ShackWatch: Music Has the Right to Children
By Brendan I. Koerner
The biz-school adage I'm about to drop isn't quite a classic on the order of "Buy low, sell high." But it's a good'un nonetheless, and I hope you budding entrepreneurs out there will take note: When you can no longer compete on price, it's time to rebrand yourself for the hoity-toity. Take shrimp caught in the U.S.—it's getting massively undercut by cheap imports from Vietnam, so our pals out on those Gulf Coast trawlers (or, rather, their PR folks) are rebranding those tasty little crustaceans as Wild American Shrimp. Now, I'm a cheap bastard, so I'll stick with the imported dreck that Popeye's ladles out. But I can definitely see the appeal of this strategy.
So, too, can Radio Shack, once home to an array of low-priced keyboards perfect for the little Michael McDonalds in your household. But no longer—the cheapest Shack synth now costs over $50, and most are like the LK-1261 pictured at right—relatively high-tech beasts complete with LCDs, light-up keys, and USB ports. Why did America's favorite peddler of rectifier diodes forsake those of us who simply want a sub-$30 unit that rocks a little bossa nova beat? Because the mighty Shack knows it's no match for the music industry's answer to Vietnamese shrimp farms—Chinese factories that have produced a glut of toy-grade keyboards. The whole (somewhat) sordid story after the jump. PLUS: Transferring our Rowdy Roddy Piper obsession to Markie Post!
I actually first noted this phenomenon late last year, while shopping at my beloved Gem Gem Gem value store up on 125th Street. The Gem Gem Gem, as readers of this space know all too well, is a clearinghouse for the basest in electronic gear—if you've ever craved a craptacular Uniden cordless phone with the coveted RocketDial feature, this is your place. They also sell electronic toys made by a Hong Kong-based company called Polyfect, among them a darn fine keyboard that offers enough rhythms and sounds to satisfy anyone in the 3-to-9 age range. The price? A humble $19.99, which makes it an acceptable risk for mommies and daddies blessed with rambunctious young'uns, not to mention the creative forces behind innumerable ironic indie bands. (During my lamentable indie-rock phase—which I blame entirely on an ex-girlfriend—I once saw Mary Timony play a miniature Fisher-Price synth at the Black Cat.)