Kingsway: no meeting with John Paculabo and “an unwholesome witch hunt”?

TODAY, Wednesday 21st July 2010, is the date suggested by John Paculabo for a meeting in London at which he proposed to address the concerns of the trade over Kingsway’s pricing practices and to further enlighten us about their “aspirations and many other issues and their possible impact”:

I am more than willing to address the issues raised in the blog in recent weeks with regards to Kingsway, pricing, internet etc, and I am more than willing to share with you our aspirations and many other issues and their possible impact including a generation that expects; no demands that music is free!

However I am not willing to commit discussion to a blog where those with any axe to grind can snipe from the cover of their office, but face to face is different. I am more than happy to meet in London or anywhere else for that matter at a suitable location, and with an independent chairman. (Board meetings and Charity work means that I would not be available until the middle of July), so let’s set a date of Wednesday July 21st at 11am, venue to be decided.

To the best of my knowledge, however, John has not followed through on that offer and nor has he come forward with any other way of communicating with us on these issues. I’m aware of some ongoing correspondence between Kingsway and a number of individual trade customers, but as far as I know none has resulted in any resolution of the specific concerns raised here: at best, it seems to be case of, “We hear what you say,” with a subtext of and we don’t give two hoots.

This observation is not intended in any way to denigrate Kingway’s reps or customer services staff who have, in my own experience and according to others’ reports, remained unfailingly courteous and helpful: I am sure that they share our concerns and are no doubt frustrated by what appear to be the intransigent attitudes from higher up within the company, but they remain powerless to respond. That the company’s senior management has allowed this situation to drag on for so long strikes me as both astonishing and very sad, and it reflects very poorly upon an organisation that practices excellence in so many other areas.

On the basis of his responses thus far, John’s claim to be “more than willing to address the issues raised” appears to be if not actually disingenuous, then what, exactly? Nonetheless, John, if you’re reading, my invitation to you to contribute a Guest Post remains open: a blank canvas upon which you can expound your point of view without editorial input beyond a brief introduction; you have my email address (I’m sure you wouldn’t, John, but no sniping or axe-grinding, please).

An Unwholesome Witch Hunt?

Last week I made so bold as to suggest that Kingsway are not the only Christian music supplier out there: there are alternatives. Is such a suggestion unreasonable or irresponsible? You, gentle reader, must decide, but Ian responded as follows:

I think there is an unwholesome witch hunt of Kingsway going on here that is unedifying and quite nasty.

I confess that this leaves me baffled. Unwholesome? Witch hunt? Unedifying? Quite nasty? I’d be immensely grateful if someone could spell out the point at which my posts or these discussions have degenerated to that point, please, because I truly can’t see it. I guess, on reflection, my knockabout post — Weekend Knockabout: The Ultimate Christian Product Awards — was a tad overdone, but it was clearly flagged as humour, highlighting some rather crass marketing. I did, however, feel that I had set the record straight with my subsequent post, In Defence of Kingsway, in which I invited those who wished to sing Kingsway’s praises to do so freely: none did.

A friend elsewhere has this as his forum signature: “The facts are friendly.” Unfortunately in Kingsway’s case the facts are rather more messy than friendly — but neither I nor anyone else here, to the best of my knowledge, has manipulated the truth or promulgated any falsehoods about Kingsway: again, I simply ask anyone who can identify any inaccurate reporting or misrepresentation to do so, please, so that I can straighten things out.

Otherwise I stand with Melanie, who responded to Ian as follows:

I’m sorry you think this is a witch hunt Ian. I don’t think this is a Witch Hunt. I don’t think anyone wants to burn Kingsway nor demonise them, in fact those on this blog have continually expressed their desire to work with and to be in communion with them, but they are making it hard to do so currently in a way that others in the same industry just are not.

Calling a company to question over an action they are undertaking, an action not undertaken by their own parent company David C. Cook, is not to my mind witch hunting.

If the Kendrick example cited in my original post (examined more closely in Truth, Lies and CD Prices: Taking a Closer Look at Kingsway’s Price Comparisons) was a one-off then, yes, this entire debate would be an exercise in futility, although even then I think it would be a far cry from the “witch hunt” and nastiness Ian alleges.

Two more examples should, I trust, be sufficient to make the point. In my Truth, Lies and CD Prices post I cited the example of You Have Shown Us: Songs of Justice, Mercy and Humility advertised at pre-order price, £9.99; RRP, £12.99:

You Have Shown Us: Songs of Justice, Mercy and Humility: Pre-order price, £9.99; RRP, £12.99

You Have Shown Us - Songs of Justice, Mercy and Humility - Pre-order price, £9.99; RRP, £12.99

I asked:

Will customers placing ‘pre-orders’ for this item really save £3.00, 23% off the advertised RRP? Or will the price simply go up by £1.00 as per the Kendrick album? Will Kingsway rise to the Micah Challenge’s call for trade justice in their own business practices?

And what we find in practice is:

You Have Shown Us - Songs of Justice, Mercy and Humility - now available, Kingsway price £10.99; Kingsway RRP, £12.99

You Have Shown Us - Songs of Justice, Mercy and Humility - now available, Kingsway price £10.99; Kingsway RRP, £12.99 (screenshot taken 29/06/2010)

That screenshot was taken just 8 days after the advertised release date of 21/06/2010: the product went on sale straightaway at £2.00 below the so-called RRP; and as I prepare this post, the same offer remains online at kingswayshop.com. Were customers placing pre-orders at £9.99 in anticipation of a £3.00 (23%) saving misled? You decide.

Next up, the Ton of Worship 2 CD collection. There’s no doubt about it, this collection represents superb value for money and I applaud Kingsway’s initiative in making the Ton of Worship series available. But once again we find a pre-order offer that does not live up to the promise:

Kingsway Ton of Worship 2 - pre-order offer: £8.99, save £1

Kingsway Ton of Worship 2 - pre-order offer: £8.99, save £1 (screenshot 08/06/2010)

But what do we find on product release? Exactly the same offer, still available as I write:

kingswayshop.com - Ton of Worship 2 - out now, £8.99 save £1

Kingsway Ton of Worship 2 - out now, £8.99 save £1 (screenshot 28/06/2010)

But was this not a pre-order offer? Were customers who pre-ordered in anticipation of a £1 saving misled? How can so-called RRPs hold any validity when a producer never sells their products at those prices, even for a nominal period of time? And lest anyone should protest, “But it’s only £1” — when was the last time you were shortchanged or overcharged by £1 and didn’t object?

The facts are indeed messy as Kingsway seem to arrogate to themselves the right to ignore the pricing guidelines that most other retailers — Christian or otherwise — assiduously abide by. If simple fact-finding and highlighting of bad practice is “an unwholesome witch hunt” then I plead guilty as charged — but in witch hunts is it not normally the weak and defenceless being hunted down by a baying mob of inquisitors? Kingsway are neither weak nor defenceless, and we who wish to trade with them are not a baying mob seeking their destruction. No, Ian: whilst I appreciate your raising these concerns, you have completely misread the situation.

The reality is rather — as referred to by Melanie — summed up superbly by John Duncan as follows:

… the point at issue here is whether Kingwsay are negotiating [the discussion about the future of bricks and mortar shops] with honesty and integrity. If Kingsway had simply shrugged their collective shoulders and said that the retail trade is dead in the water, and that they were focussing all their efforts onto the ‘online customer’, I am sure we would all be very upset but at least we would know where we stood. However in fact Kingsway are claiming to be supporting the retail trade, and at this time are wanting us to sign up to their partnership deals.

In my opinion the point Phil and others are making here, is that the practice of using an RRP that is simply a fiction, in terms of what they themselves actually charge, is an unfair and fundamentally dishonest pratice and discriminates heavily against the retail trade. I agree with the point they are making. It is this perceived dishonesty at the heart of the way Kingsway are trying to negotiate the change in business model that is causing this highly charged debate.

Highly charged? Perhaps. An unwholesome witch hunt? By no means: Kingsway are emphatically not the enemy — but fundamentally dishonest business practices and Kingsway’s apparent willingness to give in to them most certainly are; and whilst we may not be our brothers’ keepers, we certainly do have a duty of care to not stand idly by and allow Kingsway to suicidally sink themselves in this mire unprotested.

John referred to the “possible impact” of Kingsway’s “aspirations”. I suggest that he would do well to reflect upon the actual impact their current business practices are having upon their trading partners: we too, John, are your customers: do you truly despise us and our concerns?

My hope and prayer is that if John Paculabo lacks the wherewithal to deal with this situation himself then perhaps someone from David C Cook will show sufficient grace to step in and give him whatever support is needed to take control of Kingsway, their wayward adoptive child.

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7 thoughts on “Kingsway: no meeting with John Paculabo and “an unwholesome witch hunt”?

  1. Perhaps at times this may feel like flogging a dead horse, as clearly in spite of John’s insistence that Kingsway were willing to discuss this, obviously that was not the case, and John never came forward with any constructive suggestions as to where the location would be, beyond “london” which, last time i checked, was a pretty big place, and i don’t feel like walking the streets shouting his name hoping i stumble upon his mystery location.

    However, i guess there is one way that we can put some context on this, which may be helpful.

    Supermarket own brands.

    All of the big supermarkets have their own brand products. They sell them, and set the prices for them, and while (in general) they do not sell them elsewhere, they do serve as an interesting point of reference for this sort of thing.

    If ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Morrisons one day decided that they would all raise their RRP on bread (for example) by £5, call every item a “Special offer” and sell it at the same price they do today, and put on your bill that you had “saved” £5 you simply wouldn’t have it.

    Or, if they were to “introduce” a new product with a ridiculously high RRP and encourage you to buy it on a special “introductory price” only to roll back the RRP to a much lower price after the “introductory” period is over.

    You just don’t see it happen there, because they know it’s not moral. Yes they all have special offers, but they all know better than to keep these offers on perpetually, because then the offers loose their meaning.

    Even supermarkets, who by their own admission do not exist for any more “moral” reason to make money for their shareholders, do not engage in these sort of tactics.

    If it wasn’t Kingsway, a Christian company, would (some of us) be so understanding? Would we defend the tactics or call it a “Witch Hunt” if it was Tesco?

    I don’t know, but i suspect things would be a little different if the shoe was on a much bigger, Secular foot.

  2. Surely if Tesco or some other secular ‘foot’ tried something like that, then customers would simply vote with their feet and stop buying bread! They would soon drop their prices…

    • Hey Joy – can’t help thinking you’ve missed the point there: what we’re looking at is marked up “original” prices to give the impression of selling at a discount — so in this instance it would be:

      Coming soon: The Best Wholemeal Loaf…Ever!
      RRP: £3.50
      Pre-order: £1.25

      followed by:

      Out now: The Best Wholemeal Loaf…Ever!
      RRP: £3.50
      Our price: £1.50

      There was never any intention to charge £3.50 and customers who pre-ordered their bread thinking they were saving £2.25 have been blatantly scammed, saving only 25p.

      So how long would it be before Tesco or whoever were hauled up before the OFT and slammed in the national media? Not long at all, methinks.

      But Kingsway are pulling exactly this stunt and getting away with it because they’re a supposedly Christian company and very few people seem willing to stand up to them…

      • Or perhaps Joy got the point perfectly when she said customers voting with their feet and not going to where they feel overcharged to buy bread!

        One of the problems as has been pointed out is that our customers are largely voting with their feet and they are voting for the cheap option of buying at kingsway.com, and that would almost be fair enough straight forward retail competition if it wasn’t for the brand association causing them to think we are the ones inflating the price and thus making it look like we’re the one they should avoid by default of ‘obviously’ overcharging.

        Also one other aside point – the customers would only vote with their feet if they realised the were being misled, and many customers just don’t realise these things until someone else points it out and the media report it etc.

        At heart we’re a trusting bunch for want of another term and in the immortal words of Fox Mulder’s poster – ‘I want to believe’ – I think that’s true for all of us :0)

    • Then there’s the wee complication of playing at being a wholesaler and using the marked up “original” price as nothing but a benchmark for setting the trade discounts to your wholesale customers… so whilst the supermarket goes on direct selling its The Best Wholemeal Loaf…Ever! at £1.50, all the little retailers that have partnered with the big guys over the years are stuck with loaves going stale at £3.50.

      “But we can buy it for £1.50 at the supermarket,” say the customers, as they toddle to the supermarket blissfully unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes…

      All together now:

      If I were a Kingsway Artist
      I’d thank you Lord that I could sing…

  3. Pingback: Kingsway outdo themselves: the pricing folly gets worse

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