We linked a story back in January about how the indie record store Amoeba was doing well despite general industry woes. The Chicago Tribune says indie record stores in general are doing well – how can this be??
- “Business is great, fantastic,” says Marc Weinstein, co-owner of Amoeba, which also has locations in San Francisco and Berkeley. The Los Angeles store, generally considered to be the biggest record store in North America, opened in early 2001, right when the economic impact of Sept. 11 was being most felt, yet the mega-warehouse-size space has been busy ever since.
So how is it that Amoeba and other independent record stores are flourishing despite record label and industry lobbying group claims that the music industry is in a slump?
….Weinstein encourages his staff to point customers in new directions, and he sees this hands-on approach not only as akin to the curiosity-sating downloading process and essential to his store’s success, but as a luxury that most large chains can’t afford. Josh Madell, co-owner of New York City’s Other Music, which operates across the street from Tower Records’ prime Lower East Side location, agrees.
“When the staff has a little more time, they try to talk to customers a little bit more,” Madell says. “We have a lot of interesting records in here, so when people come in to buy something we try to play them something else they might like. I can’t say it always works, and sometimes we are too busy. But with a real knowledgeable staff, and with a lot of staff on the floor, if people ask a question, there are people out there who can answer and then show them something else they might like. We sell a lot of stuff just because the staff likes it.”
….Pricing is another major concern for both indie stores and consumers. With CD prices closing in on $20, major labels and retailers may be further distancing themselves from the very record buyers they need to stay in business. “The majors pushing prices up to $19 per CD is very hard for people to stomach,” Other Music’s Madell says. “There are not that many people who can afford to shell out $70 for a couple of new records.”
“We have huge areas of storage dedicated to $5-or-less CDs,” says Amoeba’s Weinstein, who stocks more than 500,000 used CDs in his giant store. “I’m sure part of that goes to promote artists that would otherwise get no exposure. Personally, I have always been furious at the list prices of new records. It’s ridiculous. The industry has made it so that it can’t survive without giant hits. For a lot of reasons, technological and otherwise, it’s going to be hard for them to maintain that model, and I don’t see anyone working that hard to create another one. It seems like there are a lot of opportunities for someone to do it another way.”
….As far as Weinstein is concerned, all record buyers are die-hard groups, and that’s where the mainstream music industry has failed. “I’m at a loss to understand how all these supposedly creative [industry] people are unable to come up with exciting and creative alternatives when you’re talking about a product that is just pure soul,” says an indignant Weinstein. “It’s the greatest product anyone could be involved with. I love selling music. It’s everyman’s art form. It’s available to everybody and can be made by anybody. It’s absurd that these jokers can’t figure out how to market it to me.”
….Weinstein, Currier, Madell and Wojcik all agree that the state of the music industry won’t improve until more labels and chain stores become more passionate about the music they push.
“There are literally hundreds of thousands of beautiful albums out there,” Weinstein says. “Soulful pieces of art created by people who in many instances have worked their lives leading up to that one recording. These recordings are in the can, and in many cases just sitting around. There’s so much product, and no one’s touching it! It’s so bizarre. The merchandising that the Internet can provide: Why can’t you just click on every world music label, see what they have, and play a sample? The technology is here, but where is everybody? I’m mystified.”
“We carry a million 45s,” he says. “We don’t make any money off of them, but you can look at them all day. Just to be completely surrounded by the music and posters and things to remind you why you’re there, it’s inspiring. That’s what a record store is supposed to be, and small stores are capable of pulling that off. And those stores will do well. And those without the passion or interest to make it exciting, those stores will find it harder to survive.”