Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Old Man and the CD

Just back from a Borders visit. Favorite potential impulse buy: The White Album jigsaw puzzle. Seriously.

Every time I am in a Killer B store I stand in quiet amazement that any specialty media retailers exist any longer, particularly of such size. The customer in me is grateful for the sensory experience and the instant gratification, should I seek it. The business person wonders how it's going for them, what with financing their operations hand-to-mouth with returns while constantly pushing for better terms from suppliers who are certain they are going to get creamed sooner or later.

More often than not, I walk out without buying anything.


A scene from a paradigm shift, as seen by an OML (Old Media Luddite):

This past Monday, the single-copy price for the San Francisco Chronicle went up to a dollar. This, it turns out, was my breaking point.

The Chronicle is in deep trouble. Oddsmakers have San Francisco one day becoming the first major US city without a daily paper. I say it already is.

This was once the go-to-source with columns by Herb Caen, Charles McCabe, Stanton Delaplane, Art Hoppe, Terrence O'Flaherty, and music reviews by Ralph J. Gleason. Now? The Chron is so thin you could read a newspaper through it.

A buck? That's nuts.

So, Tuesday morning I grabbed my coffee and my web-ready PDA-like device and cycled to a known free wi-fi hotspot, where I accessed the Chronicle's mobile edition which, by the way, is cost-and-ad free.

The experience was entirely satisfactory. I was able to recreate the running order of the actual paper by section, and I found online-only content from some of my favorite writers.

In the record store business, the semi-equivalent was putting an artist's new release on sale for below cost while charging full price (which was sometimes nearly twice as much) for that artist's older catalog titles. That worked out well, I thought.


Another such scene:

Quite by accident I noticed there is a new release by Christy McWilson, a fave singer currently touring as a member of Dave Alvin and The Guilty Women. It is available on Amazon not via a label and/or mp3, but on-demand CD-R.

Maybe this has been going on for awhile, but it's new to me. And it brings back memories of record retail brainstorming sessions. The thing I always wanted to see was in-store CD-burning of out-of-print material...the stuff the labels kept in the vault because it wasn't financially viable to press up a bunch to spread around to stores.

Of course, my wish foundered due to (then) prohibitive hardware and infrastructure retooling, and the cost-ineffectiveness of pursuing licenses for fringe material. Plus there was the question: why stop with OOP stuff; why not make any title that was out of stock available on demand? Or, for that matter, why not everything, period?

Recounting this evokes a favorite memory. For a time there was a partnership effort among brick-and-mortar music sellers to offer in-store and online mp3 downloading options to consumers. We spent a lot of money and it went essentially nowhere, but the meetings were interesting.

One day we were pitched by operatives of the company that forged this union. During Q&A, I tossed this one: 'What portion would you expect full albums to be of the overall download business?' The answer: 'About 90%. People want full albums.'

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