GUEST BLOGGER: GAIL FLUG
But now that music and other entertainment have gone digital, a great part of that pleasure is missing. Although it is quite amazing that downloading allows music and video to be available instantly at our fingertips, am I showing my age by thinking that listening to this format alone de-values music? Do people who are truly passionate about music feel that files on an iPod are the equivalent of owning a piece of vinyl or a CD?
Proof positive I am not alone in this way of thinking: I was among the many Iron Maiden fans that attended a “Two Minutes To Midnight” Sale at Looney Tunes in West Babylon, New York last week to purchase the band’s new album The Final Frontier as soon as it was available to the public. The ages of those online (in the store, not on their PC) ran from old school fans like me who have been following them for decades, to those in their late teens and twenty somethings who likely discovered the band from their parents’ collections, YouTube or elsewhere. I’m sure there would have been teens and even tweens there if the event weren’t happening so late. (The band’s recent Madison Square Garden show was attended by generations of fans.) Most customers at Looney Tunes purchased the album in at least two if not all of the formats — regular CD, deluxe CD and a double-disc vinyl set — resulting in over 50 sales in less than an hour. According to store manager John Ramacca, it was expected that several hundreds more would be sold by week’s end in addition to back-catalog and other Maiden-related merchandise. (Store owner Karl Groeger later reported that the store sold over 300 CDs total for the week, plus vinyl sales. “Digital who?” he quipped. The album ultimately debuted at #4 in America, Maiden’s highest chart position in America ever.)
Despite what the industry believes, there are still people out there that want to purchase music in a format they can have and hold in their hands. A prime example is Capitol Records underestimating the popularity of the re-mastered Beatles box sets. The marketing concept was brilliant: a Wednesday release on 9-09-09, the same day as The Beatles Rock Band video game. Months and months of advertising and promotion preceded the date, which was circled on fans’ calendars around the world, yet Capitol failed to believe that the biggest band in the universe would generate sales. They produced only 10,000 copies of the in-demand Mono box — when Amazon.com ordered 40,000 alone — and the Stereo box sold out at most chains in hours. It wasn’t a matter that stores didn’t order it; major chains received copies in the double digitals at most while, according to John, independent stores like Looney Tunes were not even sure they were getting any until they actually arrived. Fortunately, Capitol announced prior to the 9-09-09 release that they would produce more of both box sets and harmony was restored in Pepperland.
Music sales are indeed down from years past — yes, in part due to illegal downloading — but today there is more competition for consumers’ dollars for entertainment. Video games, iPhones, overpriced concert tickets, cutting-edge gadgets and even gourmet coffee habits have taken a share of the cut. At the same time, according to Soundscan, sales for vinyl — the ultimate opposite of digital technology — are up 33% from 1.8 million in 2008 to 2.5 million last year. That’s still a niche market, but ultimately for a majority of people, the tangible music formats of vinyl and CD are still the desired formats as they provide packaging, superb sound quality and a sense of permanence. Many digital music files offer substandard audio, and all of them are only as safe as the device they are stored on. Like email, they can be deleted with the touch of a keystroke. And listening to an iPod in less than optimal conditions does not do many songs justice.
As someone who loves music and still owns and treasures the first record they owned, I’m glad younger generations are learning that what may become the soundtrack to their lives should be more than a series of zeros and ones on a machine that fits in their back pocket.