The High End has reached a new low, one characterized by "existential angst." That's how Lawrence M. Fisher of the New York Times describes the industry's ongoing malaise. In a well-researched and well-written piece that appeared last Thursday, July 9, Fisher cites "demographic and economic issues beyond its control and technological trends that threaten its very relevance." He mentions the economic crisis in Asia---destination for a large proportion of American high-end audio products---as a major contributing factor to the stagnation in which much of the industry is mired.
The Recording Industry of America's ongoing pursuit of music pirates bore fruit last week on Tuesday, July 7, when the organization collected $750,000 in settlements from three companies that had produced and marketed CD compilations of hit records. The RIAA also received $20,000 in restitution from Lloyd Schiffres, owner of Top Hat Productions, a disc-jockey supply house. Schiffres, who has been arrested three times, handed over 31 sets of his For DJs Only compilations.
In a move that acknowledges the increasing convergence of consumer electronics and computer technology, Sony Electronics has reorganized its US sales and marketing structure, and will emphasize digital performance in its new line of products. Foremost among these developments is Sony's recent announcement that its new line of audio and video products will prominently feature its VAIO personal computers. The notebook computers have editing features for video and motion-picture technology, and are quite popular in Japan, where around 100,000 have been sold.
The Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association's recently released U.S. Consumer Electronics Industry Today indicates a healthy glow on the cheeks of specialty audio. US exports of component audio products amounted to $2.12 billion in 1997, an increase of 12% over the previous year's total of $1.89 billion. 1997's total represents a 25% increase over 1995, when almost $1.7 billion in separate audio products went out of the country. The figures are compiled by CEMA from US Department of Commerce figures.
Following a recent announcement of "diminished expectations" for the near future (see previous story) and a shakeup of upper management---in which Consumer Group marketing honcho Tom Jacoby was put out to pasture and audio guru Floyd Toole was promoted to senior vice president of acoustic and transducer engineering---Harman International Industries has put the finishing touches on a new 10,000-square-foot audio laboratory. At company headquarters in Northridge, CA, north of Los Angeles, the laboratory includes a 10,000-cubic-foot anechoic chamber for testing and measuring loudspeakers, and a multichannel room with computer-controlled, hydraulically operated platforms for positioning front left, center, and right speakers (a reviewer's dream!).
In a move that is likely to push record labels into the uncharted territory of direct sales, BMG has announced its intention to add in-house sales to its network of music sites. "BMG will be moving in the fall to its own fulfillment capability because of the demands of consumers," said senior vice president Scott Dinsdale at the Business Online 98 conference in San Francisco last week.
Fiscal year 1998 will be one of diminished expectations for Harman International Industries, Chairman Dr. Sidney Harman announced last week to assembled analysts and fund managers at a meeting in New York. He laid much of the blame on the continuing economic slump in Asia.
Digital radio company American Mobile Radio Corporation announced last Wednesday that it has exercised a $52.9 million option to upgrade its satellites. The move will potentially double the channel capacity of AMRC's nationwide satellite-direct audio radio service (SDARS), scheduled for the year 2000.
The "world's largest bookstore" may be on its way to becoming one of the biggest music stores, too. Two weeks ago, Amazon.com began a big push into CD retailing, more than doubling the number of its musical offerings to over 100,000 titles. (Competitor CDnow offers over 500,000 titles.) Visitors to the Amazon website can now click on a tab that will take them to a new music site, where they can listen to audio previews and read reviews, reprints of articles on bands and musicians, and music-industry news.
On June 7, CDnow, the world's top online music retailer, announced that it had acquired superSonicBOOM, an Internet custom-compilation disc business. The acquisition gives CDnow the ability to offer its customers custom discs as well as catalog product, said Jason Olim, CDnow President and CEO.