The YouTube channel of American Audioholics features a video entitled “Is Audiophile Snobbery Ruining our Hobby?” It’s a video conversation by the CEO of Audioholics Gene DellaSala with two experts from the HiFi and HighEnd world.
They mention various types of snobbery, for example snobbery that involves owning expensive equipment or exclusive technical knowledge. But you can also mention snobbery that relates to knowledge of music genres. Or the vintage snobbery of specialists who obtain fantastic equipment for an improbable price.
Then the conversation in the video goes on for quite a while about the arrogant behavior of some participants in audiophile forums who feel they are better than others. It is thought that this is an expression of the snobbery that is said to be quite common in the audiophile world. It is clear that the speakers of Audioholics find snobbery ethically reprehensible.
However, snobbery not only has ethical aspects, it also determines how the HiFi industry looks and develops. Experts regularly express their reservations about the future of this sector. Jaap Veenstra recently expressed his concerns on Alpha-Audio. The HiFi sector, especially the HighEnd section, is getting smaller and smaller, and people often fear that it will disappear altogether. This has various causes, but snobbery certainly plays a role as well.
The snob feels better
Of course snobbery is familiar to us all. And of course we all like to pretend to be more important than we are. In fact, snobbery is part of human nature. Nothing out of the ordinary about it. The Audioholics video interview highlights two aspects of snobbery that are often found in definitions of it: wanting to appear better (e.g., more sophisticated or civilized) than one is and feeling better than others. Let’s build on those two elements.
In Economics, so-called snub effects are described in detail. For example, there are products whose price is considered a measure of quality. If you want something good you must be willing to pay enough for it, is the initial thought. But, can you also turn this reasoning around? Is an expensive product also better? If so, by buying such an expensive product you can show that you value quality. Moreover, you also show that you are rich enough to buy it. The knife cuts both ways. This is further reinforced if a product can be given the label of exclusivity, if the owner can thus show that he belongs to a small designated club of owners. A high price can further emphasize that exclusivity.
Snobbery as a revenue model
A manufacturer can try to reinforce a snobbery effect and integrate it into its revenue model. For example, through a marketing campaign that emphasizes the product’s unquestionable quality and shows that it is mainly affluent people with refined tastes who buy the product.
It is even better if a buyer gets the feeling that it is mainly a select group of people, the happy few, who use this product and can use it. Sometimes the provider makes sure that the owners of the product can reach each other or get to know each other (again), for example by organizing user days. Such a marketing approach naturally comes at a high price.
Moreover, the wording and design of such a marketing campaign emphasize exclusivity and the higher segment in which the product sits. If owners of this exclusive product then place others outside the group through their behavior, for example in their social environment or on forums, the marketing approach of the seller is even stronger.
Buyers and sellers work together
In such a case, buyers and sellers actually work together to make the industry less accessible to others. A high price further reinforces this effect. The buyers thus maintain their image of exclusivity and quality. In this earnings model, the seller, for example the manufacturer, accepts smaller sales because the price is high, even if this requires additional marketing efforts. For this part of the industry, a high price and small sales combined with an exclusive image are the result.
We are there ourselves
“Is Audiophile Snobbery Ruining our Hobby?” Well, I don’t think so. For starters, because “ruining” is very strongly worded. But besides that, snobbery is not an isolated phenomenon that you can turn on or off. Snobbery is part of us humans; it’s part of the hobby.
What is clear, though, is that snobbery, among all sorts of other factors, encourages a smaller industry. When we worry about this, we must realize that this smaller industry is created in the interplay of manufacturers and us consumers. We give manufacturers the opportunity to use snobbery, to include it in their revenue model. We ourselves are part of our hobby.
Does that make snobbery in Hi-Fi and HighEnd objectionable? I don’t think so either. We are human beings, we have this hobby. We buy the products and we enjoy them with the snobbish streak that sometimes belongs to us to a greater or lesser degree.
Let’s hope that beautiful products with a high snobbery rate don’t price themselves out of the market and that enough beautiful products with less snobbery remain. We can in any case promote this by realizing what our role in this is and asking ourselves whether we want to change our behavior.