(Original letter below)
Hello, everyone. Josh from SonicFlare here. I feel I need to chime in with my SonicFlare experiences because, for the last six months, I've engaged in audio-specific outreach and you may be interested in some of the conclusions I've reached about the future of hi-fi.
If you're not aware, I created SonicFlare to provide a connection between the audiophile world and everyone else. Short, sweet and as trendy as possible is the motto. After a few months, I made connections with pop culture websites and began building a readership of potential next-generation hi-fi consumers. However, it became painfully obvious that no amount of outreach could make a difference because, as we know, this industry does not speak "consumer," it speaks "audiophile."
To give an example of the problem, I landed the Shanling T300 CD player in Wired magazine's coolest products of 2005 (no financial benefit to myself, mind you, but just to push the cause). And yet, not a single soul could go to Shanling's site and figure out how to build an audio system (let alone give a rip about silver wiring and teflon caps). It was a waste, as is practically all the outreach I've done, of which I've pushed maybe two dozen products into non-audio publications (internet or otherwise).
Simply, the barriers to entry are just too damn huge. The difficulty in building a system is more than huge, it's impossible. The truth is, of course, audiophiles love the idea of system-building as if it were a kind of magical art (which it is). But since the entire industry is built around separates instead of systems, it is truly impossible for a newbie to figure out what the heck they should buy. Moreover, magical system-building is a moving target with absolutely zero consensus. We as audiophiles may love the ever-changing dynamic of hi-fi, but it's cold water to Average Joe consumer.
So my problem with SonicFlare is not outreach, but product. I can push new product out there all day long but there simply isn't enough next gen-specific product out there for me to push. Props to Stereophile for their lower-priced gear and other iPod-related reviews in the last issue but even a mag like What Hi-Fi with their hundreds of reviews in all price ranges is ultimately limited by the industry itself, not outreach.
However, I do believe there are ways for publications to speak directly to the next gen of consumers. My goal for SonicFlare is to begin creating this new content but, naturally, I'm hampered by funds, staff and time. And, of course, I can do all the outreach in the world (as can an association by throwing ad $ in every direction) but it is ultimately meaningless if the products the new blood are directed back to are impossible to comprehend, impossible to match and impossible to buy. I've stopped all SonicFlare outreach until this inbound traffic can be converted in a positive way.
That said, please don't think I blame the manufacturers for the problems, they simply don't have the resources to go after outside customers. Nor do I blame the mags. Actually, I don't place any blame for hi-fi devolving into a language only a tiny segment of the consumers can understand. Sure, there are those that started the trend, but I don't believe it was malicious by any means. Rather, they were motivated by a passion for audio that spiraled out of control and, well, here we are speaking gibberish.
In any case, I believe that while this separatist, audiophile-centric mentality reigns, hi-fi will continue to shrivel. Audio must be as easy as buying a car (annoying salesmen aside), clothing or jewelry and just as easy to understand. We must speak the consumer language, not try and make them speak ours.
Additionally, there seems to be some significant disagreement about the potential market for hi-fi and just what the new hi-fi consumer should look like. I believe everyone who spends money on luxury goods is a potential consumer. Though some disagree, sports cars, designer clothing, lux watches, plasma TVs, etc. are all industry models for high-end audio. I've never driven a Ferrari, Porsche or a BMW and yet I want one. Why? Marketing. Image. No one should ever have to hear Alexandria X-2s to believe they're good. Hell, they lust after Bose and spend $2000 on the laughable 3-2-1 system, so why is it so hard to believe they'll lust after a $4000, $10k or even $100k system? They will if it's marketed correctly. I speak to non-audiophiles all the time, pitch them on the hi-fi sound, show them some pictures and they say, "Bose is terrible? God, I didn't know! I love music and I'm ready to drop 2-5 grand right now! What is the best system and where can I get it???" And I don't have an answer.
Consumers have no problem coveting a million dollar Bugatti but they laugh at $2000 speakers. Whose fault is that? Not theirs. Ours.
Naturally, I disagree that we're selling an "experience" and not an "image." In fact, I would argue that if hi-fi is to ever be as big as sports cars, watches and clothing, it must sell an image, even if the image is "the best in the world" or, at least, "better than Bose." There also seems to be a prevailing attitude that hi-fi should never have anything to do with pop culture, especially hip hop. I'm not above rap music and neither is Rolls Royce, Bentley and, you know, Apple, Bose and Bang and Olufsen. It seems some are actually bothered by the idea of selling equipment to people who don't care about the the sonic differences between tubes and transistors.
We must market to people who will never, ever, ever be audiophiles. That doesn't mean they don't enjoy music, just that they don't have the time or passion to dig deeper. And trying to educate consumers and turn them into old school audiophiles seems like a denial of the shortcomings of our industry. We must adapt to the consumers, not the other way around.
At least, those my thoughts after the SonicFlare experiment. I may be way off base but I'd feel irresponsible if I didn't call it like I see it.
All the best,