The Revival of Rabbit Ears

By: Clark Swanson

I vaguely recall a pair of rabbit ears sitting atop my grandmother’s TV in rural Missouri. She would twist and turn them to improve the reception on her Curtis Mathes color TV. To me, it never really seemed to work terribly well, but for her eyes, the picture quality improved immediately.

Monday morning’s account in the Wall Street Journal came as somewhat of a shock to me – the sales of rabbit ears trending upward. So much that Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Costco have started stocking rabbit ears in their stores. In addition, the unlikely driver of this trend, although not unlikely once you think about it, the web. More precisely, services like Hulu and Netflix. One manufacturer noted, “Every time that Hulu and Netflix enhance their services, our phones light up.”

Consumers have discovered they can jettison their cable and satellite TV by streaming programming from the web and accessing local channels – you guessed it – with rabbit ears. The Wall Street Journal article estimated consumers could save about $96 each month with this practice.

OrangeBoy has seen a similar trend among library users across the country. Among those who read six books or less annually, retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are often identified in surveys as the preferred choice for reading materials. The library’s competitiveness increases as the number of books read increases. Once a cardholder starts reading ten or more books annually, the library becomes almost the exclusive provider. The same appears to hold true for digital downloads.

These trends tell the same lesson, I believe. Customers know how to count their pennies, and when it makes sense, they switch. Libraries can draw several lessons from this:

  1. Know your sweet spot. Understand those who read more than ten books per year.
  2. Feed the habit. The more you read, the higher your consumption of materials. Reading represents a learned behavior, or habit. With increased availability of materials through holds and downloads, the habit grows.
  3. Never assume your customers know precisely what they want. Understand the communication channels preferred by your customers, and actively court them through digital and social media to highlight new authors and introduce them to new services.

Grandmother never exactly knew the best position for her rabbit ears. It changed daily. The twisting and turning was part of her evening ritual. Many evenings it was to no avail. The signal just disappeared, and when it did, she turned-off the set and reached for a book. Grandmother read considerably more than ten books a year, as it turns out.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

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