It sometimes seems to me that since the mid-1960s what I've done the most is chronicle the vanishing of leading industry manufacturers, dealers, distributors, executives and traditions. And now it's time for yet another one.
This year, for the first time since its founding in 1921 as a radio parts supplier, RadioShack (RS) won't be publishing a printed mail order catalog. Instead the complete roster of its 2003 line offerings is available only at www.radioshack.com.
Since I first joined the industry some 41 years ago, an annual RS catalog has been my most utilized reference work, and for 32 years I used it to generate a yearly report on the trends and pricing of RS' video products.
I ended those reports when RCA/Thomson became the sole supplier, and noted in an editorial that the change gave RS a degree of isolation from the effects of industry price erosion it didn't have when it only offered house brand consumer electronics.
In fact, an RS spokesperson told us that the ability to offer best prices, plus a plan to add new products quarterly, were the key motivations for dropping the catalog. Not mentioned was the considerable sum RS will save in printing, mailing and publication costs.
As already reported (TWICE, June 3, 2002), RS has revamped its product line with emphasis on digital products, and as indicated above, sharper pricing. So we compared parts of this year's online 2003 offerings with those in the 2002 catalog.
In digital still cameras, RS went from a single RCA model at $400 (all prices rounded up to the dollar) to nine under the Fuji, Hewlett-Packard, Kodak and RadioShack brands, priced from $450 to $800. In camcorders, a category Thomson has dropped, RS features two digital models (up from one last year): a full-featured Panasonic at $600, down $50, and a Samsung with infrared for taping in the dark, at $500. VHS-C models are a Panasonic with a built-in digital still camera and a Samsung with digital image stabilization, both at $350.
Pricing is down sharply in most other video products, which still carry the RCA logo except where noted. The DVD line has jumped to 11 models from three, now headed by a Panasonic recorder at $700. An RCA five-disc changer is out, replaced by a DVD/VCR combo with Dolby and DTS at the same $250 price, while a new Go-Video DVD/Hi Fi VCR is $200.
In home color TV, last year's high-end 32-inch is out, with the line now topped by flat tubes in 27-inch ($500) and 20-inch ($280) options. A new curved-tube 27-inch is $250, down $100; a new 19-inch mono is $150; a new 13-inch is $100, down $50; and a new 9-inch kitchen set is $200. A holdover 5-inch AC/DC monitor is $180, down $70.
In RCA home theater systems, RS offers five packages, up from three, topped by a 600-watt holdover with a three-disc DVD changer at $400, down $100. A 200-watt version is $350, and a system with a single disc DVD is carried over at $300, down $100. A new 650-watt package with no DVD is $300. The leader is a RadioShack brand 10-watt system at $200.
The online catalog features RCA DirectTV systems but there is no product listing for Echostar gear, although the Dish line is being carried by RS retail outlets. The RCA receiver for Microsoft's Ultimate TV service was $300 and is being dumped at $80, now that RS and Microsoft are ending their broadband relationship.
A number of products are shown as "out of stock online. It may be available at your local RadioShack store." That's an indication such items are being discontinued, and shows how the online catalog has more flexibility than the printed version.
Bob Gerson, TWICE editor-at-large, has covered the CE industry for more than 30 years. He is the founding editor of the publication and was its longtime editor-in-chief.