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Photography killed the audio store AKA brick-and-mortar is dead

post #1 of 36
Thread Starter 

I'm posting this in High-End Audio in the belief that many here are also addicted to expensive cameras, lenses etc. This is NOT about photography - its about the death of brick-and-mortar 2-channel audio and the general impression that headphones are for kids with 50 bucks to spend. Downtown retailers want customers who walk in, pick up a box and take it to the cash register - everything else is just costing them time and money. Imagine a picky audiophile who wants to spend an entire morning auditioning everything in the store ? eek.gif

 

It doesnt take long on Head-Fi to realise that even folk in NYC seem to find themselves in the same situation as those of us in much smaller towns and cities all over the world - almost all of our purchases have to be made online. Makes sense, doesnt it - how many retailers can afford to pay rent and wages on a retail operation aimed at a niche market, right ? At best, you might find a speaker amp in the midst of an A/V showroom - forget about decent headphones and count on the prices being exorbitant for what they do have. Thats retail in a high-rent / high-wage environment. We can bitch about their 'outrageous markups', but someone has to sign those cheques. 

 

Now step into one of the nationwide franchises dedicated to ~2K cameras and megadollar lenses (even headphones - usually Senn). These can be found, AFAIK, in the CBD of every Australian city and are often crowded with tourists and locals alike. 

 

http://www.georges.com.au/

 

http://www.paxtons.com.au/

 

http://www.digitalcamerawarehouse.com.au/

 

http://www.teds.com.au/

 

http://www.camerahouse.com.au/our-stores/nsw/sydney.aspx

 

Of course, anyone trying to operate such a business has to know that they are going to be visited by people who want to pick their brains then go online and buy the chosen camera as cheaply as possible - same-same audio,  Well, one of the retailers isn't prepared to cop that:

 

http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/cameras/sydney-camera-shoppers-charged-30-explanation-fee-20111130-1o5lu.html

 

SO MANY people buy their cameras online from foreign retailers that one Sydney camera store now charges tyre kickers an ''explanation fee''; if you want to handle the camera and have a salesperson give you the low-down it will cost you $30. How else will local retailers cope with the time wasters who, armed with the information from the shop, go home and order online?

 

So where am I going with this rant ? Simple : tyre-kickers aside, the businesses above are paying for some of the most expensive floorspace anywhere - Sydney is heinously expensive - and paying Australian wages on top of that, competing with cutprice online operations and STILL keeping their doors open. Clearly, they are selling to a mature, cashed-up market which attaches a value to in-store expertise and after-sales service. That, or there is a consumer out there which few other businesses are unable to capture in these trying times - rich and dumb,

 

Given that we have folk here who suffer from both addictions - audio and photography - I've come here in search of something resembling an answer. Its particularly galling when I am in downtown Brisbane and I see a 'Teds' almost right next door to a 'Georges' - display cases overflowing with expensive toys -  dont even get me started on the few stores which sell anything resembling 'audio'. 

 

Apologies for the length of this post - its just a frustrating paradox - I guess I completely over-estimate the size of the market for good sound. 

post #2 of 36

I'm not sure I see the problem, nor is it anything resembling a paradox.  Classic market forces and supply and demand.

 

Hobby stores are appealing to way fewer consumers when you only supply to not only a niche hobby, but a very expensive one on top of that.  They need to find customers who 1. have money 2. are willing to spend i and 3. have specific tastes.  On top of that, customers who do have money and are willing to spend it become less willing to spend it depending on other economic factors.  At the end of the day, not only are you appealing to a small niche, but your business can live or die by market forces you have no control over.

 

Or you can sell to a demographic who never stops buying.  

 

Simple business really.

post #3 of 36

I'm not sure what you're driving at, but I would call it a natural progression as more often that not today's consumer is more educated and informed about the product than the person selling it. This applies to photo, audio and many others in between. With so many review and forum sites around, it's hard to even think otherwise.

 

The retail (and, especially, big-box) store model is in a decline phase, and pending a disruptive event I don't see it changing anytime soon, if at all. Physical stores require as you said rent, front-line employees, inventory, whereas an online outfit greatly benefits by not having to deal with such. Put a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, establish a strong online presence with competitive prices, and the informed consumer will act based on store reputation and product pricing.

post #4 of 36

shouldn't this thread be moved to the high-end photography or the demise of the bricks and mortar store forum? wink.gif

post #5 of 36
Thread Starter 

Can neither of you see that BOTH photography and audio are niche markets, yet one can still support retail outlets with (presumably) knowledgeable staff and give the customer the ability to actually see what they are buying ? Have you never bought a product online and been underwhelmed by the reality with it in your hands ? Does it not seem strange that the UK has several retail chains which specialise in 2-channel audio yet such a business model seems extinct in many other parts of the world in 2012 ? Here in Oz, they have moved to AV and largely abandoned 2-channel. Innumerable threads here and elsewhere recommending that we audition as many products as possible, and you're telling me that the move to online-only is a natural progression - financially, I cant argue with that, but something is keeping those expensive camera stores open. 

 

The Net is great IF you have the cheap and efficient transport network US customers seem to enjoy. Personally, I loathe waiting for couriers - I guess its different when ALO can guarantee overnight delivery for 10 bucks. 

post #6 of 36

Market demand is what it is.  If you feel there is a need that isn't being met, by all means, feel free to create a store front that will supply the market with what you feel it is demanding. 

 

The paradigm has already shifted.  People would rather trust other consumers, those who have nothing to gain from sharing information, than those who would sell them something.  In addition to that, brick and mortar stores have overhead and supply chain issues.  Margins on everyday products are lower and lower compared to stores and suppliers who can reach the consumer more directly.  Then you add in that the brick and mortar store also is at a location disadvantage.  The brick and mortar store only has point of sale at one location.  An internet store does not.

 

You seem to enjoy the process of shopping as much as the product itself.  That's great, but know that you do not represent enough of a market demand to be catered to anymore.  Businesses do what they need to do to maximize their profits.  So consumers who want a different experience either have to spend more or adapt.  Few are willing to spend more.


Edited by TWIFOSP - 6/26/12 at 7:34am
post #7 of 36

There are some audio shops in Dallas that have headphones in a demo set up. But they are becoming harder to find. One just went out of business,

The other is dropping Senns and carrying only PSB and Grado cans. I believe there is still another out there, but appointment only.

They are true audio shops with sales people who know audio. Rare indeed.


Edited by ktm - 6/26/12 at 8:36am
post #8 of 36

I did, but in a negligible fraction of instances, and there's always some sort of return policy. The way I look at it, I don't have time to go to a physical store and short of groceries and wholesale club for supplies, online is our main shopping venue (primarily amazon).

 

If you refer to going to a physical store to examine, test and eventually purchase gear, that ship has long sailed for me, for better or worse. I do have some sort of a relationship with a local audio dealer, but I generally avoid him as I dislike paying retail even more than I dislike going to a showroom.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by estreeter View Post

Have you never bought a product online and been underwhelmed by the reality with it in your hands ?

post #9 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by estreeter View Post

but something is keeping those expensive camera stores open.

 

I can only say that most if not all my friends have some sort of camera. Many have even higher end stuff. Continously filling facebook etc with pictures, it's the hobby of today.. and of course you need to buy better gear every few years.

 

Friends having headphones even in modest pocket-camera price range? That's a rarity. Pointless hobby really. Photography is much more creative. ;-)

post #10 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by hekeli View Post

I can only say that most if not all my friends have some sort of camera. Many have even higher end stuff. Continously filling facebook etc with pictures, it's the hobby of today.. and of course you need to buy better gear every few years.

 

Friends having headphones even in modest pocket-camera price range? That's a rarity. Pointless hobby really. Photography is much more creative. ;-)

 

GaaaHHH! Who buys a high end camera just to fill facebook with it?! Aaaargh!

post #11 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Exediron View Post

GaaaHHH! Who buys a high end camera just to fill facebook with it?! Aaaargh!

Everybody.

I did get my old 5D Mk2 at a brick and mortar store, and the 24-105L with it. Maybe some of my other L lenses as well. But as I got into more and more obscure lenses and peripherals obviously the focus shifted to online buying. Fortunately I don't have a Facebook page to pollute with my photographic excretions, nor a site devoted to my laughable attempts at learning landscape photography. Yet.

It's kinda disturbing that as brick and mortar stores - and "in-store expertise," whatever that is - die out, more and more trust will by necessity have to be put into sites like this. That's an awful lot of power put into the hands of FOTM, shills, viral marketers, fanboys, and extremists of every conceivable notion.

Cat is cranky this evening.

On an unrelated rant note, the massive proliferation of entry-level DSLRs and the incredible automation and actual ease of taking technically competent images has made it that much harder for photographers to stand out. Now, you really have to do it artistically, and be that much more above the norm. And with technology developing as fast as it is... this sure is an interesting time, and more than a bit alarming.
post #12 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Exediron View Post

GaaaHHH! Who buys a high end camera just to fill facebook with it?! Aaaargh!
263
post #13 of 36
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Exediron View Post

 

GaaaHHH! Who buys a high end camera just to fill facebook with it?! Aaaargh!

 

YES ! Finally, someone who seems to be on a similar wavelength .....

 

I know nothing about photography, and precious little about audio for that matter - I came to this crazy hobby just a few short years ago with little more than a pair of Sony IEMs and an iPod. I still have no desire to spend thousands on phono cartridges or other exotica - even if I HAD that sort of disposable income - but I can definitely see how people find themselves sucked into that vortex. Can I see myself throwing out my 'point and shoot' Canon for several K worth of 'good' camera gear and progressively upgrading my rig each year ? No. 

 

If I did venture into one of  the aforementioned camera franchises knowing something about the stock I was looking at, I suspect that I would find the photographic equivalent of a Richer Sounds - a bit of everything, but not seriously high-end. 

 

http://www.richersounds.com/

 

This is the Richer Sounds 'store network':

 

sfhome.gif

 

I've never been into a Richer Sounds in my life, and my opinion of their Cambridge Audio lineup varies with each model, but how many here would relish the opportunity to audition CA alongside Marantz and other mid-fi brands ? I doubt that you will find anything frrom Burmester or Sonus Faber (or Audez'e ,,,,,,) in those stores. just as I doubt that you will find high-end Leica in one of the aforementioned camera franchises. This isnt about high-end - its not even about headphones - and its not about the death of brick-and-mortar retail for everything other than fashion and hair care. Its about the reality, at least in Oz, that several businesses can find customers who are willing to spend a couple of thousand dollars at a time on 'mid-fi electronics' - isnt that what your entry-level DSLR is ? - but continue to settle for Apple earbuds or perhaps a hundred dollar pair of IEMs. Head-Fi isnt the only audio forum where I find folk who are addicted to both hobbies - not by a long shot - but it doesnt seem to go the other way. Go into a newsagent (I think they are called 'newstands' or bookshops in the US) and you will find a few hi-fi mags right next to a slew of photography titles - publishers can clearly see the link. 

 

I expect that  there are other factors at play here - trying to find floorspace for speakers and speaker amps is always going to be tougher than setting up display cases for cameras and lenses. How many power sockets do you need for a camera store - 4 or 5 ?  I also think the 'tyre-kicker' issue I highlighted earlier would be much worse for audio - charging people to audition your gear ('refundable on a sale over $100' would work for me) seems like good business sense to me (Headphonic will let you audition IEMs if you are willing to pay them for the tips - again, perfectly reasonable for mine).I saw a post on AudioKarma where someone claimed to have taken his CDP and amp into a store and spent an entire morning auditioning their speakers, leaving empty-handed - how many retailers would be willing to put up with that ? This guy has plugged into their power for several hours, blasted music through their speakers then walked out without buying anything - tell me how many businesses would accept that ? 

 

I do know what the 'old school' personal relationship was all about, but I cant see David at Caxton Audio in Brisbane putting up with 'customers' like our AK friend. Notoriously temperamental at the best of times, I expect that he has longtime customers who are given the option of home demoing gear, but these are people who have no problem signing cheques with lots of zeroes before the decimal point. Move away from that to another big ticket arena - AV gear - and there is a clear gap between the HTiB customer and those who are willing to shell out thousands for a multi-channel system. but brick-and-mortar businesses still exist in the CBD for the latter 'cashed-up' customer who wants an in-store experience. 

 

When I walk into Piyanas Electrics in Bangkok, I fully expect to see all of the brands on their website:

 

http://www.piyanas.com/showroom/en/product.html?page=shop.browse&category_id=260

 

I wont be paying 1.6 million baht (close to 50K AUD) for the ProAc Carbon Pro 8 they have on the website, but it will still be a novelty to see them in the flesh (I suspect that I've heard more expensive speakers at Caxton, but my recollection fades with time). The opportunity to audition bookshelves from Acoustic Energy, KEF and Dynaudio with amplification from Marantz and Rotel, however, is definitely on my agenda. Not practical for most tourists, but by that stage I will be living in Thailand - I look forward to posting my impressions of the whole experience. DACs, headphones and headphone amps will still have to be imported (37.5% Customs Duty and VAT..) without even having heard them, but at least I will have other options when it comes to a speaker rig. Feet, stop dancing.  bigsmile_face.gif

 

You wont find any of this in the Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane CBDs - happy to hear otherwise. Photos from 3 Piyanas showrooms. 

 

 

7.jpg

 

023.jpg

 

016.jpg

post #14 of 36
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by catscratch View Post


On an unrelated rant note, the massive proliferation of entry-level DSLRs and the incredible automation and actual ease of taking technically competent images has made it that much harder for photographers to stand out. Now, you really have to do it artistically, and be that much more above the norm. And with technology developing as fast as it is... this sure is an interesting time, and more than a bit alarming.

 

Can you see the parallels with audio ? How many cling to vinyl and tube amps not only for their sonic attributes but as a means of separating themselves from the ubiquitous nature of digital audio ? How many take real joy in knowing that their amp had to be modded/biased and maintained (tubes need replacing, silicon doesnt) to give them the experience they currently enjoy ? 

 

None of this is a criticism of the fetishism attached to either hobby, but how many people still have a DEC PDP-8 mini-computer in their basement ? This was a legend at the time, and is still fondly remembered by many in the industry:

 

247763pdp8.jpg

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PDP-8

 

And from a much earlier timeframe:

 

fva-630-leica-1923-series-0-camera-credit-westlicht-photographica-auction.jpg

 

1923 and 2.8 million USD. Want something a little more up-to-date:

 

V1610-frontleft-mainpic.jpg

 

100K USD - hey, at least we are getting a little more bang for our buck, right ? Who the hell wants a 1923 Leica anyway ?

 

Both are silly examples for the purpose of this discussion. Something that I MIGHT find in one of the aforementioned camera franchises, the Nikon D3S:

 

Front.jpg

 

Around 5K AUD, body only, online - I'm sure you can find it cheaper, but thats not my point. My point is that there is a market for each of these cameras, but you can still walk into a brick-and-mortar store in many parts of the world and ask to see that Nikon. If you have a reasonable limit on your credit card, you might even walk out of the store with the thing in a box. Try doing the same thing with any circa-5K 2-channel audio component you care to nominate - unless it does double-duty in an AV rig, chances are you will be SOL. On one hand, we have (presumably) savvy camera buyers who accept that the gear costs serious money and on the other a dribbling public who wants nothing more than a boombox to plug into their TV. Doof-doof-doof - what more do you need ? 

 

Unless you have the good fortune to live near one of the stores I mentioned earlier, auditioning 2-channel audio in a store is almost certainly a fantasy. Every time someone advises me, here or on AK, to go and audition as many 'whatever' as possible, I shall refer them to this thread, Camera lovers, rejoice - your cup runneth over. Lets hope it stays that way, 


Edited by estreeter - 6/26/12 at 4:39pm
post #15 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by estreeter View Post

Can neither of you see that BOTH photography and audio are niche markets, yet one can still support retail outlets with (presumably) knowledgeable staff and give the customer the ability to actually see what they are buying ? Have you never bought a product online and been underwhelmed by the reality with it in your hands ? Does it not seem strange that the UK has several retail chains which specialise in 2-channel audio yet such a business model seems extinct in many other parts of the world in 2012 ? Here in Oz, they have moved to AV and largely abandoned 2-channel. Innumerable threads here and elsewhere recommending that we audition as many products as possible, and you're telling me that the move to online-only is a natural progression - financially, I cant argue with that, but something is keeping those expensive camera stores open. 

 

The Net is great IF you have the cheap and efficient transport network US customers seem to enjoy. Personally, I loathe waiting for couriers - I guess its different when ALO can guarantee overnight delivery for 10 bucks. 

 

I actually think in theory the case is much stronger for the dedicated audio shop, rather than the camera shop. If I'm looking for a new camera, I want to see reviews from DPReview and Imaging Resource, or for lenses, Photozone. Why should I care what Joe Idiot who works at Ritz Camera and makes $10/hr thinks? What possible "help" could he provide?

 

Cameras are much more objective products than audio equipment, and so the need to "experience" them before buying is reduced considerably. You can prove with studio comparison shots that one camera is better at resolving pixel level detail than another, or has better noise handling, or a better jpeg engine. Buy the camera with better performance from Amazon, and if you think the grip is uncomfortable or something like that, send it back. 

 

Audio equipment doesn't really work that way. You can't point to Stereophile measurements of one speaker vs. another and say "oh that one's better, I'll get that one". You can go to an audio shop if there's one anywhere near you, but chances are unless its a big dealer, they'll carry maybe a dozen brands which is hardly representative of what's available.

 

With the situation the way it is, you really have two options. One, go to a lot of shows like RMAF, THE, etc. This lets you see FAR more products than would be available at a dealer, and it can help you narrow down what you want and what you don't. Show conditions aren't perfect, but a dealer's show room won't sound like your own living room either. The other is to buy direct from a company like Salk or Tyler Acoustics. You have to pay the shipping which can be considerable for one of the huge Tyler floorstanders if you decide you don't like it, but that may be preferable to driving hundreds of miles to go to an audio shop only to find nothing good there, and if you DO like the Tyler speaker, you aren't forced to pay dealer markup.

 

For headphones, those of us in the US now have the option of try before you buy from The Cable Company. It's not free, you have to pay 5% of the cost to try the headphone for a few weeks, but you can then put that fee towards anything you then do decide to buy from TCC.

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