In response to our Meadowlark note of a few days ago, I received an e-mail from an industry insider. He used to be on the retail side of things. He still keeps in touch with former friends who continue to operate audio brick & mortars. He reported that without solicitation and within the last week alone, he'd gotten three calls. Their gist? Custom install clients play it straight but two-channel customers want 50% discounts "or we'll get it on the web." Interestingly enough, these dealers were two-channel lovers who had embraced home theater, lighting, home automation and the lot only to stay with the times. They'd prefer doing stereo but it simply no longer pays the bills.
You know what's coming. Those shoppers portrayed in the above behavior should hasten to conclude whatever acquisitions they're planning on. This very behavior is helping to put the remaining two-channel oriented B&Ms under. There's something about the web that fosters a certain degree of inhumanity. Think remote laser-guided missiles. It's not face to face. It's impersonal. So you say, hey, nothing personal, just business. Really? Shouldn't business be personal? It is bloody personal to the one you're doing business with.
Just because access has changed doesn't mean small businesses are run fundamentally different than they were 100 years ago. It's about a certain kind of ethic, about exchanging things which are manifestations of labors of love. Your hard-earned cash represents hours and hours of work, putting up with traffic, staying late, dealing with crap, putting funds aside for your hobby. It's not just green paper. It's life force and energy symbolized in currency. Ditto for what you're buying. It's someone's ingenuity, persistence, vision and hard work taken form. Exchanging life blood for life blood, sincere effort for sincere effort ought to involve a certain degree of mutual respect and consideration.
|Brutally shopping on rock-bottom price degrades such transactions to pure commodity trading. Peanuts today, oil wells tomorrow, industrial washers the day after. Who cares? They've just been degraded to things without soul. If you treat them as such, they indeed are. But if reality and observer are intricately intertwined and the latter's point of reference creates a personal experience of reality, what does that say about us? The material thing indeed is mechanical. What it represents and who made it isn't.
|Everybody loves a good deal, true. But at what cost to human intercourse and dignity are some of these deals transacted? Audio is a very passionate pastime. It attracts diehard enthusiasts into its folds. Just because manufacturers or retailers don't have the time to participate in chat rooms doesn't mean they aren't passionate. They're passionately at work designing and building and demonstrating and selling, all the while worried to make ends meet, keep doors open, employees fed, wives and kids happy just like the next Joe. That reality should be treated with respect even if you don't personally agree with someone's design or sales philosophy, appearance of the product or the store or any other variables.
Certain web-based transactions -- of verbiage and opinion -- show an equal disregard for the press. You don't have to like someone, agree with his opinion or fancy her personal style to not extend a little respect and gratitude for his or her efforts on behalf of this beleaguered cottage industry we all partake from. Anyone who's attempted to pen a serious review -- collect impressions, weigh them, put them to words in a manner that reflects on the page what was heard in the ear and translates succinctly for someone who wasn't there -- already knows that it's quite challenging. Next time you bash a reviewer because he didn't do as well as you thought he should have, ask yourself whether you could do better. If so, why aren't you doing it? Why aren't you writing reviews or selling equipment or assembling amplifiers or driving across 4 states to open dealers?
It strikes me that for all the benefits the interactive web affords us, these easy benefits are too often used to undermine the kind of consideration that springs up nearly automatically when one is physically one-on-one with someone else. Much behavior that would never be tolerated in person goes scot-free on the web. It's as though adolescent indulgences signaled an achievement of freedom. Speaking your mind without obligation for consequences; abusing anonymity to misrepresent the condition of goods for sale ... all of these and their endless permutations as they pertain to our situation are signs of a decline in human core values. These are not achievements. They simply are signaling a trend toward dehumanization. The losers are all of us. If you really love audio, think of how you can contribute. Don't bitch and moan. Do something to make it better. Every little thing helps. The first thing on that imaginary list would be attitude. If some of the attitude displayed on the Internet was a true arbiter of the way things really are? Then I fear we're demonstrating a lack of maturity to wisely use the freedoms technology has granted us.
|For a behind-the-scenes take on passion from a distributor's point of view, consider the following post by Bill O'Connell of MorningStar Imports (Mister MiniMax to most who know of his Eastern Electric products): "Taking the passion you had as a teenager for music. Working 35 years at some job that after 25 years, you've had enough of. Deciding you're hitting the big five-o and all you have is a great wife and home but you're stuck in a rut at work. Taking a chance of mortgaging your home to the tune of about $200K after meeting with an engineer who loves tube audio and shares the same love of music, whose life-long dream is to design and make affordable tube equipment.
|Produce about 200 units to get started. Now the hard part. Try and make a name for yourself. Travel around the country visiting Hi-End shops where no one has ever heard of you. Try to make a great impression and leave your gear there because they want to hear it first. You don't really think they just buy because you're pleasant and have the desire, do you? Rent warehouse & office space after you have paid customs, duties, taxes and taken delivery of your first shipment. Insure product in building.
You've made a great product. Fine. How the heck do you get others to hear about it now? Reviews. Who would be so kind? With fingers crossed and many a prayer, somebody takes a chance on your product for review. As a distributor, you're so grateful, words can't express it. All the while you know you're only as good as your last review. You get a glowing review and yet sales are still lacking a bit. So you send off another unit for review, again hoping that the folks who bring your product to the public will decide to purchase your specific piece. There are lots of others doing the same as you in pursuit of their love for audio. They too make a fine product.
High End audio is still driven by passion. Those of us who pursue it are not in it for the money. My 1040 form would prove that to you. I'm working now twice as many hours as before but loving every minute of it. You are correct that now it seems rock-bottom prices is what most want, willing to sacrifice true high end to lower its bar and accomplish bottom- line pricing. God forbid we try to make a modest living. We do share in common with each other this pursuit, the love of music. I just wish there were more hours in the day to listen. Personally, I need about 18 more hours per day. That would fill my need."