By Roger Skoff
If I remember correctly, the ticket price for the last major-magazine-sponsored HiFi Show that I went to was $35 for one day and $75 for all three days of the event. If that’s even close, that price ― especially considering the number of years ago ― was A LOT more expensive than a movie ticket, and was edging right up there into the Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Six Flags range.
What pricing like that meant was that, if a guy were to bring his wife or girlfriend ― just for one day ― and have a meal or even just a drink or two before, at, or after the Show, the cost to him would probably be somewhere in the range of $100 or more (2 tickets @ $35 each = $70 plus $30 for meals and/or drinks for two people = $100).
It also meant that a whole lot of people who might otherwise have attended the show probably didn’t go: Popping a hundred bucks just to see and hear audio equipment (and not even buy any) might have been just fine for a well-heeled audiophile, but if that audiophile were not so well-heeled, even if he did go to the Show, he might not have brought his lady with him. And a non-audiophile — just a guy looking for something to do for a day or an early evening of fun, with or without a companion — might very well have thought that even just the $35 ticket price was way too much for what he would be getting, and opted, instead, for a movie and a meal (and maybe even a beer or two) for the same money.
So, if a too-high ticket price can drive people away from a Show, what’s the right price for a consumer HiFi Show ticket? Should it be free?
I don’t think so. At no charge for a visitor ticket, visitors can and probably WILL get the idea that the Show isn’t worth paying for, or at least that it isn’t “special”, and will – just as they do for so many of every city’s free events, stay away in droves. Also, if there’s no charge for a ticket, the Show’s promoters, who really DO have to be able to “make a buck” or there will be no Show, will have to charge so much to each of the exhibitors that – unless those exhibitors can be guaranteed a truly colossal turnout – they won’t attend, and, again, there will be no Show.
So, if not free, then how much should a ticket be? Maybe, by this point, you won’t be surprised when I suggest that it should be the lowest price practical: Probably something in the range of $5.00 to $7.00, but, whatever the actual figure is, it should be definitely and obviously cheaper than a movie ticket.
At a price like that, everybody wins: The rich guy is happy because he gets a discount; the less-than-rich guy who would have gone anyway, but would have gone by himself, can now bring his wife or girlfriend with him or have some money left in his pocket to buy a meal or a CD; the guy who’s “a little bit” interested in HiFi, but who wouldn’t have gone because (at those earlier higher ticket prices), it was too expensive, will go and – because nobody ever likes to do such things by himself, will probably try to line up some guys or a girl to go with him; most importantly, guys (and maybe even whole families) who have no special interest in HiFi at all (but no aversion to it, either), and are looking for something that’s new, that might be interesting and fun, and that’s affordable, might very well choose to go to a HiFi Show ― especially if there’s an interesting door prize or interesting live entertainment and it’s either cheaper than a movie or no good new movies are playing.
That’s just at the consumer level. To the exhibitors, all those extra bodies lined up at the ticket window mean more of an audience to show their products to and more potential customers to buy them. To the concessionaires, it’s more people (whether exhibitors or visitors) to sell food or drinks to. To the promoters, more people buying lower-priced tickets gives the same or more total revenue as fewer people buying tickets at a higher price, plus the greater attendance means they can charge the exhibitors more for their rooms or spaces and the exhibitors will be glad to pay it because (just for example), even at a 30% higher room-rate, having 50% more people come to their room will still cost them less per person for a chance to do much more business.
It’s the Industry, though, that’s really the biggest winner of all: Getting more people in to hear better sound than they’ve ever heard before means that more people will have the chance to become “hooked” on our great hobby and will want to buy new toys and goodies and, with the zeal of the newly converted, want to pull their friends and family in after them!
Actually, instead of the Industry, maybe it’s really those new audiophiles having a whole new world of experience and involvement open up before them who are the biggest winners of all!
Getting all those new warm bodies and full wallets into the Show and the exhibitors’ rooms will certainly be helped by lower ticket prices, but if nobody knows about those new prices, they still won’t do any good at all. There needs to be pre-Show promotion, and LOTS of it, in every available medium, including the local newspapers, radio, cable TV, promotions through local dealers, strategic alliances with other local businesses (record and software dealers, for example), the social media and – yes, I DO mean this ― on-screen ads before the trailers at local movie theaters (it’s cheap and effective; DO IT!), offering moviegoers the opportunity to hear better sound than they’ve ever heard before.
Sounds expensive? Consider it to be a self-fulfilling prophesy: The more promotion there is, the more tickets are likely to be sold, and the more tickets are sold, the cheaper the price can be and the cheaper the tickets are, the more people are likely to buy them. And around and around and around, and the more money everybody will make; both the exhibitors and the promoters.
One reason for this is that the more people who attend because of effective promotion instead of just because they’re HiFi buffs and would have gone anyway, the more wives and girlfriends are likely to be there and, as car dealers have always known, a man who has his lady with him is MUCH more likely to buy something than the man by himself, if for no reason other than that it rules out the classic stall, “Well, I love it, but I’ve got to talk it over with the little lady”, and makes it much more likely for the man (or the couple) to make a buying decision on the spot. Even if no actual selling is done at the Show, having the attendee’s “significant other” there so a dealer can invite both people to his store for a private listening session after the Show makes that listening session and a subsequent sale a whole lot more likely to happen.
Another thing about having more non-audiophiles at the Show that makes doing good on-site and after-or-away-from-the-Show “invitational” business more likely is that “newbies” or people who’ve never heard really good sound before are much more likely to be impressed with what they hear at a show than are experienced audiophiles.
As serious HiFi buffs, we know what to listen for in auditioning new equipment or software. That’s why we so often complain or hear complaints from our friends and colleagues about the quality of the sound that’s likely to be heard at Shows: The rooms are not great, either in size, shape, or acoustics; the set-ups are, at best, hurried, and often inexpert or inadequate; and even if a room DOES sound good, the likelihood of everybody in it finding a seat anywhere near the “sweet spot” so they can all enjoy the demonstration system’s imaging and soundstaging abilities to their fullest simply doesn’t exist. For audiophiles, that’s a problem, and frankly, it limits the value of a Show as a place to go and audition potentially interesting new toys.
For newbies and audio innocents, though – exactly the kinds of people our hobby and our industry needs to attract – it’s no problem at all! They’ve never even heard of imaging or soundstaging and, until they actually get into the hobby, about the only things they know to listen for are “clarity”, “BIG” (but not necessarily deep) bass, and LOUD, and those can all be heard, even in a not very good room, from a not very good seating (or even standing) position, and what they DO hear will still impress them enough that a good many may decide that they need to buy a system of their own.
Think of the sound that most non-audiophiles ― meaning the absolutely overwhelming majority of people out there ― have heard: For most of them, most of their music comes from their car radio or their television set; the very best sound they’ve ever heard was either in a movie theater or at some kind of concert (neither of which is renowned for its imaging or soundstaging characteristics), and the deepest bass they’ve ever heard may either have been from some “boomer” car stereo, the PA system at a rock concert, or the organ at their church (none of which is likely to offer – unless their church has an unusually fine pipe organ – particularly deep bass).
What that all means is that, if we can get them to come and listen, even Show sonics that knowledgeable audiophiles find disappointing, might very well knock newbies’ socks off and have them eager to come and join us in our hobby!
Shows have already substantially lowered their price of admission. With tickets to the 2013 T.H.E. Newport Show at $15 for a one day pass and $40 for the whole three days and RMAF even lower, at $10 for one day and $25 for the entire event, they’re approaching or even lower than some movie ticket pricing, but may still have a little way to go before reaching the ideal. T.H.E. Newport Show has also broadened its appeal by including, in addition to the latest and greatest in High-End and personal audio equipment and software, near constant live entertainment, exotic cars, and even cigars, fine wines, and other “lifestyle” items (Word has it that gourmet chocolates may be one of the next new attractions), to effectively bring in an ever-growing audience, not just of audiophiles, but of people with a broad spectrum of incomes and interests.
Congratulations to the producers and sponsors of all of the growing number of High-End Audio Shows across the country; to the exhibitors who will show at them; and to all of us who will, one way or another, benefit from them and from all of the new people they will attract to our hobby and our industry.
It looks like we’re finally learning how to do it right!
About the Author
Roger Skoff was founder and designer for XLO Electric, which he sold in 2002. His first published writings were in the field of consumer electronics, where he was a reviewer for Sounds Like… Magazine, a consumer audio publication, and later became Editor of Sounds Like…News, an industry publication in the same field. In whatever spare time he has from his current consulting activities and ongoing research in cable physics, he writes for Part-Time Audiophile, Audiophile Review, Positive Feedback Online, and Enjoy The Music.