Author Alistair MacLeod once said starting to write a story without a vision of its ending to guide him was like handing a cabdriver $20 and saying, “take me somewhere.” I was reminded of this when the largest African-American-owned bookstore in the USA abruptly announced it would close. If you are in either the music or consumer audio industry, there is a lesson here for you.
It’s not that sales are down at the Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe in Harlem. In fact, co-owner Marva Allen said in a Marketplace Radio interview that “sales are up 37 percent.” Though currently successful, the store ceased operations because the owners recognized their business model is unsustainable in the long term.
This would be a sad end if Ms. Allen was solely in the business of selling books. But if, as she says, her vision is giving ethnic writers an advantage in the global marketplace, while preserving [books’] purpose of entertaining, imparting knowledge and honing creativity, then operating a bricks-and-mortar bookstore in one New York City location is now an impediment rather than an enabler. Closing it to pursue new projects, though painful, was the only choice to sustain the vision. Read her farewell manifesto.
How does this relate to music and consumer audio?
- If you are in the business of selling music on CD, your business model is unsustainable … industry reports show not only declining sales, but an accelerating rate of decline.
- If your business is manufacturing audio components designed for customers who play physical media in dedicated home listening rooms, your business model is unsustainable … the mobile generation doesn’t listen this way and may still not listen this way even after they start nesting.
- If you are selling MP3-quality digital audio downloads, the rise of similar-quality streaming services may soon make your business model unsustainable … a post-iTunes world is distinctly possible.
- If you are aksing listeners to pay for MP3-quality streaming, your business model is unsustainable … the software industry would call this a “reader,” and the reader is always free.
To survive long-term, look beyond your current business. Ask yourself: what is your vision?
[About the author. Consumer Electronics and Software industry veteran Tom Dennehy publishes the online journal Surface to Air, triangulating among ideas and events at the intersection of the analog music past and the digital future. Follow him on Twitter @InAurem_a2d.]