Almighty Press


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

by John Walters - Montpelier Bridge

If Fred Wilber seems a bit fatigued, it's easy to understand why.

Wilber is the owner of Buch Spieler Music, a longtime fixture in downtown Montpelier. It's been in business since 1973, but WIlber isn't sure how much longer he can keep the doors open. "My bookkeeper recently told me that I need to find something that's going to generate more income," he says.

The situation is not unique to Buch Spieler. According to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a market-research firm, one-fourth of the country's independent music retailers closed their doors between 2003 and 2006.

The stores are battling fierce competition from national chains and Internet retailers, and they're all fighting over a shrinking market. Nationally, compact-disc sales have declined by more than 30% from their peak in 1999. The industry set a dubious record recently; Wilber says that when the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack hit #1 on the charts, it sold fewer copies than any other #1 album ever. In other words, it was the worst-selling best-selling album of all time.

Through the 1990s, the industry was buoyed by consumers replacing their old LPs with compact discs. Since then, the Internet and digital media have made it easy for consumers -- especially tech-savvy young people -- to acquire and share music without buying CDs.

"The metaphor I like to use is that we're a sailboat," says Wilber. "Up through 2000, there was wind in the sails. Then the wind died down and we were floating. Then we came to a stop, and now we're rowing as hard as we can. If the boat springs a leak and we have to start bailing, then I'm going to get really worried."

"It's no secret," says Joel Oberstein, President of the Almighty Institute, "A lot of retailers have been struggling. But some are finding ways to survive and thrive." He says the key is to become a "cultural hotbed" -- supplementing CDs with items like greeting cards, novelties, clothing, DVDs, and computer games. He points to Newbury Comics, a New England chain that aims to provide one-stop shopping for the culturally hip. Wilber has taken steps in that direction at Buch Spieler, adding a variety of cards, bumper stickers, and novelties. Even if a shopper doesn't buy any music, it's easy to plunk down a few bucks for a card, a fridge magnet, a set of headphones, or a rubber snake. "And I might make as much on a 3-dollar card as I do on a 16-dollar CD," says Wilber.

It's a fact of life in the music business: the bulk of the proceeds go to the record companies. According to one estimate, music-store profit is less than a dollar per CD. And that meager slice of the pie disappears rapidly when CDs sit in the store for any period of time. In the past, a music store could count on brisk sales of new CDs to help cover the costs of a healthy inventory. That's no longer true, and as a result, stores like Buch Spieler are caught in a vicious circle: they need to maintain a varied inventory, but if they carry too much they lose money on every sale. "It's tough," says Oberstein. "You need to have catalog titles available, but you can't sit on inventory for very long."

One bright spot for Buch Spieler is its location: downtown Montpelier is a good place for locally-owned retailers. "The community understands it's important to support local business," says Claire Benedict, co-owner of Bear Pond Books and Rivendell Books, and former chair of the Montpelier Business Association. "There's a greater social consciousness about that in Montpelier than in many other communities." Wilber agrees; but positive vibes alone won't keep his doors open, and he worries about the future: "What happens if the entire industry goes down?"

He doesn't mean the end of music, just the end of physical distribution: "At what point do Sony and BMG and Universal say, 'What's the point of pressing CDs?' " If they can figure out how to turn a profit on downloads, Wilber fears they will just stop making discs. They wouldn't have to deal with production, distribution, and sharing profits with retailers. And Wilber wouldn't have any product to sell.

Oberstein is more sanguine. "I don't think they'll ever stop making CDs," he says. "They may hope it will be a smaller and smaller part of their business, but there will always be a place for retail sales."


There may always be a place, but that place continues to shrink. Sounding equally wry and fatalistic, Wilber says "I've more or less made the decision to try to be the last standing music store in America." At the age of 55, having spent 34 years at Buch Spieler, Wilber doesn't want to do anything else, and doesn't know what else he might do. So he's working hard to keep the S.S. Buch Spieler afloat. And he's gratified -- at least somewhat -- by the expressions of support he receives from the community. "I hear this all the time: 'God, it'd be awful to see Buch Spieler go!' And I say, yeah, it would be awful. I'd be out of a job! So you need to buy more music or more cards, and encourage others to do the same."

That humble storefront on Langdon Street has been providing the soundtrack to Montpelier's life since 1973. Fred Wilber is doing what he can to keep the music playing.

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 - Boston.com - New vinyl album releases give record stores a kick

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

June 9, 2011 - NJ.com - 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 - PhillyBurbs.com - 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 - CNN.com - 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





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