Who You Callin’ a Commodity?

Why integrators should do away with the term ‘commodity’ when thinking about and referring to AV products.

Tim Albright

As so often happens in the week-to-week production of AVWeek, one show’s conversation will lead to another with a new guest.

Such was the situation this week.

On episode 139, we spoke about the speaker market and the comment was made that “speakers are just commodities at this point.” A friend of mine, who works in the speaker industry, took issue with that statement.

He made the point that what they do is very different than what their competitors do. After a few minutes, I could see his point.

See, the boxes and cones we put on the walls and in the ceilings to make the pretty sounds have become somewhat of a commodity in that there are a large number of companies making them and the prices vary. However, we shouldn’t treat them as commodities because each one is a valid choice and should be judged and chosen based on its own merits.

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This conversation led me to consider the ramifications of “commoditizing” other components in our system. It has been bemoaned for a number of years that flat panels, and even projectors to some extent, have been commoditized. However, the same reason we shouldn’t treat speakers like commodities, we should not treat displays as such.

If you need a 60″ display, there are a number of ways to go. Some will be at a lower price point than others. This is what has caused our industry to put them in the “commodity bin.” However, each one is different. There are those that have control pots (they usually say service port for some reason) or smart apps. There are others that are IP enabled and there are those that are nothing more than a large, dumb monitor. There are use cases for each of these.

I can hear you ask, “But what about the client and their bottom line?” This is where we earn our money, folks. It is our job to educate our clients on the drawbacks of buying a $200 display from a box store. If they still insist, you must protect yourself and make certain they recognize they are making this decision. This can be done in contract form, or an email.

After speakers and displays, there are a number of other “commodities” we will need to lay down. Some consider racks and mounts as nothing more than hunks of metal. Well, try telling that to the tech who is trying to mount gear into a rack that is not quite square. Try telling the technology manager that all projector mounts are the same when they have fifty rooms to hang and each one takes an extra thirty minutes because the mount doesn’t cooperate like one that has a few more features.

I guess my main point here is, let’s do away with the term “commodities.” Sugar is a commodity. Corn, flour, and orange juice are commodities. Speakers, displays, and mounts are not and should not be treated as such in our industry.

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