Jump to content

Will Indie Record Shops Survive?


Recommended Posts

From WashingtonCityPaper.com

Two views on the future, from the frontlines

By Angela Valdez


Off the Record: Orpheus has been about to close for months now.


Record stores are disappearing. From college campuses to big cities, even the most beloved retailers are closing down because they can't afford to stay open. But the industry isn't giving up just yet. On April 19, several hundred surviving stores will celebrate National Record Store Day. They've hooked up with independent labels and lots of artists to pump up the promotion with in-store performances and music giveaways. Is it too little, too late? We asked two local record sellers—one who's doing well and another who's closing shop—to make some predictions for the future of the business.

Bill Daly

Owner (with wife Helen), Crooked Beat

After 11 years in business, Daly is relatively hopeful for his industry but thinks record stores will have to change to stay alive. He says the week-long promotion will help "bring awareness." Not awareness of the plight of record stores, but of the fact that they actually exist. "A lot of people don't think record stores exist anymore," he says. "I think record store day is probably is a good step." Daly says there are fewer than 1,500 record stores left in the United States, with the independents dying fast. School Kids Records in North Carolina is the most recent big loss. He also cites the deaths of several independent distributors in making it harder for record stores to stay afloat.

"They're always going to be around, they're just going to be very specialized. Every record store is just going to have to carve out their own niche and do what they do," Daly says. He's survived by hewing close to his own niche—selling a deep catalogue of "punk, post-punk, reggae and independent releases." Mail-order sales make up 30 percent of his business, he says. Daly places a big chunk of the blame on record labels. "They have never lowered their wholesale prices on CDs," he says. Independent stores, he says, can never sell music as cheaply as the giants like Best Buy or Wal-Mart. The big guys keep prices low, he says, through back-room deals, in which bulk buyers get discounts, or tricks like the "loss leader" strategy, in which giant retailers take a loss on CDs to lure in customers with cheaper prices.

Daly worries about the impact on the music industry. "Best Buy has never broken a new artist," he says.


Rick Carlisle

Owner, Orpheus Records

The store could still be open into May, he says, or, "until everything's gone or the landlord throws us out."

Carlisle's overflowing Wilson Boulevard store has been about to close for several months now. The business wasn't a victim of the declining vinyl market so much as the soaring real estate market. Carlisle's landlord has refused to renew his lease, which officially ended March 31. But the landlord is still in negotiations with the next tenants or owners, so Carlisle is still selling records. "We get to stay while they hammer out whatever it is they're hammering out," he says. The store could still be open into May, he says, or, "until everything's gone or the landlord throws us out." It's not surprising that Carlisle has a relatively bleak forecast for the future of the record store.

"I think they're certainly on their way out. There's definitely a resurgence of interest in them but it's too little, too late. Those who are willing and able to sell online will be around for a while." Carlisle doesn't particularly like the idea of opening an online-only store—but he will continue to sell collectible, high-end albums on the Web. He doesn't recommend record store ownership to younger entrepreneurs. "If some younger person was trying to start a store like this they'd be at a disadvantage," he says. "Most of this music [at Orpheus] has come out while I was in the business. Someone starting now has to go back and learn about things that are 10, 20, 30 years old. It's nice to come into a place where when you ask for something, you find someone who knows what you're talking about."

What happened? Who's to blame? Carlisle has a more global explanation. "It used to be an environment where everything kind of fed each other," he says. Radio stations, artists, labels and stores had a symbiotic relationship. Now that those relationships are gone, he says, it's gone. There's no saving it and it isn't necessarily a tragedy. What makes record stores worth saving? Carlisle can't put his finger on the answer. "I don't think it's going to lessen the murder rate," he says. "But maybe it would … I don't know. I never gave it any thought. When this store is gone there are a lot of people who are going to miss it a lot. It'll be harder to find stuff that I've got. I definitely think you're losing something but I'm not able at this point to articulate what it is … it's an interesting question but I've been too busy selling records to think about it in those terms. If enough people still cared about record stores, they'd still be here. I don't think we need to blame anybody. … It's fun to be able to go to record stores and talk to people with similar interests. That's a very specific community and I think that's a sad thing but most people probably don't care."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Downloads, mp3's and iPods are to blame. Plus message boards like this, myspace and facebook are probably partly to blame. More kids communicate online than face to face at an ever growing rate and while they're at it, they're downloading music.

Why get up to go to the store and pay $10-$15 for a cd when you can rip it off for free from many online sources?

The immersion into computer video's also contributes. The newer generation of kids are getting more insular everyday. If they go to a store, it's more than likely some clothing shop for their gap, aeropostale and hollister brand name prep gear.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There was a study done not so long ago that determined that those that download the most music also buy the most most music. The word "download" has gotten to where it has taken on a very negative connotation. Say it to some people and they automatically think you mean illegal downloading, not legitimate downloading via sites like iTunes and emusic or obtaining live shows for free via sites like Dime-A-Dozen (a dirty word even on this site). Still, downloading (legal or otherwise) doesn't require one to actually leave the house and interact with other music fans.

Speaking just for myself, I have nothing against downloading (the legal variety) but I still haven't entered into that world. The biggest downfall of which is the widespread use of MP3 files, largely the subject of Lou Reed's speech at SXSW in Austin this year. So many music fans are of the casual variety that the compression and loss of sound quality that comes along with MP3s doesn't bother them. Even worse, they simply don't care. Even though I love the record shopping experience I've pretty much come to grips with the fact they may soon be a thing of the past, it's the MP3 thing that's the next big concern. On the other hand, vinyl has been making a bit of a revival recently so I'm not counting record stores down for the count just yet. As Shelby Lynne was recently quoted on the Record Store Day (April 19th) homepage:

"You can't roll a joint on an iPod - buy vinyl!"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's funny, because ever since I came to college last fall, I've discovered the beauty of local record stores. For a couple months I only went to one in particular, but then I figured out there were two other ones nearby. It's kind of dangerous in the sense that they have a lot to offer and that they're so close to where all my classes are, so making a couple quick purchases in between classes is something that happens almost too often for me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Many do buy downloads, but I thought the point of the thread was patronizing record shops. Physical ones, not online "stores" or cyber-visits.

I'm not sure of the point of the thread (as it can go anywhere) but that may have been the point of the article. I was just speaking to the reality that record stores as we once knew them are quickly becoming a thing of the past, like it or not. Hopefully this minor vinyl revival and the interest in shopping in them in general amongst a select few will be enough to keep them in business. Although I prefer CDs and vinyl I'm not against digital as long as artwork is provided and sound quality isn't comprised by the industry making MP3s the norm.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If I like the music I buy the CD. MP3's are the worst thing to happen to music since Disco. They sound like total shit and an entire generation doesn't know any better. That's the same reason i don't have much use for an iPod or other portable media player. For me music is a larger than life sound scape and I'm not going to short change myself with terrible sounding compression algorithms and earbuds.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...