Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

“Placebo-Based Demand Is Still Demand”

Marco Arment:

Selling snake oil to audiophiles is not only a very profitable business, but one could argue that it isn’t even usually a scam — in most cases, both the sellers and the buyers believe in the benefits being sold. Placebo benefits are real to their observers, and placebo-based demand is still demand.

While audiophiles who demand high-resolution formats are a tiny fraction of all Apple customers, they’re probably a much bigger portion of those who buy a lot of music.

Arment is, of course, right: audiophiles will spend more on music that they perceive to be of a much higher quality. The iTunes Store could have $0.99 tracks for us plebeians with normal ears, and $1.99 tracks for those who believe they have superhuman hearing. Apple could gobble that market up.

If Apple thinks this is worthy of their attention, it ought to be more than just a financial opportunity. I think this rumour has some of its roots in Steve Jobs’ vinyl record collection, and I’m sure there are other audiophile-types among Apple’s executive ranks. At least, I hope there are, because Apple’s side projects are rarely as good as offerings from competitors who live and breathe the product.

That’s not to say that I’m suddenly a convert to 192/24 audio woo. I still think it’s a waste of money to build an audio system to support an audio format with no perceptible improvements. But if Apple wants to cater to people who do believe they’re hearing a difference, they need to treat it better than they currently do their music offerings.

Boy, was that ever a disappointing sentence to write.