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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Ice Weasel: "Victims of self-inflicted wounds"

Cool graphic! Miss records.....

Thanks to Ice Weasel for this awesome take on the record industry

The NYT's Spinning Into Oblivion is yet another crack at the
music industry (an industry which deserves more than a few "cracks").
However, written by two independent retailers, it's only part of the story
and, it's not all that much of expose, more of a mea culpa.

I'll add some bits from that piece here as way of an introduction
into a larger point.

"when we opened an independent CD shop on the Upper West Side of
Manhattan in 1993. At the time, we figured that as far as business
ventures went, ours was relatively safe. People would always go to
stores to buy music."

Eh? Seriously, eh?! I've been involved in the music business since
the late seventies at no time in the last three decades was an
independent store more than an extreme gamble in a very tough
environment. But that's ok, reality intrudes in the next paragraph...

"Fourteen years later, it’s clear just how wrong our assumptions
were. Our little shop closed its doors at the end of 2005."

Given the relative cluelessness exhibited in the first paragraph, I'm
surprised they lasted that long. That said; they wised up pretty well.

"The sad thing is that CDs and downloads could have coexisted
peacefully and profitably. The current state of affairs is largely
the result of shortsightedness and boneheadedness by the major record
labels and the Recording Industry Association of America, who managed
to achieve the opposite of everything they wanted in trying to keep
the music business prospering. The association is like a gardener who
tried to rid his lawn of weeds and wound up killing the trees instead."

Sort of. I think the thing missing here isn't that the industry
"killed the trees" they killed everything with the exception of the
one thing they wanted to kill, "the weeds", namely, digital
distribution. And, as important, indie retail has been, in their own
way, as resistant to change and truly serving the customer as the
labels ever were.

"Something had to be done to save the record store, a place where
hard-core music fans worked, shopped and kibitzed... "

Really, why? As much as I love some retailers, as I mention above,
most retailers were as clueless and bad to their customers as the
labels were. So the idea that consumer loses because record stores
go away isn't one that is supported by the evidence. That evidence is
in the millions of downloads from online retailers such as iTunes.
In fact, consumers want to buy single songs, at home, whenever they
want for much less than the record store could or would sell them
for. And, they want a diversity of selection that very, very few
stores ever endeavored to present.

"But instead, those labels delivered the death blow to the record
store as we know it by getting in bed with soulless chain stores like
Best Buy and Wal-Mart. "

Absolutely. The labels did everything they could, not so much with
the intention of but with the unavoidable result of helping to kill
indie stores. However, I want to point out, this was well under way
by the mid nineties.

"A year after our shop closed, Tower went out of business — something
that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier."

Tower went of business for several reasons but the idea that Tower
going buns up was "unthinkable"? Not at all. Tower was suffering
from a number of problems as early as 1995. That they lasted as long
as they did given their utterly incoherent business strategy and
their dreadful staffing is what is surprising.

Example, one of Tower's biggest inner joys was how they had created
separate sub-company to handle all their advertising. This allowed
them to rake in another 15% advertising commission on all the ads
they placed (and being one of the largest chains, they raked in a
lot). Problem was the "separate entity" booked a lot of ads that
made no sense and really didn't help the business. Sure, they got
their 15% but they also lost sight of what the purpose of that
advertising was. Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records had a vision
that, back in the early seventies was revolutionary. He wanted to
"stack the product in the aisles" and offer more titles than any
other music store. As time went on, other people stacked stuff in
aisles and the selection in his stores wasn't all that great (for a
number of reasons).

Finally, the wrap up of the Times piece is...

"We would be gloating, but for the fact that the occupation we
planned on spending our working lives at is rapidly becoming
obsolete. And that loss hits us hard — not just as music retailers,
but as music fans."

Bah. There is no better time, ever in history, than now for the
music business. The business is in the process of redefining
itself. Sure, there are new challenges out there for entrepreneurs
in the music industry but finally; many of the hurdles are also
disappearing. What these people are bemoaning, rightly or wrongly,
is their desire to work, forever, locked into some High Fidelity
model whereby they get to stand behind the counter and point "over
there" and smirk when customers ask for something.

In 1998 I wrote a report for the National Association of Independent
Music Distributors (an association of indie stores and distributors,
sort of the indie counterpart to NARM which is one of the main
driving forces behind the widely acknowledged evil that is the RIAA)
entitled, "The Perfect Record Store". The report was a critique on
indie retail and some potentials avenues indie retailers could
explore to help themselves.

I can't find the report (it's probably on an archive disc somewhere)
but I do recall enough to over-simplify and summarize it here

What will record stores look like in ten years? Think of something
more akin to a coffee shop than the store you're in now. Your
customer will come for the same thing they always have, music but
they will be buying it in different ways. You'll have kiosks or
tables with computers where you customers will download music from
remote servers and they'll use your facility to print the booklets
and burn the discs. They'll bring their MP3 players and connect them
to your computers to download music as well. (ed note: I had seen
the Diamond Rio player the previous at CES and was blown away by the
implications) Because the memory of the MP3 players is so limited,
they'll visit your store frequently to download new music. They'll
come to your store for what they always have, to get inside
information from your staff and to talk with other buyers. The real
security in this business model is that you're not just selling
music; you're selling the experience of buying music. Your new store
will make the experience something the customer will value. Gone
(and thankfully so) will be row upon row of dusty CDs in grimy
plastic cases. Instead, your customers will browse the complete
catalogs of the record labels on computers and create their own
collections. While your business will change operationally, you'll
still be selling music but I would emphasize, without a nightmare of
retail inventory and you will most likely be in the position to offer
your customer something they cannot get at the big boxes that are
currently beating you about the face and head, and that's a pleasant


Most of the feedback I got was, unsurprisingly, incredulous. Most of
the indie storeowners were convinced that their customers loved
digging through dirty bins and wanted to search through thousands of
titles to find the one they would actually buy. The idea that seemed
to repulse them most was turning their store into a social center, a
coffee shop of sorts.

Of course, this didn't happen for a number of reasons. The biggest
was, the labels never allowed their product to be sold through
licensed local retailers. While it's arguable that my idea is still
a viable model (some music buyers do like to socialize when they buy)
I doubt it will happen. The indie retailers, in their own way, are
just as stubborn and short sighted as the labels. Most of them still
resent the idea that vinyl is gone. Most indie retailers don't
respect their customers and don't bother to take the time to turn
them onto new music.

Which is sad because the idea, I think, would actually offer a decent
value to the consumer. Shortly after I wrote this Hear Music opened
its first store in Berkeley, California. Curiously enough, it was
structured, somewhat along the lines I mentioned in the report. And
somewhat more curiously, Starbucks Coffee bought the chain in 1999.
Though Starbucks has not fully developed Hear along those lines they
have incorporated many of the nuances of my original report into the
concept and offer custom burned CDs as well coffee.

Before I was born music stores were vastly different places than the
ones I worked in during my youth. In the fifties it wasn't unusual
for the appliance/TV store sell music or the local musical instrument
to sell records and sheet music. Listening booths where customers
could preview their selections were more common than not. The music
retail industry is constantly changing. It's the retailers who
cannot adapt with their customers that get left behind.

- posted by Ice Weasel

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