Thursday, February 25, 2010
good lord, it's all i hear about lately. we're gonna wake up in a few weeks and yo-yo's are going to be everywhere, and we'll all be superstars, and sunshine and rainbows will cover the earth. and then what?
seriously, the community is all atwitter with news of an imminent 'yo-yo swell'. yyf and duncan are reporting serious sales increases. we've got the giganthomous hyper©®™ promotion going on in japan. you can suddenly buy yo-yo's (of a sort...) at walgreens for $4. guys like paul yath and paul han (pretty much the two best pauls i can imagine - oh hi, escolar!) are popping up in nice new marketing campaigns. and then there's this razor thing...
i don't want to get in a big tizzy over it. i already did that and got it out of my system. i like yo-yoing. i've done it for a fair while. most of the folks whom i'd call my best friends are yo-yoers. i want good things to happen to yo-yoing. but what does that mean.
the majority of people i hear talking about it seem to be under the impression that a boom is exactly what every yo-yoer has been waiting for. but let's examine that.
a boom is characterized by a sudden surge in popularity. people will want to yo-yo. retailers and manufacturers (some of whom are in the game now, and some of whom will jump on board as it happens) will respond to perceived demand by generating a much greater supply of yo-yo's and accessories, and putting those products within reach of the non-yoyoing public. people will buy said yo-yo's, which will generate awesome profits for the companies involved (if you have the startup to make and sell a million plastic yo-yo's, and the network to get them into retail stores, the profits can be immense). for awhile - maybe a few months, maybe a few years - there will be a metric ton of new yo-yo players, most of whom will obviously be total novices.
the issue with a boom is that (by its very nature) it must be followed by a bust. given a quick surge, there will come a time when yo-yo's are so ubiquitous that they are no longer in demand. if markets have not been prepared in a sustainable way (i.e. if kids lack the means to get good at yo-yoing and the desire to stick with it), then people will stop buying yo-yo's relatively quickly. if there are events, promotions, and learning tools in place to keep yo-yoing interesting, the boom may be prolonged. regardless, manufacturers and retailers will need to be extremely flexible and wary amidst the chaos, so as to position themselves properly for the inevitable bust. around y2k, when the last boom evaporated, seemingly overnight, HUGE amounts of product were left over. retailers found themselves selling it off cheaply, sometimes at a loss, and having misread the demand, a number of manufacturers were left choking on stockpiles of yo-yo's.
i bought this yo-yo in 1998. actually i bought a pair, a blue and a black. at some point much later, i foolishly tried the raider crush mod on one of them and destroyed it. at the time i bought it (for $30), you couldn't find them. they were sold out everywhere and i happened to be in zany brainy when the shipment arrived. THP of course, refers to Team High Performance, the teal-clad engine of yo-yo domination that burst onto the scene with their fancy transaxles. although boom-icon jennifer baybrook and such luminaries as paul han, ryan lai, and pat cuartero were members, i really didn't know much about them aside from their loud shirts and the card-full of difficult tricks you had to master to make the team. this yo-yo spun forever - for. ev. er. and once it broke in, it made tricks like split the atom or hydrogen bomb (which used to separate the men from the boys) positively easy.
by the end of the boom, a bazillion yo-yo's had been sold, but the number of people who kept with it afterwards was comparatively tiny. companies are businesses, and a number of them had to push the eject button, escaping from the market altogether with fistfulls of cash (or, if they were too slow, buried in debt). the community was shuffled up a bit, and yo-yoing went back to being a kind of 'niche' thing.
it's worth asking who stands to benefit from a boom? the companies who are well-positioned for one; namely those with the capacity to make large amounts of entry-level yo-yo's available to consumers. as of now, companies like duncan and yoyofactory have demonstrated this ability. both of those companies can put $10 throws in retail stores, sell them by the truck load, and make a killing. also, having invested a great deal in the yo-yo community during the intervening years, those are the companies with the most to gain in KEEPING yo-yoing popular. i think that, lacking some specifically bad experience with either, anyone who would call themselves a yo-yoer should want those two companies to do well. they sponsor contests. they push the standard of quality forward. they interact with the community, and frequently respond to its demands.
companies like peter fish or razor, who clearly have the ability to sell a lot of yo-yo's, but who have yet to demonstrate accountability to the community, are likely to make a bunch of money and then run away. nothing personal; just business. maybe they'll prove me wrong. it'll be on yo-yoers to watch these new companies and determine whether they're invested in yo-yoing, or whether they just mean to use it to bathe in duckets. it should be pretty obvious. so far, neither company has really 'given' anything to yo-yoing - no high-quality product, no sponsored events, no interaction with the community or the online stores. if they want to be perceived as caring about yo-yoing, those things will change. if not, they'll stay the same.
the boutique metal companies don't really have the means to interact with boom-consumers directly. no beginner will go online to buy a super-expensive first yo-yo when they can buy a speedle at TRU for $8, and few retail stores will sign up for the risk associated with carrying expensive throws. i remember when the last boom puked its last, and my local Hobby Lobby was desperately marking down SB-2's and cold fusions from $120+ to <$30. companies like clyw, spyy, and one drop can market their butts off, but on some level they'll have to hope that beginners latch on, see the pros throwing expensive metals, and decide follow suit. though that may happen to some extent, i doubt those companies will be raking in the kind of coin that those with entry-level plastics will see. if we could slow the boom down, and players who get into it have an opportunity to mature... the smaller high-end companies could stand to gain greatly, and the community would benefit from the new blood. i think it's also reasonable to ask oneself why a boom is desirable. some kids want yo-yoing to be popular so that they, themselves will be. i feel like that's kind of sad, although no more so than the kids who DON'T want yo-yoing to be popular so that they'll be perceived as unique and interesting. if you like yo-yoing (or love it), it makes sense to want to see it expand. but remember that there's a difference between expansion and unchecked, cancerous growth. after the latter, you might not recognize the landscape of yo-yoing at all. in my opinion, what we want to see is not this protracted cycle of boom/bust, but more managed and sustained development. i want to see yo-yoing grow in popularity, gain mainstream appeal, and see the companies that give a crap about it rewarded for their years of effort. i don't think that's what a boom really does, however. consider the landscape of the last boom. in 1996, yo-yoing was pretty dead. there weren't a lot of people doing it, and being good at it seemed impossibly hard. in 1999, it was inescapably everywhere, everyone and your mom was yo-yoing, and new technology made it seem like being good at it was possible. then by 2002, it was pretty dead; many of the new players had quit, and the standard of play had been reset, making it once again seem difficult and obscure. how much better would it be for a yyf, yyj, or duncan to experience 15 years of incrementally growing popularity, rather than 3 years of killing it (and potentially 1 being left with a warehouse of yo-yo's they can't sell)? if instead of the boom model, we could see yo-yo companies (and the community) enjoy that sort of gradual growth, i think it would be preferable. most of the yo-yoers i know would like yo-yoing to be a big deal again. they'd like it to be seen and appreciated as the hybrid sport/performance art that it is. they'd like every kid to have a yo-yo in his/her pocket. booms are pretty successful in GETTING those yo-yo's there, but to KEEP them in kids' pockets (or better yet - on their fingers) takes a different, more patient approach. i hope we find that our companies are up for that. i think that some of them will be, and some will miss out (thanks, cptn. obvious!). the scene isn't what it was 13 years ago. the culture isn't the same. some people feel that a boom of the same scope isn't even possible, because kids won't latch on in the same way. 'good yo-yoing' has become extremely technical, and while the technology allows a kid to throw a minute-long sleeper on a few minutes of practice... it still takes months to get 'ok'. are kids today up for that? i guess we'll find out.
if it does come to pass, i hope that we as yo-yoers are able to keep our wits about us. i hope that we're able to use our voice and experience to advocate for those companies which have worked to enrich our experience for years even without a boom. i hope that we're able to express to those just starting up that this is a pretty bitchin' deal we've got going here (if you'll pardon the vernacular); that it's well worth the effort.
i pick this yo-yo up and feel a little conflicted. on the one hand i remember how exciting it was when yo-yo's were suddenly everywhere - how it felt like a movement, the sole object of which was FUN. on the other, i remember how lame it felt for that movement to suddenly asphyxiate in the night. i want to see my friends rewarded for their skill and for their work. i want guys like steve brown and john higby to be able to tack a zero on to their average audience size (and their performance fee). i want guys like ben and hans to be able to retire to the polynesian island of their choosing. i want to see yo-yoing take its place on the pulse of pop consciousness once again... i just don't want to watch it explode into emptiness the way it did before.