Saturday, October 07, 2006

Tower Records, RIP
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After its sale yesterday to Great American Group, Tower Records is closing the doors of all of its nearly ninety stores worldwide, effectively ending the reign of record stores as we once knew them. Great American plans to liquidate the chain beginning today with closeout sales across the board. Over 3000 Tower employees will be impacted by the closings.
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The demise of Tower Records registered barely a pling on the wires and TV news radar. It is, after all, indicative of the shifting buying habits of the music consumer. Between downloads and the big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target, coupled with the harried pace of society today, destination locations such as record stores are relics in their last throes.
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But is it really that cut and dried?
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While it is undeniable that the advent of MP3's, music file-swapping and just the outright convenience of the Internet altered the way people listen to music, those factors alone cannot explain the decline and the fall of record stores. Nor can the one-stop mentality of big-box thinking.
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The truth is, the record industry itself is at least partially responsible for the slow death of the free-standing record store. Well before the Internet or the Wal-Mart juggernaut even existed, at least traceable to the early 1980's, the bean counters at the labels had unwittingly set in motion events that altered how we listen to music.
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In those days, label money was flowing freely--every act with a new release on the roster was promoted as the Second Coming. Reps showered retailers with unlimited promo albums, marguarita-soaked release parties, primo concert tickets, t-shirts, anything and everything. And that was just store managers.
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Then the bottom dropped out-- the labels had pinned all their hopes on skinny-tie bands ( the Knack) and hair bands (Cinderella) and when they didn't explode on the public as planned, the labels panicked. Promotional support to retailers was among the earliest casualties.
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Not surprisingly, record sales slowed even more. The labels tightened their return policies, forcing the smaller retail chains, such as Disc and Sound Town out of business early on, swallowed up by Sam Goody and the like , who were swallowed up by Trans World Entertainment--and so on and so on. Sound Warehouse was devoured by Blockbuster and Wherehouse, kicking and screaming all the way, fell by the wayside.
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Only Tower was left standing, and now it's gone.
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It's sad, really. For those of us who grew up honing our music knowledge browsing the rows upon rows of neatly alphabetized albums categorized by genres not even recognized anymore, while obscure "deep album" cuts blared from wall-mounted Altec speakers, it's a time that won't be recaptured.
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1 comment:

James said...

Ray...I work for ABC News and wanted to talk to you about your posting. Can you e-mail me? james.d.wang@abc.com

thanks