Digital Dilemma: The Impact of the Digital Revolution on Our Perception of Value: Part II
The reality remains that the population of specialty audio/video shops is drastically down from the 60s, 70s and 80s. While we’ve seen the emergence on line sales and direct-to-consumer marketing and sales by some brands, it is clear that the consumer tastes have changed. What happened to this once-vibrant business?
Not surprisingly, my view is partially informed by the experiences I’ve
previously shared. But there is obviously
more to the story.
Most notably, the base level of
performance was elevated to suit the tastes of even many consumers with discriminating tastes. The point of diminishing returns was lowered for many more. As long as it works, we’re good.
Additionally, when compared to the ritual of playing an LP, the diminished need for user involvement to play a compact disc (and later digital media) disconnected the user from the hardware.
This “dumbing down” of the user’s relationship with the gear was further compounded by the merchants’ effort to grow the retail market via supermarket-style merchandising. Eventually, the digital revolution spurred the evolution of products, once objects of passion to an enthusiastic community, into everyday appliances.
Coinciding with the dawn of the
digital revolution and the advent of the CD, aggressive price-driven promotion transformed hobbyist goods to mass-
consumed commodity items.
But the big influencer was the personal computer. In the world of ones and zeros, the computer/IT guy is not conditioned to appreciate nuance.
If it works, it works. In that environment the value proposition is based on parts cost—not on craft or some other romantic proposition. In the new computer-centric culture, our stuff has de-evolved
to become peripherals, appliances or
commodity items like an inkjet printer
or USB hub.
If it works, fine; if not, toss it—
certainly nothing left to capture the heart or invest one’s identity in. For those reasons, common consensus has determined the top retail price of a pair of self-amplified speakers is $199.
A higher price would doom them to obscurity in the eyes of online reviewers and the world of search-driven marketing.
Today, the one audio component considered OK to price beyond a simple markup over parts cost, or considered by many to be contributor to one’s identity, is the headphone. But then, is that more about fashion than the pursuit of audio excellence?
Yet, many point to the incredible growing interest in headphones and the emergence of hi-res audio files as harbingers of a new era of audio enthusiasm. Although skeptical, I hope they’re right. Perhaps someday, that which the digital revolution drove asunder, it will also resurrect?
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