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MMD > Archives > April 2001 > 2001.04.04 > 05Prev  Next


Demise of the Player Piano
By John A. Tuttle

[ Ref articles on this topic beginning ca. 010304 MMD. ]

Hi Douglas, I won't deny that (to a degree) I'm on your side here!
During my initial and subsequent investigations into the decline of
player sales in the US, it became pretty clear that (a) the market
was saturated, (b) quality 88-note rolls of 'new' music were basically
not available, and (c) the economics of the time period made it very
difficult for the average family to afford a new or used player piano.

It's interesting to note that my grandparents on my mother's side saw
the depression as an opportunity.  Being frugal to the n'th degree,
they had a fairly substantial amount of liquid capital.  So, they
bought many things 'dirt cheap'.  After the depression subsided, they
were, in a phrase, 'wealthy people', although they never let that be
known to their children.  Only after they passed did my mom and her
sisters realize how wealthy my grandparents really were.  Suffice it
to say that every grandchild received a substantial sum of money and
my mom and her two sisters took an extended vacation to Hawaii, and
still had money in the bank.

What's my point?  Unlike Art Reblitz, who claims that the radio was
basically the demise of the player piano, I look at the people who were
buying player pianos.  I try to put myself in their shoes and ask
myself "What's Important?"

At that time, buying a player piano can be likened to buying health
care insurance today.  While it would be a 'nice to have', it's simply
out of the question for many people because it's not realistically
affordable.  So, like health care insurance, 40+% of all US families
didn't even consider buying a player piano.

When you take away the majority of buyers, things happen at an almost
alarming rate -- evidence: the current state of the stock market.  Give
people a much less expensive way to be entertained, i.e. the radio,
and you basically seal the fate of any venue that is 'more expensive'.
That's common sense!

As I've been saying all along, it's basically all about the economics
of the time.  The majority of those who have health care insurance
today get it through their employer.  No such luxury was available
with regards to player pianos in the late 1920's and early '30's.
So, the industry declined rapidly.  Common sense economics.  Had good
rolls been available to keep the market 'alive', it may have prospered
more than it did.  However, I'm not so certain that rolls alone would
have kept the industry from declining to the degree that it did.

Musically,

John A. Tuttle


(Message sent Wed 4 Apr 2001, 19:56:53 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Demise, Piano, Player

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