Look, any of these industries that always had it easy on the highstreet, were sucessful because of 'sampling at the source'. Which basically means, you walk into a bookstore and pick up a book and thumb through it, and say, wow! I need this reference on my bookshelf. Or you walk into a clothes shop, try on something and end up buying it. The movie industry has a very 'advanced' distibution channel - you can pick up movies on supermarket shelves, in rental stores, on your TV set, in the cinema, subscription movie channels and so on. In other words, the movie industry is encouraging you to try out samples. Eventually you end up buying a DVD, because you like the movie so much, having perhaps seen it already in a cinema, on TV and on rental. Music at the moment suffers, because it doesn't have a great distribution network set up, nor does it have any effective 'sampling at the source'.
You walk into a music store, and for as long as I can recall, you might hear some great track on the speaker system in the store, but there was never any billboard, or display screen that tells the 'musically-un-sophisticated' (potential) customer,... what the heck is play'in. How hard can it be, to organise that nowadays? Yet stores have half a dozen store managers, loads of staff underlings, a premises on highstreet, and a pile spent on store fit-out and stocking the shelves, but never manage to tell you what is playing on their speaker sound system. Huh??? I often queue in a line, just to ask the sales desk at Golden Disc what the heck is that playing. Right there is an opportunity for 'sampling at the source' within the music store itself and they have squandered
it. Who knows, perhaps a parent and kid are in the store together, and the kid says 'mum, I like whats playing'. If the display in the store, visibily showed a playlist, then the parent could take note of the artist and buy something like that, for their kid's birthday or xmas gift. Look at the stores that sell the XBOX and playstation - they make damb sure there are a couple of kids playing the latest and greatest release of game. The also make damb sure to advertise via cardboard cut-out or some means, what that game is - more for the parents, rather than the kids I would imagine. I mean, look at cinema - they use billboards showing you the line-up of what is on at the moment - often visible from a motorway or major road junction! The cinemas that are smart constantly show the trailers in the foyer space too.
But the music store expects you just to fork out 20.00 Euro because the CD cover looks cool. I mean, even if you take the CD cover as your major selling point, the CD boxes, should be closer to eye level, when you are looking through them - instead of buried someplace around your crotch, so that if you have repetitive strain injury or back problems - then going to HMV or Golden Discs and doing this kind strain your spine backways to try and look at the bottom row of CD boxes,... once you do that for more than 5 minutes, you have had enough. Yet every music store out there follows the exact same formula - with these almost useless display systems - from the human ergonomic point of view. The second you are down into this awkward leaning-backward with focused gaze on the row of CD covers, someone wants to 'get by' you, the customer circulation aisles being so narrow, and you have to return to upright position again. So a visit to a music store, becomes like a painful torture gym class. No fun I say, no fun whatsoever, unless you are a quite flexible teenager, in which case have no money to spend anyhow. If you are sitting at a PC, the music samples and cover design all come to you, whilst you are sitting down in one place. If a music store was a workplace - it would have serious health and safety issues for people with back problems. But this is meant to be a store, where they expect you to 'spend' instead. You would imagine stores would bend over backways to make it more comfortable for their customer. ? ? ?
Why can't people go into music store, jack in their iPod and start doing their thing? Pretty soon it will be at the stage where wireless internet connectivity will have enough bandwidth to enable decent download speeds. Then I can just sip coffee in a wifi zone, whilst my laptop batch downloads the latest album I want, and burns the CD for me there and then - no music store, no queue. Like as if computer terminals weren't cheap, and internet bandwidth wasn't available - but you never see internet terminals that you could 'jack into' at music stores - I would more than willingly bring my own set of headphones or iPod set and jack right into some good fast bandwidth, and begin to buy music. Alternatively, if you wish to sell CDROMs, have it like an Argos routine, where you pressed a button and went to the check-out in your turn to get the CDROM itself. Cut down on all this needless floor staff, walking around arranging CD covers all day long. At xmas time, this was most apparent, with queues of shoppers out the doors in all music stores on the highstreets in Dublin - but at the top of the queue, you might have two people serving who cannot even work the till properly - or else, the till itself doesn't work properly. Another way to look at music retail on highstreet, would be to do the suse bar idea of a conveyor belt - allow people to sit down together and get relaxed and choose music as it went around a conveyor belt or something.
So which ever way you try and slice or dice it, the music stores deserve everything they get - because frankly, they think like they are back in the dark ages. I have scant sympathy for music stores, they knew as well as anyone else how cheap digital storage was becoming, and how accessible bandwidth was to the market. You only have to put two and two together. But even with that, downloading can only take a very small slice of the market anyway. Anyone who has gone through the hassle of downloading will know, that it can be grief - it can be time consuming, and for anyone except the thorough music lover - downloading is not the answer. You need to set up a whole lot of things, and get them working together for the process of downloading music to work - and even then, the process is far from flawless. So downloading per se, is not stealing any great customer base - that's bullshit. All downloading is doing, is providing certain customers who need something more than the stores could offer. And if the stores got their shit together, they might even win back some of those downloaders too. Because after you have downloaded your 1000th song, the appeal has kinda worn off, and you would like to be able to just walk into a store and buy the CD for a change. With the rise in popularity of the service industry, with coffee shops etc, etc, and given their city centre locations - I often wonder, if an opportunity exists to do a hybrid of service industry and music industry. Dunno. In the same way, that Cinemas offer you the movie cheaply and then make up most of their profit from selling the higher margin drinks and popcorn.
Steve Jobs kinda ties down a lot of issues here I feel:
Brian O' Hanlon.