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Bending the Curve Upwards

Christian Wissmuller • April 2019Editorial • April 4, 2019

Image by Steve Buissinne

“Once a fixture in the American home, pianos are easy to find for cheap these days and those who own them are having trouble finding people take them off their hands.”

So began a July 29, 2018 article in The Portsmouth Herald which I held onto after running into the newspaper during a beach-trip up to New Hampshire last summer. The content of the rest of the article was likely predictable to many MMR readers. Acoustic pianos – uprights, mostly, but even baby grands – are increasingly “persona non grata” in American homes. Craigslist listings in most of the U.S. are littered with pianos posted in the “free” sections. As I type this, the Boston-area CL listings have 19 working (and in some cases quite lovely) acoustic pianos just waiting to be picked up for the asking price of $0.00 and plenty more quality instruments to be had for $100 or less. Statista, a German-based portal for statistics based on data collected by opinion and research institutes, reports that there were 95,518 sales of acoustic pianos in 2005 – a number that had dwindled to just 31,530 by 2017.

Though exact estimates vary depending on the source, most market analysts agree that the global digital piano market, on the other hand, was valued at around $700 million in 2018 and will grow by six to eight percent in the coming years to reach $1.1(ish) billion by 2025.

Of course, a key word in the above assessment is “global.” Just because digital piano sales are booming in, say, Shanghai, doesn’t mean that every keyboard dealer in Peoria is raking it in. However, also according to Statista, sales of digital pianos in the U.S. (the subject of both this month’s Roundtable feature and dealer survey) have been steadily increasing since 2010, reaching over 161,000 unit sales in 2017. And things may be in for a boost – particularly in the realm of digital stage pianos (see page 24).

When asked about “digital stage piano” sales in 2019 for this issue’s cover story, Yamaha Corporation of America’s Nate Tschetter had this to say: “Yamaha, a major manufacturer, is in the midst of a product transition… We expect that when the dust settles, not only Yamaha but the market in general will see renewed interest in this category, and that will bend the curve upward for stage pianos.”

And it’s worth noting that the other participants in our April 2019 Roundtable on the subject of digital stage pianos – all major players in the market as well – were uniformly positive in their assessment of this segment’s vibrancy: “Increasing demand… Year over year, we are seeing an uptick in both unit sales and total dollars within the category… We’re definitely seeing an increase overall compared to a year ago.”

As someone who has reported on the piano and keyboard market – both acoustic and digital – in MMR’s annual “keyboard issues” for lo these many years, it’s encouraging that the past few trips around the sun have yielded far more upbeat feedback than a decade or so ago.

Acoustic vendors and dealers in many parts of America may still be facing an uphill climb, but if Korg’s James Sajeva is any type of prognosticator, those darker days may be well in the rear-view for digital keyboard sales: “We see this segment as poised for continued growth in both the near and long term.”

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