The fate of the indie record shop

Posted: August 12, 2004 in Uncategorized

In true yuppie fashion, this afternoon I was sitting in the local Starbucks sipping my Frappacino and reading the local weekly while waiting for the new tires to be put on my SUV. Content and caffinated in my overstuffed chair, I started reading an article about the dying business of the local record shops, and found myself pondering possibilities.

Pretty much any campus town has its share of indie record stores. Places historically filled with holier-than-thou encyclopedic employees, poor college students hawking their used CDs for food money, and campus DJs looking for the most obscure artist album they can find. Stores personified in movies like Empire Records and Hi-Fidelity, where the music is as much a star as the actors. People selling music because they like it, not because it makes them rich.

Most small businesses like these lament the rise of WalMart and other giants that allow lower prices through volume. But these don’t pose nearly the threat to a small local record shop owner that a new Dell with an internet connetion does. With any new popular internet technology, its rise usually begins on college campuses, where the resources are freely accessible and the saavy users abundant. Most can readily agree that the last people even the most conscientious file trader is concerned with are the RIAA, the record labels, and the big-name artists who are still getting theirs. But for those whos business is being supplanted in its entirety by online music trading, how do they adjust?

Clearly there are exceptions. In bigger cities, vinyl shops still do brisk business with hardcore audiophiles and local DJs; and there is still room for knowledgable staff with obscure collections for sale. But in a town like Eugene, where most vinyl collections are circa 1982 and earlier, and incomes are pedestrian, hardcopy music collection has become percieved as a pasttime for only the absolute die-hard.

So how do you account for this change, even if your sales are merely slumping, rather than threatening to put you under? Lots of owners have already shifted their stores online. Online presence is far more lucrative now than physical. But that can eventually invalidate needing storefront space at all. Maybe it’s nostalgic of me, but I still like the shops. Computer jukie that I am, I still like flipping through the CD cases, looking for something I’d never seen before. Even CD burning kiosks have been proposed and even tried to some extent. But when it comes down to it, charging for anything that can be done at home for free is simply not going to take off unless you can make it cool first.

What I think most people need anymore when it comes to music is exposure. The one thing people who really care about music will seek out is artists they’ve never heard of, especially ones respected by like-minded people. Orginating with mix tapes, and now with song and iPod swapping, people have gotten greater exposure to the music they liked. Using this as a selling tool could be great; I would much rather go into a store and buy a mix by good industry producers or artists, or people who just had great taste. Problem is, the more money to be had in the music industry, the tighter copyright licensing has gotten, and using this as a potential avenue for retail is virtually impossible.

Unfortunately, much as people like myself enjoy the indie shops, there really might not be a way to salvage them. The way we buy things is changing enough, that while some of these shops may survive, they may well be just a novelty of nostalgia.

  1. rhinoblues says:

    that sucks that face the music might close…i’ve found quite a few cd’s over the years in that shop.

  2. Anonymous says:

    that sucks that face the music might close…i’ve found quite a few cd’s over the years in that shop.

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