Tower Records R.I.P.
THE DAY THE MUSIC (STORE) DIED R.I.P. TOWER RECORDS, AND THE JOY OF BROWSING MUSIC STORES
TOWER RECORDS HAS has gone the way of the vinyl LP, both victims of technology's unceasing pursuit of change and convenience.
Tower, once one of the most powerful retail entities in the music industry, was sold last week to a liquidator for $134.3 million. The price is almost laughable when you consider in the mid 1990s, Tower racked up annual sales of $1 billion.
But then the Internet matured. Young listeners found glee in file sharing and digital music. Wal-Mart and other "big box" stores lured customers with discounted-priced CDs. Tower tried to compete, but fumbled and lost.
While independent record stores still exist, Tower's demise is really the death of the music-buying experience that has ruled almost since Thomas Edison cut the first record in history (his sound recording of "Mary Had a Little Lamb") in 1877.
More than a retailer has been lost. Record stores made buying music an event. Like a good restaurant, a record store was a destination place. (Remember Third Street Jazz?) You'd look for one CD in the bin, you could come across a gem in another. In record stores, you could ask questions; clerks were often encyclopedic in their knowledge.
Our senses played a huge part in enjoying record stores, especially when LPs ruled years ago: The sight of creatively designed album covers, enhanced by the cover's texture, the smell of the plastic. Liner notes were beautifully written, and didn't require a magnifying glass to read.
On-line buying is cold. The emphasis is on product, not context. There's the play list, a few lines of a review (which could have been written by a ringer, or worse, a half-literate teenager) and that's it.
Just as newspapers that were slow to grasp the importance of the Internet and its heavy use by the young readers it so desired, so too was Tower and the music industry slow to pick up on the concept of change and convenience. The industry will have to succeed in the world it once shunned.
Today, iPods and mp3 devices rule. They fall in line behind the Walkman, portable cassette players, 8-track players and transistor radios. And so we hit the "delete" button on Tower. But we'll still miss those album covers. Sometimes what was inside didn't matter as much as what was outside. That, and the trip to the record store, made the music buying experience special.