Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Decide What to Be and Go Be It

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.

[Image credit: Ric Stultz.]

It's not that sales are down at the Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe in Harlem. In fact, co-owner Marva Allen told Marketplace Radio that "sales are up 37 percent." Though currently successful, the store is ceasing 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 CD market share, 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. Develop and execute a sustainable vision.

            Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #39            

Artist: Linda Ronstadt
Title: What's New
Genre: Vocal
Year: 1983

At the height of her popularity, Linda Ronstadt recognized that her business model — "rocker chick" — was unsustainable. Abruptly changing direction, What's New was the first of a three-album series of American standards featuring Ms. Ronstadt backed by Nelson Riddle and His Orchestra, followed by Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons. As she told inteviewer Peter Sagal in 2007, "I needed a catalog of songs I could still perform when I got old."

© 2012 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.


  1. Update: On August 23, 2012 UK retailer announced it would close its MP3 store to focus on internet radio acquisition We7 as its primary growth strategy. Downloads are a maturing product, most of the market share has been commandeered by Apple and Amazon, and significant new capital investment in areas like cloud storage and mobile ecosystems are required to stay competitive.

  2. On October 18, 2012 Newsweek magazine announced it would cease its print edition as of December 31, 2012. It will continue as an online-only publication.