Friday Puzzler: A Wall of Brand-New Walkmans

By Barbara F. Walter

Erica and I would like to introduce a new reoccurring segment called the Friday Puzzler. The way it works is pretty simple — we’ll post a puzzle that we think is intriguing. It may be related to political violence, or it may not. You, our dear reader, can comment on what you think is going on. Hat tip to the person who posts the best response.

Here’s the first one. It’s tangentially related to political violence:

A few weeks ago, I walked into my local CVS to buy some sunscreen. I had time to kill, so I perused the aisles I normally pass by. Near the front of the store, I found a whole aisle selling Walkmans. Yes, you heard right: Walkmans, brand new. The kind you put a cassette in, and if you’re lucky has auto-reverse. People born after 1980 probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but CVS stocks them; not just one, but rows of them. Next to the Walkmen were rows of slightly less antiquated Discmen.

So here’s the puzzle. Why would CVS still devote precious retail space to a technology that I thought was obsolete 20 years ago? Who’s buying these music-boxes? (And if you really want to get deep: What does it say about our society if we live in a world where some people buy a new iPad every year, and other people are still replacing their old Walkman?)

Happy Friday people!

  1. It’s a win for CVS. The challenge is for the manufacturer. In all likelihood CVS placed the product on consignment committing no cash. Additionally end cap space – in many retailers, is auctioned i.e. product distributors bid against each other for the space and the retailer shares in the revenue.
    It’s game theory 101 and can be profitable for both retailer and supplier.

  2. It’s also worth remembering that there are still Walkman or Discman customers. iPhones and other digital music players usually require a personal computer, and it’s difficult to use individual music programs like iTunes on library or other public computers. For the poor that don’t own computers, older players are still useful. I still occasionally see them in use.

  3. Costly signal of CVS’s commitment to remain old school. The slap bracelets, kool-aid packets, and trapper keepers simply didn’t take up enough shelf space. Happy Friday!

  4. It’s possible many people in that neighborhood are too poor for MP3 players.

    It’s possible many people in that neighborhood don’t own a PC that makes the MP3 player useful.

    It’s possible many people in that neighborhood think owning an MP3 player would draw suspicion, either from criminals (who might steal your valuable device) or from police (who may suspect you came about the MP3 player or the money used to purchase it illegally).

    It is also possible that its expendibility is useful to gangs – instructions or vital information can be recorded onto a tape, passed on, listened to, and then destroyed, without leave any kind of trace.

  5. I’d have to agree with Taylor’s comment above. As ubiquitous as iPods, iPads, and other digital music players may be, they are impractical for large segments of the population (i.e. the poor) due to their reliance on personal computers. It would seem almost naive to think that Walkman and Discman users aren’t still out there, even if I personally haven’t seen a cassette tape for sale in a long while.

    As far as what seeing a Walkman in a CVS might mean for our society, I’d be curious to know more about the demographics of the specific neighborhood housing the CVS in question. While there might not be much of a market for Walkman and Discman products in more affluent neighborhoods, it might make sense for CVS stores in poorer areas to keep a few in stock.

  6. Here’s another theory (though the ones above are good ones). You live in/near San Diego which has a large military population. Taking an iPhone on an overseas mission may be impractical, so you get a walkman instead. CVS stocks them, in other words, because the large military population in San Diego creates a demand for them.

  7. They might also be catering to hipsters and old schoolers/sentimentalists, thus taking business away from the Urban Outfitters of the world (which would naturally overcharge for such “vintage” devices.)

  8. It can be the demand from middleage people who give them to elderly parents along with their old stash of audiobooks and old memorablia cassettes with recorded kids and granchildren. This to pair with the recipients old, now barely obtainable in digital form, music collection.

  9. The problem with computers is not that they’re not readily accessible, but that in Obama’s America it’s not safe to use computers, lest you be the target of government oppression and persecution, so freedom-loving individuals must revert to otherwise outdated methods. And it’s also harder for the Aliens to encode subliminal messages into tapes and CDs than into your iPod.

    Either that or hipsters…

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