrupt side of the line.

I don't think this is anything to be proud of.


EU revenue isn't that high. The US Federal budget is $4,000b, the EU budget is $170b

Over 4.5 years, from 2013 to 2017, EU fines totaled nearly $10b. That's $2b a year, or just over 1% of the EU's total revenue.

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/27/the-largest-fines-dished-out...


The EU just fined Google alone $5b. So clearly using past numbers is not an indication of their current or future intentions.


Fines don't increase the EU budget. Instead the contributions of the member states are reduced proportionally. The EU itself does not profit financially from fines and therefore I can't see even see a hint of a conflict of interest.

But anyway, fines going into the general budget is a very usual situation which poses no problem in a stable administration.


No they are designed to force the market to work for consumers first, and manufacturers and retailers second.


When companies charge too much or too little or the same as other companies FOR NEFARIOUS REASONS, the EU fines them. Intent really matters here.


For what it is worth I chose not to buy my motherboard from ASUS today, and chose another company (who may be doing other things, but idk).


So much for the narrative that the EU's tough anti-trust policy is about keeping out US companies.


No jail? As an example, if a group of multinationals illegally fix prices and gain $1 billion in extra profits and they get a tax deductible $130 million fine, where is the deterrence?


Of course, if they were given a fine anywhere near the effect on the economy they had, this very forum would be decrying the EU for being overbearing and anti-business.


Not likely. This forum is very anti-price-fixing and anti-competitiveness, especially with regards to headhunting and wages like Apple/Google had.


Responses were somewhat mixed to the recent Google fine though.


I think people here are liable to see Android as a public good, compared to its competition.


Any time someone decries anti-business, they forgot rule #1, business always finds a way. Even in the hay day for hardcore centralized state communism/production, businesses found a way to get a piece of the pie and enrich themselves.


Most corporate malfeasance is dealt with in civil law, not criminal. The EU specifically has almost no role in criminal law anyway, because that power remains with the nation states.

The reason is mostly that the corporation also got the profits from such actions, so it makes sense to target that entity with sanctions as well. The system is also designed to encourage companies to create processes to root out bad behaviour, instead of silently encouraging it and denying all responsibility, instead making individuals take the fall.

Another reason is that in many of these cases it's not obvious where and when a policy originated, at what point it started breaking the rules, etc.

Of course there are still crimes that can get managers into trouble, such as bankruptcy, all sorts of counterfeiting, fraud, etc.


Well there isn't. Unfortunately, that would not be "business friendly". Modern society has been heavily trained to walk on eggshells around big corporations and that isn't changing any time soon.


In cases such as these fines are usually determined based on the estimated profits, exactly to ensure deterrence.


To be clear, in the United States at least, these kinds of penalties are not tax deductible.


I suppose they were suppose to do it legally and perhaps make more money hoping that the fine will even out the profit, benefits include no bad pr? I don't agree with it either.


Silly you. The rich don't go to jail, you should know by now.


s/the rich/the powerful/g


I am greatly, greatly surprised to see that Asus and other Taiwanese electronics brands still try to play these games given they haven't been present in high end markets for ages.

Really, we are talking about difference in between them selling 250 euro laptops vs 270 euro laptops.

Taiwanese consumer electronics industry got, kinda, ossified.

Their mainstream products are almost as boring as "white goods" these days.


That would probably double their margins, don't you think?


They don't make money off the resale price, they make money off the wholesale price. Any money over the wholesale price goes to the retailer (or the distribution chain), not the manufacturer.


A budget laptop is "Wintel tax" + $30 to $40 display panel + other components for $20 to $30. The rest is being eaten by tax and getting them to store shelves.

There is a gigantic "commodity laptop" market and the less than 10% enthusiast/gaming niche in it.

And YES, Intel is chopping down the tree it sits on. A lion share of their desktop CPU/Chipset/Wifi sales are in the commodity sector. If they strangle Taiwanese guys to the point they drop them in favour of ARM SoCs, it will trigger a magnitude 9 earthquake in the market.


Not sure what has happened to Asus in the past few years, but the same laptop class at a given price range now has a significantly lower build quality than <2014. I don't know if it's them making retailers take these deals and getting lazy, Intel forcing higher and higher prices on them and them not being able to push the prices to consumers, RAM/SSD prices becoming higher, or what. Either way it's been disappointing to see them go down this path because they're going to lose whatever brand loyalty they had.


I've always associated Asus at the lower end of build quality with laptops that bits start falling off after a few years, cases that just crack and generally wear out from being lightly used. Much like Acer and a world away from HP or Dell, let alone Thinkpad or Macbooks.


ASUS doesn't have a response to the Dell XPS line. ASUS just has cheap feeling "gaming laptops" last time I checked.


I would say the Asus Zenbooks were generally the response to the XPS line. I must admit I haven't looked at them for a while, but the original Zenbook UX510 (I think) was pretty damn good, but rather pricey. I always felt that Asus were a step up from ACER.


Have both Acer and Asus. Can confirm. Acer is trash. Asus is as good as any I've used.

This thread has people hailing Dell and HP as quality laptops. In other threads, there is no end to the troubles people have with Dell XPS. HP has a poor reputation as far as I remember, without remembering any specifics, except that they had overheating issues at one time.

I guess the difference is probably between business and consumer laptops, where the former tends to be Dell or HP? Except Acer, as noted, because Acer is trash. Don't buy Acer.


Dell is also trash, I've purchased two Dell laptop, lots of problems come with them.

It's because it's expensive paid repair service so I bought it, but I don't think I really like to repair my laptop so many times. (And not to mention classic power adaptor problem with has built-in it for pretty long time)

For Asus and Acer, we always joked them with a "built-in timer", they will break when time is up. Just like all those eco-friendly things. Very environment-friendly company.


The Zenbook Flip S is relatively good competition for the XPS 13. Price fixing, or not, you can get an 2.4lb 0.5" thick 1080p 13.3" 8550U 16GB 512MB machine for about a grand, less if you find the right coupons. Can run hot with lots of disk traffic, but otherwise a very slick design and a joy to use. (I actually got mine for $700 as a manufacturer refurb on ebay.) It's NOT for gaming. But it's also not cheap feeling in the least.


They have ZenBooks that are in many ways better than Dells, worse in others. Let's not pretend either of those reaches Apple's 2012-2015 quality.


Just two datapoints: But for me Asus build quality was sub-par as far back as 2006. And I don't mean the GPU-unsoldering issue, no: The hinges on my 1300 Euro Asus A8Jp would fail after one year of normal (non-abusive!) use, resulting in wracked plastic around these metal parts. Needless to say, after the warranty period was over, I couldn't really use it anymore as a mobile computer (luckily, I got a free Dell D630 from a local institute).

I gave them a second chance, but the 419 Euro T100TA convertible also failed me after just about two years (doesn't turn on anymore; no idea why). Oh, and that device was probably affected by the price fixing.

So, my decision is simple: No more Asus. (And that's the nice way of putting my personal opinion).


Why would the build quality stay the same if it can be lowered, thus making production cheaper, and savings can be either pocketed or used to lower the end price (or some combination of both)? A competitive market will optimize towards lowest quality that still sells. And I guess there's still a lot of corners to be cut - from my experience, a typical non-tech laptop owner handles their device very carefully, as if it was a very expensive egg. It's mostly techies that run around carelessly with laptops.


I strongly dislike these nihilistic views of markets where consumer happiness (ie, reviews on Amazon, tech blogs, friends/family etc) is never factored in and people expect companies to merely look at price as the one and only factor. It's a very popular perspective today and common critique of modern corporate culture, but still ultimately a naive one that ignores how markets work and over-simplifies things to the point of being inaccurate.

That's not how markets work, except in the lowest of the low end (where margins are already awful).

That doesn't mean the entire company/product lines operates this way or the market as a whole is incentivized to do the least amount work effort possible.


> I strongly dislike these nihilistic views of markets where consumer happiness (ie, reviews on Amazon, tech blogs, friends/family etc) is never factored in and people expect companies to merely look at price as the one and only factor.

It is nihilistic, but is it any less true?

Also, not price, profit. Revenue minus costs. It costs company to make a product make user happy, so if they can skip that without impacting their sales, they will - doing otherwise would be leaving money on the table.

> That's not how markets work, except in the lowest of the low end (where margins are already awful).

I argue that's how markets work in any highly competitive space.

> the market as a whole is incentivized to do the least amount work effort possible.

But isn't it? As a company, you want to make money. Existence of competition causes you to make less money. If you don't fight back this pressure, you'll get pushed out of the market. This incentive structure applies to all your competitors as well. This is exactly how competition makes products cost less.


Shrinking PC market, oversupply of older models, Apple eating vast majority of profits. If you want them to build better computers, buy more of their expensive ranges to give them a room to operate. Otherwise expect penny-pinching.


I'm surprised how little effort there is for product differentiation though.

There are some good ways to decommoditize and get people to pay $399 instead of $349.

* "Modest Rugged". Robust hinges, maybe some sort of drop-protection. Not Toughbook quality, but at least "I can leave it with clumsy people and children and not worry about it". I get more of that out of a used-to-death X230 than from a new HP Stream or the like.

* Premium packaging experience. I've bought some nicer-grade PC PSUs and they come with fancy fabric sleeves and pouches to hold the spare cables. Why can't my laptop come in a basic travel sleeve, maybe with a matching pen and mouse? It would probably add $5 to the BOM, yet make the product feel dramatically more premium.

* Longer warranty. I know the Europeans get 2 years by law, but really, saying "here's our unit with three years of guarantee on it for $20 more than theirs with 1 year" at least provides the signals of quality.

* Experimenting outside the touchpad. I can recall when you could get all sorts of different pointers-- side trackballs, eraser pointers, things with the buttons on the back of the case. There are a lot of people who prefer Thinkpads just for the eraser, or love Apple's touchpads... but there's no reason Asus or MSI couldn't come up with something to build the same loyalty.

* Better out-of-box experience. Throw a 16Gb flash drive, worth maybe $5 in quantity, with a clean software image on it, so you don't have to pester the user to make a backup themselves. Install a decent set of freeware people will actually use. I can see there's probably incentives to push MS Office trials, so it's not surprising nobody pre-installs LibreOffice, but why not paint.net, 7-zip, VLC, Firefox? Think of how Microsoft's stores do a significant business on "you can get a laptop without a bunch of crap installed"as a selling point.




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