The Audio Cynic

Black Friday

I wondered when the term “Black Friday” came to mean the launch of the Christmas/Hanukkah selling season on the day after Thanksgiving. In my mind, “Black Friday” referred to the 1929 stock market crash in America. Typical of my understanding of history, I got it wrong: that crash started on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929.  Oops. Way to go, Leebs.

“Black Friday” apparently was a descriptor first applied to the panic of 1869, which broke on Friday, September 24, 1869. But—all audiophile geeks know Steely Dan’s song of the same name, which says:

When Black Friday comes
I stand down by the door
And catch the grey men when they
Dive from the fourteenth floor

—in 1869, there weren’t any buildings that had 14 floors.

Yes, I checked: I am that obsessive. And “grey men” would seem to define 20th century grey-flannel-wearing businessmen, and plummeting from skyscrapers was something that occurred in the Great Depression. So…let’s just assume that “Black Friday” was the end of the first week of the stock market crash in ’29.

But what about that shopping thing? One story is that every year Philadelphia would be overrun by suburbanite shoppers in town for the Army-Navy football game, always played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. By the early ’60’s, the term “Black Friday” had stuck in Philly; it was not meant in a positive way, but was indicative of the dread felt by both law-enforcement and by shopkeepers.

Somehow—and if there’s agreement on just how, I can’t find it—by the late ’80’s the term had gone nationwide. The story/myth/explanation had appeared that what the term “Black Friday” really meant was  that merchant profitability was so dependent upon holiday sales that they remained in the red—running at a loss— until Thanksgiving weekend—after which, sales were in the black, or profitable.

Personally, I call BS on that version. The idea of running a business at a loss for eleven months, hoping against hope that the year will be salvaged by a magical weekend or two, strikes me as insane. I suppose it’s possible, but I’d hate to think it’s commonplace.

While giant-ticket audio products may not benefit from Black Friday, Cyber Monday, et al, ad nauseam—it’s generally the strongest sales period for consumer electronics as a whole. The Consumer Technology Association—y’know, those folks who used to be the CEA— projects that 68% of Americans, about 170 million of us, will spend over $36 billion during the 2016 holiday season. That’s about $212 per person. That may not buy a new pair of Magicos, but it’s a fair amount.

Personally, I plan to spend the holiday with my family, and not with a bunch of over-caffeinated fellow shoppers. But to each his own: if you need this as justification to buy yourself a new system, have at it!