“Music critics” probably think they’re the music tastemakers of today, but whoops, they’re not. Who is? Target. Wamart. Best Buy. From the WSJ:
In past decades, deejays and music critics helped shape musical trends. Today, many music industry executives agree, the big boxes have become the new tastemakers. Even as compact disc sales fall, their choices dictate which CDs are widely available on store shelves across the U.S. Big boxes are the industry’s biggest distribution channel — and the rock, hip-hop, jazz and classical music titles they choose not to carry face drastically reduced chances of reaching mass audiences.
Thanks largely to aggressive pricing and advertising, big-box chains are now responsible in the U.S. for at least 65% of music sales (including online and physical recordings), according to estimates by distribution executives, up from 20% a decade ago. Where a store that depends on CDs for the bulk of its sales needs a profit margin of around 30%, big chains get by making just 14% on music, say label executives who handle distribution. One of these executives describes the shift as “a tidal wave.”
CDs with “objectionable” content are often excluded from the tame big box retailers—to the detriment of their sales. Walmart’s refusal to carry any album with a parent advisory sticker causes many labels to create sanitized versions of albums for sale in chain stores.
And, even as the stores control more of the market, they’re beginning to deemphasize CDs because they’re just not selling like they used to. Best Buy’s senior vice president for entertainment, Gary Arnold, told the WSJ:
“Certain businesses are starting to flourish at the expense of others,” says Mr. Arnold. “Right now the hottest categories in entertainment are gaming and the movie business.”
“Music has become a commoditized item,” he says. “The CD is perceived by the consumer to be a $10 item, and the manufacturers continue to release new titles at $15 to $18.98.”
In a store like Best Buy, music functions mainly as a way to entice customers into buying computers and stereos. —MEGHANN MARCO