People are always making lists, whether it be to organize their schedule, purchasing needs, family calendar, or just plain goals. Now that I am beginning my summer vacation from the classroom, my wife has begun the summer honey-do list. I’m already about six items into the list since we are in the midst of a garage sale as I write this. This long list got me thinking about what I would like the audio industry to do over the next year. After some brainstorming, I molded my wishes into six things I’d like to see happen over the next 12 months.
Recognize the Value of the Independent
Nothing saddens me more in audio than when I hear of another fine independent shop calling it quits. Recently, I had an email conversation with one such dealer in the Midwest. The gentleman identified four key factors for closing up. Three of which had nothing to do with customers. One was the lack of communication between manufacturers and shops. He mentioned the changing nature of the manufacturers representatives. So much communication was being done by email at the expense of face-to-face contact. This lack of personal contact keeps little details about the retail situation from being discussed. Word doesn’t get back the factories like it used to, thus the industry doesn’t receive the necessary feedback. In the attempt to save costs, the little things that end up making a successful product and sales run are missed. The industry needs to get back to spending a little more to gain true success.
Go Back to the Original Company Vision
Remember when an company first started, what was the goal? Chances are that it involved building the best product at a specific price point. Too many times it seems like that goal falls by the wayside and in its place rises the motto, “sell the maximum possible for the least cost”. The audio industry is littered with companies that started off doing the right thing, but lost out to greed. I’m not just referring to the big Japanese electronic outfits. Many smaller to medium size companies went awry. Some have recognized many years later the mistake and have tried turning back the clock. Unfortunately, it is not easy. In some cases ownership changed hands making the return even harder. If getting back to the roots means letting go of excess products, so be it. Find the core of success, and let go of the dead weight.
Limit the Influence of Big Box Retailers
In the 1990’s the audio industry sold much of its soul to the big box retailers, bit by bit. In the end, to meet their demand manufacturers they tailored products to the retailers instead of the customers. In the end, the audio industry drove off many future audio fans. Quality companies fell into this trap, including some distinguished speaker companies. In the past few years a couple have slowly fought back, removing their upper lines from the big boxes, leaving only their entry level equipment. In addition, the mid lines have been distributed to mid size retailers. The problem is that their top line products have had a hard time getting back into the boutique shops because of the unwise decision made a decade-plus earlier. The independents were burned once, why would they want to risk it again. The manufacturers need to get back to looking at what used to drive the company, the desire of the audio fanatics. Then, tailor the product line up from the top down. Thus giving the entry-level customers the opportunity to experience quality. Sell to the big boxes only the basics.
iTunes and AIFF
I think Steve Jobs’ iTunes has done the music industry a great favor in short circuiting much of the illegal copyrighting. Plus, it showed a way to the light for the ever-increasingly blind recording industry, that was killing its own golden goose. However, iTunes still falls short in one distinctive area. It still does not offer AIFF (original file size) recordings for sale. Apple could charge a premium rate of $1.50 per song, in order to limit downloads of these much larger files to those of us who want to experience the full beauty of the music. Steve Jobs claims (and with his money its got to be true) that he is an audiophile of sorts. Yet, as the single biggest distributor of digital music, Jobs is limiting our online choices. Please Steve, wake up and hear the pleas of audiophiles, give us MUSIC, not just music.
Support the Electronic Audio Press
During the 1990’s, the audio press condensed for better or worse, into a far smaller group of magazines. Luckily, a few daunting souls decided that all was not lost, the paradigm had just shifted, that’s all. The audio industry is just now waking up to the fact that there are several electronic audio review sites out there, along with a handful of e-zines. The reviews and industry news published is more up-todate than our printed brethren, however, our lack of connections does keep us from garnering some of the newest equipment. We, at Affordable$$Audio, have been blessed to proclaim that an overwhelming majority of our review requests has been answered in the positive. That is not to say that things could be better. It would be nice to be in the situation of Stereophile, where manufacturers initiate many contacts. However, it is fun to get a reply from a “cold request”. The industry can support electronic publications by including us in press releases, allowing us access to their product representatives, and most important, emailing us with the same opportunity to review new and current products. Finally, supporting us with advertising that meets with each publications requirements for independent reviews.
Promote Regional Audio Fests
One of the great changes in audio is the recognition by smaller manufacturers of the value of audio fests as a way to reconnect with the consumer. The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest held in Denver each autumn is considered by many to be the ultimate in celebrating all things audio. Following this lead, AudioKarma holds one each spring in Detroit. These fests are crucial in promoting audio as a pleasure to be experienced by the masses. More of these gatherings should be held in every region that will support it. I know that the Pacific Northwest with it’s comfortable summers would gather large crowds. By sending a representative or two, manufacturers could not only give back to the faithful, but also give strength to the independents and the electronic press. Thus, growing this wonderful industry/society/passion.