Dear Piano World Members:

I'm pleased to present to you my publication, Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer, a twice-yearly hybrid book/magazine that replaces the Annual Supplement to The Piano Book. In addition to containing the brand, model, and price information you've come to expect in the Annual Supplement, Piano Buyer also includes brief, tutorial articles on the many aspects of buying a piano—acoustic or digital, hybrid or player, new, used, or restored. Because Piano Buyer is partially supported by advertising, I'm able to offer it free online. But if you don't want to read hundreds of pages online, you can also buy it in print through our website or at bookstores when it becomes available in early September (you can order it now by clicking on "Print Edition" in the navigation bar above).

Piano Buyer differs from The Piano Book in a number of significant ways. First, Piano Buyer is much less technical and easier to read than The Piano Book. The essential information about buying a piano (especially a new acoustic piano) can actually fit into relatively few pages and is largely nontechnical. Most of the rest that might be written either is applicable only to special circumstances, or is interesting but nonessential. The Piano Book was written for those who want all of it, and I think I did a pretty good job of making even the technical parts accessible to the layperson. But over the years I've become aware of some of the limitations of that approach. It can be difficult for the reader to separate what's truly important from that which is less important, resulting, at least initially, in a feeling of being overwhelmed, and possibly in unnecessarily difficult relations with the dealer. Piano Buyer, on the other hand, was written to convey little more than the essentials, with the aim of getting people into buying and enjoying their pianos as quickly and efficiently as possible. For those who are captivated by the instrument and want to know more, or who need more specialized information (especially about used and restored pianos), The Piano Book will remain available as an additional resource, though it won't be revised. (Of course, what information is or isn't essential is a matter of opinion, and some may think that, in Piano Buyer, I've gone too far in the other direction, oversimplifying the subject. Your feedback about this would be welcome.)

Even those who want only essential information may still need detailed model and price data at some point in their search, so I've included in Piano Buyer all the Annual Supplement material, plus the equivalents for digital pianos. This information is also highly useful to the trade, especially since the demise of the Ancott publication. I've also expanded to include information about buying a digital piano, by digital piano editor Alden Skinner, as well as a variety of other piano-related articles, some by experts in their fields. Two articles—both short reviews—did not fit in the print edition, but are included in the online edition. Most of the core articles will remain unchanged from issue to issue, but some of the other articles will rotate in an effort to provide some coverage for niche subjects, to respond to changes in the industry, and to provide articles of human interest or entertainment. Non-core articles will be archived for a time on the website so that they can continue to be accessed in the future. If any of you have ideas for future articles you'd like to see, or that you think you might be the right person to write, please drop me a line.

Another significant difference between the two publications is that Piano Buyer is partially supported by advertising. Considering that the success of The Piano Book was largely built on its reputation for impartiality, why am I now switching to an advertising-based business model, with its potential for bias?

Publishing brand, model, and price information, even just once a year, is much more difficult than just collecting a bunch of price lists and putting them up on the Web (as has occasionally been suggested by some posts on the Piano Forum). After my 20+ years of doing this work, most manufacturers and distributors trust me enough to give me their confidential wholesale information (and many tell me that I'm the only one outside their sales organization for whom they do this). However, the information they give me is often incomplete, inconsistent with other published information (such as their website), or inaccurate, and thus requires a great deal of subsequent interpretation. Each company presents its information in a different format, requiring conversion of each into a common, user-friendly format. I also have to come up with a fair way of turning the wholesale information into retail, including allowances for currency exchange rates, freight, duty, setup, and profit margin, and how to deal with special or anomalous situations that would not be fairly served in the normal manner. Sometimes the price information given me is just plain bogus, and I have to do some sleuthing to find out what a typical small dealer actually pays. All of this involves a staggering number of communications by e-mail and phone with busy executives who can be hard to reach.

For the brand and company profiles, each manufacturer and distributor has to be interviewed, often with follow-up interviews necessary after trade shows, when decisions are made to revise the product line. Sometimes others (such as technicians, dealers, or sales reps) are also contacted for additional input or to verify information. The proposed write-up is submitted to the manufacturer or distributor to check for factual accuracy, which sometimes results in further revision. And all this must be done for some 70 different brand names made by more than 30 manufacturers and distributors. Thus, you'll understand when I tell you that it takes me several months each year, and thousands of dollars' worth of hired staff time, to accomplish this in an honest, accurate, ethical, and timely manner.

Unfortunately, book sales don't adequately support this venture. The portion of the retail price returned to the publisher is small, and increasingly, consumers expect to receive product information free via the Internet. The fact that others steal my work and publish it on their own websites doesn't help. Many other companies, large and small, in many fields of endeavor, have encountered the same problem in this new information economy, and, like myself, have come to the conclusion that, in order to survive, it's necessary both to more vigorously enforce legal rights, and to change business models.

Fortunately, the state of piano manufacturing has also changed, and in ways more compatible with advertising. When I began doing this work over 20 years ago, so many brands had so many defects in design and manufacturing that it would have been impossible to both tell the truth and accept advertising (some of you may recall the first edition of The Piano Book and know what I mean). But over the past ten years, all that has changed. As a result of globalization and the computerization of manufacturing, virtually all brands sold in the West today, after a little dealer prep, are at least satisfactory for their intended audience, and most are quite good relative to their price and intended market. Consequently, my role has changed from that of a critic to more that of a guide.

Truth be told, even a noncommercial critic can be subject to great pressures and temptations. It's very easy to become too cozy with the subjects of your criticism, and to trade objectivity for access to information and nonmonetary perks. In fact, I would say that it's easier to be corrupted when money is not involved (and therefore no one suspects) than when it is (and therefore everyone suspects). In practice, though, I've found over the past year that only rarely were there potential conflicts of interest that made it necessary for me to make a hard choice. For the most part, it's been both easy and pleasurable to retain a consumer orientation while simultaneously furthering the interests of dealers, suppliers, and manufacturers through advertising. I'll continue to walk that fine line, and I hope you'll let me know from time to time how I'm doing.

An exciting feature that I think many Piano World members will have fun with is the free, searchable database of new acoustic piano brands, models, and prices—essentially the "Model & Pricing Guide" in database form—accessible from the online edition of Piano Buyer or directly from the website. You can search among over 3,000 models on size, price, furniture style, finish, and more. For example, if you wanted to find all the grands between 5' 8" and 6' 2" with curved legs in satin mahogany priced between $15,000 and $20,000--no problem. Just check off the appropriate boxes, click "Submit," and the results will display with brand, model number, size, description, MSRP, and Suggested Maximum Price, or SMP (which is what I used to call "list price" in the old Annual Supplement). You can then sort them by brand, size, or price just by clicking on a column heading. If you want to estimate what the actual "street price" (negotiated price) would be, simply put a discount in the discount box, click "Reload," and the system will calculate a discounted SMP. (Of course, you need to read the introduction to the "Model & Pricing Guide," or the instructions for the database, to know what range of discounts is realistically possible, at least in theory, and what factors affect the discount the dealer can offer.) You can even figure a price with an electronic player-piano system installed. Although Piano Buyer will be updated twice a year, the database will be updated whenever we receive notice of price changes, new models, or errors that need correcting.

A few odds and ends: We're selling the print edition of Piano Buyer on our website for less than the price Amazon.com charges. You can buy a single issue or a one-year (two-issue) subscription. Although the online edition is available now, the print edition will not be back from the printer until the first week of September. At that time, we'll be shipping right away, but it will take a couple of weeks more for the books to get into bookstores, so you'll probably receive it fastest if you order directly from us.

This new venture involves a lot of technology and is sure to have some bugs, especially issues regarding compatibility with browsers; I ask that you be understanding while we work out those bugs. Please report any glitches to us at webmaster@pianobuyer.com.

I very much appreciate the support so many of you have given me in the past, and I hope this new work will merit your continued support. Please give me your honest and constructive feedback at larry@pianobook.com. Due to the large number of expected responses, I can't promise a personal reply to each, but each will be read and seriously considered. I've retained Steve Cohen as a contributing editor and advertising director, and have also asked him to be my spokesman on Piano World when necessary. Please also remember that if you value this work, its continuance depends on the support of advertisers, which in turn depends on the number of people who view or buy the publication. Therefore, your referrals to the publication are very important.

Thanks also to Frank Baxter, Founder and Host of Piano World, for his support of this project, as well as for his continuing stewardship of Piano World.

Larry Fine

Go To www.pianobuyer.com.

 

A Letter to Members of Piano World