Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MURDER, SUICIDE OR NATURAL CAUSES? The Death of Today's Music & Book Stores

by Cyrus Webb

For me there are very few pleasures that can match what I feel when I'm reading a book. Whether its fiction or nonfiction the world I enter through the pages can make you laugh, reflect or even think about things a little differently. IF I am reading about someone's life or experiences I find myself trying to find something I can either relate to or a teachable moment that I can learn from and share.

It is my love of reading and books that sparked the idea of this publication you are now reading. Many of you share my love for having a print edition to enjoy, however, technology has changed the way we not only read books but also listen to an buy music. The result has been less of a need for a brick and mortar store which has led to closings all across the country.

There will be some who will say that the economy as well as the price of merchandise in stores is just as responsible for the closings we see taking placed. Others will say that what we see happening is just the evolution that comes with the changes in the world.

What do you think? Is the demise a sign of the times or self-inflicted? Here are some of the thoughts we received online for this very complicated question.

"I am of the NYC area based, online vinyl record shop, The obvious reason for traditional book and music selling stores folding is the advent of all aspects of online media: online shops, online delivery systems, digital readers and audio devices. Many people, especially younger people (who were the traditional demographic of music retailers) are choosing to live lives with less stuff. It is often also just plain easier, less time consuming, and direct to order what you see/want online and have it delivered!

"That said, the key to staying in business as a physical store, or really any business, is niche marketing. One must specialize. In NYC, the record stores that are still open focus on specific genres of music - and people come by for that specialized and unique experience and the knowledge that is there.

"In addition, a brick and mortar store, even if they have an online component, has to provide a reason/experience that can only be had in the physical realm. I once heard this statement in relationship to the concert and movie theater business which is true here also, and that is: there is an innate need for people to physically congregate and have shared group experiences, and they will always do that to some degree. So in the case of a book or record store, group experiences like concerts, readings, book signings, interviews, cafes, and even laundromats are things that can bring people in the door.

"I think that cost of the actual item has absolutely nothing to do with whether people buy online or in a physical store. I think convenience and efficiency of the shopping experience are the major factors. Books and recorded music are often easier to purchase online, especially if you know what you want already - after all, one Stephen King novel or Lady Gaga Cd will be identical to the next.

"I think that it is great that digital formats have arrived and are affordable. It increases access to the artifacts of culture - any method that gets people thinking, reading, listening and engaged with creativity is fabulous and we are a better, more intelligent, and more empathetic and connected world for it. I also believe that the more ways your brand, project, band, book, or whatever is experienced, the more customers you bring in that will buy from you directly, recommend you to others, and come to your events." Bonnie Kane


"I'm aging myself here but back in the day, I remember a group of us chipping in money, one of us taking a bus downtown and buying the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. During the years afterwards going to music stores, often either funky shops or mall-based operations was where we got our tunes. We transitioned away from LP's, to cassettes to CD's played on a home sound system.

"As for books, my wife is a reading machine. She now uses a machine to read books. Today ALL our music comes viaiTunes. The only books we buy are for our grandkids, who thankfully love to read. But both are as comfortable, if not more than we are, with iPads. My wife reads most of her books on the iPad, which she either buys or can download from the library.

"One thing I've noticed is when I come to bed a while after my wife curls up with a good iPad, is the bedroom light has been replaced with the glow of the screen she's reading her book on. (Makes for a few stubbed toes but I'll adapt.)
Two of my most favorite magazines, Businessweek and Sports Illustrated are available in iPad editions. While I enjoy still reading the actual magazine, it's far easier to find content using the electronic editions.

"It's easy to blame technology for the demise of music and book stores, but ultimately it's consumers -- who happen to use the technology. It's akin to people blaming Wal-Mart for the demise of local mom and pop stores. Consumers are responsible, not Wal-Mart.

"Among some treasured possession are actual books autographed by everyone from Walter Cronkite to Clive Cussler to Stephen King. I'm not sure what the future version of a "book signing" will be, possible an app that allows an electronic signature on the electronic version of the book.

"The good news is, we still listen to music and read books. So musicians and writers still have a job. We're just listening to or reading their artistry in a far different way. Home libraries are now contained on iPad or e-readers. Music libraries, with days and days worth of music, all contained on the same device we make telephone calls on. Best part is, it sure cuts down on dusting shelves and shelves that used to hold their analog predecessors!"
Brian Olson (Highlands Ranch, CO)

"I personally think that book and music stores are folding because of 2 factors: technology and the "instant gratification" factor. People want things NOW and buying them online give them that satisfaction. Technology (creation of ipod and mp3 players) make it much easier to have all your music in one one wants to walk around with CD's anymore. But when purchased online, music and books are more expensive than if purchased at a store... example, I just bought my first iBook recently and it cost me $12.99, but if I had gone to Barnes and Noble (a 10 minute drive from my house) to purchase a hard copy it would have cost me $9.99." alasiciliana

"Digital download puts products in the hands of the consumers instantly. We are a world made of people who want everything yesterday. Just an example, a person who is overweight wants to lose all the weight in ten days or less so that they can look good for their high school reunion. It's a quick-fix world and digital download is the greatest solution.

"It won't go away. So, whether it's good or bad is irrelevant. I personally think that from my angle, it's a good thing. I want readers and I know the nature of the consumer. If I can get a book in their hands instantly, my ability to sell my book has just increased ten-fold.

"But, bookstores and music stores are suffering. A person can have a million songs in the space of a DVD player. But, that would be impossible if each of those songs were bought from the store.

"How do we save the music and bookstores? There will always be people who will want the actual thing in their hand. They like collecting. Readers will always want pages they can feel and smell. That brings up other issues like buying books and CDs online so they can be shipped to the house.

"So, book and music stores have to offer something special. They can't just be libraries with price tags. They have to have live entertainment, refreshments, other items to sell like coffee mugs, shirts, hats, posters...etc. An author doing a reading of a chapter or a band playing a few songs, live viewings of movies based on books, live viewings of concerts on a closed circuit television...a million and one ways exist. There will always be plenty of ways to get consumers to come to a store. It's up to the store to bank on it." Michael Allen


"I currently live in North Bend, a small town in Oregon, where we have 1 bookstore (really a book swapping store that has a few new books) that is located across the street from the public library. The public library is part of a county-wide system that includes libraries in the public schools, so interlibrary loan is common within the system. The libraries have a reasonable selection of CDs and DVDs/videos that they have purchased or received as donations. There is another bookstore about 30 miles away in an even smaller community that is tourism-based. This area is not wealthy and has a high unemployment rate. The educational achievement level is not high; I expect the community college staff (which has been deeply cut this year) are outnumbered by at least 3:1 by high school dropouts. It is not an area marked by educational excellence.

"Because people have specific interests and the local libraries and bookstores cater to the general audience, on-line purchasing will win here. Personally, I stopped buying recreational reading books over 25 years ago, because I could not afford them on a teacher’s salary and, later, on a student budget (other than required textbooks which cost between $50 and $150 each). I have relied completely on libraries which are free and expose me to a wider range of authors than I would normally choose to buy.

"Stores can only exist by providing products that people will buy. This means that entertainment for general audience appeal will win over thought-provoking or controversial books. Publishers have seen the trend for years and only publish what they know will sell well. Publishers’ choices will both reflect and drive what is available in stores or online. Now that I have DSL available, I am off dial-up for the first time. Will I download books? No. I like the comfort of the paper page and find reading on a screen more difficult. I enjoy books on tape/CD when making long trips because that way I don’t have to deal with pathetic radio reception in mountains or across great distances of unpopulated areas.

"Good or bad? That is a value that has to go beyond the obvious. Is it “bad” to have digital rather than chopping down and processing trees? I live in logging territory and the “farms” are those of trees rather than foodstuffs. Those trees provide income so people can live outside urban areas where their skills are not marketable. Digital may be cheaper in the long run and an efficient way to market the less appealing and/or more controversial books that publishers and/or bookstores would not look at." Jennifer Little

"I am an independent musician, run my own label, produce my own records on Cakewalk & in addition run a freelance advertising agency specializing in Internet & mobile video I have a very strong opinion on these money matters, especially with regards music & bookstores in the USA today. I write from the POV of an immigrant Californian. I was born in New Zealand & spent much of my youth in the United Kingdom & Australia. Now I'm a duel Citizen (Yankee/Kiwi). As a nation we need to think different. Rethink possible strategies that can help the retail industry as a whole. Let's fess up, retailers create jobs in all states, jobs are well needed right now.

"'Buy Local' should be the slogan chanted across this great nation. Certain
retail segments such as florists & restaurants necessitate a local retailer by their
nature, others like bookstores & music stores do not. A concentrated effort by all state, city, & county government to buy local should be the ticket to ride. Even as is the case with big box retailers like Target Stores, K-mart etc, a limited selection of best selling books & albums is fine. Let the Barnes & Noble & FYE (For Your Entertainment) specialize in a wide selection of specialty products. Also more work & lobbying by the Small Business Administration & US chamber of commerce needs to be done to protect small business. Only e-tailers who support the collection of sales tax should be welcome.

"If we allow the current trend to continue, only a few anti-tax, anti-union, anti-benefit states will monopolize the bookseller & music retail trade. No doubt, they'll also be outsourcing at creating jobs overseas, not at home. That's (to borrow a movie title as a phrase) "The high cost of low price". Look, I'm not a commie or anti-technology. I like the Nook & my iPod. I like to make money, I'm a family guy. I download from iTunes in addition to visiting the mom & pops
(my favorite vinyl store is Burger Records in Fullerton) I come from a small business family background so I appreciate consumers support the underdog.

"We have to start here, & now. A new & improved effort to educate minds, steer consumers into local retail store because the benefit to society outweighs the cutthroats tactics of a few rogue & immoral companies. In regards to the digital age, let's keep the Webb presses rolling round the clock & the black ink barrels full. Newspapers, magazine titles, books, L.P album jackets; all on paper & ink. They are the bread & butter where Internet is the gravy. Let's make "buy local" the magnet for consumers now. Otherwise, the big take over by corporate giants could filter down, spin out, & it'll be too late. We'll all have no control." Glen Naughty

"Books stores like music stores first lost ground with the warehouse type stores. Then came the big box stores WalMart, Sams, Costco. Then came the internet with the Amazons, MP3's and now digital books. What can the remaining bookstores and musicstores do that online stores can not. They can have the authors and musicians at their locations. Be more involved with the end product. Promote local artist. Go to the people (festivals, flea markets, farmers markets). I see some bookstores have readings or signings but they don't promote the events enough." Paula Tromp

"Over the past few years we have seen an increasing number of bookstores and music stores fold unexpectedly. The recent closing of the BORDERS bookstores immediately comes to my mind. One of the main reasons why this is happening, is because of the emergence and growth of the technological age. There are always going to be a plethora of faithful, traditional customers who adamantly prefer to buy corporeal books and music. However, as technology continues to advance, more online formats are being used and sold instead of the tangible merchandise.

"As an Author who utilizes online formats, with the internet being a major component in assisting Entrepreneurs in marketing their products, many people are leaning towards using online books and music. They do this not only get their products out to the masses but also because it is faster and more convenient for people to become aware of and more to purchase. Let's face it, we live in a microwave society where customers prefers to get things easier and faster and viral promotions plays right into this societal characteristic . With digital formats like the Kindle for books and iTunes for music, in the future we may see an increasing number of bookstores and music stores closing.

"In my humble opinion, I do not think that this continual wave of stores going out of business that is coming can be prevented because it would be expecting people to move backwards instead of forward. I do not think that online users are going to be willing to trade in lack of publicity and convenience for potential customers to assist in saving bookstores and music stores. The only chance that these physical stores may have to compete is to price their products at such an irresistible rate that people can not help but to make their way to the stores to buy their merchandise. However, even this approach would bring about the issue of stores losing money in order to compete and survive but then this still brings us back to our initial problem. The physical stores would have to bring in a good amount of revenue to continue to stay open as well. Ultimately, It is going to be interesting to see how it all pans out in the end but I think that the digital age is here to stay." Kevin Benton

"As the author of 3 books, and several more in the pipeline, I am devastated at the demise of bookstores because of what it means, personally and for society. This is another warning sign of the decline of intellectual civilization. The coal miner's canary has stopped singing and is moribund.

"It's quite a different experience to order books online instead of browsing in bookstores, touching real books, making fabulous finds, and chatting with other book lovers.

"Why are more people sacrificing this experience? Because we:
-Feel as though we have less time for such pleasures
-Cocoon more in our homes because of fear of the outside world
-Become more wary of what we spend our money on
-Parent without teaching our children that bookstore browsing is as
vital as eating
-Have become obsessed with everything technological and think that
it's cooler to read online, or at least to order online.

"What can bookstores do about it?
-Create a more inviting and comfortable atmosphere - with couches and
-Hold more frequent social events - such as singles events where
authors do book readings and signings of self-help relationship books,
or playdates where authors do book readings and signings of children's
-Be more visible in their locales - such as participating in community
events with booths of books and authors, bringing authors with their
books into schools, and so on.

"We must act now to save the bookstores before the canary sings its
last note!" Carole Lieberman M.D., Media Psychiatrist and Bestselling Author

"As a student in 2007 I found textbooks to be extremely expensive. I started to buy them on and it made more financial sense. That got me started buying more books online and now I don't even consider the bookstore. If someone is talking about a particular book that appeals to me I go right to Amazon to purchase it. I've even started reselling my 'used' books on Amazon.

"As far as music goes I got started downloading songs when I got my first smart phone years ago. I can take those songs, sync to my computer and make my own customized CD - why go and buy at the store (and get songs I don't really care for along with the ones I really want) when I can customize for my listening tastes.

"So I am probably part of the reason that Book / Music stores have declined and I know I'm not the only one. Technology has made these activities easier, faster, less expensive, and customized. Who could ask for anything more?

"By the way - my mother, an avid book reader, recently got a kindle and I don't see her going back to a bookstore in the future, she loves it!" Teajai Stradley


"The internet has pretty much killed bookstores and music stores. Why pay for something you can get for free or much cheaper online? Books are replaced by Kindle, Nooks, and other tablets that allow you to carry thousands of books in your pocket. It was bound to happen!" Sebastien Elkouby

"The first thing responsible is the availability of digital format. Up until June
2011, I was a staunch elitist about reading not reading digital books. I could not even fathom reading a digital book. I always loved the cozy feeling of holding a book while dozing off to sleep or reading it at the beach. After buying the IPad 2 in June of this year, I have made a turn a round. With iBooks, audiobooks, etc, I have so much available to me far more than I could imagine. As a busy mom with s 13 year old football player and a busy 11 year old girl who takes three dance classes, my iPod keeps me very entertained with the music and books as it all contains my books ad music without me carrying around 10 books and music devices. At my age, 47--I needed to keep up with my kids. I love the digital books.

"But, I am glad that I did not use any digital format when my kids were young. A
digital format book could have never replaced my then toddler kids looking at Cat In the Hat book and pointing o the pictures. A memory of my daughter asleep while holding the book the Velveteen Rabbit with all it's beautiful illustrations cannot be duplicated while holding a kindle or an iPad. The memory of my then three year old son and I reading Are you my Mother by. Dr. Seuss and later finding his scribbles in the book are precious. I am glad I have those memories. We still go to Barnes and Noble and hang out looking at books. HOWEVER, my son wanted to purchase some books from Barnes and Noble and I, instead of purchasing the books at Barnes and Noble downloaded the books via my iBooks my iPad for him to read. Such is the death of music and book stores." Kathy Thompson

"I feel the reason these type of stores are closing is because of how they operate. First is the price game. The consumer is not stupid he gets the sale flyers on sunday and on new release tuesday he goes to the store with the lowest price. Second is stock. Stores today do not want to stock a item they feel nobody in the area will purchase. Every tuesday I and others that I encounter at the local stores looking for a new release are told we do not have it because we feel nobody will buy it.

"So I guess I and the others are Mr and Ms Nobody. You do not know how many tuesdays I spend going 45 miles or more to another town to purchase my item or being forced to order online because the stores here will not carry the items. I have tried everything. Customer service has gone out the window. I will admit two stores out of the many I contacted wrote me back and had the purchaser call me in person to talk about this. They said they would contact the distributers and try to get the products in store and it should not be a problem since they sell those names from those distributers. Update til this day nothing has been done and the products have not arrived because the stores and distributers do not care. They would rather sell 50 different versions of the same cd or movie over and over then get the new release. Then they say they do not have the space in the store? Well how many versions of the same cd or dvd with just new cover art do you need? Get rid of those and you will have space for the new. In addition it goes further up the ladder." Edward Pirigyi

"My book Set Free to Live Free: Breaking Through the 7 Lies Women Tell Themselves was released May 2011 and I've noticed that my bestseller ranking on Kindle consistently out performs the paperback version. Do I care that more people buy my book in a digital form verses a hard copy form? Absolutely not. Like many non-fiction authors, I feel the point of writing is to share my thoughts and expertise with as many people as possible. The increase in cheaper digital formats of books is great for accomplishing this goal. As a consumer and book lover, the ability to buy twice as many digital books for the cost of a single paperback makes sense. I feel the future success for bookstores will depend on their ability to provide digital formats that will be compatible with Kindle, Nook, and smartphones. Smaller stores may have to work out affiliate relationship with larger digital retailers (Amazon, B and N, etc) to supply their formats via their websites to help maintain their bottom line. To capitalize on hard copy sales, bookstores will need to become more creative in developing ways to get people inside their stores. Author readings and book signings may not be a big enough incentive in this market, but an authors tea to introduce a suspense book or Amish food sampling to release an Amish romance may get more people through their doors." Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D

Want to add your thoughts to this discussion? Feel free to post it on our website here or email me directly at Your comments could end up in a future edition of Conversations Magazine. We look forward to hearing from you.


  1. The death of printed books, bookstores and libraries are part of a larger move to steer society. Once our history is in a digital form it is easy for the "ministry of truth" to change history to fit the needs of Big Brother. Charlotte Iserbyt in her "deliberately dumbing down of America"[1] explains this process as also outlined in George Orwell's classic 1984. Text messaging, for example, condenses the number of word we use. Fluoridation of many city water supplies has reduced IQ. Heavy metals (lead, cadmium), mercury in vaccines also damages the brain. Reading requires thinking and imagination sadly, for many this is difficult. People steering society don't want YOU to THINK, ask too many questions keeping you in mental slavery. Wake up America turn off the TV, READ history, think and get involved.
    [1] Free e-book

  2. Music stores could definitely benefit from getting the opinions of their customers to ask what kind of in store music they'd like to hear if they still wish to thrive in this generation.