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20.8.06

Bye-Bye, Tower Records

Update, 08/21/06: At 12:00 last night, Tower Records has filed for bankruptcy. Rather than bad news, this might be good-ish news as buyers will now not have to take over all of Tower's liabilities. Allegedly, Tower is already talking to several interested parties. Liquidation is therefore unlikely, though most small stores will probably not survive. Tower DC, for all its problems, is an attractive enough store to make the cut - depending on the deal a potential new owner might offer. The sale of Tower is planned to be completed within the next 60 days. Meanwhile Tower Records has managed to negotiate with companies to receive (select) new releases. If anything interesting happens, I will post it here.

Tower Records, unless a deep-pocketed fairy swoops down to save it, will go out of business in a matter of weeks. With somewhere between 90 and 120 million USD owed to its major suppliers, WEA, Sony/BMG, EMI, and Universal have ceased to supply the Tower chain until bills are paid – which Tower announced it would (could) not. So far, no buyer has been found for the chain that has had recent financial problems and not managed to turn around, despite the DVD boom of the last few years. Given that Tower Records must be one of the most mismanaged companies in America, this does not come as a surprise – but it is sad news, nonetheless.

Among the leftovers that will survive should be the online part of Tower and possibly a handful of the most successful stores – three in New York, one on Sunset Blvd., and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Washington and Rockville stores (never mind Virginia's) might not be among them, loss-making as they are and have been. With Tower’s fall, we also witness the fall of the last retail store that carries a “deep-catalogue” section of classical music. Even if Tower’s classical departments in D.C. and Rockville have shrunk from a truly impressive, all-wishes-fulfilling size to slightly more modest dimensions, they still offer over 30,000 different titles and make ‘browsing’ a reality that that simply does not exist with on-line stores. Choosing between twenty different versions of each of Mahler’s symphonies or browsing a ludicrously large Pfitzner, Ries, and Raff section won’t be possible anymore. With Borders and Olssons’s having shrunk their classical sections to a pathetic two rows (why even bother), the only alternative at all in D.C. remains Melody Records, though they have perhaps a tenth of Tower’s stock.

Browsing in stores for classical music as opposed to looking on-line for classical music are two fundamentally different ways of shopping and being exposed to music. The qualitative difference of which may not be fully appreciated until a few years down the road, once Tower has become but a memory of the past. The breadth and depth of catalogue will be more difficult to support by even the smaller labels, simply because it is more likely to stumble upon a Schreker opera or Schoeck songs or Boehm organ works in a store than it is to do an Internet search for them. In light of the absence of brick & mortar stores, record guides such as Fanfare or American Record Guide will become more important, assuming they stay in business. Better still might be a service like the one offered by Bob McQuiston and his Classical Lost and Found. A bi-weekly newsletter highlights the latest in “great music by forgotten composers and forgotten music by great composers” – with audiophile recommendations thrown in to boot.

Until Tower goes out in a blaze, you might take advantage of its Harmonia Mundi sale, which lasts until the first week of September. A little guide to what is particularly enchanting among all the labels that this sale includes can be found here.

14 comments:

Dan said...

Sad, indeed. But, when progress rolls forward in the form of cheap online catalogs and better selection (not to mention lack of shifty-figures dressed in outfits that would scare most children), who am I to stop it?

Just as I once "want(ed) my MTV," I now want nothing to do with it. So stands Tower Records, isolated from my patronage (for the above listed reasons) and for the simple fact that paying $3.30 a gallon for gas to get to the record store is far more expensive than sitting behind my computer at work and getting free shipping.

But still, it's the end of an era and no one really likes those. Except, maybe those who hated disco.

chimezatmidnight said...

You might want to explore the classical catalog at e-music.com: it's growing, truly eclectic (Naxos, Ondine, Harmonia Mundi, ASV, BIS, Hanssler, Koch, LSO Live, RCO Live) and many more.

As for the prices? 25 free tracks for the trial period... followed by 90 tracks for $20 with supplemental booster packs which range up to 50 tracks for $15.

There is NO DRM contract. Everything is in MP3 form at a higher rate and fidelity than what iTunes provides. Once you download it, it is yours to do with as you wish in terms of copying and sharing.

Consider the permutations of pieces, tracks and price: it's a wonderful place to explore and savor music.

Anonymous said...
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Ariadne said...

I will miss Tower and the joy of "browsing", too.

Washington Cube said...

I love going into Tower Records, so I will truly miss it.

jfl said...

Record shops are only viable if they have a huge inventory, i.e. if you do find in them what you were looking for. But that's not all: The key to a good record shop - and the great difference between online and brick&mortar shops - lies in finding what you were NOT looking for. I know where to find just about anything I want online... but stores (and only stores - where I can physically browse) create new, unknown wants in me. Right now I give the DC Tower a 80% survival rate... but I don't know in what form. If the new owners are smart, they'll continue with a strong classical department -- but who knows...

Stephen Brookes said...

Store browsing is fun, but don't you find online browsing -- through the constellations of linked reviews, music blogs, retailers, networking sites, discussion groups, et cetera et cetera -- infinitely more interesting? And when something catches your imagination, you just zip into emusic and download it instantly for almost nothing. Dancing around the musical universe at exhilarating speed -- it beats flipping through CD bins, anyday. (Here's my two cents on the topic, if you're interested!) -- Best, SB

DougieFresh said...

Thanks for the wonderful suggestions for the Tower sale!

jfl said...

Since I don't "zip into emusic" and don't download - neither for nothing or almost nothing - and since on-line browsing is decidedly NOT 'dancing around the music universe at exhilarating speed' but much rather schlogging around music sites at excruciatingly slow speeds with searches that are marred by misspellings, fancy umlauts that prohibit finding what *might* be out there, and there being little in the way of being bumped off the path of the original search I think it's shite. The internet is, for everything but the most targeted searches, the biggest time wasting machine -- and I simply can't be bothered to read through the crap that's out there in terms of blogs, discussion groups, and networking sites. It would take me half a day to get even a few new ideas -- I need less than three hours to browse a GOOD store (like Ludwig Beck, in Munich, or Tower at Lincoln Center) to get more new ideas about stuff I don't have or even heard off than I can handle or purchase in a year.

Overrating the on-line possibilities is a little easier done than appreciating that which it cannot offer. At any rate, mourning the loss of the retail store is not a matter of online-vs-store but mourning the particular things that a (good!) store offers, that the internet cannot. And, I am afraid. There is something to be said about the beauty of the market that niches will always be found, whether it be for those who like typewriters or high quality pencils or paper or classical music. However, I am not entirely comfortable with classical music on record becoming a niche product, already. Much like I prefer to buy my vegetables and fish and meat in person (which is not to say that I appreciate or support crappy supermarkets), I like to look at my classical music (and occ. buy) in person, too. The Internet is my price-comparison tool and good enough for very specific purchases. Ultimately: De Gustibus...

stephen brookes said...

Hi Jens! Sure, there's a sea of junk online, but also an impressive amount of useful, well-produced material -- your comments on ionarts, for instance! -- that people want to consult while shopping for music. Which is why the world is migrating to the net.

Ironic? Maybe ...

Best, SB

jfl said...

Although I am always flattered if and when people read and even comment on my comments on this blog (or even find them helpful), we should keep in mind that these comments have a reach of, say, three, four people? I wish we could have the helpful and knowledgable people right at the source. Either in a record store or - if the net were the way to go - in the chat-room/virtual sales floor at ArkivMusik or something like that.

best,

jfl

reuben said...

hi. thanks for the comments concerning tower. as a jazz lover, i always found the downtown tower thin as old polyester-with the best collections found in (of all places) northern va., and rockville.
melody recods remains, in my opinion, this city's saving grace.

DougieFresh said...

Hi. I just got my order from Tower online (thanks again jfl), and it included a 15% off coupon towards an additional online purchase made by August 31st. The 15% discount does apply towards the already discounted label sale noted in this Tower posting. So, the deal gets better and better. The code was mass produced on a postcard and is not user unique. While I assume it can only be used by second-time buyers, here it is: T52FW8Y. Happy Friday.

Daniel Gonzales said...

i work at the tower records in brea, CA and the rumors of our demise are largely exaggerated. We have already started getting in new product. Our store made 1 million dollars last Christmas and we aren't in New York or on Sunet. That's what I find so annoying about all this speculation about our stores, everyone is giving their predictions as to what would happen. No one knows for sure yet but I prefer to remain optimistic, Tower is a great job for a college student, its a very liberal work environment and you are free to be yourself. Almost any other job you find out there forces you to conform to their standards of dress and say a bunch of cheesy lines to tempt people into buying something. At our store, we are genuine with people and knowledgable about the product we sell, we tell people if it's good or not in our opinion. If we don't like something, we will tell them. If Tower goes out of business, it will not only be a loss to the music industry but the loss of one of the last truly liberal work environments left in America. In a world of corporate politics, minimum wage servitude and slavery, it's nice to know there is at least a few places where a person can act human and be respected for it.