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Will The 'luxury' Market Kill The Fountain Pen Industry?

luxury market fountain pen

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#41 PS104

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Posted 02 June 2017 - 03:16

As has been alluded to throughout this thread is the juxtaposition of the auto industry and fountain pens. Detroit got smug in the 50s and thought they were invulnerable. Then along came a tiny Beetle that changed the auto world. Detroit tried valiantly to fight, even to producing the revolutionary Corvair (which had an air-cooled engine)(and that really was revolutionary). It was not enough. Then the Japanese invasion began. People realized that they could get more car for their money. And it is still continuing. Detroit now looks like a wasteland with empty factories and empty homes.

​Just like more chrome couldn't sell more Detroit cars neither can more bling, LEs (for both pens and ink) save the fountain pen industry. The Chinese are in the vanguard but they will adapt and produce pens that are increasingly more amenable to US and worldwide tastes. It seems that a lot of the development (with exceptions, of course most notably Nathan Tardif of Noodlers) and some overseas companies in Japan. Germany and Italy striving to improve their products from the inside out. I feel as though some manufacturers are just using the cartridge/converter phase and are just resting on their laurels.

​This is a decidedly gloomy topic for fountain pen aficionados but just like King Kong climbed to great heights he took a bad fall. Just like Humpty Dumpty couldn't be put back together again.

​And for what ?

​Love.

​As Carl Denim said," Was beauty that killed the beast"


Edited by PS104, 02 June 2017 - 03:18.


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#42 BillH

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Posted 02 June 2017 - 19:44

 

Don't get me wrong.  I'm concerned about the failure of market forces to reign Amazon in, and if any viable competitor ever appeared and took Amazon on head-to-head, I would consider that a good thing. In fact I'm rooting for it to happen.  Meanwhile I'm an Amazon Prime member, and I buy from and through Amazon frequently.

 

 

Without getting into the need to or desirability of "reigning Amazon in", or the motive behind that sentiment, I saw two articles today that made me chuckle, in light of part of this discussion.  One said WalMart was giving Amazon a serious run for the low price w/ two-day delivery market.  Knowing how some folks feel about WallyWorld, the idea tickles me.  The other article was about Amazon opening up brick and mortar bookstores.


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#43 Bookman

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Posted 02 June 2017 - 19:58

 

 

Without getting into the need to or desirability of "reigning Amazon in", or the motive behind that sentiment, I saw two articles today that made me chuckle, in light of part of this discussion.  One said WalMart was giving Amazon a serious run for the low price w/ two-day delivery market.  Knowing how some folks feel about WallyWorld, the idea tickles me.  The other article was about Amazon opening up brick and mortar bookstores.

 

My motive behind that sentiment is: competition good, monopoly bad.  Rather than someday see the U.S. Attorney in the appropriate district bring an antitrust action against Amazon, I would rather see free-market competition prevent it from capturing an irreversible dominance in the sales and distribution of so many products.


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#44 Freddy

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 00:22

Will The 'luxury' Market Kill The Fountain Pen Industry?
 
 
                   No.
 
 Fred
 
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Oh no...it wasn't the airplanes...
 
It was beauty that killed the beast.
 
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#45 TheRealMikeDr

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 11:00

Hello all,

I did read an article somewhere that said it was Amazon that drove Sears, Penneys and K-Mart, (along with some destructive decisions from the broken stores themselves), into bankruptcy and I believe that to be the case; however, Amazon is a lot like the way A&P started at the turn of the last century... a no frills, no service, cut-case display grocery store that sold at a price.

However, A&P's existence didn't prevent higher-end grocery chains like Whole Foods from existing. I think the luxury market (and the fp community) are both too demanding for a price leader to take over.

But, I could be wrong... VW owns Rolls-Royce after they went bankrupt trying to develop an engine for the Concorde. However, by the same token, no pen company that I know of is trying to develop a new L2K or 51 that will put them into receivership.

So I really don't see Amazon owning or cornering the fp market... it's probably too small for them to waste their resources on, anyway.

- Anthony

 

Actually it's a bit more complicated methinks. It's not just Amazon but rather eCommerce as a whole that has changed the retail landscape. When I was a kid we only had a handful of stores where we could buy things. You had some crappy local discount type stores or you could go to the mall where they had the big stores like Sears and Penney's etc. They got your business because you had limited options for the most part.

 

Today the whole world is a mall. I can shop at any retail store from the desk at my office. Of course this leads to competition on price and service - but it also forces larger companies to rethink their business model and compete on logistics and the ability to adapt. Sears/Kmart (as one example) are failing more due to poor leadership and their own incompetency - google Eddie Lampert and read up on this guy if you're interested.

 

Regarding Amazon - they don't win on price alone in this arena - they win on service too. For the most part they ship same day and have affordable fast shipping options. If you want/need to return an item they make it very easy to do so. They do a great job getting product reviews and by making their site easy to navigate. It's true they beat up manufacturers on price, and some brands refuse to deal with them because of that. But the fact is that Amazon is the eCommerce giant that they are because they've done it better than anyone up to this point.

 

How does that relate to pens or other niche items? In my opinion many people will still purchase high end pens from authorized dealers because of the trust factor. If you've got $1,000 to spend on a pen then saving $50 or $100 likely isn't a big deal to you and knowing you're getting an authentic unused pen is worth the small price difference. The medium and low end pens are bought on price and in that regard Amazon will take some business from the Goulets and Andersons out there over time. Ebay and the ability to purchase direct from other countries is also a factor there. I don't really see any of that killing the fountain pen industry though as it's not really a growth industry to begin with.



#46 jmccarty3

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 15:02

The nearest example I can think of are turntables.  The introduction of CD and "Perfect Sound Forever" marked the death of vinyl and turntables as a mainstream product.  Turntables were kept alive by high end audio (aka "luxury") where they remained a force because CDs were actually not that perfect.  The one difference I see is that unlike fountain pens, turntables continued to be refined and improved.  This was possible because in high end audio, there is no such thing as overkill.  People were willing to pay very large sums of money for the latest technology like active suspensions, air bearing tone arms, carbon fiber arms, etc.  Modern turntables can cost $250K to $1 million for the exotics and $10K-30K turntables are quite numerous.   If fountain pen people were willing to pay $2K-5K for a new flex nib, I'm sure they would be made.

 

I like the turntable analogy (see what I did there?), because I'm a vinyl fan. But your point about refinements and improvements is well taken. Conid is the maker that comes to mind, but their pens, while technologically marvelous, are neither beautiful nor stylish, nor are their nibs anything very special. Imagine, if you will, a Montblanc green striated celluloid 149 with a CAISO filling mechanism and an old-style flexy 14C nib, or a Namiki Emperor with the same. What Manu and Syd are doing is a step in the right direction, but doesn't go quite far enough.


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#47 ParkerDuofold

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 17:27

 
Actually it's a bit more complicated methinks. It's not just Amazon but rather eCommerce as a whole that has changed the retail landscape.


Hi MikeDr.,

Absolutely, without a doubt. What put Amazon in the spotlight was a previous poster's comment that in 20 years from now; they'd be the only ones selling pens, (along with one or two other conglomerates).

Yes, few, if any situations in life are mono-causal. ;)

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#48 welch

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 19:28

- The issue is profitability, and profit per unit of sales. Go back to Kenneth Parker's reason for making the Parker 75: the Parker 45 and Parker Jotter were selling well, but there was less profit in a $5 P-45 than in a $15 P-51, and the top-line P-61 was not selling much. 

 

- For context: the Parker 51 / 61, the Sheaffer PFM, and the top Montblanc (146?) all sold for about $12 in 1959. Montblanc was a small company with a small home market, but a home market that used fountain pens. Parker was a global company, probably the biggest pen company in the world. Sheaffer was probably second. However, the market shifted to ballpoints in the '60s. About 1970, Montblanc shifted to focus entirely on the luxury market. 

 

- Whatever sells a pen is not the issue; it is how a company can make a profit selling pens. Amazon has nothing to do with this.

 

- Neither does the auto industry. Look carefully at fountain pens, ballpoints, roller-balls, fiber-tipped pens. While the ballpoint might have "won" the battle with the fountain pen, very few ballpoint companies exist on sales of refills for their pens. People use throw-away ballpoints, or they thumb messages into smartphones, or type into laptops. 


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#49 flipper_gv

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Posted 04 June 2017 - 03:04

The nearest example I can think of are turntables.  The introduction of CD and "Perfect Sound Forever" marked the death of vinyl and turntables as a mainstream product.  Turntables were kept alive by high end audio (aka "luxury") where they remained a force because CDs were actually not that perfect.  The one difference I see is that unlike fountain pens, turntables continued to be refined and improved.  This was possible because in high end audio, there is no such thing as overkill.  People were willing to pay very large sums of money for the latest technology like active suspensions, air bearing tone arms, carbon fiber arms, etc.  Modern turntables can cost $250K to $1 million for the exotics and $10K-30K turntables are quite numerous.   If fountain pen people were willing to pay $2K-5K for a new flex nib, I'm sure they would be made.

 

Somewhere in the last decade, people began to discover vinyl again especially kids who were born after vinyl had died the first time.  I suspect that games like Guitar Hero had kids playing songs of their parents generation.  Their parents told them they still had the album in the garage and kids went and rediscovered older music that just happened to be on vinyl.  So while turntables are not main stream, they have clawed back to the point that mass market stores like Best Buy began stocking cheaper turntables and vinyl again.  LP sales have been climbing for many many years as other formats of music have been in decline.

 

I really hate music companies that put a more dynamic mix only available on vinyl. It's (bleep) dumb that they put a poorer mix on cd.



#50 Morphling27

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Posted 05 June 2017 - 19:29

The vinyl resurgence is a good example, but the price comparison and saying it could happen in fountain pens is absurd.  

 

You can get someone to make and customize a gold nib to do most anything for generally under $100 - who would pay $5,000 for a nib?  I mean you can get nibs made from almost pure gold (21K) or practically pure palladium (23k) - pretty expensive precious metals for a couple-few hundred dollars.  

 

I mean, there are LE pens and some encrusted with more jewels than the Queen holds or with materials from the moon, but a pen only has so many components.  Not that I think nor even begin to understand what a $30,000 turn table would offer over a nice one for a few hundred.  Most people's ears are unable to distinguish minor sound differences - and don't forget as you age, your range of hearing is always on a downward trend.  

 

Lastly, we do have pens for $250,000.  There was some Namiki-Dunhill on ebay commanding such a price (whether it gets paid or not, who knows - but I'm sure an asking price of that isn't going to sell for 1/10).  

 

Also, it isn't as if you can put on a performance or job in the same way as you can with a record player.  A pen is personal.  While music is just as personal, a music player generally assumes others are going to hear - you can use a pen and only you know about it and know what it wrote if you wish to keep it that way. 



#51 Wahl

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Posted 06 June 2017 - 20:03

Getting back to the question....

 

No, as there are manufacturers who supply at all different price levels.



#52 Kid Parker

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Posted 06 June 2017 - 21:59


Lastly, we do have pens for $250,000.  There was some Namiki-Dunhill on ebay commanding such a price (whether it gets paid or not, who knows - but I'm sure an asking price of that isn't going to sell for 1/10).  

 

Indeed... The auctioneer from whom I work sold this pair of Namiki Emperors for $300,000+:

 

https://www.bonhams....22406/lot/1126/


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#53 WirsPlm

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Posted 07 June 2017 - 02:35

Is anyone in this thread reading the Pen Economics blog? He talks a lot about these very issues and it's fascinating. Particularly these posts:

http://www.peneconom...-the-innovators

http://www.peneconom...petitive-brands

http://www.peneconom...petitive-brands - describes brands that are basically resting on their laurels, as mentioned upthread

Edited by WirsPlm, 07 June 2017 - 02:35.


#54 AltecGreen

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Posted 07 June 2017 - 04:00

The vinyl resurgence is a good example, but the price comparison and saying it could happen in fountain pens is absurd.  

 

You can get someone to make and customize a gold nib to do most anything for generally under $100 - who would pay $5,000 for a nib?  I mean you can get nibs made from almost pure gold (21K) or practically pure palladium (23k) - pretty expensive precious metals for a couple-few hundred dollars.  

 

I mean, there are LE pens and some encrusted with more jewels than the Queen holds or with materials from the moon, but a pen only has so many components.  Not that I think nor even begin to understand what a $30,000 turn table would offer over a nice one for a few hundred.  Most people's ears are unable to distinguish minor sound differences - and don't forget as you age, your range of hearing is always on a downward trend.  

 

Lastly, we do have pens for $250,000.  There was some Namiki-Dunhill on ebay commanding such a price (whether it gets paid or not, who knows - but I'm sure an asking price of that isn't going to sell for 1/10).  

 

Also, it isn't as if you can put on a performance or job in the same way as you can with a record player.  A pen is personal.  While music is just as personal, a music player generally assumes others are going to hear - you can use a pen and only you know about it and know what it wrote if you wish to keep it that way. 

 

 

Montblanc offers a bespoke nib service.  It is expensive and starts at $1.5K but they will make whatever nib you want.   These include custom imprints and engraving.  At the last meeting of the food subcommittee of the Pen Posse, we spent some time at the MB store talking to the regional manager while waiting for our table at Din Tai Fung.  She pulled out some customer pens back from service that had bespoke nibs.  I'm not a MB fan but these nibs were clearly full custom work and had exquisite workmanship.  One was a 4 mm wide stub nib and the other had a needle point.  So clearly some people are willing to a lot of money for a nib that is out of the ordinary. 

 

As Kid Parker said, vintage maki-e pens routinely sell for six figures.  There is one for auction next week that is estimated to close over $100K.  It will be interesting to see what happens. 

 

As for audio, high end audio is a different world.  You get used to the price scale.  A lot of people know that I came to this hobby from that one.  This one is much cheaper unless you buy vintage maki-e. 

 

 

Check out this video if you want an example of some of the more expensive and exotic turntables.  

 

 

The Transrotor tables are not my style.  They are the opposite design philosophy compared to my Shindo 301. 


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#55 Bookman

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Posted 10 June 2017 - 05:05

- The issue is profitability, and profit per unit of sales....

 

- Whatever sells a pen is not the issue; it is how a company can make a profit selling pens. Amazon has nothing to do with this.

 

-

 

"Whatever sells ________  is not the issue; it is how a company can make a profit selling ______.  Amazon has nothing to do with it."  I'll bet the executive officers at Tower Records, Tower Books, and Borders Books all said those very words before Amazon ran them out of business.  Amazon isn't just another e-business.  It's a powerhouse.  All it would take in the fountain pen market is for Amazon to start carrying more models (at all price levels) than they do now, increasing their sales volume, getting better wholesale deals than other retailers because of their promise of greater sales volume, underpricing the competition accordingly, and cheaply enough to start chipping away at the sales and profits of pens shops, online and B&M.  And assuming that came to pass, how many pen shops would survive as pen shops and for how long?


Edited by Bookman, 10 June 2017 - 05:06.

I love the smell of fountain pen ink in the morning.

 

 

 


#56 praxim

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Posted 10 June 2017 - 05:45

@Bookman: Uncial's initial post asked whether the strategy by fountain pen manufacturers of pushing their product into niche, luxury markets will prove successful. This is a legitimate question. There is evidence from other fields to suggest it can work.

 

The examples you give in post 70 are about companies which do not manufacture anything. They are (or were) resellers of commodity products. Amazon does not manufacture anything. It is a reseller of commodity products. Book / record shops which continued to resell commodity products in competition with Amazon have not done well. It is unclear how these facts relate to the proposition about manufacturers in the opening post.

 

Bookshops which have moved into specialised books with related expertise, or into vintage books, have thrived if examples around here are characteristic. Further, vinyl now outsells CDs in formerly CD-heavy music shops in this country, I was advised recently. The CD and book market itself is significantly disintermediated by downloadable music and books, which is one reason Amazon is trying to own your online shopping experience for other commodities -- its early basic market is being eaten by others. A company which needs to watch out for Amazon is ebay. What proportion of ebay goods are sold at auction now?


Edited by praxim, 10 June 2017 - 05:45.


#57 ParkerDuofold

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Posted 10 June 2017 - 15:09

@Bookman: Uncial's initial post asked whether the strategy by fountain pen manufacturers of pushing their product into niche, luxury markets will prove successful. This is a legitimate question. There is evidence from other fields to suggest it can work.
 
The examples you give in post 70 are about companies which do not manufacture anything. They are (or were) resellers of commodity products. Amazon does not manufacture anything. It is a reseller of commodity products. Book / record shops which continued to resell commodity products in competition with Amazon have not done well. It is unclear how these facts relate to the proposition about manufacturers in the opening post.
 
Bookshops which have moved into specialised books with related expertise, or into vintage books, have thrived if examples around here are characteristic. Further, vinyl now outsells CDs in formerly CD-heavy music shops in this country, I was advised recently. The CD and book market itself is significantly disintermediated by downloadable music and books, which is one reason Amazon is trying to own your online shopping experience for other commodities -- its early basic market is being eaten by others. A company which needs to watch out for Amazon is ebay. What proportion of ebay goods are sold at auction now?


Hi Praxim,

I agree with what you say here; save only one critical observation, (and perhaps I'm missing something :huh:), but I think where e-bay's strength lies is in the stock and trade that made them in the first place... the kitsch and collectables markets.

For example, I would never think to go to Amazon to find ANY of the following necessities of life:

http://m.ebay.com/it...8d63b%7Ciid%3A2


http://m.ebay.com/it...580c1%7Ciid%3A1
The Caddy needs some tender love, but could still be easily saved from death. :D


http://m.ebay.com/it...61306%7Ciid%3A1


http://m.ebay.com/it...6.c100408.m2460


E-bay is the first place I usually check for these life's blood items. Now, if Amazon ever captured this market; it probably would be the end of e-bay.

But didn't Amazon try auctions and collectables about 10 or 12 years ago and it bombed... or am I thinking of another imitator? :unsure:

At any rate, there's my 2 cents. See what I mean... or am I missing something?

- Anthony

Edited by ParkerDuofold, 10 June 2017 - 17:01.

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#58 praxim

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Posted 10 June 2017 - 22:44

I was thinking of "marketplace" items where there is no auction, only buy now with perhaps make an offer. This is the area where the two compete now, and both wish to own. For auctions, ebay has some territory although not with any great defensive wall. Auctions can be run in different ways. There are other competitors using auction methods, and subsidiaries of ebay doing the same (e.g. Gumtree).

 

I am not predicting the demise of ebay. My guess is that they will thrive. I was talking more about the fact Amazon is as much a threat to other online sellers as to B&M commodity sellers. Amazon wish to own your online buying experience. That is their mission as I see it.



#59 ParkerDuofold

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Posted 10 June 2017 - 23:11

I was thinking of "marketplace" items where there is no auction, only buy now with perhaps make an offer. This is the area where the two compete now, and both wish to own. For auctions, ebay has some territory although not with any great defensive wall. Auctions can be run in different ways. There are other competitors using auction methods, and subsidiaries of ebay doing the same (e.g. Gumtree).
 
I am not predicting the demise of ebay. My guess is that they will thrive. I was talking more about the fact Amazon is as much a threat to other online sellers as to B&M commodity sellers. Amazon wish to own your online buying experience. That is their mission as I see it.


Okay, I got you. :D

- Anthony

Edited by ParkerDuofold, 10 June 2017 - 23:31.

With thanks to my Mom & Dad; who taught me to run free, but not run wild.

Please pray the Rosary daily. Thank You, St. Jude, for favors granted. :)

Grab life with both arms and give it a bear hug every day! :D

#60 Bobje

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Posted 11 June 2017 - 21:17

Fountain Pen Network is an inappropriate forum for the discussion of politics, religion, unions, and political economy. Let's stick to discussing fountain pens, and please refrain from slander of specific individuals, companies, countries, or industries.


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