The death throes of various business models

Virgin Megastore is closing down; The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, my childhood newspaper, is going web-only, and its competitor/codependent sibling, The Seattle Times, may be following suit soon.

As a small child I once harbored fantasies of being able to organize clippings to create a real-life equivalent of Sherlock Holmes’ index; all I really managed to do was make a mess and hoard a large stack of issues of the P-I I would never be able to go through. For awhile I at least had a decent collection of clipped Phantom comic strips, and I still have virtually every item run between January and August 1989 on Tim Burton’s first Batman film in a scrapbook.

The music stores I frequented as a kid aren’t there any more; Love Music in Redmond (where a friend of mine and I drove late one night to get the new Hammerbox album on vinyl, speaking of things outdated), Easy Street Records in Kirkland (where I encountered Harry Connick Jr. once), Tower Records in Bellevue — all dead and gone, years ago. Borders and Barnes and Noble, my later retail enablers, seem to be increasingly less interested in CD sales. (“increasingly less”? Does that even make any sense?)

I will mourn the newspaper when its ultimate end arrives. It has been inevitable for some time; most of the last decade, it seems, has been the story of the decline of Seattle as a town where two dailies were viable. For a very brief period I worked for The Bellingham Herald; it was an illuminating look at a business which was horribly troubled even in 1998. It will be an odd day when the presence of a physical newspaper in a movie will be an anachronism which dates the work, but it is coming, and fast. Still, I’ve gotten the vast majority of my news via online sources for years now, and it hasn’t occurred to me that I want to buy a copy of a daily newspaper since at least 2003.

Much as I hate to admit it, however, I could not care less that the bricks-and-mortar music store is dying. Really, it’s been dead for awhile, depending on what your musical interests are — this is just a matter of the physical reality catching up with the industry. I have bought most of my music online since probably 2000 or 2001. If I see something I want in a physical store, unless it’s a copy of something that I’ve been looking for forever which has long seemed otherwise unavailable, I write down the name of it for reference and look for it on Amazon later — but the fact is, it is so rare that this happens it’s barely even worth mentioning. I’d love to be able to “buy local,” but the sad truth is that it’s been forever since small shops have been able to afford to stock what I like. I can’t find it at a small, local store even if I want to buy it there.

Regarding both the daily print newspaper and the bricks-and-mortar music store, there is simply no incentive, at least from this customer’s perspective, to stick with either business model when I can get what I want more easily, more quickly, and more inexpensively in other ways. Classical music, for example — and by that I mean the body of recordings which a classical music aficionado would actually want to buy, not Hooked on Mozart — has become harder to find at a physical retail store every time I walk into one for the last decade and a half. There’s just no point in even trying, when every time you walk in, you walk out frustrated — not when you can quickly search on Amazon and find the CD within seconds, usually even if it is out of print. I might also add that iTunes, which I originally thought would be a horrible format for classical music, seems to have figured out how to manage to make the “per-song” model work when each “song” is actually part of a bigger work. This is not just classical music, either; the further your tastes stray from the Billboard 200, the more this will be the case.

As far as the newspaper goes — y’know, nostalgia aside, let’s be honest. It’s intended to be a disposable medium anyway. Ephemeral as it effectively is (heck, the Greek word for newspaper is εφημερίδα ephimeridha), getting rid of the physical means of conveyance only makes sense, however much somebody like me, who wishes he could be cool enough to be a real Luddite, might want it to be otherwise. People aren’t going to pay for something disposable when there’s a free version that you don’t have to bother recycling, period. That said, I hope we don’t ever reach the point where we’re 100% paper-free; there is something about the interaction of content with substance that it would be a shame to totally lose. (There’s part of me that would like to argue that this is ultimately a form of Gnosticism, where media are irrelevant and content is everything, but I will need to revisit that another time.)

I raise a glass in memory of the newspaper; I frankly wish the CD store good riddance.

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1 Response to “The death throes of various business models”


  1. 1 outdoorgrrl 17 March 2009 at 9:34 am

    My first boss out of college used to tell this story. He was a concert cellist for a while before starting his own PR firm. One day he was in the fish market in New York and the fish monger was wrapping up his piece of fish in newspaper. There, on the paper, was a picture of him. He said something like, “Hey, that’s me.” The fish monger replied, “Yesterday this was news; today it is fish wrapping.”

    That pretty much sums up my idea of newspapers today.


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