Vinyl, Cassettes & Retail

Begging To Spend Money At Best Buy On Music

image from James Zahn, Editor of Kik Axe Music, shared a harrowing account of his attempt to purchase music at Best Buy. He starts his story of by acknowledging that the sad state of the record industry is nothing new. However, due to a recent incident of his at Best Buy, he felt it was worth discussing the experience that fans, like himself, are having when they try to buy music. He questioned, 'should I really have to beg to money on music in a retail store?'

Last Tuesday, Zahn went to Best Buy to get the Christmas Comes Alive! album by The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Before he left, he searched their site and confirmed that the store carried it. They did. He drives to Best Buy, goes in, and is astonished by their impoverished music section—it's just two isles long.

He grabs the first album on his list and starts searching for the holiday album.

There was no Holiday Music section set up yet. So he checked in every other imaginable place. Was the album file incorrectly? It didn't appear to be so.

Next, he found a person that worked there. They couldn't find it.

Another employee helps out. Grabs the SKU number displayed on his phone and enters it into the store computer. There are three copies of the album hidden somewhere. The employee rechecks all of the places that Zahn had. No luck.

All of the employees are calling over their walkies and asking for extra help. Then, a third employee comes along. He went through the same motions as the others, but still couldn't find the album. He'd also never even heard of Brian Setzer.

At last, a fourth employee joined the cause and resorted to checking in the back.

Moments later, he emerged. He handed Zahn the holiday album and apologized for the complications in finding it. How long did this whole ordeal take? 45 min.

Reflecting on his attempt to purchase an album at Best Buy, he challenges again, "Why should someone have to BEG to spend money in a store?"

To which further concludes, "Buying music has never been more difficult."

image from

As more and more retailers stashed their music space and they're overseen by people who typically know nothing about it, will the experience of buying music continue to decline? How much harder will it become to legally buy music from a store and how many fans won't wait that long to get an album?

Also, have you ever begged to spend money on music at a retail outlet?

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  1. The most depressing experience is walking into a Target with a list in my mind of albums I would like to buy, and realizing there is absolutely NOTHING I can buy there. They didn’t even bothering to stock the R.E.M. reissue “Fables of the Reconstruction” or The Cure “Disintegration”. And for those who scoff at my going to a Big Box, there are only a few places to buy CDs in my area: Barnes & Noble (but their music continues to shrink), Whole Foods (Putumayo plus a couple other CDs), Walmart, Best Buy, and a used CD store. I could drive all the way to the mall and go to FYE, but their selection isn’t great and the prices are a joke. It is on my list to take a field trip down to Atlanta to Criminal Records, but that’s a long drive just to go to a record store.
    Truth is, if you want a CD, the best place is, which means waiting to buy $25 worth in order to get free shipping, and then waiting several days to receive it in the mail.

  2. I welcome the mainstream music fans to my world. 🙂 I was just in my local Best Buy for the first time in months, and I was startled to see that the CD section has been reduced to 4 aisles — I would guess that was a 60% reduction. Best Buy did announce this reconfiguration was coming.
    For my interests (mostly folk/world/classical) buying new CDs now means mostly mail-order, and mostly from Europe at that. And my last mail-order package from Europe was lost in the mail…
    What I don’t understand, from outside the biz, is how long the specialist retailers like Amoeba and Waterloo can survive if they are the only storefronts selling a broad selection of CDs. At some point there isn’t going to be enough money in distribution of the physical discs.

  3. This brings up an interesting side point about the recorded music industry today: Was it the record stores that killed the recorded music industry?
    I remember when big box retailers started carrying CDs. It was a relief to many because it meant that they didn’t have to go into record stores and face condescending record store employees. I know that was an overplayed cliche, but I believe it was a fairly accurate one. I’ve worked in a small-town mom and pop record store and I’ve worked at the nefarious Kim’s Music in NYC. Personally, I’ve always been disgusted by the employees’ disdain for people who are buying CDs. For me, selling anything was great. What did I care if someone wanted a Britney Spears album? Sell it! Why else would we stock it? To be ironic? (Apparently so, if you’ve ever dealt with record store clerks)
    But, and this is *totally* true, employees were actually INSTRUCTED to be condescending! To act like we didn’t want business from mainstream buyers! How screwed up is that logic?! It was like some dark record store coven, where we had to act too cool for school, when really, we should have been selling mainstream albums and tempting those people to dig (and buy) a little deeper.
    It might be beside the point, but I really think the attitude exhibited by a lot of specialty record stores was the main thing that killed off people’s initiative to go out and buy music. Just think, if those mom and pops could have survived, they could be cleaning up right now. They would be real-world convening spots (social networks if you will), they could be cafes, host in-stores, and most importantly: the employees could be the knowledgeable filters that everyone is clamoring for! I know that when I worked in the stores, nothing made me happier than these things:
    1) Helping someone find an artist they hadn’t heard before, and in turn exposing *me* to that artist.
    2) Putting on a record by an unknown band and having to sell it right out of the CD player to a customer who had to have it now that they heard it.
    3) Making a suggestion of a band to check out, and having that customer come back later and gush about how much they loved the album. Future profits guaranteed, plus I got to make a new friend.
    This is what the industry is missing.

  4. Oh, and to clarify one thing about the above post: I find that actual VINYL record store employees are a great bunch of people. Usually very helpful with a deep knowledge of their chosen music and just general good natured music-lovers all around.

  5. I could write a novel on this subject with my 12 year experience in working at a music store, but as my heart continues to break, everyday at the shrinkage of the music bins,it would be too painful.

  6. Not shocked that the employee doesn’t know who Brian Setzer is, nor that physical CDs are a low priority for the company. Why would they be? I assume that CDs are a loss leader for Best Buy.

    The Best Buy story has been going on for years.
    Shop where the knowledge exist.

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