It’s that time of year!
If you talk to executives in the audiophile business, they take this hobby pretty seriously. Many have made themselves wealthy selling the concept of high-performance audio playback and the support products. Speakers, electronics, source components, cables, and accessories (oh, Jesus) – it has been a wonderful business that has morphed into much more than merely an enthusiast’s hobby as the industry has struggled to evolve from the messy, cluttered, and esoteric; with odd habits that appeal to its Baby Boomer roots.
Millennials haven’t gotten the memo yet. Gen Xers, like me, are far more into the concept of CI (custom installation) meaning AV systems that integrates lighting control, HVAC, rack-mounted gear, invisible speakers, in-wall subwoofers, home automation and more. All of these are poison pills for hardcore audiophiles and that is a problem, but that’s not the point of this post.
In a recent sales pitch of mine, the topic came up of just how many audiophiles are there (in the English-speaking world). Said prospect suggested roughly a million. Respectfully, he is higher than Cheech & Chong combined after a trip to the Malibu dispensary for the sticky-icky-icky. There is no way. Not even close.
AudiophileReview.com is one of the most well-read blogs on the topic, with years of data from trusted metrics like Google Analytics. I have personally spent many tens-of-thousands of dollars on SEO (search engine optimization), specifically creative link building, to make the blog site a powerhouse, and we pull anywhere from 65,000 to 75,000 readers per month. That isn’t half bad performance, even if I am patting myself on the back a little.
Our friends (and yes, we are friends) at Stereophile in print are audited at about the same rough number. Maybe they do a little more online, but I am not sure. The Absolute Sound (also in print) has never been audited, but have postal records (nothing close to an audit) suggesting that they reach about 25,000 readers, the last time I heard. There are all sorts of other audiophile publications in print and even more online that suggest that 75,000 is not a crazy number if we limit our search to the U.S. Remember, we all share readers.
We can look to other markets like Canada and the U.K,. and that is a good place to run the numbers up from the baseline 75,000. Canadians tend to read the U.S. content like I read Canadian hockey websites, so logically some of them will run the numbers up. The U.K. promotes different audiophile products and a whole other way of looking at the audiophile hobby, which brings new people into the mix, and that is a good thing.
If they double the market, we are at 150,000 total. Maybe that is too ambitious, but then again there are other English-speaking audiophiles in smaller markets like Germany, South Africa, parts of Japan, and Australia that make 150,000 feel like the right-fit number.
Let’s go back to the U.S. for a bit. If one of the annual audiophile shows pulled 10,000 attendees, that would give credence to our estimate of sub-150k audiophiles out of the 7,200,000,000 people on the planet Earth. Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Axpona, Capital Audiofest, THE Show, and so many others bloviate, but if they had 10,000 attendees, they would be killing it as a “hotel show,” and these shows are increasingly important in terms of the hobby as we head towards 2020.
The scarier concept is the actual demographic of the roughly 150,000 audiophiles out there. They are getting old and not replenishing with new blood – at least in the United States. The audience is mostly Baby Boomers. This means guys who, by actuarial charts, A) aren’t likely to have hearing above 10 kHz and B) are likely at 70-plus years old are not in desperate need of yet another $10,000 audio component.
That is frightening news for the business of audiophilia and a comment that none of the aforementioned audiophile print magazines have the balls to verbalize.
Yes, there are the people whom have made their money selling voodoo cables and other audiophile components already, and they are on their gluten-nut-oil-advertising-free retirement final lap. And that’s fine, I guess. But who is next for the industry/hobby? Vinyl lovers? Physical media makes up 12 percent of the total $8,900,000 in music sales and vinyl is only $400,000,000 of that, so that’s unlikely. Streaming (especially in HD) is far more hopeful, but traditional audiophiles cling to vinyl and/or silver discs when master tape quality downloads of damn-near every recording every made are now accessible thanks to Amazon, Tidal, and Qobuz for $15 to $20 per month.
There is some hope, I guess. Perhaps even more hope comes when trusted industry people like Dave Gordon at Audio Research email me photos from the Munich High End show with Millennials and Gen Xers bringing their kids to check out the latest and greatest our hobby has to offer. That is a rare feeling, but I am glad that I have felt it.
So, I throw the question out to you: How many English-speaking audiophiles do you think are out there? More importantly, why do you think that number is correct, if you don’t agree with my back-of-the-napkin calculations? I have made my case here. We want to hear from you if your guess is different.