Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to Sell CDs--or Not

Most people think that the CD is finished (my office mate won't shut up about it), but there are still some who hold out hope that the format will endure. Instead of blaming the steady drop in sales of hard-copy music on digital downloading, these true believers have set their sights on retailers.

Peter Kafka's argument is simple and to the point: the big-box stores, which sell the most CDs of any retail category, don't give recordings enough space. If people can't find music, Kafka argues, they can't buy it.

Coolfer blogger Glenn Peoples provides a more nuanced view, writing that retailers aren't properly using the space they do devote to music. For Peoples, stores need to adapt to the changing behavior of most consumers, who have come to see music as an impulse buy. At the same time, labels need to provide retailers with high-end product to satisfy the small but steady demand of hardcore music fans, and retailers need to put the effort into properly merchandising it.

The success that Wal-Mart had with their exclusive sale of AC/DC's Black Ice--according to the Wall Street Journal, the CD sold well over a million copies in its first two weeks of release--shows just what a properly set up record can do in big box stores. The failure of Chinese Democracy, on the other hand, will surely make the mass merchants reluctant to dive headlong into exclusivity deals in the future.

Independent stores also may provide a place for the CD. A couple of years ago, after Tower Records fell, shops such as Silver Platters in Seattle and Other Music in New York were poised to take advantage. But today these retailers are realizing that there was a reason Tower went broke, and are diversifying, offering used CDs (as is Silver Platters) and going so far as selling downloads through their websites (as is Other Music).