The End of the Record Store?

Ballroom Dancing: Music Panels

SXSW Live Shots
Photo By Gary Miller

The End of the Record Store?

Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 19 Conventional wisdom says the short answer to this panel's interrogative title is: "Yes," or rather, "Except for Amoeba, and Waterloo, yes." That means four of the five panelists were either brilliant or blind because they were very bullish on the state of record retail. Carl Singmaster, one retailer who recently got out of the business, did so not because of the impending digital doom, but because his business went from being 90% music and 10% business to the reverse. "I worked myself into the exact kind of job I wanted to leave." So why the optimism from the rest of the panel? Moderator Don VanCleave, president of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, admitted he invited panelists in situations that ran counter to the prevailing wisdom that digital sharing is dealing a deathblow to CDs. Steve Wiley, who owns Hoodlums Music, a store on the campus at Arizona State University, openly avowed that what some consider piracy, he thinks of as exposure. "It just makes them music junkies," he said of his customers who download. "They want more music." The general consensus was that piracy is a function of price more than anything else. Wiley hypothesized that at $15, people are hesitant to buy, but if you can get the thing to $12, then it's easier to buy than to burn. The latter activity – burning – was what Paul Epstein of Denver's Twist and Shout saw as the problem. He said the Internet has become what radio was in terms of exposing people to music. It's when people burn copies of things for themselves and friends that the sales just evaporate. As optimistic as the panelists were, they weren't stupid. They had all made "lifestyle" products – everything from posters and T-shirts to candles – a big chunk of their business. Audience members were more than a little skeptical of the quasi-rosy portrait. One attendee passionately lamented the disappearance of all the cool record stores in Providence, R.I., essentially telling the panel that what they were experiencing isn't what he was experiencing. But, as Singmaster noted early on, "We made more money in the bad years than we ever made in the good years."

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