Is Tower Falling?

Variety reports that Tower Records can’t pay its bills. So labels are holding off on sending it new stuff, which will probably make things worse, since new releases are typically the only CDs Tower sells at a reasonable price.

This is really about the death of the record store. I had been noticing the dwindling of the independent record store and small chains for years: Moby Disc, Penny Lane, Pyramid Music. (While I’m pointing out cool places, I see Poobah’s is still alive.)

And you know what? I’m to blame. Since subscribing to Rhapsody, I haven’t bought anything from a record store. Because when I step into a record store now, I feel nothing. No excitement, no sense of wonderment. Pretty much any music I want I can get on Rhapsody, and if I can’t get it, I’ll just browse and find something else I want. I took my first trip to Amoeba Music the other day, which in my college years would have been nothing short of a religious experience (just ask ZBalance). But I just looked around and thought, why bother? I can get all this stuff on-demand for my $10/month. Amoeba has a great DVD section, too, but I’ve got Netflix, so that does nothing for me, either.

Here’s the tricky part. As Rob Gordon might say, I’m a better “professional appreciator” because of it. I can find cool new things much easier, and explore them in much greater depth. When I find a band or artist I like, I generally listen to their whole catalog, especially if they’re a known influencer. If it’s something I might not like, I can just take a quick listen, fast forwarding and skipping through parts or tracks I don’t want to hear. I have become the audio equivalent of Galactus: Devourer of Discs, Eater of Albums.

So what replaces the cool record store? A so-called “lifestyle store”, with cool books, clothes, posters, toys, and other geegaws? Sounds almost like Urban Outfitters, now that I mention it. Still, it’s no Vintage Vinyl (which also appears to have passed on).

4 thoughts on “Is Tower Falling?”

  1. You’re absolutely right.
    A digital inventory beats a… well… analog inventory? No that’s not right. Well you get what I mean.
    Music stores are fading away. Look at the store names! You know their time has passed when you still see “record” in the title!

    Then again, I thought the same thing of camera shops. Why buy film when I can just get a digital camera and say goodbye to One-Hour-Foto?
    Wisely, camera shops have altered their business for CD formatting, easy access photo printing and so on, thus remaining in-touch with the market.
    Music stores have not made this conversion to the digital era so easily.

    I am also to blame by downloading music. I haven’t walked through a music store in ten years, with the exception of the shortcut through Target on the way to the DVD section.

    There is one shining light that I know of in New Jersey:
    Princeton Record Exchange is still doing pretty well.
    This was my final frontier before the mp3 craze took off.
    I’m not sure why they persist.
    I guess they are catering to college kids without laptops or high-speed connections!

  2. During my research, the “other” Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, is also doing quite well. The one we used to go to on Rt. 35 is apparently finito – I assume you noticed that years ago.

    Who they cater to, I’ve no idea, although I love your ironic statement about college kids funding record stores. But you’re right, it’s those who can’t afford a computer, or figure out how to use one. Now that I think about it, that’s probably a much bigger group than I realized, it’s just not one I typically hang out with.

    Or perhaps audiophiles who will listen to stuff on a high-end stereo. They mostly want DVDA or SACDs, so perhaps record stores are catering to them? Somehow I doubt that.

    You had another good point about embracing change, but I wonder how easy that is for record stores. A few Towers around here were paired with Good Guys, which is like Circuit City or Best Buy. So you could buy A/V equipment, which yould want to play CDs and DVDs on. Well Good Guys got bought out by CompUSA, so now they’re paired with computer stores. But you don’t play CDs or DVDs on a computer! Or the MP3 players they sell, either. Ironically, CompuUSA probably puts Tower further out of business. Of course, it’s been a long time since I bought something from CompUSA. The Internet has replaced them, too.

  3. I have to admit I’m enjoying the freedom of Rhapsody to click things out and find what I like through recommendations. I’ve found some bands I may have never found walking through a record store, like Belle & Sebastian, which I found using and pandora’s radio player. Although, ironically, I immediately went out and physically picked up all their albums. I guess as much as I like the browsing capability of Rhapsody, I still love to collect the albums.

    I think that looking through album art and physically thumbing through albums (a skill, which, any good record scout could appreciate) still has a lot of charm to it. You could go out to eat, get stuffed and not go home as satisfied as you would if you stopped in at the record store and came home with a couple new albums. And although it may seem logical to never leave your home, let alone your computer, it’s kind of hard to meet cute rocker girls on Rhapsody. 🙂 I’d rather ask recommendations from them.

    Plus, I work in the graphic design industry, so I have to defend the market for album art. How else are you gonna sell music? By listening to it? C’mon. Do people go to Barnes and Noble and read books without judging it first by it’s cover? Well, some do. And they never pay for those books… :{

  4. Last night, I watched High Fidelity again. It definitely makes record stores look cool, although a big part of it is these guys are, in fact, *record* collectors. Something more acceptable about being a record collector as opposed to a CD collector. Records are more like antiques now. But I’ll admit, back in the day, having a big CD collection was cool.

    As for getting recommendations from cute girls, I won’t kid myself. I visited several record stores regularly, but I was never on a first name basis with anyone behind the counter. Or in front of the counter, unless they drove to the store with me. Same with coffee shops. I’m just not that outgoing. But on that note, I leave you with my favorite treatise on record store girls:

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