Piano retailers and manufacturers are closing their doors across North America and elsewhere as the public appetite for the expensive, space-consuming instruments dims.
Declining sales have plagued the industry for years and was exacerbated by the Great Recession. In many cases, pianos that once would have been resold are simply hauled to the trash dump.
“In our industry, it’s not as drastic as the computer replacing the typewriter,” said Ted Good, president of Ohio’s only dealer for new Steinway & Sons pianos, “it’s just changing.” The company, he said, has seen flat sales for the last five years.
In today’s fast-moving culture, shrinking homes and even competition with sports and video games have affected sales, according to industry experts and piano store owners. Nationwide sales dropped by half in a 20-year period, from nearly 175,000 in 1987 to 62,500 in 2007, according to the Bluebook of Pianos.
Bob Russell, a registered piano technician in Ohio runs a third-generation business. He said the piano business may be have been affected by some drastic changes in society but he still tunes close to 1,500 pianos a year. He believes new piano sales will continue to be flat for a while because of influences like a saturated market of used pianos.
“The problem with new piano sales is they’re competing with hundreds of thousands of pianos sold 10 years ago,” said Russell, “Ten years on a new piano is nothing. It’s like 5,000 miles on a car.”
From used and refurbished pianos to much less expensive brands and models, the piano’s biggest competition has probably been digital pianos – or even cheaper, digital keyboards that are sold in retailers that range from Kmart to Costco.
An electronic keyboard can be purchased for less than $200, while a standard piano may cost from $5,000 to $250,000. And the keyboard is portable, while the piano is a heavyweight consumer of large spaces in a home.