Tower Records’ Demise: It’s Time To Play The Blame Game

Dec 20th, 2006 // 13 Comments

Today’s Tennessean takes a look at the demise of Tower Records, focusing on the chain’s Nashville store–which, not surprisingly, was one of the more successful Tower stores in the country. But we did a double-take when we saw this explanation for the dearth of retail music sales:

Jon Kerlikowske, who presided over operations for 14 years at Nashville’s Tower Records, which closes its doors today, distinctly remembers when he first realized that the record business might be in trouble. Kerlikowske, 52, was giving a lecture to about 300 music industry hopefuls at Belmont University just as illegal file sharing was taking off in the late 1990s.

“I asked the students to raise their hands if they learned about new music on MTV or VH1. I got about a dozen hands. Then I asked about radio and got even fewer hands,” recalled Kerlikowske, who left his position with Tower earlier this year in the wake of the company’s second bankruptcy. “Then I gave up and just asked them where they heard about new music.”

The assembled students answered nearly in unison: “file sharing.”

“I was shocked. Here was a whole lecture hall full of students who wanted to make it in the music business, and they thought music should be free,” Kerlikowske said. “And that’s how music is still being viewed — as something that’s disposable.”

True. But those students were probably also wondering why Tower’s CDs were still so overpriced, why the the company was dragging its heels when it came to getting into the digital-music distribution game, and why some of the store employees rolled their eyes when somebody had the audacity to purchase Black Sabbath, Vol. IV. Here’s hoping those 300 “music-industry hopefuls” saw the lifeboats being inflated and decided to get into something more promising–like, say, Middle East real-estate prospecting.

West End icon leaves, but Tower Records’ legacy will live on [Tennessean.com]

  1. brasstax

    Aww, that West End Nashville Tower is the only Tower I’ve ever really shopped at…and I got so much stuff there over the years. I don’t live in Nashville anymore, but seeing it really personalized this whole Tower collapse for me. I’m sad now, thanks Idolator!

  2. Dickdogfood

    So free = disposable? ARE HUGS FROM GRANDMA DISPOSABLE?

  3. Hacky McHackerstein

    Yeah I agree. Even though I’m now within a short drive of the LA Sunset Strip location, when I heard about this I thought more of the West End Nashville location and all the stuff I bought there. Still, brasstax, not as sad as Lucy’s Record Shop closing.

  4. Chris Molanphy

    Am still waiting for someone in the MSM to write a story pointing out that Tower was already in trouble in the mid-’90s, during the last great music-retail shakeout, when everyone was still on dialup and the word “Napster” was still just Shawn Fanning’s nickname.

    Remember Strawberries? Record World? Waxy Maxies? All got strangled to death by Wal-Mart and Circuit City in 1996 or so, and the only thing that kept Tower from that fate was the pickup in record sales in the late ’90s. The place was also erratically managed and survived through what felt like nine lives, including one previous (admittedly, post-Napster) bankruptcy filing.

    In short, file sharing may have been the death knell, but it was also the last nail in an already half-sealed coffin.

  5. Mick Kraut

    “I was shocked. Here was a whole lecture hall full of students who wanted to make it in the music business, and they thought music should be free,” Kerlikowske said. “And that’s how music is still being viewed — as something that’s disposable.”

    Music is being viewed that way because the music industry has trained us to view it that way, largely because they view it that way as well. When you view something as a “product” it becomes disposable…

    Charging $18.99 for records containing 1 decent song…continual re-releases of the same old records but with demo tracks, new artwork, remastering etc…how many times do we need to buy “Who’s Next”?

  6. lucasg

    i dare a motherfucker to even look at me funny when i am purchasing a copy of vol. IV!

    little black indie rock glasses all hitting the floor with a clatter… black wristband all mopping up a bloody nose…

  7. Brian Raftery

    The Black Sabbath IV detail, alas, is based on a true story from the downtown NYC store a few years back. I often wonder what that smirking little shit is doing now-aside from working at Circuit City and paying off his NYU film-school tab, that is.

  8. lucasg

    with any luck, brian- crying while masturbating.

  9. Ned Raggett

    Masturcrying.

  10. mackro

    Strokeblind

  11. King of Pants

    Living in Boston, I’m lucky to have the Newbury Comics chain, which consistently underpriced CDs. So it was always fun to pass the huge Tower Records on Mass Ave. and Newbury and sing along to the Newbury down the street. The only thing Tower was good for was their classical section, really. Oh! And if you had-had-had to have a CD right away and Newbury didn’t have it, you could slump over to Tower. Then again, they haven’t been there for years, so there you go.

    I just miss Amoeba Records, really. *sniffle*

  12. J DTZR

    The Black Sabbath IV detail, alas, is based on a true story from the downtown NYC store a few years back. I often wonder what that smirking little shit is doing now-aside from working at Circuit City and paying off his NYU film-school tab, that is.

    PRECISELY. Many of the articles and obituaries that have flooded the interwebs since the big announcement (including some here on Idolator) have mentioned Tower’s sales clerks and their deep musical knowledge, painting pictures of helpful Tower employees roaming the store, striking up conversations with shoppers, making recommendations and turning them on to artists they might not have otherwise discovered, which never happened to me at a Tower — and I visited Tower stores in LA, New York, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans, Washington DC, Philadelphia and the very same Tower profiled in this newspaper article.

    No, every Tower Records I visited was staffed with snotty hipster douchebag assholes who would loiter behind the counter as if chained there, just so painfully mortified that they had to TAKE MONEY from people who might actually listen to something other than Man Man or Des Ark or whatever indie hype was getting their cocks sucked by Pitchfork that week. The thought of all these snide little cretins suddenly unable to pay their rent really amuses me, I have to admit.

    So why did I keep going to Tower? Book selection was really good and you could find really great deals on collectible toys — I guess with all those $17.99 new release CDs, they could afford to sell the toys at rock bottom prices.

  13. Come a little Miroslav Klose You're My Kind of Man

    Fuck Tower Records. Those bastards raped me for 300$ in ’99 for “shoplifting” a record as I was stepping into the store. (I went thru a side-door to pitch an hot-dog wrapper & chip bag in the rubbish bin. With a cd-to-purchase in my hand. But quickly as I left, I returned. (I had planned to BUY the disc.))

    Fucking short-man-syndrome sufferer plainclothes rent-a-cop roughed me up & had me sign a statement acknowledging my culpability… & four months later, came the shakedown. 300$ for document processing.

    I was also barred from all Towers, world-wide, for eighteen months.

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