HomeTheaterREview (no relation) is reporting that high end speaker maker Thiel will stop selling exclusively through independent retailers and begin offering some of its entry level products on amazon.com (story here) and indeed, a quick amazon search for Thiel products shows in-walls from $900, and standalone speakers ranging from $1200 - $3,000. Founder Jim Thiel passed away in September, so I'm sure there are some who are saying that Jim must have said, "not over my dead body" and the company waited until that was literally true before making the move. I never interviewed Mr. Thiel, so I don't know what his attitudes or business plans were. However, the company's basic position is pretty simple: the market for high end speakers has always been limited, but audio enthusiasts are aging, the independent dealer channel is shriveling, the recession is tanking custom installers, and competitors are moving design and production to China to lower costs. It would appear that Thiel is suffering from the same maladies as Snell.
The move to a mainstream, online distribution channel like amazon is definitely risky, especially since Thiel didn't take the obvious step of first segmenting its products into distinct lines for the different channels. Thiel will have to sell enough volume on amazon to offset the fallout from angry independent dealers and custom installers. It's not clear if this is a desperation move -- i.e., Thiel's sales are down enough that anything sold online is a plus -- or if this is an attempt to position the company for growth as traditional channels are expected to continue shrinking over time, and the online channel continues to grow. In any case, simply sticking products from a relatively obscure brand up on amazon will not result in sales; Thiel will need to advertise and promote the products through the new channel. I haven't seen any new Thiel ads or promotions, have you?