Wednesday, July 26, 2006

the hard e-sell

Chuck Mitchell, a former head of Verve/Polygram, writes to Rifftides:

I'm unconvinced that there is enough consumer demand for most deep jazz catalog to justify continued CD manufacturing and retailing in conventional stores. When I was running Verve/Polygram in the mid-to-late 90s, there was a good deal more stability in the jazz reissue and catalog market than there is now, and we still had to work hard to convince retailers to hold more titles of slow sellers...

That began to change in 1996-7, as stores became saturated with product of all kinds, and we started to see a radical escalation in returns. Things kept getting worse from there. The record industry would have you believe it's all about downloading, but many other factors have brought the CD business to where it is now, beginning with outrageous pricing in an attempt to rescue a bad-margin business. The simple fact is that most catalog titles don't turn over fast enough to justify the retailers' cost of doing business, starting with real estate and shipping costs... if it was tough to sell Dizzy a decade ago, how does it make sense to try to get Chubby into whatever stores are left today?

Which makes the "long tail" of digital distribution the only hope for the continued existence of the highways and the back roads of the riches of our recorded musical archives.