Some retailers will tell you that nothing has really changed and the commercial landscape is much like it’s always been, just a wee bit slower. I think that’s bull.
My gut feeling, based on numerous highly unscientific studies including cloud sightings and barbequed chicken bones is that even the previously untouchable part of the market – the uber high end is seeing a slow-down. When folks who never before considered anything but primo brands begin looking at and finding relative contentment with Paradigm instead of one of the many over $50K speakers available, you know that a sea change of major proportions is underway. Despite well-publicized pix of Mr. Dmitry Medvedev with his Daniel Hertz speakers, I suspect the same percentage of Russians know and lust after them as do Americans – a miniscule number – a micro-slice of an entire population pie-chart…
One marketing phenomena that’s been around for some time but has become far more pronounced recently, is what I call “the feast or famine market response.” Items like the latest iPad are back-ordered and in short supply for months after their introduction, while you can’t hardly give away some other makers’ stuff…
In the audio marketplace some manufacturers have been able to keep alive by offering liberal upgrade paths or trying to emulate Ferrari or Rolex by keeping high-rollers happy by offering them opportunities to buy limited edition items not available to the general public who only have money…and that can work for a while. Even Mercedes and Audio Research need new “entry-level” customers to keep growing. Sure, entry-level buyers can come in through the used market, but there’s no guarantee any of them will graduate to the new stuff.
Is everything gloom and doom? Not really. Fortunately the power of computer-based audio is keeping many commercial entities in the black. DACs, interface boxes, and Macs of all stripes are finding their way into audiophiles’ systems and will continue to do so as the computer audio tsunami continues to gain market share in both the mainstream and high-end communities.
Finally, lets look at vinyl sales. Here are the latest sales figures from independent record stores. Notice how most of the top-selling titles are not exactly audiophile fare. I had to go down to #19 to find a name I recognized. Jerry Del Colliano will be happy to see that Jimi Hendrix’s Hendrix in the West ranks at #22. The only Beatles album on the list, Abbey Road, was in the top twenty, barely, at #20. Hank Williams’ 20 Greatest Hits racked up enough sales to put it barely in the top 50 at #47. Luke the Drifter would give that a big thumbs up.
I’ll leave you with some free advice – buy what you love and leave everything else by the wayside. Because whatever you do buy may be harder to resell than in the past.