Just about 2 years ago, the DJ world was rocked to its core with the news that the founding father, indeed the corner-stone of the DJ scene was shutting up shop. Panasonic had kept things going for as long as they could, but with the global economy being in the toilet, and the continuing onslaught of digital technology hammering nails in the coffin each day, the decision was taken to retire the mighty Technics brand.
After a flurry of online activity, with alleged confirmation coming from diverse sources all over the world, it was only after prompting Panasonic UK via Twitter that finally saw official confirmation appear on the Panasonic site. This was greeted with a wide range of responses – some emotional, some practical, and some knee jerk proclaiming the end of DJing. So what has really happened in this post-Technics world?
Why did Technics have to die?
Firstly, we need to understand the non-romantic hard-nosed business process behind the decision to close down Technics brand. If we look back 10 years, every DJ worth their salt was buying turntables. And then CDJs came along, thus turning the previously vinyl and turntable dominated DJ world on its head. Slowly but surely the hot release images in DJ Mag turned from record labels to CD covers, clearly indicating the way things were heading. And the sales of turntables reflected this too.
And then came controllers. Turntables were struggling to hold their own against CDJs, and the entry-level market had no reason to “keep it real”, especially as their whole life and music collection was in the modern form of a download. And while DVS systems kept turntable sales just about ticking over, it was clear that some cold hard decisions needed to be made. And that’s what Panasonic did. If even they couldn’t sell enough decks to be profitable, then nobody could.
So despite the iconic image, the heritage and outright cool factor of the Technics badge, at a time when people were losing jobs and more profitable divisions are being closed down, there was little business sense in keeping the brand going. It’s not like there’s a big Technics machine where you type in a number and out the other end comes another 1000 spanking new 1200s – there’s a whole world of production concerns such as renewing expensive tooling, setting up a production line to run another batch of decks, as well as making special orders for parts, and we also have to factor in the spiralling increases in raw materials and shipping around the world. And although many of you wouldn’t think so, the exchange rate makes a big difference as well.
There are no economies of scale when it comes to knocking out a the limited quantities that the market was wanting. So the advance of digital technology and the global economy meant that it simply wasn’t feasible to keep Technics going.
Where are we now?
Looking over a 5 year period, we can paint some broad strokes about trends. Despite the demise of the mighty 1200s, nobody has really picked up the slack. Sales figures for other brands look pretty consistent, but still a fraction of their heyday. From an all brand turntable perspective, over a 5 year period we’re talking about dropping to an estimated 3K units globally per year, and that includes all the USB types as well. So post-October 2010 (the alleged end of days), sales have dropped overall, but people are still buying turntables, just not in the quantities they used to.
Media players continue to sell well – again, not quite in the numbers that the original CDJs did, but good enough for companies to keep making them. I see this as users having dropped quite a lot of cash on the original ones, and not having a compelling reason to upgrade. Indeed, I’d say many are not even looking to upgrade their OG CDJs and are migrating to controllers.
And this is where the real eye opener is – sales figures for controllers are insane. Over a 5 year period (probably from the start of the Vestax VCI-100), sales have exploded by 500%, and currently outsell all other major product groups put together. It would be indiscreet of me to highlight brands and actual sales numbers, but it goes without saying that controllers are where its at these days.
What of Technics in the market place?
There are still some in the retail chain, albeit in single numbers, but selling for hugely inflated prices. I did come across a picture of pallets of Technics, and after some detective work contacted someone who knew about them, but the people allegedly in possession of the pile of raw turntable Gold didn’t seem keen to offer any more information. So I’m calling fake on that one to be honest.
What people thought would happen didn’t. It was expected that second-hand prices would boom, giving owners a nest egg and pension all in one. But when you consider that there are an estimated 3 million Technics decks in circulation, there’s more than enough to satisfy the ever falling demand, even if it is just to butcher to get spares. Indeed one retailer I spoke with has found that there’s more money in picking up cheap 1200s on eBay and refurbishing them than stocking new turntables.
And this prettying up of old gear has seen a number of individuals and small businesses pop up with the sole intention of keeping old Technics going, as well as taking a raw turntable and making into the JD equivalent of a hot rod custom car. There are some quite stunning examples of pimped decks out there, but you’ve got to have deep pockets to do some of the custom jobs available out there.
Where is the DJ scene now?
Despite the Mayan style prediction of the end of the DJ world as we know it, we’re all still here. DJs are still making people move every night of the week, and those who were using Technics before are almost certainly still using Technics now. I’d say that the DJ scene is more vibrant and exciting than ever before.
But I would say we’re in a state of flux at the moment though, where the walls between hardware styles are broken down, and all DJs are open to using all DJ gear. That said, controllers have all rapidly evolved to a point of parity, where they’re all coming out with much the same units, and it’s proving very hard to pick standout units anymore.
Bar some new products, I’d say that we’re in more or less the same place as we were 2 years when the news dropped, and I don’t see anything really changing from a turntable perspective either. There’s no financial incentive for any manufacturer to drop R&D into a product group that is shrinking each month. As a product, the turntable has reached its evolutionary pinnacle, and there’s nothing that could be done that will make them sell more.
For those who have used them, there is an undeniable and untouchable feeling about working with turntables. Perhaps the cyclical nature of life will see some people return to them, and others to discover them for the first time, and for them to continue to play a key part in not just the history but also the future of DJing.
So there really was no need for apocalyptic prophesies based on romantic notions of what the DJ scene is about. It’s about the music and the people – the gear is a part of it, but a tiny part in the whole scheme of things. And the DJ scene is most certainly bigger than any one brand.Main image © All rights reserved by CenterfortheArtsEagleRock