retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I’m not a regular reader of Digital Music News, so thanks to Rich Heiland for sending along a link to a story on that site about the fabled Gibson Guitar company, which “started in 1902, and has been interwoven into the musical life of America ever since. Back in 1952, the company produced its first signature Les Paul, one of the most famous guitar series of all time. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Now, that history may include a bankruptcy.

According to the story, “Gibson Guitar is now falling on hard times, and softer guitar sales are just part of the picture … the company remains deluged in debt, with desperate sell-offs to service a growing list of creditors.” The company’s debts run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

While the company still has revenue of more than a billion dollars, it is selling off properties and may even sell off brands - it owns Baldwin Pianos, for example - as a way of reducing some of its indebtedness.

Now, I know the Gibson by reputation only. I don’t play the guitar. I tried to take lessons when I turned 40, but, alas, the same inability to manipulate my digits that has meant that I have spent my entire writing career as a two-finger, hunt-and-peck typist also meant that I was unable to play chords with any level of precision.

But I found this story fascinating, and here is the passage that grabbed my attention:

“Broader cultural shifts are also putting the guitar in the rearview. Indeed, the recurring ‘rock & roll is dead’ cliché may finally be coming true — and seriously impacting Gibson’s bottom line … Specifically, guitar sales have dropped from approximately 1.5 million units annually to roughly 1 million — all in less than a decade. That’s still a million a year, though this is all heading in the wrong direction … One obvious problem is that the guitar is just another toy for younger people today. Up until relatively recently, it was a must-have for a giant percentage of young Americans - all of whom were in love with rock & roll in some form or another. Now, the six-string is just as easily replaced by a turntable, video-game console, or simply a laptop.”

In other words, the digital revolution even is affecting the degree to which people are choosing to play musical instruments.

Now that’s what I call an Eye-Opener. But it doesn’t bring a song to my lips.
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