With the popularity of new technologies like e-readers and smartphones, streaming and downloading entertainment is becoming quite common. As a result, retail entertainment businesses in Flagstaff are making some adjustments.
Rock-It-Man music storeowner Ben Gersten claims the downloading trend has influenced him to stock fewer CDs and bring in more vinyl. “Young adults are discovering their parents’ LP collections,” said Gersten, “and while they may laugh at first, they also notice the sound quality.”
According to Gersten, for true music aficionados, downloadable music selection and quality just won’t cut it. “Not everything is available for download,” Gersten said. “Downloading has its place, since it’s efficient and mobile, but you may want to ask yourself: What is the quality and, if it’s a whole album, is it worth it?”
Gersten says he’s never fought downloads; he’s just happy that people are listening to music, but he does note that 18- to 25-year-olds are supporting independent music stores like his because they are concerned with sound quality and variety.
He also points out that there is a difference between downloading a single and listening to a whole album in the order it was created. “In some albums, like the new Adele, M. Ward, Andrew Bird, the album tells a story, like a book. The first song relates to the last. You lose that story when you download singles.”
Happily for Gersten and small business owners like him, Rock-It-Man is one of many independent entertainment businesses around the country that have developed a niche to carry them through the latest revolution.
Books are Big Business
Many people once claimed record stores would be a thing of the past, just as some are now predicting of brick-and-mortar booksellers. And after seeing so many bookstore giants like Borders fall, it is not surprising some are making these predictions. But booksellers like Barnes & Noble are fighting to adapt to the new market, and much like vinyl record sales, the future of book sales may be more complicated than a one-way turn toward downloading.
According to Doug Stokes, general manager of Barnes & Noble in Flagstaff, the Flagstaff store’s only real change in visual merchandising has been rearranging the store for presentation of the Nook and expansion of the digital section. “We now sell digital books in the store,” Stokes said, “and this provides another level of customer service. Our help with downloading and free Wi-Fi make it easy for customers to make their purchase in the store.”
And hardcopy books may not be a thing of the past quite yet. Stokes claims Barnes & Noble still has many customers loyal to the hardcopy book. “Even those with e-readers have books they prefer to own in hardcopy,” Stokes said. “A lot of customers will collect books by their favorite authors, but download when they want mobility.”
Some Barnes & Noble stores are expanding sections of items that can’t be downloaded, like toys and games, but what Stokes wants to talk about is how there are products moving faster to download, such as interactive children’s books and educational cookbooks containing both recipes and live demonstrations. “These interactive options weren’t available before the e-book,” Stokes pointed out.
Those who own Barnes & Noble stock are currently concerned, with Nook e-book sales far below predictions in 2012, but it is still yet to be seen what will happen in the e-reader battle for supremacy between large booksellers like Barnes & Noble and giants like Amazon.
Romance of the Indie Bookseller
“Some people like the feel and ‘objectness’ of real books,” said Evan Midling, owner of Starrlight Books. “There’s a romance about bookstores; they are more than just places to get things. A bookstore has traditionally been a meeting place where people share with each other. I think there’s a sociological shift away from community spaces. Maybe bookstores help fill that gap.”
Midling hasn’t changed his merchandise much in the 17 years that he’s owned Starrlight, but he does make note of changes in types of sales. “What saved us during the recession was that we didn’t only stock rare collectibles; we offered the spectrum. In a tough economy, luxury purchases fall by the wayside and cheap paperbacks, the pure entertainment of the book world, are what supported us.”
However, Midling also explains that the book market may change again. “On the other hand, the collectors may be the ones who support us through the e-reader revolution. It’s hard to predict what will happen to the book, but we do live in interesting times.”
A New Era
If Flagstaff is a microcosm for the rest of the country, the trend toward streaming and downloading entertainment will endanger a number of brick-and-mortar businesses. However, many are attuned to the complicated changes and will find niches, adapt product lines, revolutionize customer service and enrich the in-store experience in order to survive.
It is even possible that e-readers will help support literacy and hardcopy book sales, that discovering new artists on iTunes could lead young people into shops like Rock-It-Man and that the social experience of shopping for books and music, be it in a local bookstore or with the assistance of a Barnes & Noble employee, could lead customers back to brick-and-mortar stores. FBN