The Washington Post reports today on the end of Tower Records and, more broadly, on the demise of the record store itself:
In the wan light of retail desperation, it’s nearly impossible to spot a gem amid the acres of dreck: Eddie Money CDs, anyone? The soundtrack of “Snakes on a Plane”? Boxed sets of “Captain and Tennille” DVDs? Get there before it’s too late.
Too late, though, is almost here. Tower Records is closing, and as the signs say, everything must go. The whole chain is shutting, not just this thoroughly ravaged store off the Pike in Rockville. A liquidator is peddling the stock left in Tower’s 85 or so remaining stores (five locally), and by Christmas, even Tower’s desiccated carcass will be dust.
All of it is going, of course — not just Tower, but the record store culture that Tower embodied. Anything that can be squeezed down to ones and zeros and moved around at the speed of electrons doesn’t have to be stacked in plastic cases, shoved into bins and splayed over aisles under fluorescent lights anymore. All of it’s going online.
The author of the article thinks that this is a bad thing, that things were better when you had to trudge down to the local strip mall and sort through bins and bins of records to find what you wanted. But that era, as the author recognizes is gone, largely because Tower and the bricks-and-mortar stores couldn’t compete:
Music and the music industry have evolved rapidly in the past decade, and each mutation has disrupted Tower’s niche. First came the discounters to undercut Tower on price, followed by Napster and Amazon.com and iTunes, which beat Tower on selection and convenience. It’s reasonable to ask whether Tower could have adapted. As a friend put it, Tower had the brand-name cred to be what iTunes is, if only Tower hadn’t clung to bricks and mortar and $17.99 CDs.
Most likely, though, it was the rent on those bricks and mortar stores, though, that was forcing them to keep their prices high to begin with.
The author makes one more point about the alleged superiority of stores like Tower:
The future portends more abundance and choice than Russ Solomon could ever have stacked in his biggest store. But something’s being lost in this vast and unending digital banquet. Tower’s downward arc tracks the fragmentation of musical tastes into 10,000 little pieces. We’re well past the point where broad musical consensus is possible.
So what ? People are finally able to listen to what they want, rather than what is force-fed them by the A&R guys at the record companies and the buyers for record stores like Tower. Sounds like progress to me.