Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content


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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

My personal website has links to my LinkedIn and Google+ pages and you can send e-mail to david [at] thelayaways [dot] com.

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July 17, 2006

The Death of the Record Store
by David Harrell
The Death of the Record Store
The NY Times has a piece on the current demographic slant of record stores (Thanks to Aaron for the link):
"We don't see the kids anymore," said Thom Spennato, who owns Sound Track, a cozy store on busy Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. "That 12-to-15-year-old market, that's what's missing the last couple of years."

Without that generation of buyers, the future looks bleak. "My landlord asked me if I wanted another 10-year lease, and I said no," Mr. Spennato said. "I have four years left, then I'm out."

Since late 2003, about 900 independent record stores have closed nationwide, leaving about 2,700, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a marketing research company in Studio City, Calif. In 2004, Tower Records, one of the nation's largest chains, filed for bankruptcy protection.
While there are some notable exceptions, indie record shops (and record stores in general) are slowly dying out. It's something I hate to see (I've worked in a couple of them and have very fond memories of the experience) but it's a bit hypocritical of me to mourn their death -- it's not like I'm out there actively supporting them. My eMusic subscription, free (legal) mp3s on band websites and music blogs, and the occasional Amazon.com order account for most of my music acquisitions these days.

Indie bookstores have had their problems over the past decade as well, but as retail establishments, bookstores themselves are doing much better, even if the trend is toward giant Borders and Barnes & Noble stores. I'm sure that the RIAA's response would be that the book industry doesn't have to compete with piracy (I suppose you could photocopy a book or scan it but it's not worth the time and hassle factor). There's also the pricing issue -- record stores have to contend with Best Buy selling CDs as loss leaders, while, as far as I know, the big box retailers aren't selling books at a loss to promote store traffic. Yet even if neither of those issues existed, I still think the bookstore will be around a lot longer than the record store.

One reason is relative size -- the book industry is more than twice the size of the record industry in this country (the RIAA reported total recorded music shipments of a little over $10 billion in 2005 while the Association of American Publishers reported net book sales of $25 billion for the year). But I think the main reason is that legal digital music downloads and the online sales of CDs are in a much better position to replace the retail music experience than any equivalent service for books.

That is, record/CD stores really offer three things: atmosphere -- a cool place to hang out, the possibility of discovering new music via in-store plays, browsing, and staff recommendations, and the instant gratification of immediate ownership when you buy something.

Digital download stores might never replicate the record store atmosphere, but they can they can readily replace the other two. Playlists, editorial and customer reviews, personalized recommendations and streaming song samples all make it easy to discover new music. And once you decide to buy something, you own it in a minute or two.

For bookstores, Amazon.com and other online retailers are tough competitors on price and selection. But despite Amazon's "see inside this book feature" the online bookstore doesn't replace the browsing/discovery process so well. Then, once you buy something online, your quickest delivery option is to pay extra for overnight shipping.

Of course, if everyone is "reading" digital book files on their PDAs in 10 years, maybe we'll see a repeat of the file sharing debate, this time for digital book content. It will also create an instant delivery mechanism for books. Though even if that happens, I think the local bookstore (or local Borders) will hang on. I'm not that optimistic about the fate of most record stores.

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    THE LAYAWAYS

    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/maybe-next-year">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs


    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at Last.fm.



    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/the-space-between">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at Last.fm or Napster.



    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/weve-been-lost">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.



    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website