Monday, October 22, 2007

A Single Cell

Businesses come and go. They are born and then they fold. The “Conestoga wagon construction and repair industry” fell by the way-side. At some point, a sweaty man hauled the last block of ice up a flight of stairs to chill the last real “ice box” – perhaps someone was sad about that. Certainly the “airbrushing things on the side of Dodge vans” industry has seen better days. Perhaps those jobs were replaced by “mall kiosk that sells ugly, off-brand face-plates for cell phones” – that seems a LOT like the van painting to me, just with less Pink Floyd marching hammers.

Birth and death – blah, blah. Well, the record store is certainly a lot closer to death than birth. Tower Records has closed its doors – a chain store, but one that “Championship Vinyl” types could at least acknowledge as “real.” Now that Tower is gone, the greater Los Angeles area (when not being evacuated due to brush fires) is home to a single shining beacon of music sales-dom – Amoeba Records.

Amoeba is a massive place filled with new and used CDs and records. The fact that the DVD section grows by the month shouldn’t worry you, move along, nothing to see here. Amoeba is a fun place to go and kill an hour or seven. There are seemingly endless racks of music and shopping here takes on a weird, adrenaline-fueled communal vibe. Many people comment along the lines of “Amoeba is wonderful, but it is almost a sensory overload.”

Amoeba is a great place and I am glad that it exists. But it almost isn’t a record store – it is more like an amusement park. And not a flashing lights and over-priced lattes kind of amusement park – but a hardcore amusement park for people that are really, really into music. A Civil War re-enactors amusement park, if you will.

A casual music fan going in there to find the latest Timberlake CD is probably going to end up running for the door as fast as they can find their way back out. Amoeba is NOT for the faint of heart. There are more racks of African music at the Hollywood Amoeba than there is racks of all CDs just down the street at Best Buy.

Overall, this is not a good sign. Normal record stores went under, but this mighty mutant of excess survives and even prospers because there are people who want this kind of intense experience. Just not enough people to keep this experience going in normal sized towns and cities. Not every town can support a massive amusement park like Disneyland. They tried to put a Planet Hollywood in every town – and that didn’t work out too well. The record store has become a tourist attraction, a place of worship, an oddity.

Music fans (usually the kind that read blogs like this one) go into Amoeba when they are visiting LA and say “Why isn’t there a place like this in MY town?” And the answer is – because you wouldn’t go to it, at least not enough to keep it open. The Amoeba experience doesn’t work on a smaller scale – it needs the swirling hyper-activity that comes from 800 people, all clickety clacking through the “Used Ska” section at the same time. Amoeba is a destination, not a place to complete an errand to pick up some music you like. Few cities have the population to support a store like Amoeba, and one of the reasons it works even in LA, is because it is a tourist destination – so the churning masses of visitors keep the doors open.

Amoeba is the exception that proves the rule – the rule that brick and mortar record retailing is going away. Like Madonna is the exception that proves how the new Live Nation plan won’t work for a young band.

Amoeba isn’t going anywhere. iTunes cannot kill something like this. Amoeba will still be doing brisk business when people are wandering through in the year 2028 to buy Aztec Camera and that “Good Charlotte: 20 years of Hits” compilation. Assuming there is still anything physical to sell. Maybe we can just line up in Amoeba to get the tunes injected into our brains.

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Only in LA. Good thing it doesn't have any competition, the moment it gets some your 'prophesy' may need to readjust.

In short, it's surviving not because it's 'epic' but rather because it's the only one.

The regular record stores had to compete with each other as well as the internet, this store only has the internet to concern itself with.

The fact that it is an 'oddity' certainly helps, as well as the death of every other 'normal' record store in the area.

However, once the 'normals' are gone, someone will look at the 'oddity' and go "Hey? Why don't I try that? It's still booming!"

Then, another... and maybe even one more; and then they'll all go the way of the 'normals'.

Such is business. (However, OUR business is an oddity as well, and that is precisely why we intend to open it right outside of Santa Monica... but once we get some competition, well to survive you have to play dirty. ^^)
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