As I write this editorial, the sassy voice of Peggy Lee is floating from the speakers of my desktop computer. She is singing: “Why don’t you do right? Get out of here and get me some money, too.” Somebody translated this 1946 analog recording into an MP3 file and posted it to an “online jukebox” called tuxedojunction.net.
Peggy Lee is singing our song… a tune with many ironic echoes for today’s amusements industry. Take those lyrics, for example. For 10 years, operators have been asking manufacturers: “Why don’t you do right and create some machines that make me some money?” Likewise, manufacturers have asked operators: “Why don’t you do right and buy some of my great money-making products?”
Some 60 years later, the emotion is still intact in Lee’s delivery. But in our industry, the passion has largely faded from this “why don’t you” argument. Whether out of a newfound maturity – or just plain exhaustion – people are tired of pointing fingers. What good does it do? There is a certain resigned acceptance that the amusements industry “is what it is” and won’t change. Operators will stick to their conservative buying philosophy. Manufacturers will keep emphasizing hardware over software, and keep building machines that are not extensively market-tested before release.
Today’s crop of coin-op music and game machines are excellent in their way, especially when compared to the machines of yesteryear. But it’s unclear just how well today’s machines compare to the Xbox 360 or the iPod Nano. (Or maybe it is clear – just look in the cashbox.) So Lee’s voice floating from an online jukebox symbolizes today’s amusements industry in another respect. The explosion of digital consumer media means traditional coin-op machines face ever-growing competition, aimed directly at “our” content. First video games, now music. “iPod nights” may not be a problem for most jukebox operators at the moment. In 10 years, who knows?
On a happier note, today’s industry also echoes the 1940s in positive ways. This fall, one operator declared: “Who cares if you don’t like downloading music? Who cares if you don’t like sharing the cashbox with manufacturers? With today’s great financing plans, you can pay for it out of the revenues. Basically it’s a free jukebox.” He was describing a jukebox finance program that requires no initial cash outlay. The machine “pays for itself” out of the cashbox.
Man, do operators love this. They also loved it back in the 1930s and ‘40s, when Wurlitzer marketing genius Homer Capehart used it to virtually invent the industry’s distribution system. Like Lee playing on an Internet jukebox, “paying for it out of the cashbox” still sounds great to operators today.
Another 1940s notion is now receiving a welcome update for 2006. That concept is industry-sponsored seminars for location owners and possible new operators. AAMA is relaunching such seminars, starting at next spring’s ASI Show. Other venues may follow (let’s hope the Nightclub & Bar Show is high on the list). Creating your own market? Educating your customer? The classics are evergreen at AAMA.
Now Peggy is singing: “You had plenty money (back in) 1922. You let other women make a fool of you.” Change one digit and three words, and she could be singing to the amusements trade: “You made plenty money in 1992. You let competing entertainment make a fool of you.” But that may be a bit darker sentiment than is justified.
The remarkable fact is that Peggy Lee’s 1946 music is timeless, even played over an Internet jukebox. The amusements industry is also timeless, even as it evolves toward more downloaded content, more cashless payments and more networked gameplay and promotions. If we can update a 1940s financing plan to produce a strong sales response in 2005, we can certainly update the fundamental appeal of this creative and hardworking industry. As they said in the Swingin’ Forties: “You’ve got to ac-cen-tu-ate the positive.”