February 25, 2009

Saving the Record Store

My first Mecca when I started DJing and collecting music was Trackmasters in Romford; a great place, run by an awesome guy with a solid knowledge of dance music; it was purely the digital revolution that killed them off. All across the UK, independent music stores are closing at an alarming rate, as the buying habits of the general public have changed remarkably, and the shift from CD to digital is now obvious for all to see.

The 'adult' shoppers who were wanting to replace all their vinyl and cassette collection with new CDs have pretty much completed that transition. Getting them into new music on a regular basis is pretty rare. That leaves the general music buying youth, and, well, they are obviously all illegal downloading pirates (according to the RIAA/PRS/ASCAP etc), who rarely set foot in a physical retailer for anything anymore.

There is hope. In order for these traditional retail stores to keep afloat, they must adapt to the new music 2.0 world and attract customers by a variety of means. They must expand their revenue sources in order to survive. I’m sure that some if this will involve mp3s, and developing a working strategy for in-store downloading. For example, a customer can come in with their personal mp3 player, maybe share a few songs with an in-store music specialist, then receive recommendations for new music purchases. A ‘top-up card’ system could be implemented, where a customer can buy 5/ 10/ 25 downloads in advance, select tracks from in-store machines, then insert the card and link up their mp3 player to receive their new tracks. This will also sell well as presents for friends and families at Christmas. Branching into mp3s can also tie-in with the sale of personal mp3 players, mobile phones with music packages and the accessories that accompany them i.e. headphones, earphones and mini-speaker / home stereo link-up systems.

Box sets and limited edition CDs are a good way to add extra value, relative to the price of a ‘normal’ CD. They could have extra features that are not available with the original, such as extra photos and information published in the inlays(s), enhanced CDs that will play music videos in home computers, and possibly bonus tracks / unreleased mixes / original studio recordings / remastered versions. Much of this would not be available online, or at least would mean more to own physically for the loyal fans of each artist.

Brick-and-mortar retail outlets should also consider moving into other products associated with a variety of mainstream and niche artists and strong music brands, from Michael Jackson concert DVDs to Marilyn Manson dolls to Def Jam T-shirts to Glastonbury / SXSW tickets. Supporting local bands is one way they can even have an edge over the large brands such as HMV / Virgin etc. Rather than trying to sell a thousand megastar albums, selling 25 albums of 40 different local acts will create the same income and possible evolve more loyal, longer term custom.

Anything they can do to think outside the box and expand their store into a community once again is the way that the physical retailers can fight back and survive. I, for one, would hate to see the last remaining few disappear from our streets, and honestly think that by becoming more of a community / lifestyle / hang out joint, and turn the shop itself into a trusted, authentic and knowledgeable brand, then they can regain not just one-off customers, but regular long-tail fans.

Lee Jarvis.

Also posted at UK Music Jobs - the premier online community for music industry professionals

No comments: