The Hub: News, events, gossip: Come the REVOLUTION

Okay: we're at the point where virtually everyone in the audio industry knows that we're not in Kansas any more, or at least not in the boom years of the '70's. Those golden olden days in audio (at least as remembered by the gray-headed boomers so often seen in the biz) saw a stereo in every dorm room and in most family rooms. Now we see iPods and computers.

In our last entry of The Hub, we looked at some of the ways in which audio manufacturers are reaching out to new and burgeoning markets; in this entry we'll take a look at some steps that can be made to reach the 'Pod and 'puter generation, right here in the good ol' US of A. Granted, it might not be like old times...but give it a chance. It could turn out to be even better.

We modestly propose a few nontraditional marketing programs to take Hi-Fi to the people. Some of them, anyway.

COLLEGE TOURS: Back at the dawn of time when BSR turntables were as common in dorm rooms as..umm...HOTPLATES, mainstream audio companies like Kenwood and Pioneer sent traveling roadshows to college campuses. Could it work today?
Why not? Here's the plan, in a nutshell:

Two people drive a truck from campus to campus, and set up 3-4 room exhibits in Student Union buildings, in association with a local dealer(s). The truck would carry only iPod/streaming-related PORTABLE products. The local dealer would exhibit some larger, stationary gear. Room One would have only headphones, of a wide variety and price ranges. Room Two would have iPod docks, boomboxes, dacs, amps, small active speakers, etc. Room Three would have a shrine to audiophilism: Analog, tubes, horns, planars, etc.

There are three goals associated with this model: 1) Give the next generation of consumers a free sample of this addictive drug:good sound. That's all we have to do. Surely, 1/100 or 1/200 will get addicted with their first hit. Sure, it sounds cynical--but mothing works like demos. 2) Sell some products to the students or faculty - not only for some cash flow, but for planting seeds on that campus, so that their friends see the cool new stuff. 3) Enroll student entrepreneurs as 'affiliates', to sell products to their friends for a commission.

The tours would be funded by the manufacturers whose products will be displayed. We would need a large headphone maker as a major sponsor (Sennheiser? Monster?), then associate sponsors with their iPod gear and/or headphone amps (B&W, Klipsch, Schiit,Focal?), and perhaps a few small sponsors with tweaked dac's, small tube amps, etc.

Our next plan is a shameless example of piggy-backing on not just a successful company, but a successful brand. Hey, nothin' succeeds like success, right?

RIDING APPLE'S COAT-TAILS: Consider the typical Apple user. He/she sacrifices software choices, and pays a lot more for the hardware, purely for the sake of a better user experience. From the outset they are pre-disposed to becoming audiophiles, since that is EXACTLY the same behavior exhibited by us audio addicts.

Apple has captured the high-end segment of computing, and an Apple store is where we will find the most-concentrated numbers of consumers with a taste for a 'better' experience. The fiendishly-simple business model: Rent retail space as close as possible to existing Apple Stores (directly across the hall/street ideally).

Use the front display to attract Apple users with Apple-based audio /video systems. Inside the store, have a variety of combinations of computer/iPod related audio gear. Save one room for the audio shrine: a purpose-designed room with analog, tubes, horns, acoustical treatment, the whole kit-n-kaboodle. Try to get each walk-in person to plug their iPod into 3 or 4 things: headphones, a small iPod system, and definitely, the Big Rig.

Secondly, rent warehouse space close to the store. A large variety of high-end audio products are stored, which would be provided by various manufacturers seeking exposure in a market where they have no dealers. Audiophiles could arrange for home auditions of products, which they would pick up at the warehouse/store, and return there (or not). Well-qualified audiophiles could also arrange for an audition in the store's listening room if in-home audition is too difficult.

Walk-in Apple users who show signs of possible addiction would be directed toward products which best fit their budget and tastes, and a system of that type could be set up in the listening room, for a later appointment where we educate them on how to listen. Apple makes in-store appointments for tutorials to serious users, so again the Apple Store visitor is already exposed to such concepts.

There are three goals associated with this model: 1) Each location would attract high-end-leaning consumers from the mass market, and expose to them to the best possible performance for each price point, starting at prices low enough to encourage spontaneous purchases. 2) Each location would provide an audition-site to audiophiles and manufacturers who are without dealers. 3) Multiple locations with a branded indentity would become associated with Apple, their philosophy, and their psychology. Apple consumers would more easily equate/desire better sound.

You, out there: whether you'e in the business or outside it, you undoubtedly have ideas at least as good as these. Probably better, really; we've lost brain cells along with our hearing. Why not share your ideas? Again: let's keep it positive and constructive, please.

Click on "post your comments" in order to allow us to marvel at your wisdom!

Like I said in the last thread, its all in the marketing. There's no ads anywhere - TV, radio, or print.

Not sure if I mentioned this one over there though...

I was talking to a friend of a friend at a get together a few weeks ago. He's an older gentleman who lived in Binghamton, NY for about 15 years. He never heard of McIntosh, which was made literally 15 minutes from his house.

If he's never heard of McIntosh, what are the cahnces of someone in say, Texas hearing of it?

The entry level companies like Marantz and NAD (both are owned by parent companies with what I assume is a large amount of capital) would become a force to be reconed with if they got off their rear ends and advertised. The stereotypical XBox owner can afford something like an NAD 315BEE and PSB Image B15s. Speak to them in a language they can understand and let them know where the gear is available to hear.

Katie Perry dressed the way she dresses standing next to some NAD equipment in Maxim will get NAD a ton of website hits.
Audiogon_bill - It would appear that, chuckles aside, you didn't understand why I connected HH and HP.
Both were lifestyle gurus in their time. Both sold an ego-driven self image. "What sort of a man reads Playboy?" vs. selfless pursuit of the Absolute Sound in bathrobe and slippers with cognac and appreciation for the finer things in life nearby as inferred and essential props. Both were nonsense but both were widely embraced by thousands in HP's case and millions for HH.

Both have become "Manager's Specials" as both have long since passed their respective sell-by dates.

If there are to be "good new days" they will only come as the result of extreme recalibration. The "American Century" ended 10 years ago according to the calendar and the bank accounts of working Americans. In 1980 the financial industry accounted for 16% of our business. Now it accounts for 40% and almost none of those funds are trickling down to working audiophiles, as promised.

So it is entirely possible that we will again stop worrying and start enjoying ourselves and our music with a sense of well-being and confidence, but it will never be like it was 20-30 years ago.

We Americans had a great run but we ran ourselves out of it with greed and ignorance. We should have and could have seen this coming but we were having too much fun. Now the bills are coming due and way too many of us have been taken out of the game. Most of the rest are worried about falling into the same trap. For this reason, commerce is at a standstill. There is no reason to think that audio will be excepted from this caution.

By the way, I'd love to know how your kids would describe HP.
Keene: Good points. Years ago John Marks argued that the idea of advertising high end gear to the general public was a waste of money, and that efforts would be more productive if directed towards music-educators and professional musicians. Taken as a whole, that's a large but largely unseen group, nearly all of whom must have some type of HiFi in the home.

Similarly, targeting those students who are already studying music or are just immersed in it would be more productive than hitting the entire student body. I suspect that some savvy small companies could make significant inroads into that purchasing-body with a little guerilla marketing and social-network presence. Demos wouldn't hurt, either!

Bark: Your Binghamton story is a little disturbing. Back in the day, the company was very well-known locally; not sure where that went.

Agreed, a fraction of a percent of gamers would be a huge boon to the audio biz...with or without Katy Perry!

Mac: It's interesting to debate who today's "lifestyle gurus" are. Rarely is a face associated with a media outlet as Hef was with Playboy--unless we're talking personalities like Arianna Huffington, Bill O' Reilly, and so on. Can't say I look to them for lifestyle leadership!

Interesting also to speculate regarding my kids and Harry; I have previously heard comments like "all your audio dudes look alike", but I'm not sure that would apply to HP!

Thanks for the comments, gents.
Queen of the Rodeo might be a good working reference. The kids can probably come up with something more imaginative though. My suggestion isn't very modern even if it does encapsulate a solid notion.

As I stated earlier, audio hasn't changed for me. I don't go to stores. I only buy new if it is an accommodation deal or better. I don't read audio mags. I don't go to shows. Rarely hear new music that attracts me. I just hang a sock over the rear view mirror and keep my eyes and ears focused on the road ahead. I don't know where I'm headed but that might be all for the best. I have a hunch the bridge is washed out up ahead but I'll worry about an alternate route when I find out this one is closed.

I stopped caring about the rest of the audio world when I got my horns.
Mechans beat me to it. I was going to suggest same. To get real traction on the idea, you NEED to have APPLE sponsor and badge specially redesigned ( cosmetically ) amps, dacs, speakers. Start with all in one integrated amp, panel speakers and front end -ipod with non mp3 files. Could you imaghine how good and cool TT set up apple designers would make?

Mechans, let us join forces;-) Last night when I came across the OP, I typed similar response before reading any of the posts. Was too tired to embelish, spell check and post it!