Almighty Press

October 15, 2006
Tables have turned on record stores

By Regis Behe

For any music-loving kid growing up in the '60s, '70s or even the '80s, a trip to the local record store was a regular experience. Amid rows of albums -- which eventually would be replaced by cassettes, and then CDs -- music lovers would gather and ruminate over the latest releases by Bob Dylan and the Beatles, U2 and the Ramones, the Beastie Boys and Grandmaster Flash.

But walk into almost any record store today -- and they are still known as "record" stores among the faithful -- and there's nary a kid under 18 to be found. Most of the time, there's no one under 30.

"The majority (of customers) are baby boomers," says Dave Pasaniuk, of Dave's Music Mine on the South Side.

And even then, there's a point of diminishing returns.

"When you start talking the age bracket," says Bill DePew, owner of B&D Records in Springdale, "a lot of these guys, when they start getting married or having kids or don't have the same job they once did, they don't tend to buy as much music as they did when they were younger and didn't have all those cares."

But today's younger music lovers aren't turning up at record stores as often. They're home, downloading the latest Ludacris or Evanescence single on their computer to transfer to their iPod.

"What's happening is that you have a whole generation, maybe more than a generation, that's not buying its music in stores," says Squirrel Hill native Gary Graff, a music writer from Detroit who is the author of "The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen A to E to Z," and the editor of the "Music Hound Essential Album Guide" series.

But, he says, "You have this small, intriguing populace of music geeks that care about getting their music in an album format, having music as a tactile experience, an experience you can hold as well as you can listen to. It's a drastically shrinking audience."

By the numbers

The Recording Industry Association of America, which researches and compiles marketing data on music trends, found that 8.2 percent of music purchases were made through the Internet via sites such as in 2005, and that digital downloads accounted for another 6 percent. Downloads of albums and singles increased significantly from 2004 to 2005 -- 198.5 percent and 163.3 percent, respectively.

The RIAA doesn't break down music purchases by age in relation to whether music is bought at a store or downloaded from the Internet. But the group's figures do show that, overall, consumers age 40 and older purchase about 35 percent of music sold in any form. About 20 percent of sales comes from buyers ages 30-39, 25 percent from ages 20-29 and 20 percent for consumers younger than 20.

But RIAA figures also show record store sales increased from 32.5 percent to 39.4 percent from 2004 to 2005 after declining every year since 2001. Could there be a gain in the fortunes of smaller stores?

"It depends on the store, but I think there is a comeback," says Joel Oberstein, the president of the Almighty Institute of Retail Music, a marketing research company based in Studio City, Calif., that assists more than 150 record labels in marketing music. "I think this could be a very good time for independent retail -- especially, unfortunately, with the close of Tower (Records) stores (in 2004). I think there's an opportunity for the independent stores to step in and take advantage and fill a niche."

Any gains, however, will likely be made without teenagers.

Generational divide

Graff agrees that there's some truth to the idea that music is disposable. But, he argues, the Internet actually affords kids more of an opportunity to explore various genres.

"I think kids today are as passionate as they ever were, and perhaps more so," he says. "Because it's more accessible to them, and so much more accessible ... right there at their fingertips."

The difference, Graff says, is in the depth of interest in an artist and his work. Instead of albums, younger consumers tend to be more interested in singles.

That means the consumer who is most apt to visit a record store remembers when vinyl was the prime medium.

"When we were in Oakland and first started here (on the South Side), there were a lot of college kids coming in looking for indie rock," Pasaniuk says. "But now, most of our customers are into the stuff you hear on WYEP. We also get people into older soul music and doo-wop, music from the '70s."

But Paul's CDs in Bloomfield still attracts kids and college students who are looking for music that's beyond the mainstream.

"We've always been sort of diverse," owner Paul Olszewski says. "We carry a lot of labels that don't necessarily get picked up by other record stores. Every record store has its own area of expertise."

Interaction lost

Paul's CDs aside, most store owners think something has been lost. Hanging out at a record store and queuing up for the arrival of the new Rolling Stones or Pearl Jam CD is an experience most of today's teenagers will never know.

"As a society, look at the technologies that have literally bombarded us and taken over a lot of the aspects of our lives," says Dr. Audrey Guskey, a professor of marketing and an expert on consumer trends at Duquesne University.

"I think it's wrong, because kids don't have the interaction. Kids are always on their cell phones, but a lot of the interaction when we were growing up -- going to malls, going to stores, talking to each other in record stores -- has been lost. ... They just don't have that interaction, that face-to-face stuff, as we did. They're not used to it; it's not a part of them. And they don't miss it, because they don't know what they are missing."

For those who grew up on vinyl, however, a trip to the record store is still an integral part of the music-buying experience. Oberstein says that even if there are more distractions, "the desire to get turned on to new things, if you're into music, is still there. And there's no better place to do that than in indie stores."

Changing with the times

Bill Toms thought the South Side location was ideal for a record store.

Future development was promised for the eastern end of East Carson Street, not far from where steel mills had once lined the Monongahela River.

But a little more than three years ago, faced with flagging sales and less-than-exciting prospects, he pulled out of Premier CDs before the SouthSide Works rejuvenated the area. The store closed shortly thereafter.

"We caught the last hurrah of CD buying," says Toms, a musician who has played with Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers and is concentrating on his solo career. "... We started losing people who were young. They weren't so interested in buying CDs."

Toms' experience is not unique. According to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a marketing research company based in Studio City, Calif., that assists more than 150 record labels in marketing music, approximately 900 independent record stores have shut their doors since late 2003. A year later, Tower Records, one of the behemoth record chains, filed for bankruptcy protection.

Faced with an increasing amount of competition, small record stores have to diversify. Dr. Audrey Guskey, a professor of marketing and an expert on consumer affairs at Duquesne University, thinks small independent stores need to offer a product or service that can't be found at big box stores or online.

"They can't just be the record store, like National Record Mart used to be," she says. "They have to expand with the technology, somehow, to stay alive."

There is a niche available for independent stores, according to Joel Oberstein, president of the Almighty Institute.

"The indie stores that can roll with the times, who can adapt and become a pop-culture hotbed in their communities -- because they can't survive as a straight record store -- but if they expand on some of those things and make it a cool place to hang out, there will always be a need for those things," Oberstein says. "Going through dusty bins is a much warmer experience than going through MP3s."

Shane Wilkinson, the owner of C.D. Extreme in Irwin, is increasingly reliant on sales of used movies and video games, which account for approximately 40 percent of his sales, and specialized music offerings.

At Dave's Music Mine on the South Side, the resale of movies accounts for "at least 50 percent of the business," owner Dave Pasaniuk says. "It used to be maybe a third."

Pasaniuk has noticed an uptick in the number of used vinyl records sold. At $2-$3 apiece for an album, a high school or college student can build a music collection on the cheap and vinyl aficionados can fill in gaps in their collections.

Regis Behe can be reached at or (412)320-7990.

Permission granted by copyright holder for this express use only.

Article List

November 21, 2013 - New York Times - Records Are Dying? Not Here

March 27, 2013 - Glendale News-Press - It's a matter of record: Burbank's Atomic Records and Backside

December 30, 2012 - Detroit News - As one record shop closes, vinyl music plays on in another

April 20, 2012 - - New vinyl album releases give record stores a kick

November 20, 2011 - - In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?

June 9, 2011 - - Curmudgeon Records closes its doors for good

April 16, 2011 - Wall Street Journal - One-Day Record-Store Revival

February 1, 2011 - Charlottesville News & Arts - Plan 9 Changes Location

August 13, 2010 - The Tennesean - Anita Wadhwani: Nashville indie record stores' sales spin in right direction

January 3, 2010 - Delaware News Journal - Delaware music shops get creative to compete with downloads, chain music stores

September 24, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - L.A. independent record shop is still in a groove

August 20, 2009 - CNN Money - You can make money off online music

June 14, 2009 - New York Times - Retailing Era Closes With Music Megastore

May 13, 2009 - Medill Reports - Resurgence in vinyl helps record store in recession

April 26, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - In a digital age, vinyl albums are making a comeback

April 18, 2009 - Charlotte Observer - Record stores band together

April 17, 2009 - Detroit News - Record Store Day spins profits and good beats at Metro Detroit shops

April 17, 2009 - Associated Press - Record Store Day celebrates indie retailers

April 10, 2009 - Detroit News - Street Corner Music moving to Oak Park plaza

April 10, 2009 - Toledo Free Press - New record store shakes up Adams Street

January 8, 2009 - OC Register - Closing date for Virgin Megastore at The Block

October 28, 2008 - Reuters - AC/DC back in "Black" with global smash

September 23, 2008 - Chicago Daily Herald - Independent music stores haven't yet disappeared from suburbia

June 23, 2008 - New York Times - For Tom Petty Fans, the True Sound of Vinyl, Also Captured on a CD

April 19, 2008 - Lafayette Journal Courier - For some, record stores live on

April 19, 2008 - New Jersey Star Ledger - It's Record Store Day. Play it again, Sam!

April 18, 2008 - New York Times - Record Stores Fight to Be Long-Playing

April 18, 2008 - Dallas Morning News - Retailers hope Record Store Day turns up volume at mom-and-pop shops

April 16, 2008 - Timeout New York - Platter Up

December 27, 2007 - Los Angeles Times - Virgin Megastore to close shop

December 16, 2007 - New York Times - For a "Dinosaur," an Exuberant Second Life (Looney Tunes Reopens)

December 3, 2007 - Detroit Free Press - The same old song: Music store closing

November 7, 2007 - Washington Post - Eagles soar past Britney to top of charts

November 4, 2007 - The Ledger - Two Young Entrepreneurs Unafraid of Risk of Going on Records

August 20, 2007 - Billboard - Almighty Taps Hans As VP

June 29, 2007 - ABC News - Long Live the Record Store

June 28, 2007 - Orange County Weekly - Locals Only

June 13, 2007 - Reuters - McCartney's Starbucks album heats up U.S. charts

June 9, 2007 - Billboard - Commentary: Retail Recovery

May 9, 2007 - Columbia Free Times - High Fidelity

March 22, 2007 - NARM Awards - Almighty Retail Named NARM Related Supplier Finalist For Third Consecutive Year

March 16, 2007 - Chortler - Shout! Factory Has Revamped Its Website

March 9, 2007 - - Internet killed the record store?

March 4, 2007 - Sacramento Bee - New groove for Solomon

February 28, 2007 - USA Today - Exclusives aim to pull music fans into stores

February 28, 2007 - New York Newsday - Latin record shops thrive despite changes in music business

February 23, 2007 - Montpelier Bridge - Buch Spieler Sails On Despite a Music Industry Decline

November 20, 2006 - Austin 360 - In Austin, Niche Indies Rule

October 20, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Tower brand could survive

October 15, 2006 - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - Tables have turned on record stores

October 14, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Small labels lose valuable ally in Tower

October 6, 2006 - Desert Sun - Record Alley remodels

September 27, 2006 - Music & Copyright - Niche Marketing of CD albums continues to rise in the US and Physical Sales overall decline

September 22, 2006 - - Indie stores confront a new era

September 19, 2006 - New York Newsday - 34 years, and that's not all, folks

August 18, 2006 - The Roanoke Times - Plan 9 Music puts new spin on 5 Record Exchange stores

August 3, 2006 - The Hollywood Reporter - Nervous music retailers face hazy digital future

July 16, 2006 - New York Times - The Graying of the Record Store

July 13, 2006 - Rolling Stone - The iTunes Holdouts

July 11, 2006 - Roanoke Times - Record store's "last dance"

July 5, 2006 - Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader - Quimper Sound moves, expands to change with times

June 6, 2006 - Billboard - NARM Nominations Announced

May 10, 2006 - Detroit MetroTimes - Out of the Groove

March 18, 2006 - Billboard - Indies in a bind

January 16, 2006 - Los Angeles Business Journal - Slipped Discs

January 6, 2006 - Los Angeles Times - Indie record stores doing slow fade out

December 26, 2005 - Los Angeles Times - The Music Stops for Indie Shop

December 1, 2005 - Rolling Stone - Fall Sales Dry Up

October 13, 2005 - Desert Sun - Music snobs rejoice: Independent record stores still thrive in desert

September 12, 2005 - Salt Lake Tribune - Twilight for Starbound Records

August 18, 2005 - New York Post - Oldies are now singing a new tune - Music stores go digital

July 2005 - Rolling Stone - Record Biz Still Sinking

June 18, 2005 - Billboard - NARM Noms Announced

March 21, 2005 - CMJ - Hart of the Matter

February 16, 2005 - MSN - Genius Loves Company

October 12, 2004 - Rolling Stone - Wal-Mart wants $10 CDs

July 10, 2004 - Billboard - Almighty Institute To The Rescue

January 14, 2004 - Creative Loafing Charlotte - Manifest Destiny

December 29, 2003 - New York Times - on the rise of mass marketers

November 13, 2003 - Rolling Stone - Best Buy snags rights to band's new DVD

October 9, 2003 - USA Today - Best Buy wins sales rights to Rolling Stones DVD box set

October 6, 2003 - Reuters - Stones Paint It Black For Retailers

May 31, 2003 - Billboard - Retail Track

May 9, 2003 - Hits - Rerap