Best Buy BS
1. A bad dream that returns every time you close your eyes, no matter how many pages of your book you read in the middle of the night to try and shake it from your mind.
2. A portrayal of the myth of Sisyphus, doomed for eternity to roll his boulder to the pinnacle of a mountain with great exertion only to have it roll back down into the valley so he could begin again. Forever.
3. Real life karma in action, actually visible to the naked eye, where past acts affect future lives and where sins are punished into eternity until a lesson is learned from them enabling you to move on.
4. A manifestation of Martin Luther King, Jr's quotation about the Arc of Justice. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have been here before, and it was awful. In the 90's, labels hungry for sales (and who isn't?) rushed into deals with Best Buy, and other big box chains now since defunct, that allowed Best Buy to sell below cost with a minimum amount of pain, if any, and then make money off the folks lured into the store on their toasters and TV sets (now iPods and Xbox). Soon, indie stores all over America started going belly up. Pier Platters. Go!. Final Frontier. Rockaway. On and on and on. Remember, this was when file sharing still consisted of a chrome C90 without the holes punched.
After freeing much of America of their indie retailers, the accountants for Best Buy and the others realized the age old maxim, you can't make up for a negative margin with volume. Their margin was hurt even more when the returns started piling up. Millions of dollars of returns. Why? Because of their size, they were and are unable to pick and choose what might sell at their stores. They have no in-store culture to support indie music sales in knowledgeable floor staff, in-stores, magazines, a comfy couch, upcoming show listings, or a cool kid behind the counter to play the new stuff and talk with customers not only about what's new that week, but what's coming out next month and recommend that cool record by the Slits you might really dig if you like Bloc Party. You like Antony? Check Jeff Buckley or Van Morrison or Current 93's "Earth Covers Earth." At Best Buy, the single most frequent employee comment is "When's my next break?".
The combination of poor buying in huge quantities and their lack of ability to sell through eventually lead to so many returns that Best Buy stopped carrying indie music almost entirely. The huge racks at Best Buy that had housed music were suddenly empty, and then shortly they were gone, slowly to be replaced over the next few years by discounted DVDs and video games.
In the wake of this prolonged disaster lay cities all over the country without record stores, labels either driven to bankruptcy or crippled for years by 50+% returns on titles for which bands were already paid and saddled with enormous pressing plant bills, and a public who had finally realized that maybe music wasn't worth what it always had seemed. Maybe $16.98 was too much for a CD. Maybe $8 was the right price. That's what the labels and their complicit artists were telling them. And this dent in the collective music consciousness came at the dawn of broadband internet service and file sharing. If it wasn't worth $16, maybe it wasn't even worth $8. Maybe free was the way to go. If the stores, labels, and bands don't value their music enough to sell it at a decent price, why should the music fan feel any differently about it? So the whole industry had unwittingly conspired over three to four years to torch the value of an album at just the right time for the Best Buy shell game/Ponzi scheme to collapse in on itself, leaving an opening for Napster to tap the wired music junkie on the shoulder and take advantage.
Fast forward through rampant unchecked file sharing/piracy, MAP, oops! not MAP that's illegal, RIAA lawsuits against music fans, the boom of iTunes and Spitzer investigations of price fixing.
Why are we going back there again? Voluntarily even? Why are labels AGAIN selling to Best Buy at rock bottom prices and then buying into coop programs (billable back to the Artist of course) that allow Best Buy to break even selling their cds so cheaply-not only below retail cost, BUT BELOW DISTRIBUTOR WHOLESALE COST? At prices even below the album price on iTunes and others! So now you're all devaluing not only your packaged goods but your digital ones as well. If it's worth only $7.99 with package at Best Buy, why is it worth $9.90 at iTunes? Consumer answer: IT'S NOT.
When a distributor can buy your stuff with tax at Best Buy cheaper than from you directly, something is wrong. Very wrong.
And even better, I have heard that Best Buy is not only planning on targeting 10-20 of the hippest titles, but greatly expanding their indie offerings. That's great! They've set this up for a complete repeat of the mid-late 90's. Drive the final nail in the coffins of the remaining independent retailers, at least those savvy enough to have staggered through the first round and survived unlike their bankrupt counterparts across the country. Mortally wound the labels and their thin margin distributors with staggeringly high return rates a year or two or three down the road. Leave the bands without stores, labels or distributors to support them. And then, finally, when the bean counters with the short memories at Corporate figure out that it's not working for Best Buy, again, they slash their music sections back to a Top 40 and go back to ignoring it. Except this go round, it is entirely possible that there will not be enough of an independent music industry remaining to survive and bounce back. What's left? A rush to cash in on high volume for a few frontline hip titles leads to the elimination of the entire culture that nurtured the baby bands to the point where anybody even paid attention to them in the first place. Where they were suddenly cool enough to move out of the zines and blogs to get featured on the OC or VW commercial or the latest Farrelly Brothers movie, and then get big enough where it actually seemed to make sense to somebody that this might really sell at Best Buy. Cash in now and simultaneously salt the fertile earth that allowed it to happen in the first place, killing any chance of it happening again.
Worst case scenario? Fear mongering? Maybe. Except probably not. Because WE'VE ALREADY BEEN HERE. Sisyphus HAS rolled this rock up this very same god damned hill. Unlike Sisyphus, however, we are not doomed to hell for eternity to feed the Best Buy monster that will eventually eat us. We have choices. And we have history, RECENT history, from which to learn if we will only heed it.
And here is the saddest thing to me. Everybody in management at Touch and Go, Caroline, Secretly Canadian, even Matador, and yes Best Buy, has been at this long enough to know better. The difference is that Best Buy doesn't care. It doesn't have to. It will be around in 10 years selling, uh, whatever, HD HUDs for wireless iPod video and other consumer electronics, and if this unsavory practice continues, you and we will not be. And I guarantee you that if they even notice, nobody at Best Buy will care.
"He gives the American people the finger and barks out: 'I got mine, fuck you! Every crumb for himself.'"-William S. Burroughs "The Western Lands"
In the meantime, I'll head by Best Buy Stores #323 and #814, (aren't those great names!) on the way home tonight so I can buy their stock on titles we carry, give the kids who come in an empty shelf to look at hopefully driving them to an indie store and putting them off from the hassle of returning for future sales, sell them where we can and then return them to you at a profit.
Thanks for a great Tuesday. Thanks for your foresight. Your check's in the mail.
Patrick Monaghan, President
CTD, Ltd./Carrot Top Records, Inc.