Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The ABCs of music sales

A few months ago I decided to buy a certain album. It never happened. Either the CD skipped my mind when I was within range of a place to obtain it, or I didn't have time to stop in.

But I've been jonesing for new music after a long stretch of listening to the same tunes on the iPod. So this evening, as I walked past a hip little independent CD store on my way to grocery shopping, I decided to take the plunge.

I made my way to the Ms. Started scanning. And scanning. And scanning.

Ah yes. I'd forgotten.

The hip little independent CD store, like so many other CD stores, doesn't alphabetize its CDs. Or, rather, it does only to a point. All the Ma bands and artists are together, but within Ma it's a total free-for-all.

The result: It took much longer than it should have to discover that this store does not, in fact, carry anything by Barry Manilow.

* * *

I have a theory about why filing is so sloppy in these places. The longer customers have to flip through CDs to find what they're looking for, the more likely they'll be to stumble across something else they wanted, but hadn't been thinking about. While looking for Manilow, for instance, I saw the Dave Matthews Band and combed through their stuff for a song I liked.

It's a clever strategy, but one that ought to be retired. Music retailers, please take note ...

#1: There has been a tremendous drop in CD sales over the past 10 years. I don't need to tell you this. If you're managing to survive now, it's largely because so much of your competition has died.

#2: Gen-Xers (and people older than Gen-Xers) like CDs. We like digital downloads too, but we're more likely than Millennials to crave a product we can hold in our hands.

#3: One of the draws of digital music is that it takes no time at all to find what we're looking for. Enter your search term, hit return, and there it is.

#4: Traveling to a brick-and-mortar store, poking around to locate our selections, and then walking back to checkout is already a greater time commitment than we absolutely have to invest. It annoys customers to spend many minutes on top of that, attempting to dig through your inventory, simply because no one could bother to shelve it properly.

#5: Gen-Xers are grown-ups. Have been for quite a while. We've got obligations, responsibilities, places to be. We're going to be even more annoyed than your average high school student (who probably doesn't want your CDs anyway) if we're delayed for no good reason.

* * *

The above rant is mostly pointless. In 10 or 20 years, I'll reread this and get all nostalgic about how people were still actually buying CDs. But just for grins and giggles, give my words some thought. Maybe with enhanced alphabetization, you'll be one of the few retailers that survive long enough to occupy the coveted collector's-item niche.


Kyle Bennett said...

Rigorously alphabetizing thousands of CDs and maintaining that ordering is a high-cost low-benefit activity.

For that matter, so is selling CD's at all.

Brian McDonald said...

Why on earth would you expect to find Barry Manilow in a "hip independent CD store". Did he suddenly become retro-ironic-cool while I wasn't looking?

Ryan Hauck said...

> "Rigorously alphabetizing thousands of CDs and maintaining that ordering is a high-cost low-benefit activity"

True, but it's not like the employees are all that busy...

cinderkeys said...


I thought of that too. A good part of the sloppy-file policy may simply be to save time. On the other hand, you never see this in bookstores, and it takes them at least as much time to rigorously alphabetize.


If Barry Manilow can't become retro-ironic cool, who can?

Seriously, no, I was not at all surprised that Manilow was absent from Zia's inventory. My annoyance wasn't over not finding him, but over taking so long to ascertain that he wasn't there.

DeppityBob said...

I don't rummage through barely-alphabetized CDs for the same reason I don't rummage through the $5 movie bins: I got shit to do. (Thought I'd condense all that musing for you.)

cinderkeys said...

A rant is no fun if it's condensed.

Anonymous said...

MSNBC recently did a story on the techno gizmos we now have which will be gone in 10 years. The audio CD is one. In 2021 all music will be downloaded in digital form. So the CD will be gone. Just like my kids don't know what a LP phonograph record was. I don't like this. If I buy a CD I want a physical thing. If I buy a book I want an actual book. Not a bunch a bytes which look like a book. But it appears it is moving that way.

cinderkeys said...

When reading goes digital, that changes the experience. Instead of holding a printed book, you're looking at a computer screen or holding a Kindle or iPad. But a song file comes through your speakers just like a CD would. The only difference is how you queue up your songs.