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

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 []