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Uncle John's Band

I haven't posted since Tuesday. Let's see, what has happened in my life?

Hmmmm.... nothing. Nada. Nothing there.

Okay, there was some good TV this week. House and Boston Legal were particularly enjoyable (whoever the writer was who came up with the idea of splicing in scenes from 1957's The Defenders just totally rocks), and so was Lost. Go Hurley! Scrubs, that little sitcom that could, has been once again deeply moving, making me laugh and cry at very nearly the same time.

I want real bagels. Why are the only good bagel shops in Phoenix not actually IN Phoenix? (They are in Chandler, Gilbert, and Tempe.) I don't count Chompie's - they're okay, but the last few times I've had them, they are less New York and more of that round bread with a hole in the center like the grocery stores sell - largely because we generally only get the packages of Chompie's that are sold in the grocery stores. I want a real, hard-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, can-use-as-a-spare bagel, like the Hot Bagel Bakery used to make. I found a place online that sells them, straight from New York, but working out the cost disturbs me (.80 per bagel is an all right price, but orders must be for no less than a dozen, and they recommend overnight FedEx shipping for freshness... I want bagels, but I'm not sure I want them THAT much. Yet).

My Coke Rewards to date: Retractable ear buds, an Alan Schwartz evening gown, a SpaFinder gift certificate (will pay for my next body wrap), and an Adidas gift certificate (bought a very nice exercise bra-top). I can't say drinking so much Diet Coke is a bad thing. *g* Of course, I have to thank sillymagpie for giving me all HER points, too.

In reading Doctor Eight novels, I'm finding I really like his companions. I may need to get a few more of 'em, find out how Fitz ended up on the TARDIS. If they're at all canonical, then events in Halflife are pretty interesting...

I'm miles behind in everything. I don't know where time is going....

Oh, yes. I really enjoyed
Op-Ed Contributors
Spinning Into Oblivion
By TONY SACHS and SAL NUNZIATO
Published: April 5, 2007

DESPITE the major record labels’ best efforts to kill it, the single, according to recent reports, is back. Sort of.

You’ll still have a hard time finding vinyl 45s or their modern counterpart, CD singles, in record stores. For that matter, you’ll have a tough time finding record stores. Today’s single is an individual track downloaded online from legal sites like iTunes or eMusic, or the multiple illegal sites that cater to less scrupulous music lovers. The album, or collection of songs — the de facto way to buy pop music for the last 40 years — is suddenly looking old-fashioned. And the record store itself is going the way of the shoehorn.

This is a far cry from the musical landscape that existed 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. Right? Of course, back then there were also only two ringtones to choose from — “riiiiinnng” and “ring-ring.”

Our intention was to offer a haven for all kinds of music lovers and obsessives, a shop that catered not only to the casual record buyer (“Do you have the new Sarah McLachlan and ... uh ... is there a Beatles greatest hits CD?”) but to the fan and oft-maligned serious collector (“Can you get the Japanese pressing of ‘Kinda Kinks’? I believe they used the rare mono mixes”). Fourteen years later, it’s clear just how wrong our assumptions were. Our little shop closed its doors at the end of 2005.

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.

In the late ’90s, our business, and the music retail business in general, was booming. Enter Napster, the granddaddy of illegal download sites. How did the major record labels react? By continuing their campaign to eliminate the comparatively unprofitable CD single, raising list prices on album-length CDs to $18 or $19 and promoting artists like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears — whose strength was single songs, not albums. The result was a lot of unhappy customers, who blamed retailers like us for the dearth of singles and the high prices.

The recording industry association saw the threat that illegal downloads would pose to CD sales. But rather than working with Napster, it tried to sue the company out of existence — which was like thinking you’ve killed all the roaches in your apartment because you squashed the one you saw in the kitchen. More illegal download sites cropped up faster than the association’s lawyers could say “cease and desist.”

By 2002, it was clear that downloading was affecting music retail stores like ours. Our regulars weren’t coming in as often, and when they did, they weren’t buying as much. Our impulse-buy weekend customers were staying away altogether. And it wasn’t just the independent stores; even big chains like Tower and Musicland were struggling.

Something had to be done to save the record store, a place where hard-core music fans worked, shopped and kibitzed — and, not incidentally, kept the music business’s engine chugging in good times and in lean. Who but these loyalists was going to buy the umpteenth Elton John hits compilation that the major labels were foisting upon them?

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. These “big boxes” were given exclusive tracks to put on new CDs and, to add insult to injury, they could sell them for less than our wholesale cost. They didn’t care if they didn’t make any money on CD sales. Because, ideally, the person who came in to get the new Eagles release with exclusive bonus material would also decide to pick up a high-speed blender that frappéed.

The jig was up. It didn’t matter that even a store as small as ours carried hundreds of titles you’d never see at Best Buy and was staffed by people who actually knew who Van Morrison was, or that Tower Records had the entire history of recorded music under one roof while Costco didn’t carry much more than the current hits. A year after our shop closed, Tower went out of business — something that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier. The customers who had grudgingly come to trust our opinions made the move to online shopping or lost interest in buying music altogether. Some of the most loyal fans had been soured into denying themselves the music they loved.

Meanwhile, the recording industry association continues to give the impression that it’s doing something by occasionally threatening to sue college students who share their record collections online. But apart from scaring the dickens out of a few dozen kids, that’s just an amusing sideshow. They’re not fighting a war any more than the folks who put on Civil War regalia and re-enact the Battle of Gettysburg are.

The major labels wanted to kill the single. Instead they killed the album. The association wanted to kill Napster. Instead it killed the compact disc. And today it’s not just record stores that are in trouble, but the labels themselves, now belatedly embracing the Internet revolution without having quite figured out how to make it pay.

At this point, it may be too late to win back disgruntled music lovers no matter what they do. As one music industry lawyer, Ken Hertz, said recently, “The consumer’s conscience, which is all we had left, that’s gone, too.”

It’s tempting for us to gloat. By worrying more about quarterly profits than the bigger picture, by protecting their short-term interests without thinking about how to survive and prosper in the long run, record-industry bigwigs have got what was coming to them. It’s a disaster they brought upon themselves.

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.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
littlecrow
Apr. 7th, 2007 07:33 pm (UTC)
Do you like Einstein's bagels? I know I saw one at like 59th Ave and Peoria or something. There must be more around somewhere...
wildrider
Apr. 7th, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
They're all right, but really they're no more proper bagels than the ones from the store. We have one at 40th Street and Indian School - flavor is okay, you know, it's BREAD. Of course it tastes good. But bagels have a distinct singular texture that's generally missing from most of the round-bread-with-holes that're sold out here...
sillymagpie
Apr. 8th, 2007 06:59 am (UTC)
There's one around the corner from me at 19th Ave. and Northern, but it does not suit wildrider, who wants somethng else...
sillymagpie
Apr. 8th, 2007 07:03 am (UTC)
I like that article. Basically, the cost of CDs is what keeps me from buying much music, especially when at times there's only one good song on the album. Then again, buying the entire Dresden Dolls CD on the strength of "Coin-Operated Boy" turned out to be a good thing, so occasionally it pays off...
wildrider
Apr. 8th, 2007 04:56 pm (UTC)
There are, most assuredly, still groups/singers out there who know the value of good music and make an ALBUM of music still - good tracks all around (largely I find these are the indies and the older musicians, but there are others) - but even so, any more I find if I buy an entire album, I'll download it from iTunes rather than go looking for it. It's easier (and takes up less space).

The main point is that record companies shot themselves in the foot by suppressing downloading, and got themselves in the other foot by not jumping on the Internet bandwagon sooner.
littlecrow
Apr. 8th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
I live for places like Zia's Record Exchange and The Wherehouse. I can usually find used copies of stuff I like there...
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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