J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Notes From Underground - #22
Supply and Demand


I have a confession to make. It's not an easy one, and I may seem a little sullied in your eyes from now on, but it's important to mention as it establishes the conceit of this column. So here it is:

I shop at Big Box music retailers.

Not all the time. My primary source for music in the last year has been EMusic, a site dedicated largely to indie-labels and a strangely, appropriately priced mode of downloading music. I also shop at the lone remaining independent music store in Greensboro, BB's. But I live a busy life and there are weeks where I want something on a label that EMusic doesn't carry and I don't necessarily feel like driving nearly a half-hour across town to get to BB's. I also tend to shop on new-release day, Tuesdays, and though I could just wait to go early to my show on Wednesdays and pick up the CDs at BB's (which is right across the street from QFS), I would like to at least have a day to absorb new releases to select the best tracks for my show. So, I will drive up I-40 to Elon College and go to the Best Buy that is located there.

A local blogger here in Greensboro has recently been championing the overall customer service of Best Buy versus some other chain stores. And he is right for the most part, except he doesn't take one thing into account - he was looking for big ticket items. Cameras, televisions, etc. People jump on you the moment you enter those sections. I could wander up and down the CD aisles looking like a lost puppy and get nothing. Not to mention that the people who work in these sections, unlike, in theory, the people in the larger sections, are not experts in their area. I know this from having worked in a Big Chain CD store at one time only to find that I was almost the only person on the floor who knew anything about music. Those people aren't hired for their expertise (if we had been, I wouldn't have gotten fired - that's another story) so that explains the blank looks when I ask for certain, fairly well-known indie artists.

But here we begin to see the problem. You're saying to yourself: "J, you're well versed in popular music. Why would you need help to find something?" Good question, reader.

A few weeks back I ventured up to Best Buy, on the day of release, to pick up the new PJ Harvey album. Harvey is, afterall, on Island, a major label. She's a well-established artist and they ought to have her in stock. Lately they've taken to sticking new releases on obnoxious end-cap displays rather than in the section under the artist's name. So I usually go to those first, then check in the section. No luck. So I flag down Rufus* and recruit his assistance. He looks in all the places I did and then consults the computer. The computer^ tells him that they have six, count 'em!, six copies in stock. But Rufus cannot locate a single one. He even goes to the back to check and then gamely apologizes. I leave completely unsatisfied.

This week: I go up there to pick up one of any of the three Joy Division re-issues (on Rhino - again, a major label) and the soundtrack to the Todd Haynes' directed Dylan-biopic, I'm Not There (released on Sony - no explanation necessary). The soundtrack? According to the computer, not available in any Best Buy within an hour or so's drive. The Joy Division re-issues? Available at every Best Buy in the area except the one in which I was currently standing. Again the result is my utter dissatisfaction.

I know I'm tilting at windmills here. Best Buy is not designed for people like me - people who really pay attention to music and live in and with it on a daily basis. It's designed for people who fancy music in a passing way; for people who listen to commercial radio for new music; for people who buy, at most, between 5 and 10 cds in a year (as opposed to 5 to 10 CDs in a month).

For the time being, low prices (on some things) be damned, I'm done with Best Buy. I can't rely on them to have readily available things in stock. With the way I've watched them treat their music departments, they might as well scrap them and use the space for more appliances. I'll start trekking across town an extra time per week to get to the superior (and locally owned) store - they deserve my money for many more reasons.

This article doesn't offer much in the way of solutions - it's more of a large screed about how much Best Buy (or enter Big Chain name HERE) has irritated me in the past months. All these stores seem to do is drive out local competition that isn't really competition to begin with - especially if you cater to more refined customers like the late Gate City Noise, the late Record Exchange did or BB's does. They then replace it with customer service that doesn't blink unless you're paying over $100 for something and that, when asked, couldn't tell you the difference between the Replacements, the Refreshments and the Residents if they had a giant-eyeball staring them in the face. They've essentially decided that a certain segment of their customer base is either expendable or will put up with the shotty access and services in order for the convenience. I've done that for awhile, but enough is enough.

For now, as far as music is concerned, it's Best Buy, goodbye.

* - name withheld to protect the innocent. and because I don't know what his name is.

^ - brand withheld to protect the innocent.

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