Understanding Microsoft

Part 55. Payola

In the 1960s a new form of bribery began to become commonplace, originating in the record industry: payola. This is the practice of paying off radio station managers and music distributors to ensure that a particular song or album gets play time on the air, regardless of its quality or its actual popularity. This scheme works effectively because the sales of a record are based on its perceived popularity; that is, the more popular it seems to be, the more people want to buy it. The more airplay it gets, the more popular it becomes, until the market is saturated. Then the same cycle begins with the next pop hit.

In the software business, like any other retail business, paying for shelf space is the equivalent of paying for air time in the music business. The more times a product is seen on store shelves, the more likely a person will be to purchase the product. They will make the same assumption that is made by the music listener: "If it's that popular, it must be good." Culturally, this means a shift away from decisionmaking based on technical excellence, and toward a follow-the-market mentality. With music, this is obvious; most people are not trained as to what makes technically "good" music. With software, the same trend holds; almost nobody makes a technical decision based on product reliability, long-term stability, data integrity, or performance issues. Rather, a follow-the-market mentality has become the norm.

However, the habit of paying off people for shelf space has now leaked into the market for news. Microsoft was recently found to have a plan called "The Microsoft Multi-State Plan" to pay off journalists, writers, and small-time activists to produce articles, letters, and commentaries that were openly pro-Microsoft. These payments would have bribed unscrupulous people into producing a fake groundswell of grass-roots support for Microsoft's monopolistic activities, making corrective action by state and federal regulators appear to be against the public interest. In other words, oppressive business tactics and reduction of consumer choice would have appeared to be popular trends, and most people would have gone along with the scam out of a desire to remain in the perceived cultural mainstream.

Microsoft is also determined to use payola as a weapon against academic freedom and integrity. By offering cash payments of $200 to professors who recommend Microsoft products, the barons from Redmond hope to co-opt the educational system for the purpose of marketing Microsoft products. Numerous other features of this narrow-minded anti-scholar program are designed to make Microsoft products the gateway to all knowledge, and to make the members of a theoretically open-minded educational system into nothing more than gatekeepers or cattle-prods for the masses of students.

Once again, the hypocrisy and the duplicity of Microsoft management are on display for all to see. It is only a matter of time before Microsoft pays a severe price in terms of public opinion. No matter what people think about Microsoft products or the competition, nobody likes being manipulated and lied to by hypocrites and grifters.

Most recent revision: May 30, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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