On Friday the other shoe finally dropped on the Tower Records franchise.
Tower’s assets were officially sold to a liquidation company as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding. The Tower Records retail chain that so many people know and love is officially dead. Strangely, I won’t miss it.
As a music geek back in the early 80’s I practically grew up at Tower Records. I’d spend hours scouring Tower’s import bins looking for obscure gems to add to the KFSR playlist. These days people talk about building systems to enhance music discovery. Back in the day, Tower Records was the system for music discovery.
Tower maintains what is commonly referred to as a deep catalog. Through the years music geeks have gravitated to Tower because they knew the store stocked even the most obscure recordings. Now, of course, those very same music geeks have numerous alternatives to choose from. The very concept of deep catalog has morphed into the Long Tail and Tower Records has become a victim of the very retail concept that it helped create.
While Tower may have been an integral part of my youth, it’s been ages since I actually stepped foot in the store. In a world of Amazon and eMusic, why bother?
Now that Tower’s days are numbered, I decided to visit the store one last time, so I stopped by the Pasadena store on Sunday. I’ll admit I was suckered in by the ‘liquidation’ signs and the sight of an old hippy walking the streets wearing a sandwich board promising ‘up to 30% off’ everything in the store.
It’s sad to say that I was incredibly disappointed by my last Tower Records shopping experience, and it wasn’t because Tower has change. In fact, Tower is pretty much exactly as I remember it. And that’s the problem — it hasn’t changed one bit over the years. Tower has remained pretty much the same for the past decade while the world around it has changed at warp speed.
Seriously, how the hell are you supposed to find anything in a store that big without a search engine? And where are the user reviews? And what are all those small plastic boxes lined up in bins? Do they really expect me to rip my own music?
Worse yet, even with a 10% storewide discount on all music Tower’s prices are still higher than Best Buy or Amazon. At this rate it’ll take them ten years to liquidate their inventory.
Over the past few days I’ve seen quite a few articles about the reaction that music lovers are having to the death of Tower. While the nostalgia is undeniable, the truth is that most of us won’t miss Tower. We may miss the era that Tower represents, but those days are gone. And now so is Tower Records.
Years ago I moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco and went into the Market Street Tower Records and asked if they had any music like the kind they played on fantastic indy radio station KCRW in LA. The girl at the counter sneered at me that she never heard of it, and turned back to her black nail polish. Kind of a a prescient event, in that now KCRW has one of the best music streaming web systems around, and Tower is dead.