In between appointments yesterday, I spent 20 minutes wandering around the neighborhood Best Buy, getting a picture of what’s happening in the two industries in which I work: the consumer electronics business and the music business. (Yeah, I know: get into a real business.)
I was encouraged by the fact that at least 6 different employees spoke to me, asked me if I need any help, offered me their services. I recall walking into the now-defunct Incredible Universe store in New Jersey around Christmas time several years ago. The place was a graveyard empty except for me and about 22 employees, none of which even acknowledged me. Given that Best Buy is predicting their worst Christmas season in 42 years, I’m guessing the directive from up top was BE FRIENDLY at all costs.
I was also encouraged by the stack of Rock Band and Guitar Hero kits that were on the floor. I have no business connection to the electronic gaming business (any more) but it was good to see that at least one product was being stocked to the rafters.
Unfortunately, I think that GH and RB are the only two things that will be walking out of Best Buy (or any other electronics retailer) with any great zest this year. First of all, as we all know, the economy sucks and people simply aren’t spending any money. But, the greater problem with the music and consumer electronics businesses is not the money. It’s the products.
Simply stated, Christmas 2008 in the electronics world leaves the MASS MARKET with absolutely nothing to get excited about. Yeah, there’s the digital conversion of analog on February 18, 2009 but my guess is that will have about as much impact on the technology world as did Y2K. When all is said and done, people will buy new TVs (like a 32″ at Costco for $500) but the TV world gives us nothing to get us excited about otherwise.
The same is true for the music industry. The upfront cardboard POP displays that tried to grab me as I walked in were about as exciting as a visit from your Aunt Esther: the “new” Guns and Roses Chinese Democracy hype (which has been available on torrent sites for weeks) and another concert DVD of the Police. Blah.
It drives home the point that has been made many times over the last few years. As it was in the 1940′s and 1950′s urban centers of America, the record industry is once again a loss leader business FOR MUSICIANS. Not one African-American musician in LA in the 1950′s made any long-term money from making a record. He was paid his $100 for the session and then benefited from his increased box-office value that came with a hit record. Those who were not ripped off kept their publishing but that was rare.
That’s where we are today. Musicians make records to sell at venues (a very lucrative stream of revenue) and to turn people on to coming out for their live shows. But, in the end, there’s virtually no value to anyone who can play their instruments to sign with a major record label. The only value a major label has is to the all-looks, no-talent types who need the hype machine to make money from teenagers.
But, here I digress: the short story is that my industries, the record and electronics industries, give the MASS MARKET nothing to be excited about this Christmas. If the best we can do is another DVD of the Police in concert and a slightly bigger, slightly cheaper TV, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.
(I note that there is some great music out there — hopefully the last year’s worth of hype from this and other sites has helped you find it — but, for sure, it’s not on the racks at Best Buy.)
This year, I’ve decided to turn off my satellite TV (until baseball season starts). I’m borrowing classic episodes of the Odd Couple from the library for my DVD player, am buying more records from the Salvation Army and pondering what I’m going to do to make money next year. Maybe a video game!
These are remnants, like pieces of carpet in the warehouse, from the 45s I bought over the summer.
Now, go see Tony Orlando and Dawn live, will you?