My first year of college, 1989, my first year on my own, I would take a walk down the street to the nearest "record" store, Specs, to grab a new album. I had heard rumors that a favorite group of mine, Marillion, had reformed with a new lead singer after the exit of its former front-man Fish. No, I'm not going to get into Fish-era Marillion vs. Hogarth Marillion here (maybe a future post?), this is about record stores in general.
At the time, it was interesting that half the store was racks of CD's, and the other half was rows of cassettes. I ended up buying one of each (the system at my apartment was CD, but my car only handled cassettes).
What's interesting now, to me, is that this store was one of several in easy reach, and they all had a wonderful and extensive variety of albums and groups available for sale. A phenomenon that, like the FLGS, seems to be, now, lost in time.
About two years later, while pursuing my Bachelors in Archaeology, the cost of tuition necessitated me finding full-time employment that would accommodate my ever-changing school schedule, and I ended up working a a record store, one of a chain of stores, in fact. I'll reserve the name of the store, but it was apparently named after a certain Arthurian capitol, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. At the time, it was a cool job for a struggling college student, replete with seemingly endless backstage passes, informal band meet-and-greets, and piles and piles of "promo" albums months before actual release dates. In retrospect though, it was a front row seat to the death of an industry.
I could elaborate on the fascinating details of being the closest record store to Gibsonton FL, the Summer retirement community for the populace of Circus "freak shows", but again, that's worthy of its own post.
About half-way through my tenure with the company we instituted a new policy at home office's directive. Called "pull sheets", this consisted of lists of what we referred to as "deep catalog" (basically all the albums by bands that hadn't released anything in the last couple of years). We would get lists of albums by artists like Pink Floyd and Todd Rundgren, and the Who, and pull them off the shelves, shipping them back to home office to make way for overflowing boxes of stuff like GnR's Use Your Illusion and Coolio's Gangsta Paradise.
Yes, we would pull, say, 500 different albums off the shelves and ship them off to make way for 500 copies of the same crappy top 40 album (which would sell about 20 copies, really). What were we supposed to do with the other hundred people that came in looking for "Tales from Topographic Oceans" or "Octopus"? We were supposed to say "I can special order that for you, Sir or ma'am!" To which, invariably, the customers would invariably reply, "no thanks", and wander off to buy the album somewhere else.
See, what corporate offices never understood was that the other 80% of our customers, who weren't interested in Dr. Dre or Ace of Base, were also not interested in waiting 2-3 weeks for an album they could find elsewhere. And so, rapidly, the music store, nay the whole chain, and all the other chains, eventually and speedily died.
Unlike the FLGS, this was a sort of suicide the record store companies underwent, a decade before iPods and file sharing. Today, thanks to events like the Napster scandal, even up to recent events like the unceremonious deposition of Kim Dotcom, it has become popular fiction to blame the death of the corporate music industry on the internet. In fact, it was the opposite, as I can attest as someone who was there to witness the death throes. It was the record companies own fault, fueled by greed, a complete misunderstanding of the industry, greed, a complete disrespect for the customer base, and more greed. If you refuse to legally sell what 80% of your customers want, you actually force them to pirate or shop from secondary markets (at least those who aren't dumb enough to wait weeks for shipping at premium prices). Sound familiar?
Way back when, in 1989, there were 7 record stores in my little college town. Today, as of last March at least (when I had occasion to make a short visit), there was only Best Buy, and that with a dramatically atrophied cd section. I buy my own music mostly from iTunes these days, but do like to support a valiantly struggling independent record store in the arts district of my current home town when I can.
I wish I had more stores to choose from, though.
I wish I had more FLGS's too.