A home for missing comments

It appears that this post won’t accept new comments (or accepts, and counts, but doesn’t display them).

That may be a consequence of the work needed to rescue the blog after incredibly heavy traffic (related to that post) shut it down.

So, well, feel free to add your appropriate comments here.

For starters, here are two comments received but apparently not visible:

From El Aura:

Blu-ray probably will not be as successful (ie, reaching the same market share) as the DVD because DVDs are in a sense ‘good enough’ and because of the competition from downloads. That is what is compared against, its predecessor.
The predecessor for the Kindle are some earlier Sony eBook devices.

Any judgement or classification needs a benchmark.

From Steven Kaye:

To be fair, there’s also skepticism that Blu-Ray won’t be replaced by yet another format in short order, while Kindles can read a variety of file formats.

My responses:

To El Aura: I think that’s an awfully high benchmark for “success.” I’d suggest that Blu-ray is a success if it’s profitable and achieves mass-market status. (Most companies these days would be delighted with the first criterion…and there are a lot of niche success stories.) I’d also suggest that the predecessor for the Kindle is the Rocket eBook Reader; the Sony is a contemporary competitor. (And at $280 at Target in today’s flyer, I would suggest that Sony hasn’t given up the competition.)

To Steven: Really? I haven’t heard many suggestions of any new physical video format–and Blu-ray players are fully backward compatible with CD and DVD, with most of them also able to handle MP3 CDs, so they can certainly read a variety of file formats. There may be skepticism–but there are also sales an order of magnitude greater than Kindle (that is, >10x as many).

From Russell Frost:

Inevitable can be a difficult word.  It’s a sword that cuts several ways.

Extend the graph of vinyl sales back just a little beyond the convenient of 1991 and it’s clear where that format is headed.  Go back just one year, to 1990, and total vinyl LP sales were 38 million.  Getting excited about 1.88 million vinyl LP sales is something, relative to a specific time period but it’s an awfully tiny share of the market.  As you said, “small business”.  Add in the fact that those 1.88 million pieces were shared between a dozen or more companies and then ponder that the two million piece sales mark was a respectable hit for a single title from one artist but by no means a blockbuster a mere twenty years ago and you have, perhaps, some better perspective on vinyl sales.  Keep in mind that even during the early boom years of the CD vinyl sales were in the hundreds of millions.  In the three years from 2005 to 2008, digital download sales went from (as charted by the RIAA) zero to over 50 million.

Vinyl is cool and there is a case to be made for the album format as it relates to some music.  The idea however that vinyl is resurgent in any real sense of the word is silly.  At least at this point and I would tend to think, forever.  LPs died for a reason and that reason is usually ignored by the more romantic amongst us who are either fans of the medium or simply misinformed.  It doesn’t surprise me that maybe 50,000 or 60,000 people still buy vinyl but again, that’s very small potatoes in the context of the US market.

And make no mistake the public walked away from the vinyl LP format because the vast majority of people felt they were served better by different technology.  And in most senses, I would tend to agree with them.

So when discussing perceptions versus reality I would gently suggest that perhaps the vinyl LP example did not demonstrate what you intended.

My response: I’m one of those who abandoned vinyl and never looked back. My comment in the original post may have been misleading, but what I was saying is that vinyl did not die, even though its role in the marketplace changed from being a major force to a niche market. (I was about to say “the dominant playback medium,” but fact is audiocassettes outsold vinyl before CDs came along!)

You’re absolutely right that LPs are no longer a major market, and probably never will be. But they’re not dead. They’ve become an interesting little niche market. There are lots of interesting little niche markets around…if you believe some who throw around the word “inevitable,” everything’s becoming a niche market anyway.

2 Responses to “A home for missing comments”

  1. russell frost Says:

    Walt, thanks for resurrecting this interesting discussion.

    With regard to Blu-Ray, there are few factors at work here. I think the most overlooked is just plain customer fatigue. The American video consumer has been bombarded with video formats for the last twenty-five years. VHS, Beta, C.E.D., LaserDisc, DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray to name just the formats featuring pre-recorded content. So I think the American consumer is, quite justifiably, sitting back to see what happens. Blu-Ray discs are too expensive. The hardware is only now reaching the point where it will become a more common or mass market item. Add in the specter of digital download and you have a scenario where Blu-Ray is received with as much cynicism as excitement.

    I don’t want to beat the LP thing to death but I want to add that I’ve heard the whole “LP Comeback” so many times I’ve tired of it and probably was a tad more strident than I intended to be. LPs were a romantic and very satisfying media in some ways even given their many inherent and I would add, fatal, flaws but with less than 1% percent of the market I’m not sure if they even merit even a “niche market” designation.

    As for ebooks and the Kindle, I have my own opinions as a consumer. The main thing holding me back is pricing of the content. I won’t pay $19 for a digital download when I can buy a physical copy for about the same price. This is the thing the publishers have not come to grips with yet (the same could be said of the dying music industry). And while I love physical books, the idea that I could have my entire library in one device is quite appealing. The problem is, I won’t spend thousands of dollars to reload that library onto a Kindle just for convenience sake. I’d rather spend those thousands on new books. I wonder how many other people share those feelings?

    And frankly, I wouldn’t even contemplate making the conversion for at least five years. I think then we’ll see better screens and possibly a more uniform standard of epublishing which would make devices such as the Kindle more appealing, to me at least. Amazon has made some smart first steps with the Kindle such as making their content available to customer’s across different hardware platforms (you can read your ebooks on the Kindle or an iPhone, if you want to). As terrible as the iPhone is for reading books, it is a smart move.

    The big hurdle, again, from an rather uninformed consumer standpoint, is that musical artists have other avenues to make money from their content. They could, arguably, give away their music digitally and make money performing and selling merchandise. Authors, not so much. So where the revenue is going to come from to help ebook pricing come down to a level that makes the format more enticing to the average consumer is going to be interesting. I don’t know the answer.

    Thanks again Walt for reposting my comment and for an interesting thread.

  2. walt Says:

    Russell,

    If you’re saying that *none* of these three is a game-changer at this point, I agree. My basic point all along was that there’s something wrong when Kindle, with half a million sales (maybe: Amazon still won’t say) is heralded as a game-changer, while Blu-ray, with ten million sales, is yawned at. Fact is, people are buying Blu-ray players and discs in substantial quantities, already up to something like 9% of the video disc market. Is it going to replace DVD in any near future? Only if publishers force it by stopping DVD production (as they did with VHS), and I don’t see that happening.

    I also fully agree with your penultimate paragraph–and as a sometimes author, it’s my main reason for poking fun at Chris Anderson and “free everything”: It doesn’t work for most authors.

    As for “niche market”–there, I’d disagree. Not that vinyl is going to make some enormous comeback (that seems unlikely), but to me, a niche market can be as small as you want, if it’s sustainable and profitable. 60,000 people is WAY more than enough, if they’re the right 60,000. But it’s really a matter of definition, and not worth arguing–and, as I say, I’m not one of those who either thinks vinyl is the holy grail of audio or who thinks it’s going to make a dramatic comeback in terms of overall market penetration.


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