Best Buy Devalues Music, Undercuts Indies
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Music.
There is a really interesting discussion between a gentleman at Merge Records (Spoon, The Arcade Fire, yada yada) regarding a recent sale at Best Buy of independent albums. Before I continue, please check the “sale” out here, just to see what all the fuss is about, and the discussion here. I have my own views on the situation, and given that this forum is mine, let’s roll. Currently I attend school in a SMALL town where the only music retailer is Wal-Mart. With that being said, I am from and have always lived (with my time here as the only exemption from that) in a Metropolitan area (Calgary, Minneapolis) and am familiar with a variety of independent music stores. I have also done research as a management/entrepreneurship major into beginning an independent record store. With that as a brief history, I find something very valuable that was mentioned by the guy, Mac, from Merge. He mentioned that moves like these “devalue” the music. What a powerful statement! There are other issues that are vital such as the blatant undercutting of CDs in order of reeling in customers with hopes that other products in the store with a higher profit margins will sell that need to be addressed, but I want to focus on the music (keepin’ it real, man). Essentially, there is an indie vs. corporate battle because of the music (as the music is the reason for the commerce), thus I feel it’s vital…so back to the devaluation of this powerful music (I lied, I’m talking about business too).
No matter how much it pains me, I’ve never exclusively purchased music from independent retailers. In the past, I’ve made most of my purchases from used record stores or online from places like Amazon or ebay (with the big, evil corporations taking their share). Justly, I can’t back up any statements condemning Best Buy, because if this were a few years ago, given the current sale, I’d probably make a purchase. It is counterproductive, however, for them to make this decision to undercut the independent retailers that have justly supported these artists as there is an odd give-take relationship between the two. Those independent retailers, at one point in time…probably stocked (wincing in pain) Fallout Boy (or a similar act) before Best Buy helped them sell their however umpteen million albums (1?), so by taking away some of these stores’ sales, you are taking away the buzz that will fuel possible future revenue. It’s more costly to hire people to do research and study trends than to simply check out who’s hot in the local indie shop, and throw some Cat Power on the rack. If there’s no more indie retailers, it becomes far harder for Matador to have a place to put Cat Power (to use her as an example) before Best Buy finds it profitable enough to shelve the album. If there are no more indie retailers, it becomes far harder for Matador to support Cat Power and have her on the label. If there are no more retailers it becomes harder for Matador to make a profit. And if you can’t make a profit, you’re not going to be maintaining a business for too long.
Mac addresses a question which I find key: what happens when someone looks at the $7.99 (which he later mentions was supposed to be $9.99) CD they just bought, goes to an indie store to check more Cat Power out (because, duh, they liked it) and finds that all the albums there are $13 or $15 or so? They justly say, “Forget it, I can get two CDs for this price.” The music becomes worth less (not worthless) to the customer.
The allure isn’t lost, and will probably pay off for Best Buy in the short term as it’s easily understandable how one can go into a Best Buy looking for a $7.99 CD and come out with not only that CD, but another CD, a DVD or even an entire new home theater system. I don’t know if it’s healthy, however, because what happens to Best Buy when they experience a similar instance where their $7.99 CD is compared to their $14 CD? That $14 CD (which is probably pretty good and a worthwhile listen) simply doesn’t look as good as downloading the music for free from some file sharing program online. It’s counterproductive in my opinion. So, in terms of the ongoing struggle that the RIAA is having (trying to find new ways to cure the hemorrhaging), maybe they should look at not merely the declining quality of corporate music, but the declining ethics and prices of corporate retailers.