In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?

As CD sales plummet and famed shops close, brave entrepreneurs are trying to reinvent the model. Is it too late?

On Wednesday night, hundreds of people passed through the doors of Other Music, one of New York City’s last remaining record stores. Yes, there was free booze. But the young, plugged-in crowd came to celebrate, not necessarily to buy. “The World’s First Perfect Zine,” a new print publication from the author of a well-known blog devoted to reviews of album reviews, was holding a release party. Along with a contribution by the novelist Tao Lin, the zine includes writing by members of the groups Vampire Weekend, Das Racist and jj, among others.

In what could be an intriguing — or depressing — glimpse into the future of record stores, all those extra bodies in the room didn’t necessarily translate into extra business. “There was a remarkably low number of kids who came in there and said, ‘I haven’t seen this, I’ll pick it up,’” observed Other Music co-owner Josh Madell, a day after the event. The zine’s editor, pseudonymous Pitchfork reviews blogger David Shapiro, didn’t dispute the point. “Part of the reason was that the store was so packed that browsing for CDs and records wasn’t really physically possible,” he explained, in an email response to questions. “But beyond that, of course, people don’t really buy records that much anymore — especially people in a small, hyper-Internet-savvy subset of young New Yorkers.”

The episode neatly illustrates a fundamental paradox facing record store owners in 2011. Many music fans romanticize the record store as a source of both hard-to-find culture and local community. “It was a library and a clubhouse,” as director Cameron Crowe, one of the ultimate nostalgists, told the authors of the 2009 book “Record Store Days.” At the same time, however, record stores are just that — stores — and ever-fewer consumers are choosing to buy the little pieces of plastic they sell. For record stores overall, then, the outlook appears bleak.

I would recommend you read the rest of the article here

It is just the latest article about whether record shops can survive and an interesting read but most of it has of course been said before. What is irritating is some of the “solutions” have been said before and will be said again while being patently untrue in the “real world”. The article itself confirms this. Top of the list is being told that putting on interesting events and being at the heart of the artistic and wider community is what is needed. Events (mainly in-stores) will not lead to many sales if well attended and may easily not be well attended if at all. No matter how much a shop supports local artists they will always for most be at the fringes as artists look to sell on bandcamp and at gigs. Avalanche is luckier than most I suspect in the support it does receive and only last week the Bwani Junction in-store was a big success on all levels and the album has continued to sell both in the shop and online. Meanwhile only two days later the much lauded Monoganon played to 9 people comprising of friends, a couple of customers and a couple of tourists. The tourists bought a CD from the band for £2.

This year we had a new phenomenon with young kids coming in to buy Avalanche t-shirts before they went away to university. I certainly recognised some of them and many bought posters to take away with them too. Virtually all commented that it was a matter of pride their hometown had such a cool record shop but few had actually ever bought music from me. Most had been in before for posters. Now that is an important part of what we do now so I am not complaining but it shows the shift of emphasis. Similarly our online sales have increased recently helped by the Frightened Rabbit sales but certainly not just that. The most notable increase is people from Edinburgh ordering online. These are strange times indeed !

We have just had three very busy days in the shop and exactly 50% of the sales were second hand vinyl. The big collection has helped but we had a lot of good vinyl already. We sold none of the Snow Patrol album. I still believe there is a way forward just not the one most often put forward.  

The end of the article sums things up nicely.

Shapiro, “The World’s First Perfect Zine” editor, aptly summed up the conundrum. ”The way I feel about patronizing record stores,” he wrote in an email, “is probably the way everyone feels about things they know they should be doing but don’t actually do enough: heading to Occupy Wall Street after work, doing the pile of dishes in the sink and sparing their roommates, leftists not shopping at liberal-seeming megachains (Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods) whose owners hold beliefs and donate money to politicians that are inimical to leftism. I’m glad there are people who do these things, and if I had the constitution to do what I believed in 100 percent of the time I would buy all of my music at record stores, but alas … ” Unfortunately for record-store enthusiasts, it’s not a perfect world.

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